Maple-Mustard Pork Chops with Caramelized Apples

I did something slightly unusual this week.

I went to the grocery store without a list.   Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

Let’s consider it one of my wild and reckless moments in life.  Who would have thought that little old me would be living dangerously on aisle three?

Ladies, it felt GOOD!

I had every intention of picking up milk, and a few ingredients for those recipes that are forever engraved in my mind. 



Easy peasy stuff that requires little effort on my part.  No meal-planning whatsoever. 

I was alone.  Both children were in school.  I splurged on a chai tea latte, and read the grocery flyer as if it was the latest issue of Cosmopolitan.  

Wow!  What juicy stuff!

Something caught my eye. 

I thought, “What the *%&^! Let’s live dangerously, and try something new!”

It’s good to go out on a limb, and be reckless in your local Harris Teeter. 

It felt liberating.

I found a winner.

Maple-Mustard Pork Chops with Caramelized Apples

*The apples are “melt in your mouth” good. Delicious! Walden Farms submitted the recipe to Harris Teeter in order to showcase some of the products that are found in the store.   I bought their Honey Dijon dressing for the recipe, but I had maple syrup at home.  I served this dish with roasted maple sweet potatoes and green beans. 

4 medium pork chops (I used Butterfly pork chops)
¼ cup Dijon mustard
½ cup Walden Farms Calorie Free Honey Dijon Dressing (all-natural ingredients)
¼ cup Walden Farms Calorie Free Pancake Syrup
1 Tbsp ground rosemary
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
4 apples peeled and cut into wedges (I used Fuji apples)

Preheat over to 425 degrees. Place pork in baking dish coasted with cooking spray.  Combine mustard, dressing, and 2 tablespoons of pancake syrup.  Add rosemary, salt and pepper, and mix in small bowl.  Brush on chops.  Bake until done (about 25 minutes). While chops are cooking, heat a skillet and add apples.  Sauté with remaining pancake syrup.  Simmer until soft.  Spoon over chops.

Next time you are at your local store, pick up a flyer. You may never know what gem you may stumble upon.

Linking up this week with:


and with fellow Raleigh blogger, LilKidThings


The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon?

I’m going crazy.  Things are disappearing in the house.  I don’t know about you, but when I start to lose things around the house, then it really makes me crazy until I find what is missing.  I’ve been known to have something in my hand, get distracted by the kids, and leave the item I was carrying somewhere.

Surely, everyone has done that a time or two in their lives.

 Right?  Don’t tell me I’m the only one.

I usually find what I’m missing sooner or later.  It’s the later part that starts to drive me nuts, and the longer it takes for me to find what I misplaced, the more obsessed I become over the item. 

My latest obsession is over a cheap, plastic dish with farm animals on it.  As soon as I noticed it was missing, I started looking under beds, furniture, cubbies in the play kitchen; in the toy box; and in any place that I could think of as to where it could be.

 I use the dish for cereal and snacks for the kids.  It’s not a special bowl by any means, but I’ve never misplaced it in the five years that it’s been sitting in my sink until now.  I searched for days for this bowl.  It’s now going on two weeks that the dish is missing.

The dish has a small matching plate that is great for fruit and snacks.  The other night, I started talking to my husband about the bowl as I was cleaning the other plastic dishes that the children used for snacks and dinner that day. We wash all the plastic plates by hand.

The conversation went just as it had the night before.

“I don’t understand where the &*@% that dish is. I’ve looked under everything I can think of, and it’s NOWHERE to be found,” I stated.

The answer was the same. “I’m sure it is somewhere.” 

Gee, thanks for that profound statement.

“Wait a minute. Where is the tiny, farm animal plate that matches the bowl?  I don’t see it.”  An expletive came out of my mouth, and I said, “I don’t understand.  It’s not here either.  I am losing my mind.”

Then in a flash, it all became clear. I remembered hearing the sound of the cabinet door closing where the trash can is located earlier that evening and seeing my daughter walk by my feet as I was cooking.

 Baby Diva likes to clean up after herself.  She’ll throw away her napkins and crumbs.  We have laughed about her tidiness at such a young age and claimed she liked to be neat just like her daddy.  Like a light bulb going off in my head, I immediately started digging through the trash.

 There sat the plate right in the middle of the garbage. 

