The shape of things to come

Monday, June 28, 2010
Emma's last day of school was last Thursday. Since that day we have spent 2 days at the "real" beach (Atlantic Ocean), and yesterday was spent at a graduation party. Emma's last 4 days of school were early dismissal days. We spent each of those afternoons at the river beach. Something tells me that this summer is not going to be conducive to blogging.

Both girls are loving the ocean and boogie boarding.

They both love digging huge holes in the sand and inviting every child they see around them into the hole to play.

They've just discovered sand crabs and can't get enough of digging for them.

The big fun at the river beach is catching fish and crabs. Here Harper wades in the water with her net.

On this particular day, she spent most her time counting her fish.

The summer fun has just begun!

Pasta Salad in a pinch

Thursday, June 24, 2010
One of the many things I love about summer is the abundance of fresh, local produce. They don't call it the Garden State for nothin', after all! You just can't beat the flavors of fresh fruits and veggies. Blueberry season is right around the corner. I can't wait to make scones, pancakes, muffins and smoothies!

Last night, I had a few leftover veggies lingering from my most recent trip to the farmer's market. I needed to use them fast or else they'd spoil. Perfect solution: pasta salad. This recipe can be adapted to any veggies you have. I used what I had on hand. The beauty of pasta salad is that just about any combo of veggies works perfectly.

8 oz. of bow tie pasta (prepared according to package directions)
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 orange pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Handful of fresh basil, chopped
1/3 cup creamy Italian salad dressing (I used Wish Bone Lite)
Freshly ground pepper

Mix above ingredients until the dressing evenly coats the pasta and veggies. Season with pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serves 4

Father's Day fun

Nothing says "I love you" like a handmade gift. Each year for Father's Day, the girls (with my help) make a t-shirt for Daddy. They choose the decals, letters and any other decorations for the shirt. They decide on the wording, and I help them assemble it. Here is this year's masterpiece:

Every Father's Day involves a pre-Dad's Day photo shoot. I struggle with this almost every year. The girls never want to have their picture taken. It's always too hot or too buggy or they are too tired, etc. But this year was different. I had two very willing participants who were more than excited to coordinate their outfits and pose.

For the grand finale? Creamsicle cake (recipe follows). After enjoying dinner, it was time to sing "Happy Father's Day" and devour some dessert. This cake is the perfect summertime dessert. It tastes just like a creamsicle except it's in the form of a cake. Need I say more?
Creamsicle Cake

What you'll need:

•1 pkg. yellow or white cake mix and any ingredients needed to make the cake
•1 small pkg. orange Jell-o
•1 cup hot water
•1/2 cup cold water
•1 8 oz. pkg. Cool Whip
•1 small pkg. vanilla pudding
•1 cup milk
•1 tsp. vanilla
•1 tsp. orange extract

How to:
1. Bake the cake according to the instructions on the box for a 13" oblong pan.

2. After removing cake from oven, poke holes about 1 inch apart with a fork. Allow cake to cool.

3. Mix Jell-o mix with 1 cup boiling water and the 1/2 cup of cold water. Stir well until the powdered Jell-o has dissolved. Pour evenly over cooled cake.

4. Mix Cool Whip, instant vanilla pudding, milk, vanilla, and orange extract. Using an electric mixer, beat until mixed thoroughly. Spread evenly over the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Friday Fun: BounceU

Friday, June 18, 2010
If you've never taken your children to BounceU, it is definitely worth checking out. It's an indoor playground filled with ginormous inflatables that will keep your children entertained for hours. We had our first experience last weekend when Harper attended a birthday party there. She loved it so much that she couldn't wait to return to show her big sis the ropes!

We returned on Tuesday for an open bounce, all ages are permitted on the equipment during certain hours. You pay a nominal fee per child for the open bounce session (see below). Check out all the fun!

This huge slide was, by far, their favorite. Since there were only 5 other people attending the open bounce, the girls had plenty of time and space to enjoy everything. For 2 hours, the open bounce costs $8.95 for the first child, $7.95 for siblings. Since BounceU is franchised, you may want to check your location for specific costs.

Some of the equipment:


EcoSMART Natural Bug Killer Review & Giveaway

Thursday, June 17, 2010
When I was invited to review an EcoSMART value bundle, I jumped at the chance. It is almost impossible to find all natural pesticides and all natural bug sprays. Most products on the market are loaded with chemicals and toxins. With two young children and a cat, I need a product that is safe for daily use around children and pets.
EcoSMART was the first company to apply modern science to essential plant oils — creating the first 100% safe pesticides. The products are based on the natural defenses that plants and trees have used for their self protection against insects and pathogens – essential oils.

