I Heart Starbucks

Thursday, October 28, 2010
I have long been a big fan of Starbucks. I credit the movie You've Got Mail. If you've seen the movie, you know that there is a scene in the movie where both Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan just miss each other on respective visits to Starbucks. While waiting in line to order her drink, Ryan's character goes through a diatribe about the ordering process and how you can tell a lot about someone through what they order and the way that they do it.
I saw that movie on it's release date, Christmas Day 1999. The very next day, I rushed to my nearest Starbucks for the very first time. The rest, my dear readers, is history. I was hooked.

Now, let me tell you that I am not a coffee drinker. Before that very first Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks, I had never had a sip of coffee in my life. No. Not even in college. I was never a coffee drinker. Didn't like the smell, and therefore could never bring myself to have a taste. I still don't like coffee, per se. I like the fancy drinks: lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos and mochas. You know, the ones with a shot of espresso and lots of steamed milk and whipped cream.

About 2 months ago, on a routine stop at Starbucks, Emma picked up a brochure that read, "Can we buy you a drink?" She handed it to me. I saw the word "free" and just had to have a look. What I learned in that brochure has changed my life. OK, that may be a bit dramatic. I've been using Starbucks gift cards for years. It's what people buy me for every special occasion. Not once, had I ever registered one of those cards. Get this. Register your card and you can earn stars towards free drinks. Free drinks! From Starbucks! After earning 30 stars, you get a personalized Gold Card. Check mine out!

Once you earn 30 stars, you earn a free drink with every 15 stars. Plus, there are other perks such as free refills on regular coffee and iced tea, free drink customizations, and more. I can't believe I had gone years without knowing about the Gold Card.

Here I am sipping my favorite drink: a solo venti skim iced white mocha.I often wonder how many others were so easily influenced by that one little scene in You've Got Mail. They definitely had me.

For more information about the Starbucks Gold Card, visit http://www.starbucks.com/


Wordless Wednesday: The Joys of Childhood

Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Could they be any happier?

Hop over to Wordless Wednesday , 5 Minutes for Mom, and Parenting by Dummies to see other Wordless Wednesday pictures.

And don't miss A Beautiful Mess. I just clicked her icon on the 5 Minutes for Mom linky, and her trip down Halloween memory lane is not to be missed.

Milano Moment for the Cure

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
To me, October used to mean Halloween, pumpkins, falling leaves, apples, and pumpkin pie. That's no longer the case. These days, October means breast cancer awareness. A month of pink ribbons, pink clothes, donations, mammograms, walks and runs in honor of those who have fought this horrible disease. I am in awe of the survivors and warriors.

In an effort to increase awareness of breast cancer, Pepperidge Farm has teamed up with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. By sharing our strength, we can work together to find a cure. For every story shared via a blog, Facebook, and or Twitter, Pepperidge Farm will donate $.50 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. Although her cancer was detected during the early stages, she had an uphill battle in front of her. She endured weeks of radiation therapy. The therapy drained her mentally and physically. She was always tired. Conquering breast cancer is just as much a mental fight as a physical one. You've got to be ready and willing to win.

My mother never complained of her lack of stamina, strength, or energy.

Now, 11 years later, there is still one thing that my mother told me about her fight that I cannot forget. No, it wasn't how sick the radiation made her. It wasn't how tired she was. It wasn't how she felt sorry for herself. It was how heartbroken she was to see children in the waiting room when she went for her radiation treatments. Children with cancer. Babies with cancer. For my mother, it was absolutely, positively the worst part of enduring cancer.

My mother's words and those visions of cancer-stricken children have resonated with me. They have become my Milano Moment, the moment I knew that I would be diligent about my monthly self-exams and my annual mammograms. I will help to bring attention to the cause. I will wear my pink ribbons, pink sweaters, and pink socks. And I will do it all year long, not only in October.

Disclosure: This post was written as part of a campaign for the One2One Network in an effort to raise awareness for breast cancer prevention, early detection and education.

Tuesday's Tasty Treat: Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Toasted pumpkin seeds are most definitely the silver lining in the pumpkin carving cloud. The only thing that gets me through scooping out a pumpkin is knowing that I'll have delicously salty, nutty pumpkin seeds in the end. Yum!