Wouldn’t you know?  I’m not losing my mind after all.  I just happen to have a toddler who likes to throw things away.  We now bet that the farm animal bowl is sitting in a trash bag at the landfill.  Either that or the dish ran away with the spoon.

I think I am missing a few of those, too.

**Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a personalized, thermal picnic tote valued at $42.  It comes in six different patterns, and can be personalized for the winner.  The giveaway ends on Oct. 3 at 11:59 EST.  Here are the details on how to enter.

Five Things You Need to Score a Touchdown at Your Next Tailgate

There is always some type of tailgate party going on in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina during football season since three major universities are located in this area.  That would be Duke, N.C. State, and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Meet Mr. And Mrs. Wuf.

Image Credit
They are the beloved mascots for N.C. State University in Raleigh.  This dynamic duo welcomes thousands of tailgaters to Carter-Finley Stadium for home football games.

It’s a little harder to tailgate at UNC-Chapel Hill due to the stadium being located in the middle of campus, but as you can see, the professional tailgaters find a way.

Tailgating is a Southern tradition just like banana pudding, and it is one of the most popular get-togethers for people during the fall season.  This past weekend, I hosted a 31 Gifts Party at my home using a tailgate theme.  Blog sponsor Tricia Edmundson showed us the many ways 31 Gifts can help get us ready for the fun before the big game.  I also shared a few of my ideas, too. 

Our indoor "Tailgate". 31 Gifts Senior Director, Tricia Edmundson, poses with
me and my friend, Wendy, who is a NC State fan. 
We had so much fun at this event that we quickly realized that you don’t need to be at a football game to truly have a tailgate gathering.  You can use the casual theme at your home to have a backyard gathering or to have friends over to watch a game on TV.

Here are the five things you need at your next tailgate party that will make you cheer.

1. Personalized Ribbons for School Spirit
 I’m a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and our rivals sometimes call us the “whine and cheese crowd” because when our team doesn’t do well, we really fuss about it.  I took that old saying “literally” and decided to add some pizzazz to this party with a little help from Royal-Ribbons.

Royal-Ribbons can turn your event into a regal affair. 

For our event, my guests chose a wine glass adorned with their favorite team’s colors.  It’s great to show school spirit with some spirits in hand. Royal-Ribbons can personalize any ribbon for your occasion with the cutest sayings.  Aren’t my ribbons cute?

2. 31 Gifts Picnic Thermal Tote

You’ll be styling at the party when you bring your items in this game-day cooler. This great picnic thermal tote comes in six great patterns and can be personalized for your next tailgate.  The totes are large and are big enough to hold two large bottles or two six packs of drinks.  If you turn it sideways, it will fit a casserole dish perfectly, and your entrée will be kept warm for your tailgate.  Retail value with personalization is $42.

3. 31 Gifts Magazine Basket (But it’s not just for magazines)

This wicker basket will score you some points at your next tailgate.  You can fill it with condiments, paper products, and food.  Add paper towels to the top, and you’ve scored a touchdown.  Retail value for the small-size basket is $30.

4. Half-Time Appetizer

If life is busy, then the last thing you need is to prepare a complicated appetizer for your tailgate.  Several years ago, I learned about this easy, awesome appetizer from a cookbook produced by the Junior League of Charleston, S.C.  All you need to feed your crowd is crackers, cream cheese, and a topping of your choice.  For this party, I used apricot preserves, but you can use peach salsa, red pepper jelly, autumn chutney, or any preserve of your choice.  It’s quick! It’s easy! It’s so good that your guests will tackle you for the last bite.

5. Mascot Book for the Kids/Mascot Talk for the iPhone

My kids are enjoying, "Mr. Wuf's Journey Through North Carolina."
The favorite person on the sidelines is usually the beloved team mascot.  Thanks to Mascot Books, many university team mascots take your kids on storybook adventures about the university and/or state in which the university is located.   

Mr. Cool, aged 5, and Baby Diva, aged 1.
My kids personally own two books about Mr. Wuf at N.C. State University.  Rameses, the UNC mascot, will be on the stocking stuffer list for Baby Diva, which I'm sure my college friends will be glad to hear.   Mascot books recently unveiled a very cool iPhone application with which your favorite mascot can interact with you on your phone.  The talking mascot will be sure to entertain those little ones so you can actually see a few plays on the field.

It doesn’t matter who wins or loses, right?  You still had fun at the tailgate.

