Food & Drink

Food & Drink
Food & Drink

SHOP MY FAVES

SHOP MY FAVES
SHOP MY FAVES

STYLE

STYLE
STYLE

Stonyfield Introduces Healthy and Delicious Organic Fruit Snacks

I love a brand that thinks outside the box. This time that brand is Stonyfield, and this time it's going beyond the organic dairy aisle to offer a kid's snack that's just as healthy and delicious as any of it's organic dairy offerings.

Stonyfield organic fruit snacks have hit grocery store shelves, and moms and kids alike are jumping for joy. Finally there's a fruit snack that kids love and moms can feel good about giving their children.
Stonyfield Organic Fruit Snacks:
  • Have 70 calories per pouch
  • Are made with real organic fruit and vegetable juices
  • Contain no artificial flavors or preservatives
  • Are USDA-certified organic
  • Are available in two delicious flavors: Mixed Berry and Strawberry
  • Are gluten-free and fat-free
  • Provide 100% of the recommended daily requirement of Vitamin C
  • Are free of pesticides and GMOs (genetically modified organisms)

These adorable, cow-shaped fruit snacks have saved us from episodes of low blood sugars, from post-gymnastics workouts, and sugar cravings. I'm ashamed to say that the adults in this house may just be enjoying the Stonyfield Organic Fruit Snacks more than the kids are. At first we didn't realize that they were in the shape of cows. We just tore the packages open and started snacking, oblivious to what shape the snacks were.

They make the perfect addition to any lunchbox. Or you can throw a few packs into your purse, briefcase, carry-on, or beach bag for a quick and satisfying snack on the go.

For our family these fruit snacks are a lifesaver. Harper relies on fruit snacks when her blood sugar is low. They are a quick way to raise her blood sugar effectively with sugar-laden sodas and fruit juices.

For more information about Stonyfield, check out Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

As a Stonyfield Ambassador, I received complimentary fruit snacks and monetary compensation to facilitate this post. As always, all opinions are my own based on my use of the products.
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Fall Bucket List

I have a soft spot in my heart for summer, but fall doesn't fall {pun intended!} too far behind. The crisp air, the rich, robust colors, and the culinary delights are just a few of my fall favorites. I like to consider it our last hurrah before winter hits. That means lots of time spent outdoors partaking in all the fall activities.
This autumn we are going to do a few new things we've never done before as well as our old favorites. I have a feeling it's going to be a great fall!

1. Go apple picking and pumpkin picking at our favorite orchard.

2. Make mile-high apple pie, apple crostada, apple crisp, and apple cider donuts with all the apples we pick.

3. Paint and carve pumpkins.

4. Take a nature hike here.

5. Rake and play in an enormous pile of leaves.

6. Go on a hay ride, walk through a corn maze, and pick the perfect pumpkin here.

7. Make spiced hot apple cider and a spiked version for the adults.

8. Try a few new pumpkin recipes (this one, this one, and this one) in addition to the old standbys such as pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread.


9. Attend Boo at the Boardwalk at Jenkinson's Boardwalk.

10. Watch a scary movie. This one is one of my favorites. 

11. Enjoy pumpkin ice cream and mini pumpkin tarts from Delicious Orchards.

What's on your to-do list this fall?
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Tips For Making Your Home More Relaxing and Comfortable

The cold weather months are approaching, and for most of us that means more time spent indoors, specifically in our homes. The perfect family home should make you feel comfortable and happy, and promote family enjoyment.

A little comfort goes a long way when creating a happy home. If your home makes you feel comfortable and safe, you’ll always have peace of mind.

Here are a few simple tips to bring some extra comfort to your home this fall and winter. The whole family will reap the rewards.

Personalize Your Home
Your home is probably the most important financial investment you will make. Although it's your greatest asset, it's also an emotional investment. As a homeowner, it’s difficult not to have at least one eye on the financial aspects of the property. After all, this is probably the most expensive asset you possess. However, it’s imperative that you try to think about it as a family home rather than an investment.

Ultimately, you should be making the decision based on what will enhance your family’s life. It doesn’t matter if you’re redesigning the bathroom or making over your dining room (check out my recent dining room renovation), your personality should shine through. It's the small personal touches that make a home your own.

