Memorial Day

I’ve seen several posts that absolutely floored me regarding today’s holiday and what we are NOT supposed to do to honor/celebrate on this day. Odd, I thought today was about honoring the people who died to provide us the freedom to choose how to celebrate or what to say. 

Many people who serve don’t die in service but many times a piece of them does. Many veterans are never the same after returning from combat. Today I honor all of them in the way that my husband and I choose. We are able to do that because of all of their sacrifices. Those sacrifices aren’t just their lives. 

Maybe I’m “wrong”, but I’m pretty sure the multiple family members I have that are currently in service or veterans would tell me there is nothing wrong with how I view this holiday.

The Butcher Shop in Cordova, TN: A Cut Above the Rest

My husband and I recently celebrated our wedding anniversary. The kids got shipped off to their grandmother’s house for the weekend so we could enjoy some time to ourselves. We wanted to make our dinner out special so we chose to go to The Butcher Shop in Cordova, TN.

The Butcher Shop specializes in steaks. However they have lots of options on the menu if steak is not your thing. The evening that my husband and I ate there, we both chose steak to eat. However, we also enjoyed an appetizer,some wine, and a fabulous dessert. We chose the Crab Cake Remoulade for our appetizer. They cost $9, for 2 crab cakes. They were absolutely delicious! One for each of us to eat, and the flavors were so intense yet not overpowering. We each also had a salad that came with our meal. My husband went with the Ceasar salad, and I chose the house salad. They both were very well put together and fresh. For our entrees my husband chose the 14 oz fillet mignon for $29.00, and I chose the Stuffed Fillet for $26. My husband said his fillet was cooked to perfection and was one of the best he had ever eaten. My stuffed fillet, was heavenly! It was stuffed with sauteed portabello mushrooms, Gorgonzola cheese and fresh rosemary sprigs and served with Au Jus on the side. We both chose to have a baked potato for our side item. We were able to choose whatever items we wanted to go into our baked potato. My husband had his loaded, and I chose a few of my favorite fillings cheese, sour cream, butter, and bacon. The presentation of our meals was gorgeous, and most importantly they were so flavorful that we really enjoyed them. The Waiter was so helpful. My husband knew exactly what wine he wanted, however, I was unsure. The Waiter brought me one to try and when I didn’t think it was the one for me, he brought me another which I loved and chose as my wine for dinner.

Even though we were almost stuffed, we couldn’t resist asking what was on the dessert menu. The Waiter described each of the dessert items to us. They all sounded divine, however, there was one that stood out. They were offering a special dessert at that time, it was Banana’s Foster. I had never had this before, but heard it was amazing, so we ordered it and enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant while we waited. The Banana’s Foster arrived and it looked exquisite. The Butcher Shop does not light it’s Banana’s Foster, so that was one aspect of eating Banana’s Foster we did not experience. I took a bite and looked over to my husband and asked him “Where is yours?” This dessert was so amazing, I couldn’t believe it! We ate the entire dessert and then enjoyed the atmosphere a little longer while finishing up our wine.

Since it was our anniversary, we asked the Waiter to take our picture so we could remember the night forever. However, even without the picture, I don’t think we will ever forget that night. The food was amazing, the atmosphere romantic, and the service impeccable. The prices are much too high for us to eat at The Butcher Shop on a regular basis, however, I will definitely want to go back there on our next special occasion!

Restaurant Review: Macaroni Grill, Memphis, TN

Just last week I celebrated my birthday. Instead of purchasing me a gift that I may or may not like, my sister decided to take me out to lunch. We hardly ever get time together anymore since both of us have children and stay so busy, so we figured this would be a good opportunity to enjoy some good food and some time together. We chose Macaroni Grill for our lunch destination. It was close to her work and we both like Italian food.