Since EcoSMART’s proprietary botanical oil blends attack attributes that are specific only to pests, they have no effect on people, pets or the environment. The primary active ingredients in EcoSMART products are approved as Direct Food Additives or classified as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. These oils are commonly used to add flavor and aroma to many cosmetic, beverage and food products, including cake, candy, sweetener, gum, soft drinks, and lipstick. Children and pets are safe. EcoSMART products have no adverse effect on mammals, birds, and fish and also will not contaminate water sources.

EcoSMART offers a wide variety of products including value bundles. I reviewed the Safe Picnic Value Bundle. This bundle included the following:

Home Pest Control - 24 oz. spray bottle
Flying Insect Killer - 14 oz. can
Insect Repellent - Two (2) 6 oz. bottles

1. Safe for use around children and pets. I have both, and this is a huge plus for me.
2. Extremely effective. I had my doubts that an all natural bug spray would be effective, but these products are just as effective as conventional bug sprays.
3. Safe for the environment.
4. No overbearing scent of chemicals. The Flying Insect Killer has a very pleasant scent of peppermint. The Insect Repellent has a neutral smell.

1. I was not thrilled with the way the Home Pest Control smelled. Although it contains no chemicals, it has a chemical-like scent.

I am happy to offer one lucky reader a Safe Home Value Bundle, a $31.00 value which includes the following products:
Ant and Roach Killer (14 oz.  can)
Home Pest Control (24 oz. spray bottle)
Flying Insect Killer (14 oz. can)
Insect Repellent (6 oz. bottle)

To enter: leave a comment stating why you want or need the Safe Home Value Bundle. Be sure to include your email address in the following format: piecesofamom at gmail dot com so that I may contact you if you are the lucky winner.

This giveaway will remain open until 11:59 pm EDT on June 29, 2010. One winner will be chosen using and will have 48 hours to respond. Must be a resident of the continental US to participate.

Disclosure: I received a value bundle pack in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed herein are 100% mine.

Tuesday's Tasty Treat: Caprese salad with a twist

Tuesday, June 15, 2010
One of my all-time favorite summer salads is a caprese salad: big juicy tomatoes, creamy, fresh mozzarella and fresh, fragrant basil, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Yum. Yum!

On a recent trip to Wegmans, I discovered the kumato. It's a brown tomato with a mild flavor. It's not chemically engineered. It's all natural, and it's delicious! It's a bit sweeter than a tomato, which basically translates to a greater amount of natural fructose. Look for them with the tomatoes. They come pre-packaged rather than loose like most tomatoes.

Caprese Salad (serves 2)
2 kumatos, sliced
1/3 lb. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, stems removed
Extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, enough for drizzling
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Layer the kumatos, mozzarella and basil in any order you like. For the above, I started with a slice of grilled ciabatta bread, followed by mozzarella, kumato, and basil. Continue for 3 layers. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

This salad is also delicious when placed on top of a bed of mixed greens.

The perfect summer salad!

Photo Op: The cat

Monday, June 14, 2010
Some of the best photographs are impromptu ones. The ones that are taken just by chance or spur of the moment seem to best capture the subject. Posed pictures are too contrived, maybe that's why I like taking pictures of animals and babies. It's impossible for them to pose. Today, as I was updating my to-do list, I caught the cat out of the corner of my eye. He looked ripe for snapping some photos. So I grabbed my camera and did just that.


Grab a box of tissues

Thursday, June 10, 2010
...'cause you're going to need it for this one.

Many thanks to our service men and women and their families for the selfless sacrifices they make on behalf of the American people.

Would you put these on your baby?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Huggies recently unveiled their newest diaper, the Little Movers Jean Diapers. These diapers are for the seriously fashionable tyke. I no longer have children in diapers, but I have to wonder if I would have bought these for my babies. I'm not sure. What do you think? Are these a stylish or a just plain silly way to keep your little ones dry?


The tide is shifting

Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Every so often, I swap out the pictures in my frames around the house and replace them with current ones. It's always sad for me. I want to display EVERY picture I have. I'm a picture hoarder. I almost feel as if replacing the picture means saying goodbye to that time in my life. I have several pictures of the girls when they were babies that I'll never change. They remind me that my girls were once babies.

I am reminded every day how fast they are growing and how much they are changing. Just Sunday when we were at the water park, I had difficulty spotting Harper in the crowd of children. I was looking for a much smaller child. When had she gotten so tall? When did my baby become a little girl? For some reason, this transition is much more difficult for me to see in Harper than it is in Emma. Is it because Emma is the oldest?

With Emma, I look forward to her growth and accomplishments. As my oldest, Emma is expected to progress, mature and, dare I say, become a young woman? {gasp} But with Harper, I find myself clinging to the baby she once was and wishing she was still just that, a baby.