Create A Relaxing Environment
Modern life is hectic. After a long day of work and then shuffling the kids to and from sports and activities, I want to come home and chill.

Nothing is worse than walking in to a home that's either too hot or too cold. To achieve a comfortable temperature, install an HVAC system. HVAC systems provide optimal indoor air quality as well as control thermal temperature to create a relaxing and comfortable environment. If you can’t enjoy a little relaxation at home, where can you?


Enhance Your Outdoor Space
The one location that often gets overlooked by homeowners is the yard, patio, or deck areas. However, giving your outdoor areas the love and attention they deserve could be the key to unlocking a whole new level of happiness. In the spring, summer, and fall, our deck serves as another room in our home. We have comfortable seating and a table for dining, creating a second family room.

Encouraging increased outdoor time isn’t difficult. Add a few flowers or start growing fruit and vegetables with the children to ensure that you all get better use of your yard. Invest in fun yard games, such as a bean bag toss, and you'll soon discover that it's much better than sitting indoors in front of electronic devices.

Creating a patio area would give you a great venue for hosting small parties or recharging on weekend afternoons.

Ensure Everything's In Working Order
There’s nothing more frustrating than being unable to complete daily tasks due to faulty products and appliances. The home should be there to make life easier, not add extra challenges. Ensuring that your appliances work is a must.

A faulty item can put a huge dent into your happiness around the home. You’d be surprised at the difference simple process like boosting the water pressure can make. We had poor water pressure in our kitchen for months before we finally addressed it. The difference was unbelievable.

It’s easy to become obsessed with big televisions and fancy tech items. But if the home doesn’t fulfill its basic purposes, those luxury items are obsolete.
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Menu Plan Monday :: 9.28.2015

The chillier weather is making itself known in these parts and that means it's time to start incorporating easy and delicious soup recipes and slow-cooker meals into the meal plan. You won't hear me complaining. Slow cooker meals are super easy, and soup is my ultimate fall comfort food.
Here's what's on the menu this week:



Monday - Quick chicken noodle soup with cheddar biscuits

Tuesday - Chicken cutlets, macaroni and cheese, and sauteed spinach

Wednesday - Minestrone soup with arugula salad

Thursday - Chicken Parmesan over zucchini noodles

Friday - Dinner out

Saturday - Chicken saltimbocca with a side of lemon butter pasta

Sunday - Slow cooker pulled chicken sandwiches

What's on your plate this week? For more meal time inspiration, visit I'm An Organizing Junkie's Meal Plan Monday linkup.

To view all of my menu planning posts, click here. Visit my What's For DinnerPasta, and Soups On! Pinterest boards for even more ideas.
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Friday Fresh Picks: What I Am Currently Loving

Happy Friday! I don't know about you, but this week beat me up. From the planned to the unexpected, I was thrown loops left and right. But in the words of William Shakespeare, "All's well that ends well." And hey, it's ending with the start of the weekend. I'm kicking off the weekend by ditching my work clothes in favor of my my yoga gear and heading to gym to get my Om on. Whether you've got a busy one or a relaxing one, enjoy your weekend, friends! xx

In this week's Friday Fresh Picks, I'm sharing a few of my current favorite things. Hope you find some inspiration here.

My current favorite coffee:
{Starbucks' first fall offering in four years: Toasted Graham Latte (photo credit)}

Current favorite bootie:
{Love the sleek Splash Pointy Toe Bootie from Nine West}

Current favorite words of truth:

Current favorite fall cocktail:

Current favorite desk accessory:

Current favorite guilty pleasure:

{Graceland on Netflix}

Current favorite beauty trend:
{Pink and peach blushes. I love this one, this one, and this one. (photo credit)}


Friday Fresh Picks are hand-picked favorite items, reviews and highlights from the amazing women you see above.

Visit their websites to learn about other amazing picks from this week!


To view all of my Friday Fresh Picks posts, click here.
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Easy Bathroom Upgrades To Do In a Weekend

Yesterday, I shared a few expert tips on getting started on a major bathroom renovation. But what if you're not ready to take on a large-scale renovation project but would rather make a few small changes and upgrades? A weekend is the perfect occasion to carve out some time to make a few necessary cosmetic changes to the bathroom. They'll make a big impact but won't take up much of your time.

