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Christmas Dessert: Mocha Roll and Christmas Cookies

29 Dec
Christmas cookie tray

All together now: all of the cookies made by my mom, me and both grandmas, all on one tray.


This week I’ve been posting in retrospect about our Christmas Dinner. To me, the best part of any dinner is always the dessert. And like our Christmas Dinner, which is much the same every year, our dessert selection is as well.

First off, there’s the tray of Christmas Cookies. Together with my mom and two grandmothers, we put together a tray of cookies that has about 13 different varieties to choose from. We all have our favorites.

But…we’ve been eating cookies on and off now for two weeks. Well, at least I have. So we have to have another choice also. Enter…the Mocha Roll.

My mom makes the most fabulous frozen dessert called a Mocha Roll.

The Mocha Roll, before the first piece has been cut.

The Mocha Roll before the first piece has been cut.

This picture looks nice enough, but you truly can’t get a good enough idea of what this dessert really is unless you see it cut into a serving, which you will in a minute, when I post the recipe. However, I first must give tons of thanks to my mom here, because I decided to ask her for the recipe *just* as she was getting ready to leave for a cross-country, day-after-Christmas trip and I’m sure she had better things to be doing than emailing me recipes, but sure enough, there it was in my inbox this afternoon. So 1) She made it for yesterday’s dessert, 2) she typed up the recipe for me already so I don’t have to do it and 3) she took the time to send it to me. Thank you Mom!!

Single serving mocha roll

Here’s my dish, whipped cream on the side because I don’t actually like whipped cream. I did that just for you!

Here’s the recipe for her Mocha Roll for you!


(Good Housekeeping Magazine – 1974 or earlier)

Note:  Can be made and frozen one month ahead.


5 eggs, separated, at room temperature

1 cup confectioner’s sugar, divided


Dash salt

Mocha cream (recipe follows)


Day before or early in day:

Preheat oven to 400º.  Grease 15½ X 10½ jelly roll pan with shortening.  Line plan with waxed paper, then grease again and flour.

Separate eggs while they are cold, taking care not to get any yolk mixed in with the whites because if any egg yolk is present in whites, the whites will not beat to their highest volume.  Also, for greatest volume, cover bowl and let egg whites warm to room temperature before beating.

In large bowl, with mixer at high speed, beat egg whites until soft peaks form.  Beating at high sped, sprinkle in 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar.  Beat until sugar is completely dissolved.  Do not scrape sides of bowl.  (Egg whites should be stiff with glossy peaks.)  Set aside.

In small bowl, with mixer at high speed, beat egg yolks until thick and lemon-colored.  At low speed, beat in 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, 3 Tablespoons cocoa, and dash of salt, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.  Gently fold yolk mixture into whites until blended.  (To do this, with a gentle downward motion and using a spatula, cut through the center of the whites, across the bottom and up the side of the bowl.  Then, give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the cutting motion until egg-white mixture is broken to the size of small peas.  Fold just until all ingredients are combined, using spatula or whisk.  Over-folding breaks air bubbles, causing a flat jelly roll.)

Spread batter evenly in pan and bake 12-13 minutes.  Cake is done when top springs back when lightly touched with finger.  Do not overbake.

Meanwhile, sprinkle a clean cloth towel with cocoa.  (A flat weave towel, rather than a terry towel, works best.)

When cake is done, use a small spatula to immediately loosen edges from sides of pan.  Invert cake onto prepared towel.  Gently peel waxed paper from cake.  Roll towel together with cake from one of the narrow edges (jelly-roll fashion).  Roll as tightly as possible, but do not press down on cake.   Cool completely, seam-side down, on a wire rack.  Meanwhile, prepare mocha cream.

When cake is cool, unroll from towel.  Evenly spread Mocha Cream on cake almost to edges.  Starting at same narrow end, roll up cake without towel.  Place cake seam-side down on top of plastic wrap.  Wrap cake and then place on heavy duty foil; wrap and freeze cake for several hours or overnight.

