Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve 2014 - Party time!

My eldest daughter decided to throw a small New Year's Eve party with a few friends this year, and the menu will consist of  a variety of "small bite" appetizers.  Some of the favorites we'll be serving: Mac 'n Cheese bites (homestyle mac n cheese baked in mini-muffin tins), Sweet & Savory Cocktail Meatballs (frozen cocktail-sized meatballs heated in the crockpot with a can of cranberry sauce and a jar of chili sauce), and Cranberry Brie Phyllo Bites (pre-cooked phyllo cups with a dollop of cranberry sauce and a small slice of brie, melted in the toaster oven for a minute or two).

Wishing you a Happy & Prosperous 2015!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

DIY Mini-Caramel & Chocolate Apples

Mini-caramel apples, using crab apples and toothpicks!  So cute and delicious. 

We followed the recipe on the Kraft caramel candy package to make the caramel apples, and then waited 15 min for them to harden a bit in the refrigerator before dipping them again in melted chocolate. Then a quick dip into the toppings: peanuts, cashews, candy canes, pretzels, sweetened coconut flakes, and sprinkles.  We crushed up the candy canes with a mallet, but ended up doing it again in the food processor to make them fine enough for the tiny apples.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Tree Napkins!

A friend posted a video on Facebook on How to Fold Christmas Tree napkins, and I couldn't resist trying it. They came out great, probably because my daughters did them.

The how-to video appears below:

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Time Well Spent

Now that the holidays are almost here, I have all three of my girls home, including the two college students who normally live two hours away.  It has been wonderful having them back under the same roof again. I find myself thinking back to when they were little, and how much our lives have changed since then.

When I got pregnant for the first time, there was no shortage of people offering "helpful" unsolicited advice, such as "You'd better sleep now, because all that ends once you have kids" and "Your time is not your own anymore. Get used to it!"

Yes, there were plenty of 2am feedings and 6am wake-up calls during the years when my girls were babies. But I can tell you that now, with more than 20 years' worth of perspective, those middle-of-the-night feedings and early-morning wakeups were the some of the best, most treasured moments of my life.

I get personal satisfaction from my work, and from helping others, and I enjoy having time to myself just as much as the next person. But the times I spent just being there for my children were the most worthwhile.

As I type this, early on a Sunday morning, all three girls are upstairs fast asleep. The house is quiet, and I've been able to sit here and enjoy an entire cup of coffee without any interruptions. This is the kind of morning I remember thinking wistfully about all those years ago, but I would trade it in right now to have even a few moments back with my little ones, in their onesie pajamas, bright-eyed and giggling and smiling a toothless baby smile at sunrise.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Christmas Tree 2014

Wow, we haven't gotten our tree up this early in quite a while. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving 2014

"Freedom From Want" by Norman Rockwell

 Even though there have been some ups and downs this year, I still have much to be thankful for. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

8 years ago today... father took his last breath.

He died on November 24, 2006, after a brave battle with a variety of health issues.  He was loving, loyal, generous, kind, understanding--everything a father should be. He set a great example for my sisters and me, living his life with integrity and honesty.  He was the embodiment of "a good man," and I know that the reason I was able to find such a great husband and father for my own children is because of the standard my Dad set for me.

I miss him every single day.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A moving reminder of sacrifice

I had the privilege of seeing this art installation by Paul Cummins when I visited the Tower of London this summer. "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" is made up of 888,246 ceramic poppies, each one representing a fallen soldier from the British and Commonwealth military during World War I.  A moving visual reminder of the sacrifices made by so many.

To all who have served to protect the freedom of others, thank you.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Upside of Ebola Hysteria?

I know this is SO wrong, but it occurred to me this morning while I was cleaning the tiles in the shower: all it would take is one anonymous tip called in to the CDC, and I could probably have a whole crew here scrubbing everything down with bleach for me.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ebola comes to NYC

I'm not saying anyone should panic, but as someone who was born and raised in NYC, I know how germ-ridden the subways can be, even without an Ebola-infected person riding the lines.  The surfaces (handrails, seats, etc) are a common germ collector, and with 6 million riders a day using the NYC subway, this latest healthcare worker was truly irresponsible in using mass transit while he was still in the "watch" period.

It's irritating to see yet another trained, seemingly intelligent health care worker take such unnecessary risks.  This isn't the flu we're talking about--it's a deadly virus that has wiped out entire villages in Africa. I can understand not wanting to disrupt your everyday life, but getting on an airplane, or a cruise ship, or riding the 5th largest subway system in the world? Pure stupidity.

There's an arrogance that I just can't understand on the part of these healthcare workers, and others who suddenly fancy themselves experts on infectious diseases, just because they heard on the news that it's not that easy to catch. I've had well-meaning friends quote all sorts "facts" about ebola in the last few hours, but the truth is, we're still learning about what the most effective protocols are when it comes to Ebola.  No, it's not time to panic. It's not the end of the world. But an abundance of caution is most certainly in order until we lock this thing down, there's still a lot we don't know about how this disease is spread.

So, for anyone who thinks it's okay sit there, safely ensconced behind a computer screen thousands of miles away from NYC, dismissing the concerns the others, maybe you should hop on the next plane and volunteer to help. If you're not worried about catching anything, by all means, we can put you to work!  You can be the one to wipe down the subway cars and help disinfect the bowling alley where this guy spent some time just hours before he went into the hospital with 103 F fever.  How does that sound?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

And the winner is....Wasabi Ginger!

Congratulations to Meneko Spigner McBeth, the winner of the Lay's Potato Chip Flavor Contest. The winning entry was Wasabi Ginger, which was also my pick to win.  It was, by far, the favorite for my family.

In case you missed my previous blog posts, here are links to my reviews for each finalist:

Wasabi Ginger
Bacon Mac N Cheese
Mango Salsa

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Recommended: Documentaries on Food & Nutrition

I recently came across an article on the site, listing the "11 Powerful Netflix Documentaries That Will Change How You Think About Food."

A couple of them I'd seen before (Food, Inc and Super Size Me) but the others weren't familiar to me, so I've started watching them.