This was not my first time at Macaroni Grill. I have eaten there on several occasions, however I had not been there in several years. When I walked in I was not sure I was in the right place! The restaurant had been completely renovated on the inside. It really looks amazing! I love the way it changed the atmosphere of the restaurant. It makes each table seem more private and cozy instead of being in a wide open dining room. The waitress came by with fresh bread with Italian Butter (olive oil and freshly cracked pepper) and wrote her name on the table so we can ask for her by name if we needed her. She took our drink order and came back with the drinks to see if we were ready to order. We were not quite ready yet, so she gave us a few more minutes. I took my time gazing through the new menu. Lots of delicious dishes to choose from. When we finally made our decisions we could not find our waitress. We saw another Waiter walking by so I stopped him and asked for him to get our waitress. He got her and she quickly came over to take our orders. My sister chose the Chicken Florentine salad for $8.99 and also a bowl of Chicken Toscana soup for $3.99. The soup was good, however she said that the salad was not as good as she thought it was going to be. I chose the Chicken Cannelloni for $7.99. According to the menu description this is a hand-rolled pasta stuffed with oven-roasted chicken, melted cheese and spinach, then baked in an Asiago cream sauce, then it is topped with tomato sauce. It was absolutely delicious! I had my youngest child with me. She is 3 and a half and ordered the children’s spaghetti and meatballs for $4.79. It was a huge portion. It had a ton of pasta and one huge meatball for her. I really think my sister, myself, and my daughter could have split this one dish and had plenty of food for the three of us. My three year old daughter certainly was not able to finish it all, so we took the majority of it home with us.

Since it was my birthday our waitress brought out a delicious dessert with a candle in it. Usually Macaroni Grill has a singing Waiter, waitress, or hostess come over and sing you happy birthday in Italian. However, today they didn’t have any singers available during that shift. This was perfectly fine with me though! My daughter insisted on singing me happy birthday anyways though. The Smothered Chocolate Cake that was brought out was divine! It is a chocolate cake that is covered in a warm chocolate sauce and then sprinkled with nuts. It also had whipped cream at the four corners of the cake. Absolutely wonderful, especially for a chocolate lover like myself. My daughter’s meal came with her own serving of ice cream.

If you have never been to Macaroni Grill, or even if you haven’t been in a while, definitely choose this for your next evening out. On this occasion my waitress could have done better, however, that is hit and miss at times. The food was good, and the atmosphere was great! My daughter even learned some Italian while we were in the restroom. All around it was a great lunch out! Hope you give it a try and enjoy it even more than I did!

Holiday Visiting

I remember being a child and making coupon books for my mother for Mother’s Day. The small handmade book would have several coupons in it for things like a hug, a kiss, a clean room, breakfast in bed, and so on. My mother always loved those home made pictures and coupon books, or else she just told me she did! Now I am a grown woman and a mother myself. The thought crossed my mind as I mapped out my families plans for the upcoming Mother’s Day weekend. Where is my time to relax and enjoy a quiet moment on Mother’s Day? My schedule for the holiday weekend goes a little something like this.

Friday – take the kids to school, work, clean the house, do the laundry, pick up the kids from school, make dinner, have family fun time (our Friday night ritual), get the kids to bed and any other chore that pops up.

Saturday – breakfast, get all three kids bathed and dressed, get myself bathed and dressed, drive an hour and a half to visit my mother and my grandmother for the day, drive an hour and a half back home, cook dinner, clean up, get the kids to bed and do more laundry.

Sunday – breakfast, get everyone bathed and ready again, drive an hour to visit my mother in law for the day, drive an hour back home, cook dinner, clean up, get the kids to bed, and do laundry yet again.

Where in this packed schedule is there time for me to bask in the joys of motherhood or enjoy this holiday at all? Don’t get me wrong, I am thoroughly looking forward to each moment that I get to spend with my mother, grandmother, and mother in law. Each of them are such wonderful women and I love them all dearly. The problem is not just with Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. It is every holiday. At Christmas time it is the same thing. Days of packed schedules and no real time for our children to sit and enjoy the gifts they have received or to learn the true meaning of the holiday. We are too busy carting them from one place to another to just enjoy time together during the holiday. At Thanksgiving, we find ourselves so stuffed from eating three separate Thanksgiving dinners over the course of the weekend, that we may need to be rolled home instead of drive ourselves home.

