Get it Guide: Finding the perfect jeans

 

I love wearing jeans – but have the hardest time finding ones that fit. Either they droop in places they shouldn’t, or hug too close in all the wrong spots. So when my latest Get it Guide Guru assignment from Yahoo! Shine was to find the perfect pair of jeans, I honestly thought it wasn’t possible.

I was wrong….

Find out what my favorite pair were by heading over to Yahoo! Shine or keep on reading below. And, don’t forget to vote for your favorite jeans over at the Get it Guide!

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Sunday spectacular: O’so Brewing Company

I just returned from a dreamy, but extremely busy and action packed, visit to the homeland for a Thanksgiving celebration. While there, my father couldn’t resist taking all us kids to his favorite place.

O’so Brewing Company.

With their new and expanded location, it was really fun to stop in, chat with owner Katina, and even sneak a peek behind the scenes with Zen beer brew master, Mike.

Here he is making sure things taste just right….

Along with enjoying a couple of glasses of our favorites (I love the Big O), we also took some back to my parent’s house with us. And, because we all couldn’t get enough of O’so hand crafted beer, I added some Night Train to our turkey brine. Brining a turkey is easier than you think and the result is out of this world. As we gobbled that birdie up on Thanksgiving, everyone agreed that O’so beer did the trick in adding the perfect flavor to our special meal.

Yum.

I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures of the new digs at O’so Brewery Company while chatting with Mike (that is until my camera locked up). It was awesome to see the fresh hops before being used, the cooler full of beer ready to head out to stores – along with neighboring Applebee’s locations – and the bar packed with patrons ready to savor some kick ass beer.

What’s not to love?

I totally enjoyed brining our holiday turkey with O’so beer – and it really turned out amazingly. Although I wasn’t able to bring any home with me, here are a couple of other beer-tastic recipes I’m planning on tackling with some local northern California beers…

Rustic Beer Bread

Beer Soup 

Dark Beer Chili

 

 

On-the-fly art activities

Taking a toddler on a plane is always a challenge. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 30-minute flight or 30 hours, your tot is bound to freak out at some point. So pack some extra goodies and do a few on-the-fly art activities everyone will enjoy! Yeah, that’s right, put away that iPad and enjoy some locked in flight fun and a bit of family time.

Really.

If your kiddo breaks down after 20-minutes of being creative, pull that iPad back out and cuddle up with a movie. But making on-the-fly art is always a great way to have a wonderful time with your tot – and maybe make something fun yourself! And these fun activities hardly take up any room in your carry-on.

(These art activities would also work wonderfully in the car…)

Beaded pipe-cleaner bracelet

In a small plastic bag or lidded container place some colorful beads along with a couple of pipe cleaners. Your child can secure one end by twisting on a bead and then threading the rest. To finish the bracelet, help your child twist and hold together the ends. Voila! Cute on-the-fly bracelet. Great for boys or girls!

String wrapped headband

Pick up a plain headband and gather a small ball of string. Sure, this project isn’t really for the boys, but that’s okay. Your kiddo can skip this activity for a different one… Now help your child tie one end of the string to the headband and then start wrapping and wrapping. She can tear off lengths of different colored string and tie each section off when she’s done until the headband is all strung up or use all one color.

Night-time sticker paint

Cut a few pieces of paper until they are the size of a zip-top bag and pop them in along with a few sheets of basic star stickers, a blue and green marker, and a paintbrush. Once your happy stewardess has made a walk through, ask for a small glass of water and your child can get marker painting! Start by placing a few stars all over one of the papers and then offer your child the markers to make lots and lots of swirling lines. Then she can use that bit of water and the brush to water paint all over the paper, creating her own night-time star sticker creation.

Binoculars

Pop a couple of toilet paper tubes in with all the rest of your on-the-fly art activities and bring them out to use all the leftover bits of materials for creating a special set of binoculars for the final leg of the plane ride. Your child can stick a few star stickers all over those two tubes, use the markers to create colorful lines, add a bit of water to blend them together, and then string a string with any remaining beads to use for holding the binoculars together. Help finish things up by twisting the string around the two tubes in a figure eight several times and then tying together. The beaded string can be added as perfect on-the-fly binocular strap.