Hungry For Change had lots of great information about how our dietary choices directly affect our health and well-being.  There's a website and a book that correlates with the movie, but according to the reviews I've seen, all of the info you need is already detailed in the movie itself. One of things I found most informative was the differences between our food supply now versus 50 years ago.  Foods are shipped longer distances, and are filled with preservatives and chemicals to make them more shelf stable.  Everything has added sugar these days, and the experts cite several examples of just how addictive those additives can be. The experts featured in this documentary were a mix of medical doctors, academics, nutritionists, and authors, so it was lighter and more entertaining than some of the heavier food documentaries out there.  Interesting stuff, and definitely worth seeing.

You can watch the trailer here:

The other documentary I watched today was Forks Over Knives.  I liked that one because it focused on extensive research.  There were some gory surgery scenes (totally unnecessary, ugh!) but it was worth it to learn more about the life's work of two researchers, Dr. T. Colin Campbell (PhD) and Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn (MD).  One took a medical approach to researching the link between high consumption of animals fats and cancer, while the other took a clinical approach.  Eventually, the two men meet and find that their independent research matches up, validating one another's findings.  Several other experts are also interviewed, along with real-life stories of people who reversed their serious health issues just by changing their diet.

You can see the trailer here: 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Facebookers Beware: Don't fall for this spam email!

I just received an email that purports to be from Facebook, advising me that if I don't go check my unread messages they will be deleted.

Here's what the email looked like:

I didn't fall for it, because 1) it came through my email address that has never been affiliated with Facebook and 2) it says "You haven't been to Facebook for a few days, and a lot happened while you were away"  

I use Facebook frequently, so I knew that this was bogus.  Be on the lookout and don't fall for this kind of phishing scam.  Even if it looks legit, never click to a site through an email link...go to your browser and enter the web address yourself.   

Another tip: if you ever get an email you're unsure about, just hover your cursor over the sender name and the actual sender's email address will be revealed.  Here's what it said when I hovered over "FacebookNotification":

Thursday, September 25, 2014

REVIEW: Pumpkin Spice Oreos

I've been waiting to try these ever since Nabisco announced they were releasing a limited edition "Pumpkin Spice Oreo" flavor.   They finally turned up at my local grocery store.

There are many people--and I used to be one of them--who believe it is sacrilege for Oreos to be made from anything other than chocolate cookies.  Then I tried the Birthday Cake flavored ones and all was forgiven.  Sometimes, a vanilla cookie top is absolutely necessary to pair perfectly with a flavored cream filling. Sorry to all the purists out there, but it's time to let go of the concept that "there's only one true Oreo cookie."

So, the verdict on this latest incarnation: I liked them. They're not as strangely addictive as the Root Beer ones, but they definitely deliver on the pumpkin spice flavor profile.  My husband thought they were a little too pumpkiny for his taste, but my youngest daughter and I thought they were perfect. In fact, my daughter pointed out that first, you get the pumpkin flavor, but then you get the spices (mostly cinnamon) right at the finish.

The only negative thing I could say is that the filling is such a deep, dark orange color, it's a bit off-putting.  They certainly didn't skimp on the food coloring. Unfortunately, the filling ended up being the same color and consistency as processed cheese-spread-in-a-spray-can, so it can be a bit jarring when tasting it for the first time.  

Pumpkin Spice Oreos -- definitely worth picking up for a fun and festive Fall treat.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Carlos Beltran: Standing up for Real Men Everywhere

Sports fans have been bombarded lately with several examples of professional athletes behaving like brutish, violent jerks in their private lives: Balitmore Ravens' Ray Rice and the video of him punching out his now-wife in an elevator; Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson accused of beating his 4-year-old son; Carolina Panthers' Greg Hardy on leave while he appeals domestic violence charges; and just last night, Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested and charged with aggravated assault stemming from a domestic violence dispute involving his wife and toddler. As one friend wryly put it, "And the hits just keep on coming."

Amidst all of this horrific behavior on the part of these deeply troubled, flawed men, a heartbreaking story emerged about another professional athlete who is also on leave from his team, but for a very different reason.

The New York Yankees announced that Carlos Beltran is on leave following his wife's tragic miscarriage of their unborn son. The family is devastated over their loss, and there is no word on when he will return.

Beltran posted a moving statement on his Facebook page in his native language, which was translated as follows:

As his teammate Derek Jeter said, "It puts things in perspective."

It most certainly does.  In a week that saw one man making excuses for inflicting injuries on his preschooler son after whipping him with a tree branch, we see another man mourn for the son he will never have the chance to raise.  And rather than react with anger or bitterness over his loss, Beltran choses to focus on all of the blessings in life.

After a week of bad role models dominating sports news, Beltran's example of a loving, mature man standing by his family offered a much-needed counterpoint.  My condolences to him and his family.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Thoughts on Adrian Peterson

Minnesota Vikings football star Adrian Peterson is facing charges of child abuse for injuries he caused to his young son in May.  Peterson claims that he was merely disciplining the boy, in the same manner in which he was corrected a child by his own parents.  He says he loves his son, and will "continue to try and be a better person."

Peterson released a lengthy statement trying explain his actions, and stating emphatically that he loves his son very much. He says he "never intended to harm" his son.

As a parent, I know how difficult it can be to control your temper sometimes, especially if your child is acting out or misbehaving.  I would love to be able to take Peterson at his word and give him the benefit of the doubt, but there are aspects of this story that I cannot get past:

*   Adrian Peterson is a 220lb grown man, who allegedly whipped his 4-year-old son.  FOUR. YEARS. OLD.

*  He allegedly used a tree branch to beat the boy on his legs, buttocks and privates--some of the most sensitive areas on a person's body.  "I never intended to harm my son"... so did he think it would tickle to repeatedly strike the boy with tree branch?

*  There are reports that the boy told police his father had stuffed his mouth with leaves just prior to the beating. If that is true, that is abuse, pure and simple. There's no excuse for that.