I found holidays much simpler before I was married with children. Back then, I only had my parents and extended family to worry about seeing on any given holiday. Those were simpler times. Then I got married and that added a whole other set of parents and extended family to see on each holiday. Then you add in children that you are having to cart around with you each time you go visit anyone. You have to carry diapers, bottles, changes of clothes, baby wipes, formula, baby food, pacifiers, and whatever else your child needs to make it through a day away from home. Not to mention keeping the child entertained in the car while you drive to and from your destination, or keeping them occupied while at your destination. Luckily, I have wonderful parents and in-laws that have toys at their homes to entertain the children so we don’t have to bring something along to keep them happy at the grandparent’s house. Many people are not so lucky though. You begin to feel like you are taking your entire home with you. As you drive, thoughts start circling in your head. “Why can’t they come to visit us?” “Don’t they realize how hard it is to travel with children?” “There has to be an easier way to do this every year?”

After the whirlwind of the holiday ends, you sit down and start trying to think of a solution to make things easier the next time around. Thoughts of trading off each year and only visiting one set of family each year instead of all of them every year. Well, that isn’t fair of course. Then the family you don’t get to see that year will feel left out, and you will miss seeing them and so will your children. What about having everyone to your place instead? Well, this poses a whole other set of issues. Do you have room for everyone at your house? Would everyone be willing to travel to you instead? Every option comes to the same conclusion. This is the way it has been done for years in ‘my’ family.

I have found, there is not any real solution to this problem. Of course you feel obligated, they are your family. You love them and want to be with them and enjoy the holiday with them. They raised you and cared for you just like you are doing for your children. It is a matter of respect, love, and devotion to your family and your roots that keeps you running on every holiday. As my husband has said in years before, our parents had to travel with us when we were young, they have earned the right for us to come to them. Now it is our turn to teach our kids to not forget about their roots, and to continue loving and cherishing family even once you are grown and have a family of your own. It is an important lesson for every child to learn. At times while traveling from place to place on the holidays, I find myself frustrated and tired. The kids may be fighting in the car, or cranky and tired of riding for so long. Whatever the frustration is at that moment, I try to remember how much fun we had while visiting this time, or how much fun we will have at the next place. I try to remind my children of those things too.

Why do we feel obligated? Because that is the way it is, and I don’t think it should be any other way.

How to Throw a Princess Birthday Party

My daughter is one of the biggest princess lovers that I have ever seen. I remember loving lots of things when I was a little girl, but I do not remember being so enthralled by something as she is. We have now had to have two princess themed birthday parties in her life of now 8 years.

The first princess themed party was for her third birthday. The second one was for her eighth birthday. However, she has wanted to have a princess themed party pretty much every year. I have had to coax her into other themes for variety. Each year the ideas have flooded us with how to make the Princess theme more fun, and even better. This year I felt like it would be one of the last few years that she would enjoy having a princess theme so we went for it.

First things first
Invitations are the first thing to do. You need to make a guest list. Start by deciding how many people you want to invite. After you make this decision you can focus on getting the invitations. You can always go buy Disney Princess themed invitations from a party store, that is the easiest solution to the invitation dilemma. However, there are lots of other options that you should explore too.

Making your own invitations is a lot of fun. If your daughter is old enough she could make the invitations herself. Let her be creative and you can assist with the finer details. If your daughter isn’t old enough then you can make the invitations easily too. Microsoft Word is an excellent resource to get creative. You can try out many different versions of the invitation. You can even go to the Microsoft website and download different borders to use. I also like going to a local stationery store and find some cute paper that is already bordered. You can either hand write the invitations or set up a template in Word and print them off.

However you decide to go about getting the invitations, bought or made, you need to get the invitations out at least two weeks in advance of the party. This gives all the guests plenty of time to adjust their schedules accordingly.