Here are few upgrades to consider:

Add a vanity dresser
I’ve always wanted my own vanity dresser; you know, a place where I can sit down and relax to do my hair and makeup and get everything just right. I have a storage stand where I currenly keep my makeup and favorite beauty products, but it would be the perfect spot for a vanity. I can just see my sitting there with my latte, my music, and all my makeup sprawled out in front of me. There are all sorts of unique bathroom vanities out there, and they are the perfect way to add character and function to the bathroom.

Add vintage storage solutions
I love pieces that have tons of character, such as vintage wire baskets and shelving units. The best place to find unique items is flea markets, local thrift shops and vintage stores. I am always on the lookout for clever and practical storage solutions. Remember, it's the accessories and extras that make the room.

Add a fresh coat of paint
Sometimes, the simplest ideas are the best. A fresh coat of paint will completely transform a bathroom, and gave it a whole new ambience.  Choose a color that will highlight the features such as your floor, tile, and sink vanity. Think about the vibe you want to achieve and choose a color that will bring it to life.

Add Soft Lighting
I had never given much thought to the lighting in my bathroom. But, making a few small changes to fixtures and bulbs can make a huge difference in the ambience of the room. Avoid harsh over head lighting and go for subtle fixtures on the walls or by the mirror instead. Adding candles will create a soft glow.

Add Mirrors
The bathroom is typically the smallest room in the house, so you’ve got to work hard to make the most of it. Mirrors will really help bring the room to life by reflecting the natural light, making the room feel airy and spacious. Make use of the back of the door by hanging a full length mirror there to conserve wall space. Mirrors are your best friend, especially when working with a small space.

A few hours on the weekend is all you need to transform your bathroom from blah to ta-da!
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Best Online Reads

The ten stories around the web I am loving this week:

1. How to pack for three popular fall getaways via PopSugar.

2. Twenty ways to reinvent apple pie via Delish.

3. How to get more done in less time via Quartz.

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Big Things To Consider Before A Bathroom Makeover

After kitchen renovations, bathroom renovations are the most popular and offer a high return on your investment. Updating the design of your bathroom can breathe a new freshness into the room, something bathrooms often need. Just as renovating any room in your house, bathrooms are unique.

I recently chatted with my friend Allison who is an interior designer who helps her clients make the best decisions for home renovations from kitchens to bedrooms to bathrooms. She shared advice for the readers of Pieces of a Mom on those items to focus on.
Focus On The Necessary Bathroom Features 
There are certain things you must have in a bathroom for it to be a bathroom. Otherwise, it’s just another random room in your house. Those items are a bathtub or shower (or possibly both), a toilet, and a sink and vanity. It’s important to remember that you’ll probably need to get a plumber in to help install all these features. But, your main concern will be with what you want and their designs and how they fit and flow together in the room. Pay attention to the scale of the room. You want to be sure you don't select items that are too big or too small for the room. Everything should be perfectly proportioned.

Decide On Bathroom Tile Design
Whether you are using tiles for the flooring or for the walls, they are a stylish and practical option. They are easy to clean and stand up well to water and moisture. You can find so many different tile designs to fit almost any style bathroom. From small subway style tiles to large tiles to decorative one, you'll be amazed by the selection once you start looking and narrowing down your options.

Get The Lighting Right
A key part of your bathroom renovation will be the lighting. Keep in mind if you have windows that allow natural light during the day. Bathrooms require both high light and low light. Installing a dimmer switch to control light levels can be beneficial. Having a dimly lit bathroom sets the perfect mood for a relaxing bath time, but having ample light for applying makeup is also a must. Also, consider having mirror lights in your bathroom, to brighten up your reflection in the morning.

Add Extras
Adding decorative touches will pull the room together and give it a cohesive look. Towels, glass storage jars, candles, and wall art are essential for creating a beautiful and serene bathroom.
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What We're Reading

Now that we are three weeks into the school year, I can see that the amount of time we read for pleasure has definitely decreased. Between homework and other after school activities, we don't have as much free time to read. I am going to make every attempt to set aside some time each week for us to read just for fun. Whether it's a book, a newspaper, or a magazine, it's important to be reading something. Anything. So, from here on out, you may not always see books posted in our What We're Reading feature, but you'll definitely see some sort of reading material.