*   According to Peterson himself, he  decided to beat his son with the tree branch because the boy pushed his 5-year-old brother. The 4-year-old ended up with bruises all over his lower body. Does Peterson believe the punishment fit the crime?

Peterson has expressed regret and remorse over what he did, and is seeking professional help. Now it's up to the courts to decide what his punishment will be.  Lucky for him, now that he's saying all the right things, they are likely to show far more mercy than Peterson showed to his own son.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

NYC Subway: MetroCard Math That's Worth Doing, for Tourists and Locals Alike

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not a fan of math, EXCEPT when it comes to money.  I know, I've had architects and math wizards try to sway me that geometry really IS useful, and yet I'm still not inclined to "find x".  I'm pretty sure we have computers that can do that now.

But when it comes to money--that's a different story.  There's much more of an incentive there for me to use my brain, especially if it means more money in my pocket at the end of the day.

Which is why I'm posting a link to this eye-opening blog post on I Quant NY, about the proper way to purchase a MetroCard for the NYC subway system such that you won't be stuck with a leftover balance.

The bottomline: when you buy a MetroCard from a kiosk machine, skip the first screen with its "convenient options" and choose "Other Amount', then enter in $19.05,  and you'll never have to worry about the dreaded "insufficent balance" warning again. The math behind this strategy is fully explained on the blog post, so I highly recommended reading the step-by-step instructions HERE.

Shame on the MTA for setting up their system in a way that cheats riders out of their money.  And kudos the I Quant NY for posting the solution to combat that system.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Review: Root Beer Float Oreo Cookies

Nabisco is unveiling several limited edition flavors this Fall, and I've been looking everywhere for the Pumpkin Spice ones to send to my daughter in college. So far, I've had no luck finding them, but I did happen across this interesting variety: Root Beer Float.   I couldn't resist!

The cookie itself is vanilla, which is already sacrilege as far as Oreos are concerned--the cookie is supposed to be chocolate--always and forever!  But you know, in this worked. 

The creme inside is two-toned: one side is the usual white, vanilla-flavored variety, while the other half is a light tan, root-beer flavored creme. The cookies also have a pleasant, distinctive root beer aroma. 

But how do they taste?  AMAZING.  

I only planned to try one, and ended up inhaling 3 of them before I even knew what happened. I would not be surprised to find out that crack cocaine is a secret ingredient in these cookies--they're that addictive.  

I'll definitely be stocking up on these, and sending a few package or two to my daughters who are away at college.  If you see them at a store near you , go ahead and give them a try!

Friday, September 5, 2014

"Die-hard Apple fans" waiting in line for the iPhone 6? Not exactly...

Several television news outlets are reporting about the lines of "die-hard fans" who have started lining up outside of Apple stores across the tri-state area in order to be one of the first to purchase the new iPhone6, which is rumored to be ready for release.  But are the folks camping out in line really a bunch of obsessed geeks with a burning passion to own the newest iPhone?

Not exactly.

Newsweek has the real story on this phenomenon: the people you see lined up are actually being paid quite handsomely to do so, many of them sponsored by larger companies, or savvy entrepreneurs who have figured out a way to monetize their "first in line" status.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Doctor Who: Into the Dalek (s.8, ep. 2)

Last night was the second episode in Doctor Who's Season 8, and coming off of last week's big premiere, I have to confess, "Into the Dalek" was a bit of a letdown.  I found the plot to be underwhelming--the Doctor and Clara have to literally get inside a Dalek's head to figure out why it suddenly seems to have turned "good"--and I noticed a pattern emerging this season. Many of the characters and situations appear to be a rehash of things that have happened in seasons past.

The overall theme for this season appears to be "Deja Vu". Consider this:

-- We have The Doctor's "new" face, which is actually the face of someone he met in a prior encounter (Caecilius in "The Fires of Pompeii", series 4, episode 2, also played by Peter Capaldi).

-- In last week's episode, he kept saying that things were familiar to him, that he'd "seen this before," but he just couldn't remember where, why or when.

-- The radioactive leak in the Dalek from tonight's episode originated from a crack on the inner wall of the Dalek...a crack that looked eerily similar to the one that appeared in Amy Pond's wall (season 5, episode 1) that ended up being a rip in the fabric of Time.

-- The mysterious woman who keeps snatching up characters just as they face their Death and transporting them to "Heaven" is reminiscent of the woman on the other side of the crack in the Time Field.  Just as Amy Pond was being held in an alternate reality, it's possible this woman is doing the same thing with the rest of these characters.

-- Journey Blue is a soldier working on a hospital vessel who, by the end of this week's episode, wants to join The Doctor as his companion.  She harks back to Martha Jones, the medical resident who becomes The Doctor's companion after an incident occurs at the hospital where she works. She later ends up becoming....a solider.

-- Last night we were introduced to another soldier, Danny Pink, who now works as a teacher in the same school as Clara.  He is reminiscent of Mick, the soft-spoken friend of previous companion Rose, who also ends up becoming a solider.  And, given his odd last name, I'm convinced he's going to end up being Journey Blue's "dead" brother, who did not burn up in their damaged spaceship, but instead was transported (either by the mysterious lady in Heaven or accidentally, by The Doctor) to another point in history, where he was treated for his injuries.

-- The Doctor seems to have an aversion to soldiers now, and turned down Journey Blue's request to join him. I think it stems from an encounter between The Doctor and Danny Pink, which we have yet to see, but I'm sure will be revealed as the series continues. I also thought it was noteworthy that, by the end of this week's episode, the Dalek has turned on its own kind, becoming a serial killer, for all intents and purposes. The Doctor, in "enlightening" the Dalek, has turned him into a solider that is hell-bent on killing other Daleks.

So, my assessment thus far is that the main theme for this new season of The Doctor is "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."   This season will be all about The Doctor revisiting things he has done in other points in time, trying to understand and accept the choices he made, and getting a second chance to "get it right" this time if he regrets the choices he made before.

It's been announced that Jenna Coleman, the actress who plays Clara, will be leaving the show in the December episode. I already suspect that the circumstances surrounding her exit will hark back to what happened with Amy Pond and the rift in time, but with different results, because The Doctor will have learned from his past choices.