Focus on the Food
The next thing you need to plan out is the food. The cake is always my first thought when I think of birthday party food. That is because without a birthday cake, it just isn’t much of a birthday party! I have to say my favorite thing to do is to make my kids cakes myself. I love the creativity in it and I love letting my child help with it. However, store bought cakes are always a good choice too. It is all about personal preference. Some people just don’t bake, others love baking. If you are not a baker, take your little princess to the bakery and let her help choose the cake, the colors, and the flavors. If you are a baker, this is the fun part! Have your child decide which flavor cake she wants. Then decide on what style cake you are going to make. When it comes to cakes, the possibilities are endless. For our first princess party we had a sheet cake that we put princess figurines on it and decorated accordingly. The most recent cake was a tiara shape and it had my daughter’s name written across it. However, while we were at the bakers supply store we found a castle cake kit. I am not advances enough to handle that cake yet, but maybe I can be ready for it for my next daughter!

After the cake is decided on you can focus on the other party foods. I like making suckers into magic wands or scepters. The little girls always love running around playing with them for a while before they eat them! You can make all the normal party foods that you like too. But I always like to throw in some fun themed snacks too. You could make cookies or rice crispy treats in heart shapes and write all the guests names on them. For some reason hearts and princesses just go together! You could also do this same thing with star shapes. Just make sure you use sugar sprinkles. They make the cookies or rice crispy treats sparkle, and what princess have you seen that was not sparkling?

Decorated to the Nines
A princess must always have everything done in a fantastic way. Therefore, the decorations are not to be overlooked. Head out to your local party supply store and start your search. Balloons have to be ordered in advance so make sure you do that first thing so you get the time that works best for you for pick-up. When choosing balloons you should look for the ones that are shimmery or sparkly, not just the plain colors. Choose your daughter’s favorite colors and have them scheduled for pick up on party day! You can pick up table cloths, streamers, cups, plates, napkins, and every other decoration you could possibly think of at the party supplies store. You can also look on-line for party supplies. Many on-line party suppliers sell party packs. These party packs include everything you will need. You can also make your own decorations from construction paper and tissue paper.

Party Games
No birthday party is complete without games! Princess parties are lots of fun with games. Games don’t have to have a winner in the end, they can just be an activity that everyone takes part in and enjoys. Here are a few options that we have always had fun with.

1. Pin the Shoe on Cinderella – similar to pin the tail on the donkey
2. Dancing princesses – similar to musical chairs
3. Color princess pictures – you can print these out from many on-line children’s craft sites or you can buy some princess coloring books.
4. Make your own tiaras, scepters, castles, or other princess item crafts
5. Older girls can do nails or put on make-up

Just a Small Favor
I am not really sure where this tradition started, but giving party favors has become a staple at birthday parties. It is a small way to say thank you to your guests for coming to the party. You can buy pre-filled goody bags at the local or on-line party supply store. Or you can come up with your own favor bags. I like coming up with my own. However, when I am pressed for time, picking up the pre-filled bags is super easy! When I make my own bags, I save money and my daughter gets to help pick out the things that she thinks her friends will like. This year we filled the goody bags with plastic rings, hair bows that I made, nail polish, glitter dust, and lip gloss. Any girly items will do great for a princess party. Toy cell phones, pretend make-up, chap stick, and candy jewelry are all great additions as well!

In the end, if you choose a few of these ideas from this article your princess party will be a huge success! People will start coming to you for great party ideas, and hopefully this article will help you think more creatively for your child’s future parties!

Summer Fun on a Budget

I have spent many a summer trying to keep kids entertained on a tight budget. Here are some of my favorites that we have done through out the years!

Fun In The Sprinkler
This is probably the easiest Way to have fun during the summer. The only additional cost is a bit added on to your water bill. However, your yard probably needs to be watered anyways, so why not let the kids play while the yard gets watered! Get the kids into their suits and put on plenty of sunscreen. Make sure you get into your suit and get your sunscreen on too. I know I can’t resist playing with my kids, but more often than not they will fall and need me to come and rescue them from being sprayed by the water at some point or another, so I always like to be prepared to get wet myself. Play time in the sprinkler is a great way to play with water guns and beach balls as well.

Craft Projects
Summer is a great time to play outside in the sun. However, many times it is just too hot to be outside. For days like this, find a great indoor activity! Crafts are a wonderful and inexpensive way to enjoy being indoors. Here are a few of my favorite summer craft projects!