I take them to the park, and they don't need my help with climbing or swinging anymore. I take them to the beach, and they no longer need to hold my hands by the water's edge. They are growing and shifting, and I need to be ready to move with them and at their pace.

Most importantly, I need to remember that they'll always be my babies, and I'll always be their mommy.

Let the summer fun begin!

Most of our summer will be spent beachside. Please don't hate me. Believe me, it's not all fun and games. Just imagine lugging all your beach gear almost each and every day of the summer. It gets tiring, but I always remind myself how lucky I am to be home with my girls and to live so close to the beach.

But on Sunday, we took a detour from the beach to play on the boardwalk at Asbury Park with my niece Colette. Before I go further, let me just say that if you haven't been to Asbury in years, you need to get yourself there. So much has changed. There are some absolutely terrific restaurants on the boardwalk, all with lovely outdoor that! And in town, there are unique boutique-type shops. However, on this particular day, we visited the spray ground, a water-park of sorts for children. You can keep the kids entertained all day for just $9 per child and $5 per adult. Once you pay, you are given wrist bands which allow you the option of exiting and re-entering as many times as you wish. You can pop back and forth between the beach and the spray ground with ease. Check it out.
After all the fun and games, we headed here for exactly what the sign states. A definite must for fresh lemonade!

Exploring Epcot

Over the years, Epcot has become one of our favorite Walt Disney World theme parks. During this trip, we spent a lot of time exploring the countries in World Showcase, sampling the food, watching the films and shows, and riding the few but very good rides.

Before entering World Showcase, there are plenty of educational exhibits in Epcot. In "The Seas" pavilion, we love the aquarium. There's something fascinating about seeing marine life in its natural habitat. Afterall, unless you're a scuba diver, you rarely get to witness these lifeforms.


Back from the depths of Disney

Friday, June 4, 2010
Well, we are back, and some of us are not happy about it. Can you guess who it is? The answer might surprise you. It's I. Yes, I'm the one who's having difficulty adjusting to the daily grind. I'm up to my eyeballs in laundry and house cleaning. Every time I take a few steps forward, Harper does something that sets me back by about 20 steps. Four year-olds can be so destructive sometimes.

But enough of my whining. As always, Disney didn't disappoint. I don't know how they do it, but, at the risk of sounding cliché, they truly make it a magical experience. From every character sighting to the thrill of Space Mountain, the kids were on a never ending high the entire time we were there.

Although there were so many unforgettables, here are a few highlights:

1. Soarin' - If you haven't been to Disney World in years or ever, this is a must. It's located in Epcot's The Land pavilion. It's a simulated hang gliding ride over some of California's most notorious and scenic attractions, including The Golden Gate Bridge, hot air balloon ride over wine country, surfers in Malibu, skiing in Lake Tahoe, the port of San Diego, an LA freeway, and ending with fireworks at Disneyland. You absolutely feel as if you are soaring over these sights. It's magnificent. But the wait is a long one. Get to the park early and get your FastPass so that you can return and walk right on. The height requirement is 40", and my four year-old loved this ride more than any of us!

2. Breakfast with characters - The best way to get up close and personal with the characters is to dine with them. Disney offers many options for character dining including restaurants within the various hotels as well as those within theme parks. Our all-time favorite is Chef Mickey's, located within The Contemporary resort. Mickey and his favorite pals, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Pluto and Goofy, mingle amongst the guests for pictures. Each character makes a special stop at every single table.

On this particular trip, we had breakfast with Mary Poppins and friends at 1900 Park Fare, conveniently located in our hotel, The Grand Floridian. Here are a few pics.

3. Space Mountain - Every one's got to do it once. The height requirement is 44" with or without an adult. Emma and I went on twice. It was her first time, and I was sure she was going to bail at the last second. But, much to my surprise, she hopped right on and LOVED it!

4. Pastries in France - Located within Epcot's World Showcase, France is one of 12 countries represented. There are quaint shops, restaurants and of course, a patisserie. Any of the pastries would make a fine selection, but my favorites are the chocolate croissant and the crème brûlée. To. Die. For. Pair them with wine for a special treat!

5. The Grand Floridian - I was a total travel diva on this vacation. The Grand Floridian is teeming with wait staff. Every where you turn, someone is offering to help you (of course, they are expecting a gratuity). It was posh, indeed. With some of the best restaurants in Walt Disney World, the Grand Floridian is the place to see and be seen. There is also an afternoon tea party for little girls complete with tea sandwiches, scones and an appearance from Sleeping Beauty.

6. Downtime - Be sure to build a few days into your schedule for relaxing by the pool. The Grand Floridian has two pools, one of which is specifically designed for children and includes a slide and two lifeguards.

Stay tuned. More pics and recaps to follow!