The Giveaway associated with this post is now over! Thank you for taking the time to enter.  Mandi from Lincolnton, NC will toting a new picnic tote at her next tailgate. 

The Little Things

I sometimes think life is one big race. I rush to get out the door in the morning for school.  I rush to get us to appointments and activities.  I rush to get in the carpool line so I’m not the last parent there.  I rush to get dinner on the table so bedtime won’t be too late.  Rush. Rush. Rush.

When I rush, I forget the little things. Not extra kisses or goodbyes.  I remember those. These small things I'm talking about are the little details that make a big impression. Unfortunately, these little things get lost as I try to focus on the big things that will get us to the finish line on time.  For example, on the first day of kindergarten, it would have been nice to put an “I miss you today” note in my son’s lunch box with a little lunch treat.  I forgot.

Visit the Weelife for your free lunchbox downloads.

It would have been cute to draw a smiley face on his pancakes in blueberries for his first day of school.

I didn’t do it. I was so afraid that we would be late to school that I think I rushed him at breakfast and even yelled a few times, “Hurry up!  Eat. Eat. Eat. We’ve got to go.”

I am not beating myself up because I did get him fed and got him to school on time. Trust me, I know that was a huge accomplishment.  There are some days that we do just what we can to get by and certainly call it success.  He was happy and ready to start his day without pancakes smiling at him. But as a former professional public relations executive, my company would not have been happy with my performance.  There was no “wow” factor.  I missed the little things that could have made his day go from normal to special as he made his journey into kindergarten for the first time.
Recently, there happened to be a little lull in my daily race.  I popped into a bookstore to entertain my daughter for a few minutes while my son was still in school.  I spied an adorable book about Pete the Cat who went to his new school rocking in his shoes.

This guitar-playing cat rocked out throughout his new school from the library to the cafeteria.   I, of course, have a fondness for cats, and my son loves guitars.  With my mind being clear, I was able to focus on the little things again. On a whim, I decided to buy the book and write a little note in it, congratulating my son for completing his first, wonderful week at his new elementary school.  The bookstore wrapped it for me, and our family presented this little gift to my son after dinner


This little thing made a big impact. My son and I had the pleasure of reading his new book that evening.  He asked, “Will we give Baby Diva a new book after she finishes her first week of preschool?”

“Of course, we can.” And just like that, I think a new school year tradition started in my family. 

Baby Diva got her book last night after dinner after completing two full weeks in the toddler class at preschool.  She cries at drop-off, but is so happy when I pick her up.  Her teachers say she quits crying quickly, and has a great morning with her new friends twice a week. 

And yes, we have a lot of boo-boos in the house this week as you can tell from the photo. 

My little gesture was just as special to my son after the first week of school as it would have been on the first day.  I couldn't get to a book store last week for my daughter's new book so her book came even later in the month.  

There is no question that as parents, we are going to have busy days.  Some days may be such a whirlwind that we don’t slow down until our heads hit our pillows at night, but sometimes there may be a lull in our little rat race called life.  When there is, and you have a minute to breathe, I’ve learned that it’s never too late to do some of the little things.

Keep Your Mouth Shut, and You'll Cook One of Your Best Meals Ever (Italian Penne Pasta Dinner)

This past week, something ugly got the best of me.

I’m not going to show a photo.  I’m not that cruel, but it is an ulcer on the side of my tongue.  It was, apparently, my present following a dental cleaning last week. I don’t blame the dentist, but I will forever associate the timing of the ulcer with that visit.  It could be totally unrelated.  Could be a virus.  Maybe stress.  Whatever, it’s not making me smile.

I am miserable like the bottom pumpkin.  I just want to smile again and be happy like this little guy.

This has been the most painful experience of my life.  It may even rival childbirth contractions. It’s hard to know for sure because the minute that bundle of joy is placed in your arms, you forget the pain.  One thing is for sure, I don’t think I will forget this pain.  Eating and talking have been excruciating.  That’s really bad news because I feel those are the two activities I enjoy and do the best.  I’m also bloated for my lack of drinking water because of the pain.

On the plus side, my husband probably enjoyed the silence this past week.  The other night I tolerated the pain long enough to tell him that I thought tongue ulcers could help deter crime. If criminals had tongue ulcers for just two days and were required to eat a sandwich, then I bet we wouldn’t need prisons any longer.