About 15 minutes before serving, remove cake from freezer; unwrap; let stand for easier slicing.


In medium bowl, whip together, until soft peaks form:

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup light brown sugar

3 teaspoons instant coffee (prefer decaf, but not required)

(You can buy 16 oz. container and use remaining 1 cup to whip and serve with cake; add a little confectioner’s sugar to cream before whipping.)

Serves 8 to 10. This can be refrozen if there are leftovers!

What’s for Christmas dinner: Make ahead twice baked potatoes

17 Dec
Christmas Dinner: pork chop with homemade applesauce, green beans, twice baked potatoes, butternut squash

Today’s post is all about the potatoes.


Yesterday I wrote the first part of my post about our Christmas dinner, which is a great meal for any occasion:  roasted pork chops, homemade applesauce, Twice-Baked Potatoes, sauteed green beans and butternut squash.

At the end of the post I promised that I’d be sharing the make-ahead process that Don uses for the Twice-Baked Potatoes, which also provides you with a ready-made appetizer: potato skins.

To begin, you need baking potatoes. I get mine at Aldi’s. They sell the perfect sized and shaped potatoes in a big bag so that you don’t have to hand pick every single one. I buy two bags of them.

Early in the day on Christmas Eve, they go in the oven to be baked just as you would for any baked potato. Don bakes them at 400 degrees for one hour.

After that, they cool on top of the stove for two hours.

Potato skins

You want to take off the tops, but leave enough potato on them to make a hearty potato skin appetizer. You don’t want just skin.

At that time, Don cuts the top skin off of the potatoes, putting the tops in a serving dish to be used as Potato Skins for the next day and leaving the bottoms on the tray to be used for the Twice Baked Potatoes.

potato shells

You don’t want to scrape right down to the skin, leave enough flesh on the skin for a sturdy shell.

The next step is to scoop all of the potato flesh out of the skins, and into a mixing bowl.

making mashed potatoes for twice baked potoatoes

Next, you make mashed potatoes.

Next, you make the filling. We use butter, milk or half and half, salt, pepper and cheddar cheese, mashing the mixture just as you would for mashed potatoes.

Then, you fill the potato skins back up again. They should be slightly more full than they were before because of the added cheese, milk and butter.

Wrap the entire tray with saran wrap and refrigerate overnight.

On Christmas morning, when it’s time to cook, take your potatoes out. Let them sit on the counter for about 20 minutes to bring the temperature up a bit. Bake them in the oven 350 degrees for 40 minutes.  Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top of each one, and broil for a few minutes until brown and crispy. Eat and Enjoy!

Twice Baked Potatoes

Good enough to eat!

Additionally, to make your potato skins appetizer, you use the tops of the skins from the day before, sprinkling them with any toppings you’d like. We use cheddar cheese and bacon bits. Broil them for a few minutes in the oven before serving. We serve with a side of sour cream.

Family Movie Night and Two Books: The Snowman, Some Snowflakes and a Craft

12 Dec
The Snowman movie based on the book

This movie is quick, 23 minutes long and is based on the book by Raymond Briggs


Today is Friday, our wind-down night and often-times we have a Family Movie Night, as I said in last Friday’s post. Yesterday’s recipe was for Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, which I said make me think of snowflakes, even though they are chocolate based cookies. That thought of snowflakes leads me to today’s movie, book and craft for kids.

When I was an elementary teacher, the book, “The Snowman” by Raymond Briggs was one of my favorites to use as a wintertime activity with the kids. A wordless book, it had gorgeous illustrations, depicting a boy’s journey with a snowman. I used to love having the kids make their own version of the words to go along with the pictures.

That book is now a movie, and although I have not seen it, I wish I had it! According to the description on Amazon, it is based on live action flying footage. It sounds fantastic!

This is the same book that our family had for years until just last week.