Happy flying!

 

 

Mini deep dish pizzas

 

I love pizza. It doesn’t matter if it’s deep dish, thin crust, expensive, frozen, or from the place on the corner, I love it. There’s nothing like the crisp, crunch, and chew of the crust and then the flavor burst of the sauce and then the finishing goo of the cheese.

Perfect.

The other day I wanted to make pizza, but also wanted leftovers for the tot’s lunch the next day. So, what to do?

Mini deep dish pizzas!

Whether you brave making your dough on your own or go the quick and easy way with store bought, this recipe is versatile to fit your friend’s and family’s favorite toppings. All you need is a muffin tin, a few ingredients, and you’re good to go.

If you want to make your own crust, it’s really easier than you think – it just needs a bit of time.

Ingredients for the dough

1 package of yeast

1 cup warm water (about 100F)

2 tablespoons oil (any kind is fine)

1/4 teaspoon sugar

Big dash of salt

2+ cups flour (you can even use whole wheat!)

Dough making

Place the yeast in a medium sized mixing bowl along with the sugar and then cover gently with the warm water. Let things hang out until things get a bit frothy, which takes about 5-minutes or so.

Now you can mix in the salt and flour. So, yeah, you could really healthy-up this dough by using whole wheat – or going half and half. The day I put my mini deep dish pizzas together I used 1 cup white flour and 1 cup whole wheat and they were totally YUM.

Once the dough starts coming together, dump it out onto onto a flour dusted work surface and knead for a couple of minutes, adding additional flour as needed so things don’t stick like crazy to your hands.

Place the dough back in the bowl and cover with a clean towel. Put the dough in a quiet corner and let it hang out for about an hour or so.

The fillings and assembly….

Get out the muffin tin and lightly grease with a bit of oil. Now pinch off small golf ball sized bits of dough and gently roll with a rolling pin or press flat with your hand. Pop the round into a muffin tin and keep going until all the tins have a round of pizza dough. You should have enough dough to make 9-12 mini pizzas.

Preheat your oven to 425F and let the muffin tin rest while getting together your ingredients. This would be an awesome kid’s party or family night or game night or any night activity! Each kid can pick a tin and create his or her own perfect mini deep dish pizza, starting with a spoonful of pizza sauce.

Now fill the tins with pizza toppings such as chopped mushrooms, chopped pepperoni, crumbled pre-cooked sausage, spinach, olives…. Whatever you want! We even scooped in some homemade ricotta and then another dollop of pizza sauce.

Top each mini deep dish pizza with some shredded mozzarella and place in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the tops are bubbling and golden brown. The pizzas might ooze a bit while baking, so placing the muffin tin on a sheet tray will save your oven for any needed post-pizza cleaning.

Let your pizzas rest for a couple of minutes before attacking them with a butter knife to help ease each out of it’s tin. Enjoy alongside a big salad or eat them all in one sitting!

 

 

Peer pressure and the brain

Even my toddler is starting to succumb to peer pressure. Sure, she’s just two, but I see her following along with the big kids at the play ground and being coerced into trying the slide even though she’s not really ready for it yet. Luckily I can jump in and rescue her, but know, in just a blink of an eye, she’s going to be out there on her own dealing with peer pressure and need to prepare myself for helping her down that path.

Throughout life there are many times when outside influences change or influence decision-making. The young child has inner motivation to learn and explore, but as a child matures, finds outside sources to be a motivating force for development. Along with being influential in positive ways, there are moments when peer pressure can be overwhelming and lead a child down a challenging path. And peer pressure is a real thing – it is not only observable, but changes the way the brain behaves.

Observational Learning

As a young adult, observational learning plays a part in development through observing and then doing. A child sees another child playing a game in a certain way and having success, so the observing child tries the same behavior. Alburt Bandura was a leading researcher in this area. His famous bobo doll studies found that the young child is greatly influenced by observing other’s actions. When a child sees something that catches his attention, he retains the information, attempts to reproduce it, and then feels motivated to continue the behavior if it is met with success.