He didn’t seem amused by my revelation. “Isn’t that cruel and unusual punishment?” he remarked as he continued to read over the day’s news.

“Yeah, but that was my point.  We wouldn’t need prisons because no one would commit a crime after having a tongue ulcer.  They are that bad.”

No response. That was about all I mustered to say, then it turned to silence again. 

Of course, I also happened to cook a wonderful meal the same night. Every bite I took or every swallow was pure torture.  The meal was worth the sacrifice, and every bit of Anbesol in my cabinet, as I ate my way through the meal.  I can’t wait to eat this dish pain-free.

It’s that good!  You can find the  recipe here.  I used protein pasta for my dish. 

Next time, I’m going to roast cauliflower and toss it in, too.  I can’t wait to say bon appetit without a grimace. 

Fall in Love with Atlanta this Fall

I'll Share Two Great Hotels for Two Different Budgets
Fall is here, and, in my opinion, it is one of the best times to travel because you can find some great travel deals.

Atlanta, Georgia, would be a great place to visit to enhance your children’s studies in the classroom for a mini-vacation.  Here are five great family fun attractions that my family would love to experience.  There are so many wonderful attractions in this southern city that it is difficult to name just five, but these attractions would be high on our sightseeing list.

CNN Studio TourMr. Cool would want to put this tour at the top of his list.  His school does a daily newscast each morning, and, lately, the morning news is the first thing he talks about when I pick him up each afternoon. I know I am biased, but I worked in television for nine years, and it is exciting to see the gadgets, the cameras, and that green screen for the weather.

Georgia Aquarium: My husband and I went here on my last trip to Atlanta. It’s a great experience, and since our visit the aquarium added the newest extravaganza called Dolphin Tales.  This is a must-see attraction for the family.
Photo by GA Aquarium courtesy of Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead

Imagine It! A Children’s Museum of Atlanta:  I adore a children’s museum.  My kids do, too, and the hands-on learning is priceless.  Beginning Oct. 1 through Jan. 22, 2012, this museum will showcase “Once Upon a Fairy Tale: Exploring the World of Fairy Tales.” It looks to be Fee-Fi-Fo-Fun!

Center for Puppetry Arts Theater and Museum: Mr. Cool will be taking a language arts elective this fall at school called “Puppet Play.”  This museum looks awesome, and I bet the current exhibit on Jim Henson is fabulous. The museum has daily puppet shows, and the shows change every few weeks.  You can even make your own puppet.

World of Coca-Cola: I haven’t been here in almost two decades, but the history of the soft drink is fascinating.  I look forward to seeing it again.  The bottling process is so cool, and I love to see how the product is marketed around the world.  The taste test is fun, too.

We now have our list of fun things to do.  Where will we tuck ourselves in at night?

After talking with my readers on Facebook and Twitter about their travel budgets last week, I’m going to debut a new travel component on the blog where I recommend hotels at two different price points when I talk about hotels.  After getting your feedback, the two categories will be called the smart splurge (over $200 per night) and savvy spending (under $200 per night, which is the preferred choice according to your responses, and many want spending closer to $100 per night).

The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead is my Smart Splurge choice.
Photo by Mark Wieland via Ritz-Carlton PR office
It’s no secret that I have a luxury hotel obsession. I tend to lean in the splurge area in my travels, but even with luxury hotels, I’m always searching for travel deals that give me the most bang in my travel budget for the experience I’m seeking.  I also don’t travel that frequently, which is another reason I tend to go luxury when I travel.  I’m calling this category the “Smart Splurge.”  For both categories, you will get my opinion on why I think it’s the best bet, accommodations that will please the discriminating traveler, and hotels that I personally would choose to stay in at these two price points after combing over numerous reviews. (Yes, I do that for fun.  Maybe I like research?) I will never recommend a hotel on this blog if I would not stay there.  Got it?  Good, let’s talk about where to stay.

On my last visit to Atlanta, I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta.  I would certainly do it again because it’s near a lot of the attractions I mentioned in this post, and the hotel offers great packages with breakfast and parking perks that could easily classify it into our savvy spending category requirements.  However, I felt the downtown area got a little deserted at night the last time I was in Atlanta.  Instead, I like the idea of an area with a neighborhood feel with shopping and restaurants nearby.   As a result, the Ritz-Carlton in the Buckhead area caught my eye when I spied a wonderful family package that runs until the end of this year.