1. Patriotic Crafts – With all of the patriotic holidays that happen to fall during the summer, it is a great time to work on patriotic crafts with the kids. This gives you an opportunity to explain the meaning of these holidays and he significance of the craft project for that holiday.
2. Outdoor crafts – These are crafts that are not necessarily done outdoors. They are crafts about the outdoors. You can make suns out of construction paper. If you live near the beach, you can make beach scenes in bottles with some sand and sea shells that you gather during a beach trip. You can gather flowers and press them or dry them. You can even make flowers from construction paper for an arrangement that will never need watering!
3. Sea life crafts – It is so fun to make underwater creatures as a craft. Fish, octopus, starfish, shells, you can make tons of different undersea animals and you can make tons of things from those animals! Picture frames, mobiles, calendars, the possibilities are only as limited as your imagination!

Summer School
I know the last thing that the kids are going to want to think about during the summer is school, but school will be back in session before you know it. You don’t want them to forget everything they learned the prior school year, and if possible you want to get them ahead of the game for the next year! It is a good idea to take a little time each day to go over the thing they learned next year and to prepare them for the new lessons coming in the next grade level. Reading books is a good way to keep them learning. You can also print out worksheets for them in a variety of subjects. There are several home school web sites that have free print outs available for you. You can also purchase a summer workbook that will have daily activities for your child according to their grade level.

Go on an Outing
A change of scenery is a good way to break the boredom. This change of scenery can be as simple as going to a park for a picnic. You can also go to a community pool, to visit relatives out of town, to the local zoo, or a children’s museum. If your kids are older you can even take a trip to a history museum or an art museum, these are great ways to keep them learning during the summer and have fun doing it!

Mix it Up
Normally you are the person making breakfast, lunch and dinner. Mix it up a bit, and have the kids help out with making the meals! You could choose one meal for them to help with each day or just one day that they get to help, whatever works best for you and your family. My kids love spending time helping out in the kitchen. Give them a task that is age appropriate. It could be measuring out some ingredients, cutting up ingredients, mixing up a batter or putting items into the bowl or pot. You can even let them help pick what you eat. This is a great Way to make grocery shopping with the kids easier too! They will be on a mission to get the items they need for their special meal!

Five simple tips, five days in every week, just pick a tip each day and your summer will fly by! You know what they say, time flies when you are having fun! With these tips, your summer will be more fun than ever before and it will all be inexpensive! Enjoy your summer filled with fun!

Summer Party Recipes

You just received an invitation to another summer pot luck party. Sure the party will be a blast, but what on earth are you going to bring? Do you bring the same old thing that you have brought to every pot luck you have ever gone to? Do you try something new? What if no one likes what you bring? Those are all the thoughts that go through my head each time I am going to go to a pot luck. Even as much as I love to cook and bake, sometimes I consider just going and buying something that way I know people will not be able to criticize my cooking if they don’t like what I brought along.

The key to picking out a good pot luck recipe is bring something that is a twist on something that people have already done before. Everyone coming to a pot luck is going to expect certain foods to be there. It is almost a given. There will be finger foods, casseroles, sides, and all of the classic simple desserts. Take those familiar items, and turn them into something new and exciting and your dish will be the hit of the pot luck, I guarantee it!

Finger Foods
Finger foods are easy to eat at a party so they are always a popular item at the table. When I have gone to put luck parties the finger foods I usually see are fruit trays, veggie trays, cheese plates, finger sandwiches, and appetizer platters. Sure these are simple things, however they are also easily turned into something different than the same old pot luck plates! Fruit trays can include more exotic fruits such as kiwi, mango, peaches, and pears just to name a few. This turns the same old fruit tray into an exotic fruit platter. Add a fruit dip to this for even more fun! One of the simplest fruit dips is 8 ounces of cream cheese mixed together with one small jar of marshmallow creme. However that fruit dip is seen pretty often, I even found this dip in the produce section of the grocery a few weeks ago! This would be another easy way to make your fruit tray different, switch the same old fruit dip out for a new one! Try mixing together 8 ounces of sour cream, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice and 2 teaspoons of grated lime peel. This makes a delicious difference to your fruit tray!