Observational learning and peer pressure are two different things – one being the observing of behaviors and then the child attempting to reproduce them based on a child’s own free will. The other, peer pressure, is the act of one child coercing another to follow suit. Often the behavior being pressured is questionable or taboo, such as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol.

As adults we can rehash our “firsts” and the times something new was explored or experienced. Often there were others tagging along for the ride – or egging the behavior on.

You know what I’m talking about…

Peer Pressure and the Brain

Recent studies find that peer pressure influences the way our brains behave, which leads to better understanding the impact of peer pressure and the developing child.

According to studies from Temple University, peer pressure has an effect on brain signals involved in risk and reward department, especially when a teen’s friends are around.  Compared to adults in the study, teenagers were much more likely to take risks they would not normally take on their own when with friends. Brain signals were more activated in the reward center of the brain, firing greatest during at risk behaviors.

Peer pressure can be difficult for young adults to deal with and learning ways to say “no” or avoid pressure-filled situations can become overwhelming. Resisting peer pressure is not just about saying “no,” but how the brain functions. Children that have stronger connections among regions in their frontal lobes, along with other areas of the brain, are better equipped to resist peer pressure. During adolescence, the frontal lobes of the brain develop rapidly, causing axioms in the region to have a coating of fatty myelin, which insulates them and causes the frontal lobes to more effectively communication with other brain regions. This helps the young adult to develop judgment and self-control needed to resist peer pressure.

Along with the frontal lobes contributing to the brain and peer pressure, other studies find that the prefrontal cortex plays a role in how teens respond to peer pressure. Just as with the previous study, children that were not exposed to peer pressure had greater connectivity within the brain as well as abilities to resist peer pressure.

Working Through Peer Pressure

The teenage years are exciting times. The young adult is often going through physical changes (um, yeah, puberty), adjusting to new friends and educational environments, and learning how to make decisions for themselves Adults can offer a helping and supportive hand, which may not always be happily accepted, to young adults when dealing with peer pressure by considering the following:

Separation: Understanding that this is a time for the child to separate and learn how to be his own individual is important. It is hard to let go and allow the child to make mistakes for himself, especially when you want to offer input or change plans and actions, but allowing the child to go down his own path is important. As an adult, offer a helping hand if things go awry and being there to offer support is beneficial.

And don’t toss out, “I told you so.”

Talk it Out: As an adult, take a firm stand on rules and regulations with your child. Although you cannot control whom your child selects as friends, you can take a stand on your control of your child. Setting specific goals, rules, and limits encourages respect and trust, which must be earned in response. Do not be afraid to start talking with your child early about dealing with peer pressure and educating about ways to resist peer pressure, which builds confidence in your child to say “no” at the right time without feeling guilt or loss of self-confidence.

Stay Involved: Keep family dinner as a priority, make time each week for a family meeting or game time, and plan family outings and vacations regularly. Spending quality time with kids models positive behavior and offers lots of opportunities for discussions about what is happening at school and with friends.

If at any time there are concerns a child is becoming involved in questionable behavior due to peer pressure, ask for help. Understand that involving other’s in helping a child cope with peer pressure, such as a family doctor, youth advisor, or other trusted friend, does not mean that the adult is not equipped to properly help the child, but that including others in assisting a child, that may be on the brink of heading down the wrong path, is beneficial.

 

 

Butternut squash, kale, blue cheese bake

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and I am really excited to be heading to the homeland to hang with the family and do some cooking. The turkey basically remains the same year after year, so I wanted to mix things up as far as the sides go. When I got the chance to check out Marzetti Simply Dressed Salad Dressings, I knew the blue cheese would be perfect for something I’d been dreaming about….

Butternut squash kale blue cheese bake.

Yeah.

SO good.

here’s the recipe

Yeah, we took our toddler to an art opening.

Last night we did something many parents of toddlers would think unthinkable. Most of us hunker-down in our houses after the witching hour. We all know when that time is – usually after dinner and right before bed. Your child transforms into a crazed whirligig bouncing off the walls, declaring she wants anything and everything, and demands that the same book is read over and over and over again….