Guest Room at Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead
Photo credit: Mark Wieland via Ritz-Carlton PR office
The location of the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead, is a perfect choice, and this new family package will offer a very fun travel experience for the entire family in addition to the great linens, beautiful décor, afternoon tea, and scrumptious breakfasts.  Those are the things I love in a hotel that I call home on my travels. This luxury hotel is offering a lot of packages currently and is even offering packages that include VIP tickets to the aquarium.  So you have lots of options.  However, I think the family getaway package is the best option and would be the smart splurge with rates starting at $279 because it includes so many goodies.

Family Package Rate at Ritz-Carlton Buckhead includes Breakfast.
Photo by Ron Starr via Ritz-Carlton PR office
The family packages include either room service or American Breakfast for two adults and two children in the Café.  If you have eaten at a luxury hotel, then you know this is a substantial savings to have breakfast as part of your room rate, not to mention that the food is wonderful.  One of the best breakfasts I’ve ever eaten was on my last trip to Atlanta at the Ritz-Carlton Downtown.  Typically, you eat so well that you can have a very light, inexpensive lunch while sightseeing.

A special family movie is shown by the indoor pool on Friday evenings
Photo by Jim Hedrich via Ritz-Carlton PR office
The family package also adds some pizzazz to your children’s stay and helps make some great memories. Your package rate includes a guestroom movie with popcorn, in addition to the dive-in movie that is shown at the hotel’s indoor pool on Friday evenings.  Children can also participate in a self-guided scavenger hunt and enjoy complimentary ice cream in the Café or Lobby Lounge.  The family package also includes valet parking.

The Lobby Lounge at Ritz-Carlton Buckhead
Complimentary ice cream is part of the Family Package for children as well as a self-guided  Scavenger Hunt
I’m not going to lie. I get tired of sightseeing and really like to lounge at the hotel when I’m on a vacation.  I think that is why the hotel experience is so important to me.  Hotel stays to me are rejuvenating.  The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead, also has afternoon tea and a world-class spa.

For those readers who prefer to choose a hotel in my savvy spending category, I have another winner for you, which is also located in the Buckhead area.

After reading numerous reviews, reviewing photos, and punching in several travel websites to compare prices, I’m recommending the Wingate by Wyndham Atlanta Buckhead. It’s an upscale boutique hotel that includes a complimentary full American breakfast. There is a hotel limousine to take you within three miles of the hotel.  In my opinion, the rooms are appealing and inviting with two double beds, hardwood floors, and oriental rugs. Microwaves, refrigerators, and coffeemakers are equipped in each room.  Depending on specials, the savvy spending rate is $119 to $140 per night for this type of room.  I’m also going to add that the Wingate by Wyndham has outstanding reviews on Tripadvisor, and I am a firm believer in their reviews.  Here’s a little secret.  Shhhh!! This hotel ranks above most high-end luxury hotels when it comes to reviews for Atlanta hotels on the review website.  It’s currently holding the number 2 spot for one of the best hotels in Atlanta. Sounds like I may have found you a savvy gem. 

I think I’ve given you two great options for family fun in Atlanta.  If you go, let me know.

What's Your House Style?

There is something that you need to know about me.  I like architecture, and real estate. I don't always like to write. Sometimes, I just want to be a vegetable in front of the computer when it is all quiet in the house, and look at houses that are for sale in the area.

This house is currently on the market in one of my favorite areas of Raleigh.  It is located in a neighborhood called Cameron Park, which is adjacent to North Carolina State University.  I love the arts and craft style.  The original house was built in 1937.  It has had a huge make-over.  Take a look at before below.  Wow. They certainly had a lot of vision, and a good architect.

The new arts and crafts style of the home doesn't even resemble the original house.  In case you are wondering, the home is now on the market for $995,000.  Shall we put in an offer?

I've not felt well the past couple of days, and I haven't wanted to write anything for the blog.  However, when I don't post on the blog, I miss the interaction with you.  As a result,  I've decided to pose you all a question today, and incorporate my hobby of looking at real estate into my blogging.  

What's your favorite home style?

I'm going to show you some homes for sale in North Carolina. Let's have some Friday fun, shall we?   Which home style do you like most?  We don't worry about price tags here.  That is what makes it fun.