This regeneration is shaping up to be one big "do-over" for The Doctor.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Beige Blazer

Everyone seems fixated on President Obama's colossally bone-headed statement that the United States "has no strategy" to deal with ISIS, but honestly, I still can't get past the pathetic beige blazer he was sporting during the press conference.

At this point, there's nothing about President Obama that isn't carefully crafted for mass consumption, which makes his choice to don a washed out, sedate beige suit jacket for this crucial press conference all the more puzzling.  He used strong words to condemn Russia, but in the context of the washed out, non-threatening tan jacket he was wearing, it was difficult to take him seriously.

The lame visual presented by President Obama was reminiscent of laid-back crooner Perry Como, clueless newsman Ted Baxter (as played by Ted Knight on the Mary Tyler Moore show) and sweet-as-pie Children's Television Workshop personality Fred Rodgers.

I don't know who his current image consultant is, but they should be fired.  President Obama came across as weak and harmless, thanks to the washed-out jacket.

What the heck was he thinking?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Zara Produces Concentration Camp Chic--AGAIN

Good grief, the clothing manufacturer Zara has done it again: they released a product in their fashion line that is reminiscent of the Holocaust.

A few years ago, the company produced an embroiderered handbag that had little swastikas on it that caused a similar uproar, resulting in the bags being pulled from stores. You would think that, after that incident, they'd learned their lesson to be a bit more sensitive to symbols associated with the Holocaust.

But no, now we're finding out that they recently produced a striped shirt with a yellow star that is eerily reminiscent of the clothes worn by Jewish concentration camp prisoners.  Here's a side-by-side so you can judge for yourself:


That's a concentration camp shirt on the left, the recalled Zara shirt on the right.

You can read more about the controversy HERE.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Doctor Who Season 8 Premiere: Capaldi's Take on an Iconic Character

Last night was the premiere of Doctor Who, Season 8 on BBC America.  My daughter Amy got me hooked on this series last year, in spectacular fashion: I watched just one episode, with Christopher Ecclestone as The Doctor, and I became obsessed.  This was less than a month before the big Christmas episode when Matt Smith's version of The Doctor was set to regenerate and leave the show, so I had a lot of catching up to do.

I binge-watched the entire series--hundreds of episodes--in just 3 weeks. Not something I would recommend doing, by the way. Yes, the show was enjoyable, but every spare moment was spent with my laptop nearby, running an episode of the show. Cooking dinner, watching Doctor Who. Wrapping gifts, watching Doctor Who. Doing laundry and cleaning, watching Doctor Who.  It was challenging, but did give me a certain sense of accomplishment when I was able to watch the Christmas special in real time with my daughter.

The one side effect, however, was that I found myself not fully investing in any of the current incarnations of The Doctor, because I knew they were destined to regenerate and leave in order for Capaldi to come in. I knew I shouldn't get too attached, so that when it came time for the actor to leave the role, I wouldn't feel a sense of loss.

The fans of this show, known as "Whovians," are often quite passionate about which Doctor is their favorite.  I always leaned towards preferring Ecclestone's version, perhaps because he was my first exposure to the character.  I also liked the way he played it: very calm and capable, even amidst the chaos.  He lended a self-assurance to the role, which some fans found a bit abrasive, but I found charming. I thought his arrogance was authentic to a character who was said to be hundreds of years old and experienced in travels and adventures across space and time.

When David Tennant came in, I wasn't so sure about him.  He played it rakish and boyish and far more casual than Eccelstone, and the character's tendency towards shameless flirtation and womanizing was a bit off-putting.  My daughter thought he was adorable, of course, but I guess there was a bit of a "Captain Kirk chasing the after every green woman he sees" vibe that I couldn't get past. When he said, "I don't want to go" it didn't tug at my heart strings or affect me the way it did most Whovians. I was ready for him to go so that we could move along to Matt Smith's version of the character.

Matt Smith was so young when he took on the role, and played it even more boyish child-like, almost to the point of being bumbling.  It took awhile for me to warm up to him, but eventually I did. Still, I longed for the maturity and quiet confidence that Eccelstone had infused in the role during his one season as The Doctor.

Enter Peter Capaldi last night as The Doctor.  I know that many younger Whovians were aghast at the idea of an "old man" playing their beloved Doctor, especially those who enjoyed the chemistry between Matt Smith's Doctor and his young companion, Clara.  I wasn't sure how it would work, and wasn't surprised when I heard that Jenna Coleman, the actress who plays Clara, plans to leave her role during this year's Christmas special.

I enjoyed the episode, and was surprised at how quickly I warmed up to Peter Capaldi's version of The Doctor.  He exuded an air of maturity and a sense of responsiblity for his actions past and present that I don't think we've seen from prior incarnations, and it suits him. He also plays the character as far more serious, introspective and intense than the past two actors did, with a quick, wry sense of humor that I loved.  Favorite line of the night: after unexpectedly plucking a hair from Clara's head, he delivered this deadpan response to her objection: "It was the only one out of place. I assumed you wanted it dead."

What did you think of Capaldi's take on Doctor Who?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thoughts on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

By now, I'm sure you've heard about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money and awareness of ALS (amytrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gherig's Disease) that quickly went viral.  People all around the world have been accepting the challenge to dump a bucketful of ice water on their heads, or else be forced to donate money to ALS research.

Many people--myself included--have done both, saturating themselves with ice water and making donations large and small to the ALS Association.

There has been some backlash, however.  Now that celebrities have joined in the fun--including Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Ben Affleck, and more--there are those who say it is nothing more than a desperate attempt at garnering attention and adoration for those participating. Some complain that not enough money is being raised, or that the barrage of videos being posted on social media is getting tiresome, and is more about self-promotion than the cause of fighting ALS. They implore people to stop perpetuating the challenge because they're "over it" and just want it go away.