What You Need:
1 Pumpkin (any size)
1 - 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Kosher salt for sprinkling

What You Do:
1. Cut the pumpkin in half or if carving, cut the top or bottom out of the pumpkin. Scoop the seeds into a large bowl.

2. Separate the seeds from the pumpkin fiber. This is a messy job. If it's warm enough, take the pumpkin outside. Place the seeds in a colander and throughly rinse the seeds using warm water.

3. Place the rinsed seeds on a kitchen towel and allow to dry for about 30 minutes.

4. Place the dry seeds in a bowl, drizzle with the oil, and sprinkle with the salt. Toss well to coat.

5. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the seeds out evenly on a cookie sheet.
6. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the seeds are slightly brown and crisp. Enjoy the crunchy, golden goodness!

* They make a great snack or topper for a salad.

Halloween Playdate

Sunday, October 24, 2010
On Friday, Harper and I hosted a Halloween play date for some of her friends and their moms. It was a great way to get the kids and moms together outside of school.

We've formed a little playgroup, which consists of friends from Harper's 3 year preschool class. The same friends are together this year for Pre-K. Since some of the other moms had hosted summer pool parties and one other mom hosted a movie day, I thought it was time for us to have a party. Since it's that time of year, what better than to host some Halloween fun?

For the little ones, I had planned lunch, a scavenger hunt, and cupcake decorating.

The table was set and decorated. No. I didn't serve martinis to the little ones. I used the plastic martini glasses for goldfish crackers and candy corn.

The moms' table was all set and complete with these super cute party favors. I found the Halloween printable here and just grabbed a few frames from the dollar store. Everyone loved them. Such a simple and inexpensive item that makes a big impact. Love that!

I have a variety of these fall plates that I found at Wal-Mart years ago. They were $7 for a set of four. I just love them and look forward to using them each fall.
After lunch, it was time for the scavenger hunt. Kids love scavenger hunts. Not only do they love the prizes, but they love trying to find the items. Some of the prizes included Halloween cookie cutters, tattoos, stickers, silly bands, coupons for a free Frosty from Wendy's, Ring Pops, and goody bags filled with candy.

As they filled their buckets, they rushed back for the next clue!
Although messy, the cupcake decorating was a ton of fun. I was surprised by how carefully the boys decorated the cupcakes whereas the girls were just dumping sprinkles on the top.

A happy bunch!


Retail regret

Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Have you ever bought something only to discover later that you don't really want that item? You thought those earrings would love great with a particular top. But once you got home and tried them on, you wondered what you were thinking? I could list so many examples.

Conversely, have you ever passed up a purchase only to regret it later? Well, that's what I did a few days ago.

I saw these shoes at Macy's and fell in love immediately. I spotted them from 100 feet away, and as I approached, I could feel my heart beating faster and faster.

Here's what I was thinking: I can see myself in these shoes. I already have so many outfits that would be perfectly paired with these shoes. I wouldn't have to buy anything to go with them. I get lots of compliments on them. Everyone would ask me where I got them. Everyone would want them.

It gets even better. They were 30% off. They were on sale! Did I need any further justification to be these rockin' shoes? I think not.

After 20 minutes of touching, staring at, and fantasizing about how I would look in the shoes, I didn't buy them. I. Didn't. Buy. Them. I still have difficulty admitting it. I love these shoes. Now, I am regretting my decision to not purchase them. I think about them everyday. I wonder if I made the right decision. I know it's silly. They are, after all, only a pair of shoes. But still...

Do you have any retail regrets? If so, what is your biggest?

Kickin' it with the Rockettes!

Monday, October 18, 2010
Have you ever seen the Radio City Christmas Spectacular? We've been going since I was pregnant with Emma, Christmas 2001. While I certainly don't advocate walking all over around Manhattan when you're pregnant, I do recommend the show. It's great family entertainment! Add in a little window shopping at the big department stores, a sighting of the Rockefeller Center tree, and some dinner, and you've got yourself the perfect day.