The book that I used to have is now gone, donated just a couple of weeks ago, by my generous kids who each year have to make a big pile of books and toys for children who don’t have much, just before Christmas.

Clearly they couldn’t read my mind and know that I was going to use that very book in my blog post this week. When I heard it was gone, I almost went after it but my husband assured me they were putting the boxes on a truck as he was dropping them off, it was gone. So, instead, I am including the picture from Amazon. Sigh…I loved that book.

Speaking of books and snowflakes, when my daughter Caroline was in first grade, she checked out this very cool book about William Bently, a man who studied snowflakes. It includes really amazing photos of snowflakes and my kids were thoroughly intrigued by it. It truly shows that every snowflake is unique.

To me, nothing says winter crafts like paper snowflakes. One year I had my kids make snowflakes for all of the windows in the house (this was not an overwhelming task, we don’t have a ton of windows!) Each of their snowflakes was different and unique, just like real snowflakes. I loved the ones they put up on my bedroom windows so much that I never take them down. My side of the bed is the window side and I happen to sleep on my left side so I look out the window all the time when I’m laying there in the mornings just waking up. I love seeing those snowflakes.

Therefore, my craft for the day is just that: simple.paper.snowflakes.


Paper snowflakes made by the kids

Every snowflake is different and unique, just like the children who make them!

Paper snowflakes made by our girls

I keep my paper snowflakes on my window all year long!

Fun Friday: Book Review and Giveaway!

5 Dec
I was so excited to go and get my copy of Anika and Chris's new book! You're going to want your own copy too!

I was so excited to go and get my copy of Anika and Chris’s new book! You’re going to want your own copy too!

What’s more fun on a Friday than a giveaway?!

You might be thinking, maybe a giveaway that includes something yummy to eat?

You’ve got it!!

I do lots of book reviews and lots of giveaways, but it’s always more special to me when I know the author of the book personally.

Therefore, today’s review and giveaway is an extra-special one.

Last spring, I participated in the 2014 Providence Listen To Your Mother show, and I had the honor and privilege of sharing the stage with so many wonderful, talented women.

Anika Denise was one of those women. Anika told a wonderful, funny and yet emotional story about her children and their experience with their pet fish. You can hear her story here.

Today’s book review is another story by Anika Denise, a children’s book author, and it holds special meaning for me personally as well. The story behind this sweet children’s book, “Baking Day at Grandma’s” is from Anika’s own childhood as she grew up spending time with her Grandma Rose. Her story reminds me of my own two grandmothers and my mother, and the rich tradition of baking together that has been instilled in me as well as the rich tradition of giving. It’s a tradition I’ve written about each December on my blog as I share my own Grandma Rose’s recipe for her Italian Wine Biscuits and as I’ve shared my Grandma Grello’s recipe for her Christmas Prune Cookies. I’ve written about the years I spent growing up, baking with my mom so that my brother and I could go off delivering trays of cookies each Christmas Eve day. It’s a memory that I hold dear to me, and I’ll continue to share them again this holiday season, beginning next week.

In the book trailer (link below), Anika talks about the fact that growing up she spent a great many summers and winter vacations with her Grandma Rose. I too, spent summers and school vacations with my grandparents, making special memories with them and learning their cooking skills. My kids now spend time baking with my mother as well and carrying on that special bond and tradition.

As I flipped through my book, I found each illustration to be more beautiful than the last.

As I flipped through my book, I found each illustration to be more beautiful than the last.

Christopher Denise is the amazingly talented illustrator of “Baking Day at Grandma’s” and in the trailer below he explains where much of his stunning scenery is derived. Each illustration in the book is more beautiful than the last, and the Denise team does a wonderful job of both showing and telling such a sweet story, one can’t help but love it.