To them I say: it doesn't matter what is motivating people to participate in this challenge, the fact that they are doing it--and drawing attention to ALS in the process--is all that matters.   The ends justify the means in this case, so if Lady Gaga choses to sit on a chair scantily clad and wordlessly dump a bucket of ice on her head--without bothering to even mention ALS or how to donate--it still draws attention to the overall cause of raising money for ALS research, and I am grateful she took the time to do it. Could some of these celebrities have donated more? I'm sure they could have. But donations are something that must be freely given, whether it's $5 or $5,000. This is the first time ALS has been in the national spotlight to this degree, and I don't care what it took to get there--I'm just happy it's happening.

(For those who want to see some of these celeb videos, TIME magazine has a roundup of 27 of the best celebrity ice bucket challenge videos: CLICK HERE to view them)

The effort to raise awareness of ALS, and the desperate need for funding to research a cure, is something that is near and dear to my heart.  My father-in-law Nick succumbed to ALS in 1988.  He suffered an agonizing 7 years with this horrible disease.  At the end, he had difficulty breathing, could barely speak, and was completely paralyzed from the neck down. He was immobile physically, but with his mind and thought processes completely intact, fully aware of everything going on around him. I can't even fathom the feelings of helplessness and despair he must have felt at the end.

I have witnessed first-hand how ALS affects not only the person diagnosed with it, but also their family and friends.  No one should have to go through the pain that my husband and his family endured, watching helplessly as Nick slowly deteriorated and was taken from them, diagnosed at 49, and dead by the age of 56.

Fortunately--there IS hope.  Researchers are SO close to finding a cure for ALS.  So, if you are able to, I hope you'll click this link to the ALS Association's donate page and give a donation to this very worthy cause.

To everyone who has participated in the ice bucket challenge and/or donated, THANK YOU for supporting ALS research.

Well, that was fast: the Duggar legacy continues

Jill Dillard, the 23-year-old recently married daughter of the prolific Duggar clan,  has announced that she is pregnant with her first child with husband Derrick, 25. The news comes just 8 weeks after their wedding, and on the heels of the announcement of her sister Jessa's engagement to Ben Seewald.   While I disagree with the family on some of their social views, I am happy for them. A new life is always something worth celebrating, so congratulations to the happy couple. They'll certainly have no shortage of babysitters!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hands Off My Luggage!

My family and I just returned from a great vacation, which I'll be blogging about over the next few days.

I love to travel, but one of my pet peeves is when you get to the baggage claim area, and the luggage carousel vultures swoop in and start grabbing bags that aren't even theirs. So, this time, I relied on the power of "The Force" to keep the vultures at bay. worked!

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Real Reason Disney Movies Kill Off the Mom

So, my daughter and I were at the movies today, and I started ranting about Disney and their insatiable need to kill off Mom characters at every opportunity (yeah, that's right, I'm looking at you Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Bambi, et al). Why, I ranted, WHY do they always have to kill the Mom?!

"Well," Cathy replied, "if they didn't, there would be no movie, because Moms can fix anything. If the Mom was alive, she would take care of the bad guys and everything would be fine. They have to kill her off, so that someone else has to be the hero."


PRODUCT REVIEW: Lay's Wasabi Ginger Potato Chips--we have a winner!

Finally, we have the last of the four contenders in the Lay's Potato Chip "Do Us a Flavor" Contest: Wasabi Ginger.  Actually, the full name is of this variety is "Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger," and I suspect it is this subtle difference in cooking style that ultimately helped vault this flavor combo to the top of the heap.

I'll cut right to the chase: Wow, these are good! They were far and away my husband's favorite, and I have to agree--Wasabi Ginger is a winner.

The chips are not overly spicy, with just a hint of wasabi that adds more flavor than heat.  The two most prominent flavor notes are ginger and soy sauce, and they're perfectly balanced. The only downside is that the entire time I was eating them, I kept thinking of how much more fattening these chips are than just eating the real thing: picked ginger dipped in soy sauce would be a fraction of the calories, with none of the fat.

Oh, but why quibble? This a review of snack food, after all, and sitting on your couch watching television while daintily dipping delicate slices of ginger into a little dish of soy sauce would just not be feasible.  These chips offer a delicate yet complex flavor combo, along with the satisfying crunch associated with the Kettle Cooked variety.

So, the verdict is in: after trying all four contenders in the Do Us A Flavor contest, my vote will be going to....Wasabi Ginger!

In case you missed it, you can read my reviews of the other three flavors by scrolling back over the last few blog posts, or by clicking on the name: Mango SalsaCappuccino, and Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese. This was a fun--not to mention tasty--endeavor, so I encourage you to watch for these flavors and try them for yourself.  Then, head over to to cast your own vote (via social media or text).

May the best chip win!

****UPDATE**** Yes, indeed, Wasabi Ginger DID win the contest. Read my follow up post HERE

Babies Being Left in Hot Cars to Die: A Wake-Up Call for Parents

I read yet another news story this morning about a parent "forgetting" their child in a hot car, with fatal results. The family is described as "devastated", and the article made mention of the fact that the child was usually dropped off at a babysitter, as if this break in daily routine somehow becomes an extenuating circumstance for leaving one's child to die in sweltering 90-degree temperatures. It was also noted that there was construction in the area, so the parking situation was different, and oh yes, this parent needed to go to the bathroom urgently, and by the time she was done, she somehow created the thought that she'd brought the baby in the house and put her down for a nap.  Which would have also been a break from the usual daily routine, so I'm not sure how this mother was able to remember something that didn't actually happen, and then go about her day while her daughter was left to suffocate. I'll leave that to the investigators to figure out.

I have no doubt that the family is incredibly distraught over this tragedy, but if I could question this parent, what I would like to ask is this: how is it that you remembered to grab your cellphone, and your house keys, and your wallet on your way out of the car, but totally forgot your own child?

When my children were small, I went through many a busy day in a sleep-deprived haze, so I know exactly how difficult and draining parenthood can be. I understand that when you have very young children and tons of responsiblities, things can slip your mind, like scheduled appointments and birthdays and picking up the dry cleaning.

BUT YOUR CHILD?  No. Not a chance.