House Number One-(GingerBread Love)
Built in 1893, Victorian style home located in Oakwood, which is in downtown Raleigh.  The Governor would be your neighbor
2300 square feet
Price: $449,5000

House Number Two (Dutch/Barnyard Chic)
Built in 1909, Traditional style home in Cameron Park
2400 square feet

House Number Three (The Elegant White House)
Built in 1935, Traditional style home located in an area of Raleigh called Hayes Barton. This street is beautiful  during the Christmas season.
3465 square feet

House Number Four (Stately Tudor)
Built in 1928, Tudor style home located on Duke Street in Durham, North Carolina,which is located near Duke University
5470 Square feet

House Number 5 (Roomy Ranch)
Built in 1958, Ranch style home near downtown Raleigh.
2657 square feet

I'm a sucker for the Tudor style.  I really like all of these houses, but the Tudor style would win me over for definitely wanting to look inside.  However, the front porch on the Cameron Park home (Dutch, Barnyard chic) would be awesome, and is is in a fabulous area in Raleigh.  You could walk to one of the best shopping areas in town. What is your home style?

Talk to you next week. Enjoy the weekend. 

The Power of the Yellow Kitchen Sponge better known as Spongebob

I dashed through Target in shame last week, hoping that no one saw us or, more importantly, heard us.

We were on the fruit aisle, and my daughter screamed “Bob-Bob” with excitement.  She was pointing to apple sauce-type fruit pouches, graced with a photo of a yellow kitchen sponge with square pants on it.  I think you may know him as SpongeBob SquarePants.

Even in you are not a SpongeBob Fan, you can't help but not think this is great presentation for a child.

Baby Diva is not quite two.  She shouldn’t know who he is.  As a first child, my son was not even allowed to watch the sponge until this year. He’s almost six.  But, in our house now, she is exposed indirectly to this kitchen sponge that lives in a pineapple under the sea.  It’s the only cartoon my son wanted to watch this summer. 

She doesn’t watch the show, but it’s on the TV in her company sometimes. The good news is that she has little interest in TV, but he won’t even let her watch Sesame Street if he’s home.  She barely knows the characters on Sesame Street, which are probably the only characters her peers know about, at their young age.  She knows Elmo and others because we read their books, and she wears their faces on her diapers, but, unfortunately, “Bob-Bob” has recently become a new word and idol for her.  She yells his name anytime she sees him.  To make it worse, I think she likes him.  She says his name with so much glee. 

She is now in preschool.  It is my fear that she is going to be one of those children who, because of older siblings, expose their preschool friends to things sooner than some first-time parents are ready for their children to be exposed.  My son learned about Transformers and Star Wars earlier than I would have liked or expected.  We still watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in our house when my son was three, but soon after he was in preschool, new characters came into play.  The boys who had older brothers knew about a “galaxy far, far away” and happily taught my son about Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader on the playground. It was good guys and bad guys, and they chased each other around the swing set.  This newfound knowledge was out of my control and slowly creeped into my home with an action figure here and there.

May the force of second children be with you!  They are exposed to so much more at an earlier age.  I have started to accept this now as a second-time parent even though I may not be proud of it.  My children have almost a four-year difference between them.  At first, it really bothered me, and I was embarrassed that my little girl knew about this mischievous kitchen sponge.  But then something happened.  I realized the power of the yellow sponge. 

Baby Diva is a very picky eater, and, surprisingly, she turns things down to eat because she remembers the packaging and won’t even taste it to make sure she doesn’t like it.   It’s a constant battle.  Miraculously, she actually wanted to eat the apple sauce with Spongebob’s face on it.  I was pleased to know that it was all-natural, with no preservatives and 100 percent fruit.  There was not a bit of artificial anything in the ingredients.  I grabbed it off the shelf, and she held it all through the store, happily.

Guess who is praising the kitchen sponge now? And I joyfully open the refrigerator door and say, “You want Bob-Bob?”

I can also hand her a kitchen sponge, and she’ll just clean and clean.  She doesn’t even care if it is pantless.

Thanks to Spongebob, my kitchen table has never been cleaner.

10 Tips to Help Your Morning Routine Go from Rough Seas to Smooth Sailing

It can happen.  One wrong move in the morning, and your morning routine goes from smooth sailing to rocky seas.  There could be a battle over shoes, brushing teeth, or what’s on the plate for breakfast. Rocky seas during my morning routine make me nauseous, and it gets my schedule off balance.