One of the best parts of the book, is the recipe Anika shares in the back of the book. It’s her Grandma Rose’s recipe for chocolate cake, and it provides a perfect opportunity for families to bake together, to spend special time together and even (here goes the teacher in me again) to throw in a little hands-on kitchen math and science. I won’t share the recipe here, of course, but when you get your own copy of the book, you’re going to love that extra-special touch.

Given that the holidays are coming up, I think that “Baking Day at Grandma’s” makes a perfect gift! Being a person who loves themed gifts, I can just imagine a kid-sized apron, maybe a matching adult-sized apron, and some cute baking supplies added in. It’d be a wonderful treat for anyone–child or adult, and a great tradition starter or an add-on to an already existing tradition of baking and sharing!

Listen in this trailer for the book, as Anika and her husband Chris, speak about how this story came to be, and then enter my giveaway for your own copy of the book!


Leave me a comment below telling me who you’d like to have this book for, and why!

Entries will be accepted until Sunday, December 14, and one lucky winner of their very own copy of “Baking Day at Grandma’s” by Anika Denise and Christopher Denise will be announced on Monday December 15.

**This contest is open only to those in the continental United States!**

Another fun gift from the holidays

13 Jan
They opened these Nerf Rebelle gifts from Santa so fast, with such excitement, I barely had time to snap this photo of the box!

They opened these Nerf Rebelle gifts from Santa so fast, with such excitement, I barely had time to snap this photo of the box!

This year, two of the girls asked for “weapons” on their Santa lists.

They’d seen commercials and ads for the new Nerf Rebelle Heartbreaker Bow and the Nerf Rebelle Pink Crush Blaster; both in perfect “girl colors” of pinks and purples, blacks and turquoise.

With the advent of strong female characters like Merida and Katniss in recent movies such as Disney’s “Brave,” and “The Hunger Games,” it wasn’t all that shocking to us that they’d instantly fall in love with such toys.  A bow and arrow, with a female pulling back to aim, was nothing unusual to see, although many years ago such a thing was unheard of.

Being Girl Scouts, my kids have shot a bow and arrow many times at camp. They’re actually quite good at it, and we’ve seen many “bulls-eye” hits between them. They enjoy archery very much and it’s always a favorite activity at camp. It was even part of the physical education curriculum at our middle school for our oldest daughter.

So on the one hand, when I could’ve been shocked that they were asking for these “weapons” along with their dolls, dollhouses and Snap Circuits, on the other hand, I was rather thrilled. I was actually happy that Nerf had come up with “weapons” that were attractive to girls and that let girls do something that’s exciting, active, and sporty, rather than stereotyping those types of activities as being just for boys. I equated this gift item on their lists to them to asking for a squirt gun or a Super-Soaker pool toy, which we’ve never had a problem with.

On Christmas morning, they were so excited to see their Nerf toys among the gifts that had been delivered. They were definitely a favorite choice all throughout the school vacation weeks, even though they’re designed to be outside toys. We have a decent-sized hallway and one of the kids’ doors has vinyl decals in the shape of circles on the door; a perfect target. Being Nerf, the “ammunition” was soft-tipped and completely safe, as long as no one was aiming at anyone’s eyes; a rule we set right away.

Although this gift request was one that initially made me do a quick double-take, it turned out to be a favorite, and I’m glad that Santa delivered. It’s nice to see the girls imitating Katniss and Merida when they play and it’s nice to see them utilizing skills that they’ve learned as scouts. It will be lots of fun to bring these toys outside in the springtime. We have a fenced-in yard and the fence would be an easy target for practicing.

If you have a daughter and she expresses interest in the Nerf Rebelle toys, you too, may hesitate as you consider whether or not you’re “weapons” people, but I encourage you to give it some thought, and maybe give it a try too. You might be surprised as you see your mini-Katniss and Merida characters utilizing skills you might not have even known they had.

Snowy weather or winter boredom? No problem!

6 Jan
Stuck inside? No worries!

Stuck inside? No worries!