Those minutes before the tot’s bedtime stretch into what seems like hours and hours as you just try to stay sane.

Our friend, Brett Kaufman, had an art opening at 5 Claude Lane Gallery and we wanted to go.

It was slated to start right in the middle of the tot’s usual temper-tantrum time.

But, we wanted to go and show our support and share the wonders of art with our daughter. Brett’s work is really something special and makes you get a little closer for a better look. His work is comprised of itty-bitty perfectly placed photographs positioned together in a dizzyingly amazing mosaic, which creates a full finished image. Really, you get sucked into an artwork and find there are so many layers to unfold.

We got all gussied up and headed out for the city. It was a bit of a rainy night, but it was still exciting and fun to be doing something different from our “normal” routine.

(I used a curling iron and everything.)

As we made our way up the steps to the gallery, it was awesome to see a packed house and all of our friend’s artwork shining in the lights. We had a few moments to chat with him, but he kept getting swept back into the crowd. And, it turned into a Dada night, which meant all the tot wanted was for her daddy to hold her while walking around the colorful artworks.

I actually had a few brief minutes to chat with other adults before the tot started her meltdown. We made it about 45 minutes into the opening, but it was enough to see our friend have great success at his opening, catch up with others, and enjoy some fun in the city.

Congratulations, Brett!

(here’s the blow-by-blow)

Fine art for kids – Stamping with Marimekko

The wonderful thing about art is that it encompasses lots and lots of stuff. Sure, most think of fine art as the stuff you see hanging in museums, but art is all around us and totally influences everything from what we watch on TV to the clothes we wear.

While creating our fall leaf wreath the other day, it reminded me of this wonderful patterned fabric I’d come across from Marimekko. It’s colorful, crisp, and absolutely vibrant. Armi Ratia started the ball rolling in 1951 when she designed her fist dress – and it was a hit. Through the years, Marimekko has become one of the most respected textile companies dressing famously fabulous ladies for decades. Some might say Jacki-O put them on the map when she was photographed wearing a pink Marimekko dress during the Kennedy vs. Nixon election.

A woman’s company made for making women awesome, Marimekko is all about mod-design and embracing that inner flower power. The patterns are still living strong today and new designers keep things moving and grooving. So, while cleaning up our fall leaf wreath mess, I got an idea for a fabulous Marimekko inspired project.

Start by inviting your little designer to take a look at Marimekko’s designs focusing on the patterns and shapes. This project is great for kids of all ages – girls and boys. The Unikko fabric in orange and yellow is perfect inspiration for a fall flower stamping creation!

Offer your child a pencil and a sheet of scrap paper. Encourage her to free-form draw a few organic flower shapes. Organic shapes are free of sharp edges or jutting corners or lines. She can even shake out her hands and arms to get her in the organic shape making mood.

Once she’s created an organic flowery shape she’s satisfied with, your child can cut it out with a scissors and then trace it onto a piece of super-washed and dried styrofoam (yeah, that’s right, we used a meat tray for our stamps). Or a nice section of cardboard works wonderfully.

To create an easy-to-use stamp, offer a helping hand by taping a die or a small block to the back of the styrofoam, or cardboard, cutout.

For a fall inspired Marimekko stamped creation, your child can squeeze a bit of orange paint on a paper plate and start stamping away. She can create a pattern or random arrangement of her mod flowers. We experimented with color theory by mixing red and yellow paint together.

Once the flowers have dried, she can add details to the flowers using small circular items for stamping, such as bottle caps or round blocks. She can also use brushes and some black paint for adding stems. Your child can explore her ability for creating unique designs by working until she’s satisfied with the end result!

The finished Marimekko inspired stamp art can be displayed on the family fridge, or offer your child several sheets to keep on stamping and use her creations as placemats for Thanksgiving dinner!

 

 

Sea Change – Get ready for a flood of tears

There’s no other way to put it. You are going to cry at some point while reading Sea Change by Jeremy Page. For one, the writing is so devastatingly beautiful and so detailed, causing a dizzying sensation of something not right just around the corner. Then, within the first few pages, it happens. You want to turn away, to put the book down, but the action has already taken place – and you have to know what happens next.