For a veggie tray you can easily switch up the dip as well, or you could offer a variety of dips instead of just the same old ranch style dip. You could even turn it into a hot and cold veggie tray and offer up some grilled veggies in addition to the standard uncooked veggies. However, my good friend Cat has the amazing idea to change up the fruit and veggie trays are to turn them into a fruit or veggie pizza instead! Cheese plates are usually a big hit as well, however you can easily take a cheese ball instead and it will still make a big splash at the party! Finger sandwiches and appetizer trays are probably the easiest of the finger foods to change around. There are so many choices for sandwiches and appetizers floating around the world. Switching up the sandwiches can be a bit risky though. My advice is to not go too far off the beaten path with the sandwich choices you make, but still make it different. Try a different chicken or tuna salad recipe out, or add a slice of avocado to the sandwich, bring along several different condiments to go with the sandwiches.

One of my favorite ways to spice up the sandwich tray is to turn the sandwiches into wraps. These are all very safe ways to change up your finger sandwiches. However, you can also change the sandwich tray all together and bring a grilled sandwich, or some other gourmet sandwich. Appetizers are the most fun of the finger foods to me. There is no reason to take the same old pigs in a blanket or chips and dip. Change things up and bring loaded potato bites, pita nachos, mini quiches, pull apart breads, stuffed mushrooms, crab dip with crackers, brushetta, or egg rolls. These ideas are only the start of the vast array of appetizer choices out there. Grab your recipe books or go to your favorite on-line recipe site and explore until you find the right recipe for you.

Casseroles and Sides
Green bean casserole, corn souffles, and all of the other casseroles that you often see at pot lucks parties can get boring pretty fast. They are delicious and expected, but easily traded off for something different. Try turning that green bean casserole into a fresh green bean salad instead! Forget the corn souffle and bring grilled corn on the cob. Spice up the baked beans with a different recipe. Switch up the casserole by looking to other cuisines for guidance. Go for something Asian or Italian instead of the same old American casserole traditions.

Desserts
Cookies, brownies, pies and cakes these are what you find at my favorite table at the party. The dessert table is probably the most anticipated table at any party, not just a pot luck. The great thing about a pot luck is the wide variety of desserts available to choose from! it is also the easiest table to go to to find something different. Cookies can easily be something new by changing the shape or by adding a hint of different flavor with some extracts. I love adding a bit of orange extract to sugar cookies! Brownies are a delicious go to recipe for any day. Try making a layered brownie bar instead of the same old brownies, both are delicious of course! Cakes and pies are an excellent way to bring variety to the dessert table. Cakes can be topped with fruit, baked in a different shaped pan, or filled with a fruit filling instead of icing. Pies can easily be the same old fruit filled pastries or you can transform them into delicacies never tried before. My friend Breanne loves to spice up strawberry pie by making strawberry margarita pie! Can you say yummy?

The main thing to remember when preparing that pot luck recipe is to give it some variety. Don’t fall into the trap of taking the same dish every time you go to a party. Take something new and different and watch everyone come to you and beg for the recipe!

4th of July Sweets

The 4th of July is just around the corner! You will surely want to have a patriotic dessert at your table! Here are a few options that are sure to be favorites at any patriotic gathering!

Flag Cake
This is a simple yet beautiful addition to the dessert table! All you have to do is make your favorite cake recipe in a sheet pan. Then use a white icing to frost the cake. After this is done, you are ready to decorate the cake. All you need is strawberries that have been cleaned and sliced in half and blueberries. Take the blueberries and place them in the top left corner of the cake. Put them in the shape of the ‘star’ section of the American Flag. Then use the strawberries to make the red stripes. This is an absolutely spectacular looking cake, plus it is delicious!

Berry Topped Cupcakes and other Berry Topped Desserts
This recipe works similar to the cake above, however, you can’t really make flags on top of cup cakes. However, you can make a pretty design using the same fruits. It gives a similar effect to the flag cake, and is just as delicious! You can also make a dessert pizza using sugar cookies as the crust, icing for your ‘sauce’ and red and blue berries for your toppings. You could even top a pie in this way. I like to make a blue colored white cake mix and frost it with white icing then top with strawberries. Delish!