Living in the Northeast, we are prone to lots of cold, snowy winter weather. Sometimes we can get outside, go sledding, build a snowman. Sometimes though, it’s either snowing too hard or it’s just too cold to be out or out for long.

On those days, when we’re stuck inside, it’s fun to find some neat things to pass the time other than watching TV or playing one device or another.

Lucky for us, this weather usually follows our Christmas holidays and we have lots of great, new things to keep us busy. As I did last year, I thought I’d highlight and review a few of the really great things we received this year, which have already provided us with some great, indoor fun.

Today’s review is for one of my daughter Elizabeth’s (age 11) gifts from Santa: Snap Circuits, Jr.

The mat included in the kit really helps the kids to see where to place their pieces.

The mat included in the kit really helps the kids to see where to place their pieces.

This was a gift she put at the top of her list after seeing it in a catalog that came in our mail, but it was one that we didn’t know very much about. It has turned out to be one, very cool gift. Focusing on Science, Engineering and Technology skills, this kit contains over 100 projects that the kids can do, all of which produce an action: a light turns on, a fan runs, music stops or starts; things of that nature. To create the action however, the kids must connect a series of circuits. A flat surface is included, similar to the work mat that comes with LEGO kits. The circuits are all able to be created and put together on that mat. The mat helps the kids map out how far apart the various pieces need to be placed in order to be connected.

As a parent and as a former teacher, I liked so many things about this kit and I really had a great time delving into it with her one afternoon when it was just she and I at home for a little while.

First off, I loved that it was STEM related (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). I was so pleased to see my daughter enjoying utilizing those types of skills. We often tend to lean towards the crafty activities. We love to craft and create, but this was a whole different type of creativity and her eyes lit up that very first time she made the light bulb turn on with a flip of the switch that she’d connected herself.

The kit comes in a box that helps to keep the pieces organized and helps the kids know which piece is which.

The kit comes in a box that helps to keep the pieces organized and helps the kids know which piece is which.

Second, I loved how organized and easy to understand this kit was. It has many, many pieces and they’re all organized and easy to store, and come with a map to show you what you should have for pieces, what the pieces are called, and where they go in the box. I taped the map right into the cover of the box to help her put things back in the right spots.

Third, the booklet that comes in the kit is fabulous. The projects are numbered, with a place to check them off once done. They start out easy and basic and get more complicated as you go. Kids see success instantly as they do the first, quick project, and it fuels their fire, making them want to complete the next project, and the next. Each project has an objective, so the kids see what they’re going to do with that project, and then the directions follow, with a summary at the end which explains why the project did what it did. I was especially thrilled when one of the early projects explained to her how a battery connected to the circuit made a propeller spin, and we could connect that to the new spinbrush toothbrush she’d gotten in her stocking, which runs the same way. She went and got her toothbrush, turned it on and watched it spin as she looked at her Snap Circuits propeller spinning too. It was fantastic.

And finally: budget. This is a very affordable activity kit which provides so many hours of fun and learning. The Snap Circuits, Jr. kit runs in the $25 range, depending where you buy it and I’ve seen it online at Walmart, Target and on, but I know it’s also available in other places. I love it when things are affordable! I also know that there are lots of kinds of Snap Circuits kits, ranging from physics to lights, to much bigger and more complicated (and more expensive) kits. You can get replacement parts and there are learning extensions online at their website as well.

As we progressed along in the book, the projects got more complicated, using more pieces, the results more exciting.

As we progressed along in the book, the projects got more complicated, using more pieces, the results more exciting.

I’d definitely give the Snap Circuits, Jr. kit a thumbs up as a parent, and my daughter gives it her vote from a kid’s point of view as well. I highly recommend you giving it a try! It’s great for those rainy or snowy, cold weather days and provides hours of fun and entertainment, while lots of learning is taking place too.

