Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Toasted Coconut Oreos: Folks, we have a WINNER

I have been searching EVERYWHERE for these Toasted Coconut Oreos.  A couple of weeks ago, my daughter found them in Pennsylvania, but when I asked her to pick me up an extra bag, she went back to the store and they were sold out.

Fortunately, her willpower is a lot stronger than her mother's because my daughter actually saved the rest of the bag she bought and brought the rest home for me to try. 

I will cut right to the chase: of all the "Limited Edition" Oreos I have tried, these are the best.

Hands down. No contest. Mic drop.

I know, I can hardly believe it myself. I have been so anti-vanilla cookie when it comes to Oreos, and I take it all back. The combo of the vanilla cookie with the toasted coconut center is perfect. The ratio of cream to cookie: perfect. And the flecks of toasted coconut?  JUST RIGHT.

When you take a bite, it actually takes a couple of seconds for the coconut flavor to come through--it's not overpowering or cloying, and it is instantly addictive.  

Then, I did my usual routine of splitting the cookie apart and eating just the cream--again, GLORIOUS. Not too sweet, and just the right amount of coconut. 

Now if you'll pardon me, I have to go search these out online.  I still haven't been able to find them in stores, and I need these in my life. 

Thanks, Dad (March 22, 1932 - November 24, 2006)

"My father gave me the greatest gift
anyone can give another person:
he believed in me."
--Jimmy Valvano

Friday, November 20, 2015

Great info on Credit Card Deals--from someone I trust!

This blog is mostly just my own musings, and food reviews, and other random ramblings, but every once in a while, I do try to share information of value--IF it's something I truly believe in.

Yup...this is one of those times. 

My husband has many talents, but the one that never fails to impress me: his Information Management skills. He's a financial whiz--that's been his lifelong career, after all--but he's also got great instincts when it comes to money, and an incredible amount of patience when it comes to researching things.  

Lately, he's been on this mission to boost our credit score (which was already quite good) so that we could take advantage of the many credit card deals and bonuses that are out there.  If you know where to find the info, you have good credit, and you act fast, you can take advantage of some amazing offers that give you free airline miles, gift cards, points towards free hotel stays, and more. 

I finally convinced him that he needs to share this info with the rest of the world, to create a "one stop shopping" resource for people who don't have the time or patience that he has for sniffing these deals, but still want the opportunity to get them.  So, he's created a website: www.PointsYak.com.   I hope you'll check it out!

You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

The Man On the Moon

Wow. This John Lewis Christmas ad is absolutely beautiful, and it made me think of my Dad.  He was an electrical communications engineer, and he worked on the Gemini and Apollo space projects for NASA.  He helped design the circuit boards that were used in the lunar module, and because of that, his name is written on a scroll that was left on the Moon.

He's been gone for almost  exactly 9 years now, but I still think of him every single day, especially when I look up at the Moon.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Dear Hallmark Channel: Seriously?

I've already admitted that one of my favorite "guilty pleasures" this time of year is watching the Hallmark Channel's "Countdown to Christmas" movies. They're all very similar: sappy, romantic movies with a B-list cast and predictable plot, set against the backdrop of the Christmas holiday season. There are several old favorites that I look forward to each year--The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Christmas with Holly, the Nine Lives of Christmas--but I also enjoy seeing the new crop of movies. One that debuted recently: Christmas Incorporated.

I understand that these movies are not meant to be Oscar-worthy, and I adjust my expectations accordingly, but this one was really tough to watch right from the start. It felt low-budget, and the actors had zero chemistry or likability, but my daughter and I decided to give it some time and see if it would get better. 

Alas. About half an hour in, I spotted this sign on the front of a restaurant named "Ristorante Italiano":

"EXPRESSO"... Really, Hallmark?!?

And, just like that, we were done. I just couldn't bear to watch anymore.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Even in the face of Evil, Goodness persists

This video from Le Petit Journal features an interview with a young French boy, as he struggles to understand the horrific events that recently transpired in Paris. The father's calm, comforting words to his son are a beautiful testament to his parenting. When it comes to your children, the best way to fight back against fear and hurt is love. This scared little boy doesn't need to hear about "boots on the ground" or whether or not someone should be granted refuge--he just needed to be reminded that even though there's evil in the world, goodness and beauty will persist and endure.