Here are the books we are currently enjoying:
What I'm Reading: The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
This one, my friends, is a page turner. From the moment I started reading it, I could not put it down. It's a captivating story of two estranged sisters, family secrets, lost loves, and broken families. The story is told in the alternating voices of the sisters, and that takes a bit of getting used to. It makes for choppy reading, but the prose is excellent and the plot line is riveting.

What Emma's Reading: Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

A literary classic and one of my all-time favorite books, Anne Frank's diary gives us a first hand account into the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. The novel explores the experiences and wishes of a young girl during the time she and her family remained in hiding from the Nazis. It's easy to forget that this book was written by a young teenage girl. Her voice is strong and her writing is eloquent. But at the heart of the book is her powerful message: that despite all the bad, people are basically good.  

What Harper's Reading: Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
This book needs no explanation. A classic for sure, Charlotte's Web is a heartwarming story of an unlikely friendship between a spider and a pig on a farm. Charlotte, the spider, saves Wilbur, the pig, from slaughter by spinning words of praise for Wilbur into her web. Although this is a children's novel, adults will delight in it as well.



What are you reading? Leave a comment to let me know!
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Currently Craving: All Things Fall

There is a chill in the air, and the tips of the leaves are starting to show signs of changing colors. In one day, we will officially say goodbye to summer and hello to fall. Each fall I like to do my own version of back to school shopping by picking up a few of my favorite things for the season.

Here are a few of my must-have items for fall 2015.


Fall is all about comfy and cozy. Chilly nights call for a warm, rich scent such as butter rum. I just ordered this Pumpkin Butter Rum candle from Crate & Barrel over the weekend, and I can't wait to light it on a cool night.

This fall I am straying from my normal purchase of a leather tote and opting for a fun, ethnic-inspired clutch instead. This foldover fabric clutch with tassels from Sole Society caught my eye immediately. How fun is this clutch?

I'm not quite ready to let go of summer just yet, and these open toe booties from Steve Madden are the ideal way to bridge the gap between the warm days and cool evenings. Pair them with this plaid scarf for an on-trend and seasonally appropriate look.

And don't forget to amp up your beauty routine this fall. Start with a great shade for your nails. Essie's "in the lobby" matches everything in my closet this fall from browns to blues to black and white. Put the finishing touch on your entire look with a lipstick in a fabulous fall shade such as Pumpkin Spice by Paulal Dorf.

One of my favorite fall past times is baking. This fall, a pumpkin cheesecake tart with a gingersnap crust is at the top of my baking list. Who's coming over to help me devour it?
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Menu Plan Monday :: 9.21.2015

This week we are keeping the meal plan fairly simple. The Hubs has a few dinner commitments for work, and we have a few evening activities including another back to school night. I've been Googling "easy weeknight meals" for ideas for our menu plan, and I've found some delicious recipes that have been a big hit with the kids and us.


Here's what we'll be eating this week:

Monday - Beef chili (my own recipe but this recipe is close to my own)

Tuesday - Pastina soup with crusty bread

Wednesday - Make your own mini pizzas

Thursday - Individual chicken pot pies

Friday - Dinner out

Saturday - Grilled teriyaki chicken with rice and grilled broccoli.

Sunday - Cavatelli with arugula-basil pesto and pine nuts with arugula side salad

What's on your plate this week? For more meal time inspiration, visit I'm An Organizing Junkie's Meal Plan Monday linkup.

To view all of my menu planning posts, click here. Visit my What's For DinnerPasta, and Soups On! Pinterest boards for even more ideas.
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Friday Fresh Picks: Favorite Fall Decorations

Some people get excited about football in fall. Me? Well, I'm excited about hot apple cider (which may or may not be spiked) and hauling out my boxes of fall decorations. I love decorating for the holidays, and one of my favorites is fall. I usually start decorating at the end of September and keep my fall decorations up through Thanksgiving. This fall, I'm looking forward to decorating our brand new dining room. I have lots of ideas, and I've been eyeing up some new decorations for the new digs.