All American
This dessert may not look patriotic, but it is the undisputed all American dessert! Apple Pie is not red, white, or blue but it is a perfect choice for any American themed party! There are tons of wonderful apple pie recipes out there. Check your cook books, or your favorite recipe site to find whichever one looks the best to you!

Another all American dessert is the banana split! We have a wonderful recipe in our family called a banana split cake! You simply make a layered sheet cake using a graham cracker crust, a cream filling made from butter, egg, and powdered sugar, sliced bananas, drained crushed pineapple, cool whip for the icing, and top with pecans and cherries. This ends up tasting just like a banana split and is always a big hit!

Stripes
Stripes are a large part of any American decor. Therefore striped desserts make a big impact at your 4th of July party! You can make striped cakes by coloring white cake mix with food coloring and then stacking as normal. You can turn a pie into a striped sensation using jello, pudding, or fruits. You can even buy rocket pops, or if you are even more adventurous you could make your own striped Popsicles!

Stars
Just like stripes make an impact, stars have the same effect! My favorite thing to make that is star shaped are sugar cookies. However, don’t just make plain star shaped cookies, dazzle your guests with sandwich star cookies. I make two different star shaped cookies: one with a star shaped hole in the center of the star, and one without a hole in the center. After I bake the cookies, I stack the cookies and put strawberry jam and blueberry jam in between the layers. This creates red and blue filled stars! They are beautiful and delicious! They do not take that long to make, but it will look like you purchased them at a fancy bakery!

Fireworks
What is a 4th of July party without fireworks? It is just a summer gathering, that’s what! So why not bring fireworks to your dessert table with desserts that resemble the bright and beautiful light show! An easy way to achieve this look is to dye coconut and top your cake or cupcakes with the colored coconut. Dying coconut is a simple procedure. Place the coconut into a zip lock bag with a few drops of food coloring, then shake the coconut around until the desired color is reached. You can add additional drops of food coloring if needed. Then top your frosted cake or cupcakes with the beautiful colors and you have a gorgeous and yummy firework dessert ready for everyone to eat!

No matter which dessert you choose for your patriotic party stick with the American theme and it is sure to be a winner! Enjoy your delicious desserts and have a Happy 4th of July!

5 Gifts Every New Mom Should Get

I have been a new mother three times. I had baby showers with two of my children, my second child came the day of my shower so it was canceled. I went to the baby store and made a registry and got lots of wonderful gifts. Some things I thought I needed, but never used, other things I thought I needed and could not have lived without! Here are a few things that I wish I have given to new moms, or that I wish I had been given, or that I wish I had received more of at my shower.

Food
I know this seems like a strange request, and you definitely will not see it on any baby registry. However, when you are recovering from giving birth, tending to a newborn baby, and possibly other children, meal times are your least favorite part of the day. However, it is very important for you to eat well, and your family to eat well during this time. If you have a friend that just gave birth or will be giving birth soon, a wonderful creative gift is meals for her and her family. One thing not to forget though, is dinner is not the only meal of the day. Sure dinner is usually the most complex of the three meals in the day, but when you are being pulled in every direction like a new mom feels she is, every meal can be complex. Take by a few meals that are frozen or ready to eat. If they are frozen meals, then make sure you include instructions on the food container on how to cook them. You could also take by some muffins and fruit. You could even make a breakfast casserole or two that can be frozen and cooked at a later time. These meals will be such a huge help to the family! I have heard many new parents say that they are fine and don’t need any thing, however when I brought by those meals they were so appreciative and really did need that help.

Diapers
This is a huge necessity with a new baby. I was always amazed at how many diapers we would go through in a day. Such a little tiny thing and they go through about 10 diapers a day on average. Standard packages of newborn sized diapers have 40 diapers in them. This means that you will go through a full package of diapers every 3-5 days. You certainly don’t want to run out of diapers, and running out to the store with a newborn is not always feasible. New moms are not supposed to drive for the first two weeks after giving birth and if you had a cesarean section that time may be even longer. Diapers are always a good bet. when I give diapers as a gift I like to give size 1 diapers or larger. That way they have diapers for when the baby grows. They do grow out of the newborn size diapers fairly quickly.