I’m an avid reader. I swallow good books in big gulps often reading them in one sitting. With Sea Change, I had to pour over things in small chunks. Each chapter offered an assault on my ability to not break down bawling in huge gasps. The story was so true, so real, which made the path of Guy, the main character, even more heartbreaking. I cried with him, stared out at the sea with him, all while wanting so desperately to reach out and hold his hand and offer some sort of comfort.

Throughout the book I questioned how things might end, how Jeremy Page could twist the plot or offer a bit of closure. But, as the book dwindled, the realization that nothing can change events such as what Guy experienced set deep within me and I couldn’t stop the flood of tears.

Sea Change is a poetic, haunting memoir that leaves the heart aching with pain, understanding, and regret.

Find out what others are saying over at BlogHer, read Jeremy Page’s bio, and join in the book discussion!

*I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.

 

Pumpkin swirl cheesecake

Well, the holidays are here. There’s no denying that I’m in high-heaven cooking and baking up a storm. I’m testing out recipes and getting ideas for sweets, treats, and homemade goodies to make. But, we’re heading out this year, which means I’ll be whipping up Thanksgiving dinner in someone else’s kitchen.

That’s okay and all.

But….

That also means no leftovers!

So I figured I’d make something super special just for the hubs and I (and the tot) to enjoy before turkey day.

Pumpkin cheesecake.

If you remember, the husband informed me out of the blue one day that he loves cheesecake. He’s not really into desserts, other than pumpkin pie, so discovering he liked cheesecake opened the doors of my heart even more.

I loooooooove cheesecake. Love.

Putting pumpkin and cheesecake together just seems right in my world. This is an easy recipe with stunning results. You can take this cheesecake out for entertaining or hoard it all to yourself (no one will know!).

And it’s so easy.

The Stuff

6-8 graham crackers

2 tablespoons room temperature butter

16 ounces room temperature cream cheese

1/2 c sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 c sour cream

2 eggs

Dash of salt and lemon zest

1 c pumpkin puree

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of cloves, ginger, and nutmeg

9-inch springform pan

Get baking!

Go ahead and preheat your oven to 350 F, get out your springform pan, and a deep baking pan your springform fits in.

Crumb up the graham crackers by blitzing in the blender or tossing them in a baggie and pounding them until all your frustrations have melted away. Mix the graham cracker crumbs with the room temperature butter and then press into the bottom of the spring form pan creating a nice, crumbly crust.

In a mixing bowl, add the room temperature cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, vanilla, and eggs, and whip with a hand held blender until smooth. Now add the dash of salt and lemon zest and let sit while you make the pumpkin filling.

In a small mixing bowl, stir together the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, cinnamon, and dashes of cloves, ginger and nutmeg.

(Really, it’s that simple)

Now pour half of the cheesecake filling into the springform pan. Dollop that with about three-fourths of the pumpkin mixture, and then ladle the rest of the cheesecake batter on top. Drop the last bits of the pumpkin over the top of the cheesecake and then swirl and marble by pulling a toothpick forward and back and side to side a couple of times.

Go ahead. Get creative.

By now your oven should be ready, so place the springform pan in the deep baking dish and heat up about 4 cups of water until just about boiling.

Place the deep baking dish holding your cheesecake into the oven and then pour the hot water around the outside of the springform pan into the deep baking dish just until about 1-inch of the bottom of the pan is full. The hot water helps bake the cheesecake evenly – there’s a fancy-schmancy name for it, but that doesn’t really matter (bain marie).

Set your kitchen timer for 60-minutes and walk away.

When your timer dings, remove the cheesecake from the oven (leave the pan with the water in there – don’t try to take it out all together – big, hot mess potential!!!) and let your cheesecake rest for at least 30-minutes.

Yes, I know it’s hard to wait, but you don’t want your cheesecake to fall apart. It’s still setting up even though it’s out of the oven.

Run a knife around the outside edge of the cheesecake to help it release from the springform pan, open her up and pop in the fridge for an hour before slicing.

Yes, I know it’s really hard to wait, but it’s worth it.

This is what you’ll have when you finish with all that waiting…