In this week's Friday's Fresh Picks I'm sharing a few of my favorite fall home decorations and decor items.

We've got a new Friday Fresh Picker this week! She's the fabulous Corine Ingrassia from Complicated Mama. Don't miss her first FFP post where she's sharing a few of her favorite autumn picks from sangria to clutches!


{How cute is this burlap pumpkin banner? $9}


{Mix it up with this gold and black polka dot pumpkin. $39}











{Pumpkin wreath $40-$100}







Friday Fresh Picks are hand-picked favorite items, reviews and highlights from the amazing women you see above.

Visit their websites to learn about other amazing picks from this week!


To view all of my Friday Fresh Picks posts, click here.
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Best Online Reads

The ten stories around the web that I am loving this week:

1. How to be the most productive person in your office via Social Media Week.

2. Fragrance tricks that every woman should know via Good Housekeeping.

3. Fifteen things you shouldn't waste your money on via Business Insider.

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Tips for Making Moving To A New Home Less Stressful

Although I have no intention of moving any time soon, I do have friends who are making a move in the next few months. I was chatting with my girlfriend about her upcoming move to a new home, and she mentioned how stressful and overwhelming it has been. From selling their home to packing all their belongings, they have been consumed with the moving process.

If you are in the process of moving, here are some helpful tips to ease the burden:


moving truck.jpg
Photo source

Invest in a Specialist House Packing Kit
Instead of just going out and buying lots of boxes, invest in a house packing kit. These come in various sizes, from kits suitable for one bedroom houses to ones that are more appropriate for larger properties. So no matter how large or small your home is, there is a suitable packing kit for you.

They come with various boxes in different sizes, packing tape, markers, and some even come with packing tips included. They range in price from $15 to $130 depending on the size of the kit that you need, and where you purchase it.

They might be a little pricey, but having everything that you need to pack up your home in one place will make moving much easier.

Hire Professional Movers
One of the most stressful parts of moving is moving day itself - having to move your items from one place to another isn’t easy. When we moved into our current home, we hired professional movers to take control of things.

Professional movers can be pricey, but in terms of stress, they are worth the cost. For children, moving house can be upsetting. So it’s important that you can focus on them while moving out. When we moved 9 years ago, we had a newborn, and a 4 year old who required most of our attention on moving day. When you have movers to deal with packing up all of your boxes and transporting them, you can focus on other necessary and important tasks.

Hire a Service to Clean Your Vacated Home
Before you vacate a property, whether you owned or rented it, you will be required to clean it from top to bottom. This can be an incredibly stressful and time-consuming task.

Instead of cleaning it yourself, as well as trying to get your new home sorted and set up, hire a professional company. Yes, this will cost you, but it’ll be worth it in terms of the time that you will save. For a high-quality home cleaning service, contact the General Services Corporation and ask for a quote.

Accept Help
If your friends or family offer to help you when you are moving, say "YES!". Moving can be draining, which is why having a little extra help can be useful. Even if it’s just dropping off homemade meals or taking care of the kids for an hour or two. Having help from your friends and family can make moving a lot less stressful.

Do you have any tips to add that have been helpful for you in the past?
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THE BIG REVEAL!! Dining Room Makeover with Raymour & Flanigan

If you are a regular reader here at Pieces of a Mom, you are aware that I partnered with Raymour & Flanigan a few months ago to make over our dining room. I had heard nothing but positive feedback from friends who had previously purchased from Raymour & Flanigan, and I was absolutely thrilled to have an opportunity to collaborate on a room makover.

Our dining room was anything but a dining room. It was a playroom, an office, a TV room, an entertainment area, and a closet of sorts. Last week, I shared a few before pictures of the room so that you can get an idea of just how badly this room needed the ultimate makeover.

We had a lot of ideas for what we wanted the room to look like and the kind of furniture we wanted. Our home is casual chic, so we definitely didn't want a dining set that was too formal. Since the room is not incredibly large, we didn't have space for more than a few pieces of furniture including the table and chairs.

I wanted fabric chairs, but the Hubs thought wood chairs were more practical for a family with 2 young daughters. I wanted the room to look cozy and comfortable not hard. We also really wanted seating in the form of a bench to accommodate more people than chairs could. Raymour & Flanigan offers several sets that met our criteria.