Wipes
Pretty much the same as diapers, very important to keep on hand. The last thing you want to do is have to grab some of your nice wash cloths to wipe a dirty bottom. Wet paper towels just do not work the same, trust me on this one! Wipes are not expensive and grabbing a package of them while you are at the store to give to your friend would be a nice way to show that you are thinking of them. When I do this, I grab the refill packages. This way I am not purchasing another box when they probably have several already. They just open the refill package and put the wipes into the boxes that they already have on hand.

Clean up!
Similar to the dinner dilemma, keeping the house straight is a challenge after having a new baby. Mom is so busy making bottles, breast feeding, changing diapers, and rocking that new baby keeping up the house usually drops down on the priority list. What a wonderful gift for you to come over and help tidy up, or even purchase a month of maid service until she can get back onto a better schedule. A clean home makes for a calmer environment for everyone int he family, which helps baby to be calm too.

Babysitter
It is very easy for new moms to feel overwhelmed. With all they have going on, many times they are not getting much sleep, or some days they don’t even get time to shower. What a treat it would be for a close friend or family member to come by and watch the baby for a little while for her. That way mom can nap or shower and not have to tend to baby too.

These suggestions are not the fanciest gifts in the baby store, but they are definitely practical and will be appreciated greatly by the new parents. Take it from me, a mom of three, these simple and practical gestures will mean an easier time for the new parents. When there is a new baby around, anything to make life easier is a good thing!

5 Must Do Tips For a Pirate Birthday Party

I have written several articles with tips for children’s birthday parties. With this article instead of doing a step by step guide, I decided to take a different approach. If you are looking for a step by step guide, please see my other birthday party articles.

This article will have several tips for making your pirate birthday party a huge success. My son’s pirate birthday party was a blast for all in attendance, not just the children.

Tip #1 – Give everyone at the party Pirate names! This is just too much fun! You can do a search for Pirate Name Generator and come up with several sites that have this silly feature. All you need to make this work is a list of everyone coming to your party, and a box of name tags. We got our name tags ready the night before the party. As soon as guests arrive give them their new pirate name tag and watch the fun begin! We all were having a blast checking out each other’s pirate names and laughing at how funny they were. If you don’t like the names generated by the first site that you go to, then try another one. They all come up with different ones, so try a few out until you find the one you like the best!

Tip #2 – Get creative with the cake! As popular as Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies have become you are sure to find a pirate cake at your local bakery. However, I suggest getting more creative with your cake choice. You can go to a cake decorator store and purchase a pirate shape cake pan. You could make a sheet cake and decorate it like a pirates flag with a skull and cross bones. you could also decorate a sheet cake like a beach with treasure on it, or like a treasure map! You could also use a loaf pan to make a cake and turn it into a treasure chest! Plus one of the coolest cakes I have seen is shaped like a pirate ship. Amazingly, it is very simple to pull off too. Just make 2 standard round cakes, cut them in half to form 4 half circles. Then put the circles on their sides, round side down. You will have to trim the bottom of the curve to keep the cakes from rolling around. Hold the pieces together with icing, then decorate like a pirate ship! What a huge hit that would be!

Tip #3 – Have a treasure hunt! Scavenger hunts are always fun party games. With a Pirate party, the scavenger hunt becomes even more fun! Use the party favor bags as the treasure and have the kids hunt for treasure towards the end of the party!

Tip #4 – Have other fun pirate activities planned. A scavenger hunt at the end of the party will be fun, but other activities need to be planned as well. You could have everyone make their own pirate flags, or some other pirate craft. You could also have them color pirate themed pictures. You can give them a blank canvas and let them use their imagination, or you could print out or purchase pirate coloring pages.

Tip #5 – Watch the movie! If the children at the party are old enough, you could turn the party into a movie viewing pirate party. Everyone can watch the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and pretend to be pirates on Captain Jack Sparrow’s crew! You can purchase pirate hats, and other pirate related costume pieces for everyone at a party supplier.

Follow these fool proof pirate party tips and your pirate party will surely be a treasure in your child’s memory forever!

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