When I looked on, the age recommended for the kit was 8 and up, and I have to agree. I have a daughter who is 8 also, and she likes it too, but my 11 year-old is definitely more independent with it than my 8 year-old. They’ve done some of the projects together as well, which is nice too. It’s also a  great gift for both boys and girls, which is not often easy to find.

I can’t wait to see what some of the next, more complicated and more exciting  projects will be!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Cranberry Apple Chutney

18 Dec
This was delicious and will be on our table for Christmas Dinner next week!

This was delicious and will be on our table for Christmas Dinner next week!

We are food and cooking TV junkies. We watch all kinds of cooking shows at our house from Diners, Drive-ins and Dives to Restaurant Impossible, and more.

The bad thing about that is I’m constantly hungry because we’re always looking at food and it always looks delicious.

The good thing about that is we get some great inspiration from the things we see made on TV.

A few weeks back, Don saw a Cranberry Chutney cooked on television. It looked so good that he decided that he too, wanted to make a Cranberry Chutney the next time we had pork for dinner. He bought all the ingredients, throwing in some apples as well, and we planned the meal for the night of our kids’ Winter Recital for Dance. We’d be gone all day and coming back in time for supper.

Before we left, Don pre-cooked the chutney and we took a sneak peek at it. It looked delicious and smelled delicious! We took a taste. DELICIOUS! When we came home later that evening, all we’d have to do is reheat it. The pork went into the crock pot and off we went.

Sure enough, we came home starving and we couldn’t wait to dig in to that night’s dinner.

The chutney Don had made was amazing along side (or on top of) the pork roast. We had sauteed green beans, baked potatoes and homemade applesauce as well. The meal got all thumbs up all around and we’ve decided to have it again for our Christmas Dinner. I can’t wait!
I am sharing Don’s recipe with you today, inspired by the many TV shows we watch about food. If you’re looking for something new and different to do for your Christmas Dinner, I encourage you to give this recipe a try!


I love how the fresh fruit looks in the pan all together. The colors are so wintry and fresh!

I love how the fresh fruit looks in the pan all together. The colors are so wintry and fresh!


One bag of fresh cranberries (12 oz.)

3 medium sized Macintosh apples, diced

1/4 cup raisins

1/3 cup orange juice

1/4 cup honey

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

salt and pepper to taste


Combine all ingredients in pan.

Cook on top of the stove until cranberries begin to pop and apples have softened.
Orange juice should reduce down.

Monday Musings: Giving in preparation for receiving

9 Dec
December, a month when we get so much from others, is a great time to focus more on the gift of giving to others and spreading peace.

December, a month when we get so much from others, is a great time to focus more on the gift of giving to others and spreading peace.

Christmas is coming!

In our house, the countdown is on in a couple of different locations around the house. We’ve got a countdown to Christmas written on the fridge memo board and we have a Christmas House countdown where each day, beginning with December 1, you open a window of the wooden house which has a tiny treat inside. You eat the treat, and wait for the next day when you do it again. At our house, each day has three M&Ms inside: one for each kid. Every year they await the day we decorate our living room and the Christmas House comes out of its box and goes onto the hutch next to our Nativity scene.

This year though, there’s an added twist to our countdown house. Just before the start of the month, a friend of mine, Gina, sent me a link she thought my kids would enjoy. The link, to 100 Days of Real Food, contained 25 business card-sized messages which each fit nicely, one per day, in the windows of our Christmas House, along with our three M&Ms. I read through the messages which gave daily Random Acts of Kindness (RAKs) and I loved the idea of including them in our countdown to Christmas. The RAKs gave ideas about sending a note to someone you haven’t seen in a while, or helping a parent/teacher/friend/sibling, and things of that nature.

What I liked most about this new idea was that it encouraged the kids to think about other people every day over the next month. I think overall we do a good job of raising our kids to think of other people, but this month-long activity would really put the focus on good deeds as the kids anticipate the arrival of Christmas.