The family in this latest case is calling the death of their baby "a simple mistake."  I disagree. There's nothing simple about being so distracted by other things in your life that you would completely forget the one person who is dependent upon you for everything.  There is no greater responsiblity than being a parent, and nothing else--nothing--should take priority over your child.

There was a time when I used to have to do a lot of shuttling in the car for my older two daughters, and always with my youngest daughter in tow. Inevitably, my little one would fall asleep in her car seat, and I hated to jostle her and wake her up just to run inside her sister's preschool or dance class for pickup.  Surely, I could leave the baby alone in the car, even just for a minute?

But no, I never did, because another parent said something to me early on that resonated deeply: "Before you leave your child alone in the car, pretend that she's actually a stack of $1 million in cash, just sitting out on your front seat, with the doors unlocked.  If you wouldn't feel comfortable leaving the money alone for even a few seconds, then you certainly shouldn't leave your child--your child is priceless. Never forget that."

Those words stayed with me through all of those times, when it was raining or snowing or the baby was sleeping and I was soooooo tempted.  But no...each time, EVERY time, I lugged my precious daughter inside, even if it meant waking her up.  Because that's what responsible parents do. And once you get into the habit of putting your child first, and never leaving your child alone in a car, even for a second, you won't ever have to worry about "forgetting" your child.

These parents who have been in the news lately claim that the deaths of their children were accidental, but I believe they all could have been avoided by following one simple rule: always, always, ALWAYS make your child your #1 priority. That means: put down the cellphone, check your Facebook page after the kids are in bed, and read that email later. Put your child's needs ahead of your own, not because you're a martyr, but because that's just part of the job of being a parent.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Lay's Cheddar Bacon Mac N Cheese Potato Chips

Time for yet another Lay's Potato Chip taste test!

Over the past few days, I've been on a mission to sample each of the four finalists in the Lay's Potato Chip "Do Us a Flavor" contest.  On Saturday, I tried the Mango Salsa variety, and on Sunday, I sampled the Cappuccino flavor.  (Scroll down to click on the flavor names to see my previous reviews for those two).

Today, I tried the other two contenders: Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese and Wasabi Ginger.

First up: Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese.

I had really high hopes for this one, and for the most part, it did not disappoint.  I expected lots of salty, cheesy, bacon-flavored goodness, and the chips certainly lived up to those expectations.  The flavor on these was quite strong--almost overpowering, in fact--to the point where I had trouble tasting anything ELSE for a several minutes after I'd eaten them.

There was also something vaguely familiar about these chips...and I just couldn't put my finger on it. That is, until my youngest daughter figured it out.  "Wow," she said suddenly, "these smell EXACTLY like Beggin' Strips."

Oh, lord...she's right.  Open a bag of these chips, take a deep inhale, and it's the same as breathing a bag of bacon-flavored dog treats. I sincerely hope it's a different chemical composition used for the flavoring, but it certainly makes you wonder.

The verdict:  I liked the Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese, but I had to stop after a few because the bacon flavor is fairly strong, and honestly, a little overwhelming.  I think I like these better than the cappuccino ones, but not by much.


Next up....a review of the final contestant, Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Beauty and a Beat Cover - Christina, Navin, and Simon

My daughter and her friends had an impromptu jam session today. To say that I'm not a Justin Bieber fan is putting it mildly, but the melody on this song is really beautiful--especially with Christina singing it.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Lay's Cappuccino Potato Chips

Another day, another taste test!

Yesterday, I tried the Mango Salsa flavored Lay's potato chips, which is one of the four finalists in the company's "Do Us a Flavor" contest (to read more about that on yesterday's post, scroll down or click HERE).  Today, I decided to try the Cappuccino variety.

I must confess, a friend of mine tried these a few days ago, and warned me that they were terrible, so I was not expecting much. The whole concept sounds really odd, and although I do love drinking cappuccino, I did not think the flavor would translate well to a potato chip.

Much to my surprise--I liked them!

I found the Cappuccino chips to be very cinnamon-forward in terms of flavor, and it reminded me of eating a churro dipped in coffee.  (For those who are unfamiliar with churros, they are delicious strips of dough that are deep-fried and then covered in cinnamon sugar--a traditional Spanish treat that I absolutely love.)  Whereas I stopped eating the Mango Salsa chips yesterday without difficulty, I found myself going back for more of the Cappuccino chips.  I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually found them to be quite tasty.  

But would I buy them again?  Hmmm....I'm not sure.  The problem: while I thought they were tasty, everyone else in my household thinks they taste DISGUSTING.  My 18-year-old daughter tried one and said, ""  My husband tried them--after I went on and on about how churro-like they were--and he had a totally different viewpoint.  He said they smell and taste predominantly of coffee, and he didn't like them--not even a little.

So, if I do end up buying these again, it will probably result in me eating the entire bag by myself, which is not a good thing.  I think I'd be better off having a real churro and a cup of coffee instead.

Now...if I can just find the other two flavor finalists in the contest, I can post reviews of those and then cast my vote. Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

PRODUCT REVIEW: Lay's Mango Salsa Potato Chips

I love trying out new flavor combinations, so when I heard that Lay's Potato Chips had some new varieties available, I went on the hunt to find them.  They're part of their annual "Do Us A Flavor" contest, where they present 4 finalists and ask the public to vote for their favorite. The winner gets mass-produced. Last year's winner, Cheesy Garlic Bread, has been available at my local grocery store on a regular basis, but it's been nearly impossible to find the Siracha-flavored ones (last year's runner-up, which was also released as a permanent flavor, along with the 3rd place finisher, Chicken & Waffles).

There are 4 new flavors competing for a top spot this year: Cappuccino, Mango Salsa, Cheddar Bacon Mac N Cheese, and Wasabi Ginger.  I fully expect that the Cappuccino will be awful (perhaps even worse than last year's Chicken & Waffles--bleh, too much maple syrup for my liking), but I'm willing to give them all a try in the name of science (or at least, to blog about it and save YOU from tasting it).  I have incredibluy high hopes for Cheddar Bacon Mac N Cheese (good lord...they had me at BACON) and the Wasabi Ginger, but I'll have to find them first.  So far, all I've found are Mango Salsa and Cappuccino.