We headed to the showroom to get a look up close and personal. The decision was A LOT harder than I anticipated. I was torn between several sets, but in the end, we went with our first choice: Gray Street 6-piece dining set with a bench. It is the best fit for this room and for our needs. Take a look.


The set came with the bench, but we purchased two extra chairs in the event that we opt to not use the bench.
I loved the nail head accents on the chairs and the concrete tabletop inlay. The concrete inlay is unique, and I had never seen a table like this before. Raymour & Flanigan has an amazing selection of wall art including canvas prints like the rainy day scene from Paris above. Whether you are looking for framed prints, canvas prints, mirrors, or clocks, Raymour & Flanigan can bring your walls to life.

a
When we aren't using the bench, we place it along the way in the dining room.

We replaced our curtains to give the room a more beachy, casual feel.

We wanted a buffet server rather than a hutch since it's less formal than a hutch. I don't have a formal china set that I need to display, so a hutch was not a requirement on our list. The Gray Street buffet server fits perfectly in this space and has all the storage capacity that we need.

The Candlestick Lamp almost looks as if it's an extension of the buffet server. It's an ideal match for the furniture and the decor.

The rugs were another labored decision. Raymour & Flanigan has a fabulous selection of area rugs. So many of them would have matched the dining room set perfectly, but in the end we chose the sisal rug and runner.


While I couldn't wait to move everything out of the room, I had a dilemma with my "office". I was using a corner of this space as my office, and now I wasn't sure where to relocate my desk. It wasn't a tough decision. We decided that we'd relocate my office to the nook that had been our eat-in kitchen area. It was the perfect sized room, and since we were no longer going to need our kitchen table, we decided to convert the space to my office area.

Here's how it turned out.
The inspiration for the room was the throw rug, which I had previously owned. I added the Beacon Writing Desk from Raymour & Flanigan. I wanted a white desk that had both a contemporary and a classic flair, and the Beacon Desk had both. I added an office chair with a criss cross back, and two conference chairs which are the Annie dining chair from Raymour & Flanigan.

I've wanted a ghost chair for a long time, and I originally had chosen one for my desk chair, but I didn't think it would be ergonomic. The Annie chairs are surprisingly comfortable although I opted for a traditional office chair for my desk.

Because the office nook is small, I kept the furniture to a minimum. Plus, since it's a home office, I didn't want to clutter it with a lot of unnecessary pieces. It has the essential pieces of furniture, and all of it fits perfectly in the space.

Gorgeous, right?! I am over the moon. I can't stop looking at and walking around in the rooms. Someone pinch me. Seriously. We get so many compliments on both rooms and the quality of the furniture.

We placed our furniture order on a Sunday, and by the following Wednesday the delivery truck was parked in our driveway unloading our furniture. Most Raymour & Flanigan deliveries are guaranteed within three days, but of course, if you need more time, Raymour & Flanigan will certainly accommodate you.

The delivery personnel were very professional and careful. They were mindful of our walls and doorways. They set everything up and removed all the protective covering from the furniture and disposed of it properly.

From the moment we walked into the Brick, New Jersey location to the first moment we sat down at our new dining room table, our furniture buying experience with Raymour & Flanigan was an absolute pleasure.

Raymour & Flanigan generously provided me with a gift card to facilitate my shopping experience and this review. All opinions, as always, are my own and are based on my own experience.
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Menu Plan Monday :: 9.14.2015

Now that we are back in the swing of school, our afternoon and evening activities are starting up. CCD starts this week, and next week lacrosse and gymnastics start. Having a solid meal plan in place will be essential during the next few weeks.


Here's what we'll be eating this week:

Monday - Tomato soup and grilled cheese croutons

Tuesday - Cheeseburger flatbread pizzas with a side salad

Wednesday - Bean burrito bowls

Thursday - Sweet corn risotto with sauteed shrimp

Friday - Dinner out

Saturday - Grilled chicken sliders and roasted potatoes

Sunday - Easy pulled pork sandwiches, cole slaw, homemade potato chips

What's on your plate this week? For more meal time inspiration, visit I'm An Organizing Junkie's Meal Plan Monday linkup.