I decided to write them a letter explaining to them this new twist that would be appearing in the Christmas House on the first day and every day throughout the month, and leave it for them propped up in front of the house for that first morning. I told them that there was no pressure here, that whichever of the RAKs they could accomplish would be one more nice thing than they might have normally thought to do on any given day and would brighten someone else’s day. I did not take away the treats, as I didn’t feel the need to erase one tradition in order to add in another. I placed an empty vase behind the house, and a post-it note sized note pad next to it. I asked them to fill out a piece of paper each time they accomplished one of the RAKs and throw it into the vase.

This was not to keep score, or to track who is doing RAKs and who isn’t. There will be no comparisons in the end. It was strictly a visual for them: at the end of the month they will be able to “see” what a difference they’ve made in other people’s lives through the season of Advent as they watch the vase go from empty to full.

Now that it’s begun and we’re a week in, I find it interesting to hear them talk about how this or that RAK  is one they already do frequently or one they’ve recently done for someone, or to hear them thinking about ways to accomplish that day’s RAK. It’s just nice to hear them talking about putting other people before themselves. It’s also neat to find other things we’ve done throughout the day and note that they’re also RAKs even though they weren’t necessarily the suggested ones in the window that day. This weekend for example, they made pillowcases for Kids Conquer Cancer at their sewing class, we bought a toy doll for a three year old girl who lives in a local shelter for our church’s giving tree, we bought pajamas for a school pajama drive, and we donated money to a charity for foster teens by attending a local fashion show for which their ticket prices went towards Christmas gifts for the teens. Having regular opportunities to talk about these actions reminds them that they truly do a lot of “good deeds” as the days go by.

Last week, Nelson Mandela passed away. At 95 years old, he was one of the worlds most prominent examples of a peacemaker; someone who dedicated his lifetime to being a truly good, peaceful person. As we sat in church this past Sunday morning, our pastor spoke about Mandela and his calling. He talked about what a leader Mandela was, what a role model he was for living a truly peaceful life. The pastor reminded us that we are all called to something bigger than just our own daily lives and responsibilities; although clearly we’re not all called to do such a huge job as Mandela, each thing we do makes a difference in the world.

Since the Newton CT. shootings at Sandy Hook last year, there are many people who chose last year and are choosing this year, to do 26 RAKs in December to honor the 26 victims of that shooting. I loved that idea as well. What a wonderful way to honor the victims of such a violent tragedy, by working to spread peace to others.

I feel like our 25 days of giving to others is an example of the little things we do in our lives that make a difference in the world, no matter how small. I’d never dare to even compare myself or my family to Nelson Mandela, but I do believe that we make a difference. I know we do. We are helping to spread goodness and peacefulness to others. We’re focusing on it a lot during Advent, as we prepare for Christmas, but it’s something we’ve built our family morals and values on as well, and we focus on it year-round.

I’m enjoying watching our vase fill with RAKs as the days go by, and I’m sure that this new type of countdown will be something we will add to our Advent traditions again next year. I’m certainly thankful for my friend Gina, that she came across this and thought to send it our way.

No matter what you celebrate or how you do it, I hope that your holiday season is peaceful and wonderful!

And last but not least, my gift: Smart Mug for my lunch

28 Jan
One mug has my morning coffee and one mug has my soup for lunch!

One mug has my morning coffee and one mug has my soup for lunch!

I got the coolest gift this year for Christmas!

I wanted a mug that I could plug into my car AC adapter in order to reheat my coffee during the day. Oftentimes, I’ll leave the house for work with a mug of hot coffee, get to my destination in just a couple of minutes, and then when I come out an hour or so later, my coffee is now ice cold. Then I drive around all day, wishing I had that hot coffee.

This year, this was one gift I really wanted, a mug that would warm up my coffee. There are lots of them out there, but this one says “Tech Tools” on it and its official name is the Princess International PI-4121 Red Retro Smart Mug. You can get it here on

I totally love my mug. This weekend I used it after church. Similar to a work day, I often leave the house to go to church, bringing my coffee in the car with me. Ten minutes later we get there and I sadly say goodbye to my coffee because I know that later when I come out, it’s going to be cold while we run our errands during the hour the kids are at CCD.