We were invited to see the Rockettes while they made a special appearance at the Bridgewater Commons Mall on Saturday. My daughters love the Rockettes. In addition to taking in the annual Radio City show, the girls have the Christmas Spectacular on DVD and watch it frequently. They try to teach themselves the dance steps. They dress up in their dance leotards and watch it over and over, practicing the steps.

When they heard that they could see the Rockettes up close and receive dance instruction from them, they were over the moon.

They performed.

The little girls loved the dance instruction.

They posed for lots of pictures and smiled the entire time.

They signed dance instruction certificates.

It won't be long before we are sitting in Radio City Music Hall watching the Rockettes kick up their heels in the Christmas Spectacular!

A day at Morey's Piers

Friday, October 15, 2010
On Sunday, we had the opportunity to spend the day at Morey's Piers in Wildwood, New Jersey. I was invited to Morey's Piers as part of its first-ever Boardwalk Bloggers Bash. We enjoyed a day of amusement rides, face painting, boardwalk fare, and all-around fun.

Morey's Piers has been a Jersey Shore landmark since 1969. It is the largest seaside amusement center in the Western Hemisphere. The amusement complex includes 4 amusement piers, featuring over 100 rides and attractions and two full-scale beachfront water parks. With games, water slides, mini-golf, carousels, extreme rides and roller coasters, Morey's offers something for every member of the family. Although the water slides were not operating during our visit, there was plenty to keep us occupied for hours.

A view of Mariner's Landing Pier from the Sky Ships.

We enjoyed plenty of time on rides that went round and round and round.

The face painting was a huge hit!

It was Sunny C. Gull's birthday, and he was more than happy to pose for pictures.

We got lucky. It was an unseasonably warm day for October. The perfect day to enjoy the sights and send summer on its way.

The beach in October is a far cry from the crowds of the summer.

As you leave Wildwood, you pass a retro-looking Wawa. It's like a time warp. You almost feel as if you are living in the 1950's. Wildwood is famous for its Doo-Wop style motels, of which there are about 200.

If you get the chance to visit Wildwood, you must stop at Morey's Piers. A trip to Wildwood is not complete without it!

Disclosure: I received complimentary wristbands for myself and my family for unlimited enjoyment of the amusement rides. I also received complimentary vouchers for slices of pizza, french fries, and a water game. Morey's provided the children with complimentary face painting and a stuffed version of their mascot, Sunny C. Gull.

Wine of the Week: Parducci Pinot Grigio

Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Oh, Parducci, how I love thee. Let me count the ways...

Seriously. There is little not to love about Parducci Wine Cellars. They were recently awarded the America's Greenest Winery award as it is the first U.S. carbon neutral winery. Love that! Their commitment to sustainable wine growing practices is commendable. And while many other organic and sustainable products tends to cost more than conventional ones, Parducci wines are competitively priced. Love that too!

Parducci grows a variety of both red and white grapes, but my favorite pick is the Pinot Grigio. With hints of pear, white peach, and orange blossom, Parducci Pinot Grigio is light and crisp yet robust with its fruity flavors.

Parducci Pinot Grigio is best served with fresh salads and light, flaky fish. I served it with a hearty spring mix salad with feta cheese, pistachios and a lemon dressing which included lemon and orange zest.

At $11 per bottle, Parducci is a steal for a sustainably grown wine.

These notes were excerpted from Parducci's Web site: "Parducci is locally owned and operated in California's Mendocino County. We are committed to Sustainable WineGrowing practices that yield top quality grapes and wines while protecting the environment and supporting our communities and local farmers."

I love supporting a winemaker with such a fantastic business philosophy.

Their pain is our pain

Monday, October 11, 2010
Who ever coined the following phrase must not have had children, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."

Seriously. Not words that will ever fall from the lips of a parent.

I had the unfortunate opportunity to realize this. And let me tell you, it is heartbreaking.

Before I go into my tirade (to which I am fully entitled), let me back up a few years. We are turning the clock back about 4 years. Harper was 3 months old and at a routine well-visit. Her pediatrician was looking at her strangely. Cocking her head and observing her, the pediatrician tells us that she suspects our darling daughter has torticollis. Excuse me? I didn't think anything was wrong with our daughter. She's perfect, right? Or so we thought.