I don’t know about you, but I want my mornings to be smooth sailing.  Don’t we all?

I recently participated in a great discussion over at theMotherhood about morning routines and breakfast in America.  Kellogg’s, who recently conducted one of the largest surveys in America, sponsored the virtual talk.  What their survey revealed is shocking.

 Seventy-seven percent of young children eat breakfast every day, but the number falls to 50 percent in the middle-school years and to only 36 percent among high school students.
 Results show 54 percent of all adults would like to eat breakfast every day, but in reality only one-third (34 percent) actually do. 
Research shows us that although 89 percent of moms want their kids to eat breakfast every day, 40 percent report that their child does not eat breakfast daily.

During our discussion, I mentioned that the early start times of middle and high school days may have a direct impact on this lack-of-breakfast trend.  When I was in school, I started at 8:15 a.m.  Fast-forward 27 years, and the majority of the middle and high schools where I reside now start as early at 7:25 a.m.  I’ll be the first to say it: That’s like going to school as soon as the rooster crows.  Don’t you think?

These are tweens and teens.  They want to sleep in.  Morning is not their friend. The last thing they want to do is get up at 5 a.m. in order to get to the bus.  If they do sit down to eat breakfast, they are probably snoozing in their cornflakes.  I don’t have tweens, and as a mom in my forties, I’m kind of glad that by the time my kids are at that age I’ll be in the AARP category and my menopausal body will probably have me up early anyway.

The bloggers who co-hosted with me, as well as Sarah Woodside, M.S., R.D., and Nutrition Business Partner at Kellogg, had some great ideas to share on how to reduce the morning craziness in your home and still get the breakfast nutrition you need for a productive day.  You can get a full recap of our conversation here at theMotherhood, but here are the top ten tips to help your family have smooth sailing in the morning and a full tummy before heading to school.

·      Do as much as possible the night before school. Fill the backpacks, prepare the snack and lunches, sign any paperwork, and pick out clothes.  If you have to be at the bus at 6 a.m., I would say sleep in your clothes, but you would have too many wrinkles.  Instead, have them by the bed so no decisions have to be made that will take time off the clock.

·      Try to rise before the kids so you can have the time you need in your schedule to get ready, have coffee, and eat breakfast, too.  I eat Greek yogurt, a hard-boiled egg, or high-protein cereal while on the computer every morning.  I can’t give up my computer time.  As a result, I combine the two activities.

·      Breakfast doesn’t have to be gourmet.  It can be quick and healthy.  It also doesn’t have to be traditional. If your child only likes lunch foods, then make a bagel sandwich with ham and cheese, or a whole-wheat English muffin with some type of nut butter, and an apple or yogurt.

·      Cereals have changed a lot since I was a child.  They have nutritional power and are packed with vitamins, minerals, and protein.  It’s a great breakfast for busy mornings.

·      Cereal bars are great to use on the go when you just don’t have another minute to spare before you need to walk out the door.

·      Boil eggs ahead of time so you aren’t caught waiting for a pot to boil in the morning.  I like to serve them with cereal in the morning with blueberries.

·      Make out a breakfast menu for your children and have them pick their food choices the night before. When the rooster crows so early in the morning, you can get breakfast on the table quickly.

·      If you know your child doesn’t like to eat as soon as he wakes in the morning, budget some extra time in your morning routine and get him up ten minutes earlier so he can have more awake time.  Have him get dressed before coming to eat breakfast.

·      Make muffins, mini quiches (recipe here), pancakes, and waffles ahead of time and freeze them for quick preparation.  I have to admit that I buy a lot of frozen waffles and pancakes. They are minimally processed, contain all-natural ingredients, and can be ready in one minute and 30 seconds.

·      Limit TV.  TV makes children eat slower, and time can get away from you when you are in a rush.  It can get your routine into rough seas in no time.

Here’s to smooth sailing this school year.  What tips can you share?

Disclosure: I thank theMotherhood for asking me to co-host this great Kellogg’s virtual breakfast discussion.  I was compensated for my time in this project.  My opinions are my own and were not influenced by Kellogg’s.  I enjoyed learning great tips from all of my co-hosts, who also are moms. 


Did you happen to see a crazy, middle-aged woman jumping for joy in a church parking lot on Thursday?

That was me!  However, I wasn't as graceful as the ballerina.