First up: the Mango Salsa. And....


They were just okay. They weren't good enough to rave about, and they weren't weird enough to spit out. The mango flavor is definitely the most forward flavor note, and there's plenty of salt to keep chip lovers happy, along with a slight, lingering hint of red bell pepper.  I ate about a handful, but was able to stop pretty easily.  The verdict: Mango Salsa chips are not something I would seek out and purchase again.

One good thing about these "Do Us A Flavor" chips is that they come in smaller, snack-sized bags--perfect for sampling without paying too much.  I got them at Walgreen's, where they're on sale for $1.29 per bag, or 2 for $2.   The contest runs from July 28th through October 18th, and is open to U.S. residents 18 and over.  You can visit their website, to vote via Facebook or Twitter, or you can text your vote (BaconMac, Cappuccino, Mango or Wasabi) to 24477. You get one vote per person, per day, per social media platform.  I'm not going to vote until I try all of them first.

Next up....Cappuccino.  Yikes.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Kidnapped for Christ: a must-see documentary on Showtime

It never ceases to amaze me, the horrifying things people will do in the name of God.  This eye-opening documentary is a frightening look at a "behavior modification" camp for teens in the Dominican Republic managed by an Evangelical Christian group. The filmmaker, Kate Logan, originally set out to make a film highlighting the good works that were being done at the Escuela Caribe camp. Once she started interacting with the young people there, however, she quickly began to see the abuse and mistreatment that was occuring. This is a riveting, disturbing film. It sheds a light on the big business of "Teen Behavior Modification" and the fact that these camps--which number into the thousands--are largely unregulated and ripe for abuse. 

Kidnapped for Christ shares the story of troubled teens from the United States who are sent to Escuela Caribe by their parents for "attitude adjustments."  Some are suicidal or dabbled in drugs, one reveals she is a rape survivor, and then there's David, a new arrival to the camp whose sole "problem" seems to be that he is gay. His sexual orientation caused friction with his parents, so they decide to send him away. He is taken quite suddenly in the middle of the night by two men from the camp, dragged from his home without being given a chance to say goodbye to his friends or communicate with anyone.  Kate immediately forges a bond with David, and as the weeks wear on and she witnesses first-hand the treatment he endures, she is compelled to help him escape.

It's painful to watch as David and the other teens slowly have their spirits broken at the camp. Even more heartbreaking are the follow-up interviews with the teens later on in the film.  One insists that the camp "saved her life," even as she struggles to push away the negative memories. Another is haunted by her ordeal, confessing that she still has nightmares about the abuse and beatings she suffered there. As for David, one thing is clear: the experience has significantly changed him: he appears to have aged dramatically, he speaks more softly and haltingly, and does not make eye contact easily. The post-camp David seems diminished and less vibrant than the David we see at the beginning of the film, as he continues to try and make peace with what happened to him.

You can learn more about the film, and how you can help lobby for better regulation and oversight of these types of camps, on the official website:

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sharknado 2: Another priceless gem!

Oh yes, I did: I watched the premiere of Sharknado 2: The Second One last night on SyFy.  Why?

Because every now and then, your gray matter deserves a chance to check out and veg for awhile. And movies like Sharknado 2 are, in fact, a vacation for your brain.  It's best if you don't try to actually think while you're watching it, though. (But...everyone is talking about sharks in tornados as if that's a real thing! And, she's using a buzz saw as a prosthetic limb with no discernibile electrical source! And, he's falling from the sky at a tremendous rate of speed, yet still managed to catch a moving chainsaw! Shhh shhh shhhhhhh......hush now, my dear cerebral cortex, you just lay back down and rest that frontal lobe of yours. This is no time for reasoning and higher thought processess. Settle down.)

The best part about the movie is not the plot (what plot?) or the incredible special effects (uh, no) or the frightening plausibility that this could actually happen (Sharks. In. Tornados.)

No, the thing that makes this movie so much fun is that the actors involved are in on the joke. They know they are participating in a vehicle that is so-awful-it's-classic, and their only goal is to entertain their audience with the absurdity of it all.  And boy, do they deliver!

Ian Ziering
He's very dark and pensive. You can tell because he's frowning darkly and pensively. 

Tara Reid
Sure, Meryl Streep can do accents and show emotion and convey deep, complex feelings with just her eyes, but is that acting, really? The blank stares, the monotone delivery, a buzz saw for a hand...those are the marks of a true thespian!

A special shoutout to all of the truly inspired cameos in this sequel: Judd Hirsch of Taxi as the cab driver, Robert Hays of Airplane as the doomed pilot, Billy Ray Cyrus of "Achy Breaky Heart" fame as a gifted surgeon, and Bronx-born comedian Robert Klein as the mayor of New York City. Kudos to the casting director!

I also enjoyed the movie's penchant for killing off its guest stars in spectacular fashion--is there anything more satisfying than seeing purple-haired reality star Kelly Osborne and gossip diva Perez Hilton suddenly become shark food?   No, I think not.

Best of all, SyFy has already announced the release of Sharknado 3, coming in 2015. My weary brain is looking forward to it already.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Abby Lee Miller (of Dance Moms) Book Signing!

I've been trying to come up with some fun, memorable things to do with my 14-year-old daughter this summer, and when I saw that Abby Lee Miller of Dance Moms was coming to a local bookstore for a book signing, I knew we had to go meet her.  My daughter is a huge fan of the show, even though it makes me cringe to see Abby's "tough love" teaching style.  She certainly gets great results with her students, but as a mom, it's difficult to watch.  Nevertheless, my daughter enjoys the show, and now that her older sister/viewing buddy is away at college, I've been watching the show with her.

It was definitely an adventure. First, we had to buy the book in advance in order to get wristbands for admittance to the signing. Then we had to wait outside for more than two hours in 90-degree heat--and then a thunderstorm--before we could get inside the store.  Then it was another 40 minutes of waiting in a non-air conditioned basement room to get our books signed and a photo op with Abby.