Not anymore. This Sunday, my coffee was still semi-warm when I got out to my car, but all I had to do was plug in my mug, flip the little switch on the cup and wait for it to hit about 100 degrees. I was golden. I enjoyed every sip of my coffee during our hour.

With every sip, I thought, “This is the coolest thing.”

But actually, it’s not even the coolest thing of all.

My friend Paula, of the blog My Soup For You, enlightened me to the fact that rather than keeping cookies in my purse and in my car for when I’ve missed lunch and am totally starving after being on the road all day, I could plan ahead just a little bit and make a soup that I could drink, such as her Creamy Lentil Soup, which I’ve linked over to just above. (If you remember, I don’t really love traditional lunches, such as sandwiches, so I never pack one. Plus, I’d rather eat cookies anyway.)

Paula said that now that I had this nifty mug, I could then put my soup into my mug, and flip the switch when I’m ready to eat.


And guess what: She was right!

A couple of weeks ago I did not have enough time to go home in between stories for lunch, so I packed our chicken and veggie chowder for the road. I had time to sit in my car and eat it though, so I took a spoon with me when I left the house.

I left one story and turned on my mug to heat up my soup, so that before I had to go into the next story I had time to eat my soup.  It made my day so much more enjoyable because I was not starving. I don’t like to go and buy food for lunch when I’m working unless I absolutely have to, so I was happy to have avoided that. I went from my second story to my third one with a full belly.

And then, I had my cookies for dessert.

This mug has gotten great reviews from others, and I hope that my experience continues to be as great as it already has been so far, because I really love being able to take soup on the road.

How cute is that?!

7 Jan
Such a simple thing made for a very unique gift!

Such a simple thing made for a very unique gift!

Christmas was just a couple of weeks ago, but doesn’t it seem like eons ago already? It makes me just a little bit sad, but like we always say, “If Christmas was every day, we would not appreciate it.”



The good thing is that even though Christmas is over, we now have the whole year to enjoy our gifts. I know I’ve certainly been enjoying mine, and I know my kids have been enjoying theirs also.

I thought that today I’d share with you a unique gift that Elizabeth received in her stocking from my mom and dad.

A roll of blue painters’ tape.


She took it out of her stocking, looked at it, and put it aside and kept going. I don’t think she quite knew what to think, but she didn’t say anything. She was the only one of the three girls to receive this gift.

After the gifts were opened, my mom said, “Let me tell you about the roll of tape.”

It turns out that my mom had seen a link showing all unique gifts for kids and on it was painters’ tape. The link went on to explain that with painters’ tape, kids can create cool designs on the walls, anywhere in the house. As long as the tape is removed in a week or so, it won’t leave any residue.

Immediately my kids were intrigued. They are constantly “creating” things for our walls. As I sit right now there is a four foot mural taped to the wall in front of me in the dining room. I’ll have to show that another day though.

Back to the painters’ tape.

Elizabeth grabbed her tape and the girls went to town. They each did their initials on our wall at the top of our stairs in the living room (which together spells out Elizabeth’s initials also) and then she moved into her room, which is newly painted white as of this summer. She had her walls covered in posters but took some down to make some space.

Below are some photos of her creations. They are still up, so we will have to see how long is too long before we need to deal with the residue. We’re definitely pushing the one week limit but she wants to leave it up just a little longer.

Painters’ tape. Inexpensive, unique, hours of fun.

Great gift!

Their initials and a little house. I love the smoke coming out of the chimney on the house!

Their initials and a little house. I love the smoke coming out of the chimney on the house!

Some of the bedroom artistic creations

Some of the bedroom artistic creations

Back of the bedroom door

Back of the bedroom door