I remember all to well the events of September 11, 2001, waiting anxiously for my eldest two children to come home from school so that I could help them process what had happened that morning in New York City at the World Trade Center.  School officials had done their best to keep the children shielded from the news, but in the age of technology and cell phones, rumors starting trickling through during their bus ride home.  My 7-year-old and 5-year-old came running in, wide-eyed, telling me they'd heard on the bus that a plane had hit the junior high school. Evenutally, they learned all about what had happened, and for many months afterwards, any plane passing overhead was met with a fearful upwards glance.  

My heart goes out to the children of Paris, and to their parents, who will be dealing with the trauma from this terrrorist attack for years to come.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Happens to the best of us...

Spotted while flipping through some holiday mail-order catalogs: 
St. Francis has really let himself go.

Offensive Campbell's Soup Commercial

Last night, a commercial for Campbell's soup depicted a young boy at mealtime, along with his Star Wars-obsessed dad...and, his other Star Wars-obsessed dad.

I thought the commercial was cute, but I knew immediately that there would be people who found it offensive, and point to it as an example of the "gay agenda."

Honestly, THIS COMMERCIAL by Campbell's, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, is the REAL culprit when it comes to being offensive. Double dipping--the horror!

But really.  It's just soup, people.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review: Starbucks Christmas Blend 2015

When it comes to coffee, my motto is "The Stronger, The Better."  I'm happy to report that this year's Christmas Blend from Starbucks holds up nicely in the "bold and robust" category, rivaling my all-time favorite K-Cups, Revv and Jet Fuel.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Review: The Nine Lives of Christmas

Yes, Hallmark's "Countdown to Christmas" has been in full swing for two weeks already, with a daily lineup of holiday-themed movies to choose from.  I'll admit it--they're my guilty pleasure this time of year.

Unfortunately, not all of these sappy romance movies are worth tuning in for--some are painfully trite and obvious--but every once in a while, there's a gem hidden in there that is absolutely worth watching.

The Nine Lives of Christmas is one of my favorites. It's a heartwarming story about a veterinary student named Marilee and a firefighter named Zachary, who meet and bond over their love of cats, while facing down some serious trust issues and emotional baggage.  LOL...yes, it sounds hokey, but trust me, you'll enjoy it.  CLICK HERE to watch it on Vimeo, or check the Hallmark Channel schedule to see when it airs next.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Bus Stop Bonding

Last year when my daughter started high school, we had to adjust to a new bus stop: instead of being located right outside my next door neighbor's driveway, the high school stop is 1/4 mile away, at the top of our long, steep hill.  No more waiting inside until the last second on a cold, blustery day--now, if she wants to make it in time for the bus, she has to leave the house at least 6 minutes ahead of the scheduled pickup window, lugging a huge backpack, laptop, and lunchbox for a power-climb to the top.

Throughout her freshman year, she was the only one on our street making that trek, and on days when the weather was particularly nasty, or if she was havinga slow morning and needed some extra time, I ended up driving her to the top. Soon, this luxury became more of a daily habit than a last-minute treat. And now, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Yes, it is important to teach a teenager about the importance of responsibility, and I'm sure there are those who believe that forcing her to brave the elements and experience that heart-pounding dash every morning would help her "build character."

But I'll let you in on a little secret: sitting with her in the car for those few minutes at the bus stop, often bleary-eyed myself and in need more coffee, is the highlight of my day.

Teenagers can be notoriously difficult to communicate with, but each morning, waiting for that bus, I've got a captive audience. I keep my cell phone firmly in my pocket, and as we watch the sun rise in front of us, we take that time to talk about the day ahead. Those still-sleepy morning minutes are when she's most likely to tell me about things that are weighing on her, and also the time she's most receptive to encouragement and advice.  Our bus stop bonding has brought us closer, and I treasure it.

Now that she's a Sophomore, we've added a new element to the mix: two boys from our street who I've known since they were born, both in their Freshman year. As someone who has no sons, these mornings are now even more special for me.  I love observing the differences between how these young men are first thing in the morning,  as compared to what I've experienced raising teenage girls. Every once in a while--usually on a Friday, when the excitement of the weekend is building--I see a flash of the carefree little boys I remember, riding bikes and skinning knees. Then they hop out of the car and I am jolted back to reality when I see that both of them are now taller than I am.