Before the pediatrician explains what torticollis is (and you can read all about it here), she begins by telling us that kids can be brutal...at any age. Kids have a knack for mocking other children. They are quite skilled at it actually. You don't want your child to be a target. I'm feeling faint at this point, but I am understanding her general point. I get it. I don't want my child to be made a mockery of.

We get Harper the help she needs. She endures 3 months of physical therapy once a week and exercises in between her visits. It's grueling for both me and her, but I know it has to be done.

Fast forward a few years to last winter when this happened. We swiftly addressed it with the pediatrician who referred Harper to an ENT. Two weeks later, Harper had tubes put in her ears and her tongue clipped because she was tongue tied. Within a month, both her speech and hearing had improved dramatically. However, her speech wasn't perfect. She was still struggling with certain phonetic sounds months after the surgery. We thought it was indicative of her age.

Two weeks ago, while I was dropping Emma off at a weekly religious education class, Harper ran into the playroom at our church to briefly play while I signed a few forms. While she was playing, she was making friends and chatting with some of the other children in the playroom. She abruptly ran out of the room and clung to my leg. I could see her eyes welling up with tears. My heart was breaking for her, and I didn't know the full extent of what transpired in the playroom.

When we got into the car, the flood gates opened. As she cried, Harper told me how a little boy told her that "she didn't have a good voice." He said he couldn't understand what she was saying and that she shouldn't talk to him because of that.

Her pain immediately became my pain. I wanted to cry with her. I wanted to cry for her. I wanted to scoop her up, hold her in my arms forever and make everything better. The pain that we feel for our children is worse than our own at times. It's unbearable.

What is worse is that the week following, I was a volunteer hall monitor. I encouraged Harper to go into the playroom for the hour that I had to sit and watch any children wandering into the hallway as they made their way to the restrooms. She wouldn't budge. Not an inch. She was fearful that the same little boy would be in the playroom, ready and waiting for her. No child should be paranoid at age 4.

Of course, I know that this little boy wasn't intentionally mocking Harper. He was too young to know how to do so. Children his age are brutally honest. They say what they feel. They don't filter anything. That, precisely, makes the situation worse. He wasn't feeling intimidated or threatened which often leads to mocking and bullying. He was just being an honest kid.

I know that I can't protect my children from disappointment. It's not realistic nor is it possible. They will encounter plenty of it in their lifetimes, and it will be good for them. It will help them grow, shape them, and most importantly, show them how to rebound from it. But it will never become easier for me to sit back and watch it happen. Whether they are 4 or 54, their disappointment will always be my disappointment.

GlassesUSA Review

Thursday, October 7, 2010
I was in desperate need of new prescription eyeglasses. Sadly, the last time I purchased a pair was in the Spring of 2001. Yes. Nine. Years. Ago. Every year when I visit my optometrist for my annual contact lens exam, I browse the eyeglasses. I write down the names of a few of the frames that I like, but I never return to order them.

Prescription eyeglasses are expensive...even with vision insurance. If the frames are reasonably priced, the lenses break the bank. Once I choose a frame, it seems that within six months, there is a more popular style. I feel as if I've wasted a few hundred dollars. Hardly worth the hassle.

I recently had the opportunity to order a pair of glasses from GlassesUSA. I have to admit, I was skeptical at first. Glasses online? Hmmmm. I had to think about it for a moment. I wouldn't be able to physically try them on. I wouldn't be "fitted" for them. And who knows what the quality would be. So, I decided to take a look at GlassesUSA's Web site. I loved the selection, and there is a tool for "trying" them on. You can either upload a picture or use a Web cam to take a shot of yourself. You can select the frame of your choice and place them on the picture. Voila! It's like a mirror.

When my brand spanking new prescription eyeglasses arrived in the mail, I couldn't wait to try them on. I took them out of the box, and they were exactly the way they were represented in the online picture. The glasses are high quality and very reasonably priced, and there is a large selection of designer frames including Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, and Guess. My expectations were definitely exceeded.