To view all of my menu planning posts, click here. Visit my What's For DinnerPasta, and Soups On! Pinterest boards for even more ideas.
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Remembering 9/11: Fourteen Years Later

Friday's Fresh Picks will be back next week, September 18. Today, the Pieces of a Mom team is reflecting on the tragic events that occurred fourteen years ago on American soil.

**This post is an adaptation of one originally published on 9/11/2011**

It's hard to talk about 9/11 without telling our own story. Recalling where we were when we heard and remembering our initial reaction and the minutes, hours, days, months and years that followed.

We'll never forget the events of that horrific day, and we'll never forget our own story. Still, 13 years later, the events that unfolded that morning and the weeks following are as fresh in my mind as they were 2 days after 9/11/2001.

It was a stereotypical day in southern California. The bright September sun was coming up, and I had a full day of sightseeing planned. I had just flown into Orange County the day before, Monday, September 10, 2001. I had spent so much time in southern California as a software consultant but never had time to truly enjoy free time there. I absolutely adored the area and always wanted to explore it, but by the time I had gotten out of the office at the end of the day, it was just too late, too dark, and I was too exhausted.

About a month prior to the tragic day, I decided to head to California for a little R&R for a few days while the Hubs would be in Orlando for his company's annual customer conference. We agreed to meet up in Las Vegas after our respective trips for a few days of fun together. We had no idea how much our travel plans would change...

As I always did, I woke and looked out the window of my hotel in Newport Beach, California. Yep. Another fabulous day was dawning, and I was ready for it. I turned on the TV and immediately tuned in to Good Morning America, my favorite morning show. It was 7:10 am, local time. It was 10:10 NY time. The image on the television screen was horrifying, terrifying. The image of smoke billowing from the Twin Towers is one that I will never forget. I collapsed on the bed and listened intently to the story. I was shocked and stunned by the story that was unfolding before my eyes. I was immediately crippled with fear.

I was traveling alone. Alone. Diane Sawyer had just told viewers that all air travel was being suspended indefinitely. I was stuck. In California. Alone. I had always wanted to be stuck in California, but not under these circumstances. I was scared. I was shaking. I was crying. I tried to call the Hubs, but couldn't get through to his cell phone. I called my mom on her land line. She answered. I cried to her for 15 minutes. I don't remember what I said to her. I don't remember what she said to me. But she calmed me down and helped me get my wits about me. We hung up and promised to talk in a few hours.

Finally, after trying relentlessly for 45 minutes to reach the Hubs, the call finally went through. He answered amidst complete chaos in Orlando. As I was sitting in a quiet hotel room, he was dealing with a polar opposite situation. Employees were in a panic and going completely crazy. He had a huge situation on his hands. We talked briefly. He assured me that I'd be OK. It was just too soon to know how it would play out. I needed to remain calm. But all the unanswered questions and the unknowns were filling me with anxiety.

Over the course of the next day, I walked around in a haze. Everything was closed. I made the best of my situation. I hopped in my rental car and drove. And drove. And drove. I drove north to Malibu to seek solace in the peaceful sounds of the sea. I drove south to Laguna Beach. I had to revise my entire sightseeing itinerary. All the places I had planned to visit were on lock down. So, I did the next best thing: I took in all the beautiful California scenery. I drove up and down Pacific Coast Highway, visiting the gorgeous beach downs that dot the coast of California. How could it be that I was surrounded by such natural beauty but struggling with the cruel and ugly events of the day?

I worried. How would I get back to New Jersey? Would I get back to New Jersey? Would LA be the next city to suffer an attack? Days passed in this vein. Slowly businesses opened and I was beginning to see some semblance of normalcy, whatever that was. Would anything ever be normal again?

On Thursday, September 13, I was on the first post-9/11 flight out of John Wayne airport. My short, 45-minute flight, would land in Vegas at about 10 pm. As excited as I was to fly to Vegas to be reunited with the Hubs, I worried about flying. It was hard not to be worried about it. I landed in Vegas, took a cab to the hotel, and waited for the Hubs to arrive. Finally, he walked into the hotel room at about 2 am. We clutched each other for 20 minutes, refusing to let go.