Why was I doing pirouettes?

I now have six hours of quiet time to myself in a week. Let's count. Hold those fingers up. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.  Two days a week, I can fold laundry, run errands alone, read your blogs, perhaps write a blog post, do a yoga pose without someone trying to knock me over, and even send a little tweet with a nice cup of tea in my hand.  All.By.Myself.  (I bet I just put that song in your head for the rest of the day.)

Yesterday was the first day that these two darlings were in school at the same time.   Mr. Cool has been in kindergarten for one week now, but Baby Diva is now toting her own backpack to her toddler preschool.  She goes just two mornings a week for three hours a day.

She did well on her first day.  She had just a few tears.  Well, I could actually hear her screaming as I dashed to my car after drop-off, but I've been through this before.  I've learned to keep my cool, and not worry. Drop-off is always the hardest.   Luckily, she was all smiles when I picked her at 12:15 p.m.   I was told that she even has a new little boyfriend.

She denies it though.  She says in her little southern drawl, "Nooooooooooooooooo!"

My first child-free morning was blissful.  It had been a long summer, and yesterday morning was a much-needed break for me.  Honestly, I have been a little overwhelmed since the start of the school with the paperwork, and volunteer opportunities for parents that accompany a child entering kindergarten.  I'm now looking at ways that I can best serve our school, and I'm learning to communicate through a folder in a backpack. I've also learned to "let go" a little, and realize he is growing up, and that he has to take on more responsibility.  If he forgets to buy milk in the cafeteria for lunch then he just gets a little more at dinner.

We've also worked on our morning routine, and we are at school on-time. Early, in fact.  Far cry from our summer chaos.

Things are slowly coming together.  Fall is quickly approaching, and thanks to our new schedules, I will have a little more pep in my step.

I"ll be back next week with some parenting posts from my Triangle Mom2Mom column that I've not shared, and I have a great hotel feature coming up on the blog.

Have a great weekend! I hope you experience a lot of bliss. 

No Longer Greek to Me

I'm always the last to do things.  You know. The last to have kids.  The last to get on Twitter.  The last to get a new car.  I just hope that I'm the last to kick any type of bucket.  Don't you?  But, let's talk about this new craze, called Pinterest.  My friends have been on Pinterest for months.  I joined several months ago, but didn't know what the $%^* to do with it,  so I closed the page, and forgot my password.  I'm not joking. The kids were home with me 24 hours straight during the summer, and I didn't have time to learn a new social media skill.   I could barely keep up with what I knew.  The whole Pinterest concept was "greek to me."

That is, until we were driving to my sister-in-law's house this weekend.  Mr. Cool suddenly says, "Tell me about Greece." We weren't sure if he meant grease or Greece, but after we educated him about the two spellings, and the two definitions, of the word, that sounds the same, he seemed more interested in the country rather than oil in a skillet. We didn't even bring up one of my favorite movies of all time, or the fact that I played Patty Simcox in a local, community production of "Grease."   Franki Valli may have belted out, "Grease is the word", but in our car, "Greece" was apparently THE word of the day.   I don't blame him.   He is my child, after all.

Let's just say a mom will do anything to enhance her child's education so I decided to take some time to learn Pinterest. This way I could show Mr. Cool some photos of Greece.  I thought it would be easier to have the photos on one page or a board to view.  From what I understand, that is the purpose of Pinterest.  My first pin on my virtual board was this beauty in Greece.

Isn't that photo gorgeous?  It's the Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort and Spa in Crete, Greece.  I then had to pin this villa room at the hotel because it looked so tranquil, elegant, and I loved the blue accents.

Here is the area of Greece where the hotel is located. I figured that I should show him a photo of something other than a hotel.

Sunrise is breathtaking at the Blue Palace.  This is a view from the hotel's infinity pool.

Greece is gorgeous.  The Blue Palace Resort is stunning.  I think I want to go to Greece.  How about you?

This wasn't the only jewel I found in Greece though.   You guessed it.  I kept pinning,  and have an entire board now named, "Gorgeous Hotels in Greece."   I think I have found a good outlet for my luxury hotel obsession.

Want to Stay Here: October is a good time to visit this hotel.   Kids stay free during the month.  View the latest offers from this lovely Starwood property. Unfortunately, I can't hop on the next plane because remember, we let our passports expire.  At least now, I can travel virtually through my pin boards.

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