The first time I showed up at the bus stop on a rainy day, and urged the boys to get in to stay dry, I could see the conflict in their eyes: struggling with their feelings of obligation to "tough it out" and deal with the downpour in stride, while wanting to take refuge from the elements. The deciding factor? Deference for a mother-figure, when I roll down the window in exasperation and say, "Oh for heaven's sakes, get in, I'm cold looking at you!" Their respectful compliance speaks to the strong relationship each has with their own mother.

So, in addition to keeping up on things with my daughter, this new dynamic also has me doing a quick check on ESPN.com most mornings, lest I be unaware of the newsworthy football scores from the night before. The kids and I talk about everything and anything, from boring school assemblies and difficult exams they're worried about to their favorite after-school clubs and the new movie coming out this weekend that everyone wants to see.

Once the school bus comes into view, I wish them all a good day, and they reluctantly trudge to the corner, but not before thanking me for the chance to "relax in a nice warm car" for awhile.

Believe me, kids--the pleasure is all mine.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Photographer as Artist

I only post links to videos on this blog that are absolutely "click worthy," and this one is no exception. It's from an article on Shutterbug about a fascinating experiment, where 6 different photographers were each given the same subject to capture on film. The twist?  The subject's backstory was changed for each photographer: one was told he was shooting a self-made millionaire, while another was advised her subject was a just-released ex-convict.  

The results are astounding, and proof-positive that professional photographers possess a talent and an artistry that deserves to be appreciated.

VIEW THE ARTICLE AND VIDEO HERE: http://www.shutterbug.com/content/lab-pushes-boundaries-photography-decoy

Keeping Family Meal Times A "No Tech" Zone

Today, Pope Francis advised families to turn off their cell phones, televisions and other electronic devices during meal times, and focus on conversing with one another. This seems like common sense to me, so the fact that it's making headlines and is considered a bold and revolutionary idea is surprising.

I agree with the Pope's advice 100%. In my home, meal time has always been a daily opportunity for my husband, my children and me to sit down together and converse about what's going on in each other's lives. It's when we hear about the latest drama at school, a new dream or goal for the future that is starting to take shape, upcoming weekend plans, or just a silly joke that someone overheard in the cafeteria.  We share our ups and downs, offering a daily dose of love and support, and reinforcing the concept that we are all connected as a family unit.  

As a parent, having a sit-down dinner as a family is a valuable time for sharing and staying plugged in to what my children are feeling and thinking, and it saddens me to think this daily ritual for us is more the exception than the rule for others.

Veteran's Day 2015

Remembering all who have served and sacrificed to protect our country's freedom and ideals, including this brave young Navy man:.

Thanks, Dad. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Grand Canyon in Arizona


It really is an incredible sight to behold--a testament to the power of time and persistance.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Well, Here's a Unique Way to Memorialize a Loved One!

Seen today at the Phoenix Zoo:

I love this. Anyone can dedicate a memorial bench or plant a tribute tree, so Arlene's family took things to a whole other level.

I never had the pleasure of knowing her, but I'm willing to be she had a great sense of humor.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Black Forest Cake - in the crockpot!

Last week, I tried a recipe I saw posted on Facebook, and I couldn't believe how easy and delicious it was.  That recipe was for Apple Spice Crockpot cake: put two cans of apple pie filling into a crockpot, pour the dry Spice cake mix on top, and then put two sticks (8 oz) of butter on top of that. Cover and cook on high 2 to 2.5 hours.

I was skeptical about not mixing anything, but I tried it, and it was fantastic. Somehow, all of the ingredients came together, and it was like apple cobbler.

It got me thinking about other variations, so today, I tried the same basic technique using two cans of cherry pie filling, one box of chocolate fudge cake mix, and two sticks of butter.  The video I saw on Facebook shows the sticks of butter being placed right on top, but I decided to cut them up into pieces to make sure the butter was evenly distributed. It worked out great--absolutely delicious, and so easy.  Definitely going to stock these ingredients in the pantry this Winter for a fast, simple dessert.