During that weekend in Vegas, we learned that we were pregnant with our first child. It was a blessing in the midst of sadness and madness.

We returned to New Jersey six days after the attack. We learned of victims in our town, in surrounding towns. We were shielded from the personal stories while out west, but now that we were back home, a mere 50 miles from Lower Manhattan, it was hitting home. Every day brought another story of a neighbor, or a friend, or an acquaintance, who lost a husband, wife, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, child in the senseless attacks.

So, it is with a heavy heart that today I reflect on the tragic events ten years later. I pay tribute to all the service men and women who have sacrificed to keep this country safe and to all those who sacrificed on that tragic day to attempt to save those in harm's way. I grieve for those who lost their lives and for the families left behind. Fourteen years later and it seems that so little has changed even though so many lives are irrevocably altered.

May you be blessed to be surrounded by your loved ones today. The twin towers and those who lost their lives on that fateful day may be gone, but they aren't forgotten.

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Dining Room Makeover with Raymour & Flanigan {BEFORE}

We've lived in our home for a little over 9 years, and during our years here, we've never focused on creating a proper dining room. Over the years, we've had plans and saved to redo the room, but there has always been some other expense that has come up that prevented us from following through.

When Raymour & Flanigan contacted me to work with them to do a dining room makeover, I was thrilled...to say the least. My dream of having a dining room would finally be realized, and I couldn't have been happier to work with a brand with a great reputation for fabulous furniture and unparalleled customer service. 

This week we put the finishing touches on the final dining room. I can't wait to share the reveal with you next week, but before I do, I wanted to give you a peek at and some back story of the room prior to the makeover.

We have used this room for many purposes over the years from a TV room for the kids to a playroom to an office. Yes. It has more or less been used for just about everything. We've used it for family celebrations, at times renting tables and chairs to accommodate our guests. Just prior to the makeover, it was used as an office/kids' entertaining room.

As the girls watched TV, I tried to be productive. Cat toys found a permanent home in the room as did a random bookshelf. Actually, the entire room was full of random pieces of furniture. From the desk to a rocking chair to the bookshelf to a sewing table given to me by my mother, nothing matched, and there was no uniformity to any of the items.


This photo shows the only wall in the room with windows. As you can see, here's all that mismatched and random furniture I was talking about. A rocking chair, a bookshelf, a desk, a printer cart. Nothing matches, and as I look at this picture, I realize that this room became a place for everything that wasn't quite appropriate for any other room in the house.


This is a shot of the left wall in the room. More random tables, an oversized TV, the printer cart, cat toys, a storage ottoman, and a sewing table. And let's not forget the purple and black leopard print rug, which at one time was in one of the girls' bedrooms but somehow made its way into this room. How's that for random??

In the opposite corner sits my desk. It's obvious that the artwork is underwhelming and very small for the wall space. As you can see from this picture, there are two ways to enter and exit the room, which also poses a few challenges when decorating this space.

The doorway to the right leads to a short hallway that extends to our front door and from which you can access the powder room on the left.

The larger archway to the left leads to our kitchen and eating area.

It's obvious how neglected this room was and how it became a dumping ground for odd pieces of furniture, school projects and papers, craft supplies, and all other odds and ends that we weren't using on a daily basis.

When we entertained, we would move the existing furniture around and bring in a folding table and chairs which we keep stored in the garage. It worked in a pinch, but it was hardly ideal and was probably the reason why we cut back on entertaining. It was a lot of effort to convert the space to a temporary dining area, and it wasn't the most attractive space when we did so.

Today, we have a gorgeous dining room with ample seating for all of our guests and all the amenities for proper entertaining. We can't wait for the upcoming holiday season to show off the room to our friends and family.

We had such fun shopping for the new furniture. We tried just about every dining set in the showroom until we were absolutely smitten with "the one".

Which one was "the one"? Well, we were torn between 3 different sets. We didn't want a set that was too formal since our home is casual chic. We wanted something that was on the contemporary side without being too edgy.

We narrowed our final selections down to these three sets.

Which one did we choose? Can you guess? Leave a comment and let me know which one you think we chose.

Tune in on Monday, September 14, when we REVEAL our new dining room compliments of Raymour & Flanigan Furniture! 
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