As we neared the front of the line, we saw Abby chiding the bookstore owners for the huge fan they had blowing on her. It was sending her hair billowing in her face while she was trying to sign the books and take photos, so she stood up and made them adjust things before she would continue. It was exactly the kind of Type-A behavior we've seen from her on the show, and it was great to see her in action up-close.  And I tell you what--she was 100% right, that fan was ridiculous, and it was sweltering down there in the signing room.

I decided while I was standing in line (lots of time to think, you know) that I wanted to get a picture with her that imitated her "screaming" face on the cover. It really is an eye-catching photo for a book cover, and I thought it would be fun to replicate that. My daughter was mortified, but Abby was a great sport. She made me "take a nice one first" and then my daughter slinked out of the shot while Abby and I hammed it up.

All in all, an unforgettable experience--exactly what I was hoping for!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Listen Here, Fancy Pants!

A good friend of mine participated in one of those Moth monologues a couple of years ago. It was released today, and is absolutely hilarious.  It's also poignant, and speaks to expectations versus reality when it comes to family. The monologue is titled, "Listen Here, Fancy Pants!: A white collar son makes peace with his blue collar father."

It's free to listen on iTunes, just CLICK HERE and choose #4

Or, listen to it on The Moth website HERE

I promise you, it's worth your time!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Cake Boss Birthday

Whenever we have a birthday in our family, it's always my job to bake the celebratory cake.  Unfortunately, that means I also have the responsibility of baking my own birthday cake when my big day rolls around each year.

This year, I decided to give myself the day off, and treat myself to something special: a cake baked by Carlo's Bake Shop, made famous by the popular TLC reality show Cake Boss, featuring baker Buddy Valastro.

We visited the satellite location in Ridgewood, New Jersey (the original store is in Hoboken, but there are other locations cropping up now throughout the state).  Since this was a spur-of-the-moment thing, I didn't get a custom cake made, but it really wasn't necessary--there were several beautifully decorated pre-made cakes to choose from.

I eventually went with this little beauty, which has chocolate ganache mousse sandwiched between yellow cake and chocolate cake, topped with a thin layer of buttercream, and covered in pink fondant and decorated with brown fondant dots and a huge fondant bow.

So, did it live up to the hype?  Well, visually, yes, it was absolutely worth the trip to see the beautiful cakes, and get a photo of the iconic striped awning outside that I've seen on the show so many times. As far as taste, though--good lord, it was a bit too sweet for me.  I guess I'm just not a big fan of fondant. It looks great when it's molded into a decorative design, but it's pretty much pure sugar, and I like frosting that melts in your mouth.  Fondant is a little chewy.

Overall, I'm still glad I treated myself to a genuine Carlo's cake, but I'm not sure I would do it again. The cost was a bit steep--close to $50 for the small cake I purchased--and just a few days later, I bought a much larger cake for my daughter's birthday at my local supermarket bakery for less than half the price. They also sell Carlo's cakes in the frozen baked goods section of my local supermarket, but I can't even imagine that being worth it. The real pleasure was in making the trip to the bakery, seeing and smelling all of the wonderful items they had for sale, and getting a cake that baked fresh as opposed to frozen.  And, truth be told, the less expensive cake that I purchased from the supermarket, with its soft buttercream frosting and a fresh strawberry filling, was a much bigger hit with our family. In the future, I might still buy a Carlo's cake if we're having a fancy party and I want to impress people, but I would stick with a really small one and purchase a larger sheet cake from the grocery store as the main dessert.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Reflections on the Fourth of July

Today is Independence Day, a national holiday in the U.S. celebrating our declaration of freedom from tyrannical rule 238 years ago on July 4, 1776.

We're having some rainy weather here in the northeast, so it has been a low-key day spent watching the FIFA World Cup and enjoying quality time with my family.  I also made some red, white & blue cupcakes, because I'll take any excuse to make baked goods!

I wanted to share a blog post by a good friend of mine, Michael Lee. He wasn't born in the United States, but he lives here now, and his reflections on "The Essence of the Fourth" really hit home for me today.  It's a timely reminder that true American values are--and always have been--Freedom, Justice, Liberty and Equality for ALL.  I hope you'll click through, give it a read, and enjoy.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Coconut Bacon?

When I saw this at Fresh Market, I couldn't help myself--I had to try it.  I'm not a vegan, but I am always on the look out for healthier alternatives to my decadent food favorites, and I do love coconut, so why not?

It was...interesting. It certainly does have a flavor that is similar to the saltiness and smokiness of bacon, but there is definitely the flavor and texture of coconut that is unmistakable.

It wasn't awful, but it was not bacon, and would never be mistaken for such.  Still, if you are a vegan or vegetarian and you're craving bacon bits on your salad, this is a fine alternative to the chemical-laden manufactured variety that has been available for years.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Golf Cake!

This year, my husband's birthday and Father's Day occurred on the very same day, which called for a very special birthday/Father's Day cake.  My daughters and I decided to create this golf cake, in honor of his favorite hobby.

I used crushed Nilla wafers for the sand trap, a pearl candy bead for the golf ball, and a long toothpick with flag made of yellow card stock to display his age. The trees are ice cream sugar cones turned upside down and decorated with dark green icing using the flower tip. The water is blue Funfetti icing using the basket tip, and the various shades of green were achieved using dark green icing, light green frosting and mixing them both with fluffy white icing.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Graduation Cupcakes

I've seen numerous versions of these floating around on the web, but wanted to share my version for those of you looking for a "peanut-free" version.
The original concept is simple: top a cupcake with an upside down peanut butter cup, and top it off with a square of chocolate or a chocolate-covered graham cracker.

The problem is, my daughter has several classmates with severe peanut allergies, so her school is a peanut-free zone.

For my version, I made the cap out of solid chocolate, using a peanut butter cup mold for the base, and a silicone mini-brownie mold to make the tops. All it takes it a small dollop of chocolate in each brownie mold, then tap it gently against the table to flatten out the chocolate so that the square comes out nice and thin.


Then I used white decorating gel icing to draw the tassel. I added sprinkles and sugar crystals in the school colors to customize them. They were a big hit!