In addition to their excellent prices, high-quality eyeglasses, and unbeatable selection, GlassesUSA is also "doing good". Rather than re-stocking returned eyeglasses, GlassesUSA donates returned glasses to various organizations which sanitize and redistribute them to those who cannot afford vision care. Seeing properly shouldn't be a luxury. It should be a necessity.

GlassesUSA is generously offering all Pieces of a Mom readers a 10% discount on all orders. The promotional code is Blog10 and never expires. Enter the code during your final checkout to receive the discount.

Become a Facebook fan of GlassesUSA by visiting their page at http://www.facebook.com/GlassesUSA.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary pair of prescription eyeglasses for the purpose of facilitating this review. All opinions expressed herein are strictly mine. Other than a complimentary pair of eyeglasses, I received no other compensation for this review. For more information on my Disclosure Policy, click here.

Spa Week is back!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010
If you are looking for some "me" time, next week is your chance to snag some. Spas and salons throughout the East, Midwest, and Toronto will be celebrating "Spa Week" from October 11 - 17, 2010.
With luxurious treatments being offered at $50 per treatment, you can indulge and recharge at prices that won't leave you stressed and in need of another spa day. To find a participating spa near you, visit http://www.spaweek.com/ to book your appointment today!

Tuesday's Tasty Treat: Tuna salad with a twist

Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Can we all agree that tuna salad can get really boring really fast? There aren't many ways to be creative with tuna salad. I have, however, found a few ways to mix it up a bit and jazz up boring old tuna salad. I have recently converted my non-seafood eating daughter to a tuna salad lover. Read on to see my tasty twists.

Tuna Salad with a Twist

1 can of Bumblebee Tuna Sensations, Lemon and Cracked Pepper
Diced onion (to your specifications), I use about 1/4 of a small yellow onion
Diced celery (to your specifications), I use about 2 medium stalks
Handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
*Handful of cilantro, finely chopped

*Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Mayonnaise, I use about 1 heaping tablespoon of light mayo

Mix all ingredients together until well blended. Serve on bread (I love it on toasted marble rye) or as a salad topper.

*My "twists"

Wine of the Week: Trapiche Malbec

Monday, October 4, 2010
The air has turned cooler which means the wine selection has turned to red. I am an adventurous wine drinker. I like experimenting with different varieties, different vintages, and different regions. My latest love in the reds, Malbec is a red grape which originated in South West France. However, Argentina is best town for its production of Malbec.

Trapiche is the mostly widely known Argentinian wine producer. With over 2,500 acres of landholding at the foothills of the Andes Mountains, Trapiche hand harvests and hand sorts all their grapes.

Trapiche Malbec is a rich, intense, red wine noted for its cherry, raspberry, and plum aromas. With hints of truffle and vanilla, the Trapiche Malbec is best paired with hard cheeses, pizza, pasta with a meaty sauce, and any red meat. What I love about this wine is that it is rich but fruity and certainly not sweet. At about $10 per bottle, it is a steal for the quality. Serve it at your next gathering, and I guarantee it'll be an icebreaker. It will certainly get your guests chirping.

Enjoy your wine responsibly.

Apple Picking

Sunday, October 3, 2010
I love fall for all the quintessentially fall activities: pumpkin picking, jack-o-lantern carving, scarecrow making, decorating, apple picking, and raking and playing in the leaves.

This weekend I took the girls apple picking. There are several orchards in our general area, but we chose Eastmont Orchards. I like the wide variety of apples that they offer. Plus, there is a pumpkin patch, and they sell gourds and a small selection of fresh produce too. On this particular visit, we focused on apple picking and gourds. We are saving our pumpkin picking for another day.

Eastmont is enormous. There was row after row of apple trees. It is easily navigable, and there are maps available to assist you. Eastmont also provides plastic wheelbarrows and plastic bags. We took full advantage of the wheelbarrows, but we chose to bring our own reusable bags (just be sure to wash them afterwards).

Emma brought a friend...because apparently at 8 years old, one must go everywhere with a friend.

These are sunflowers that have been pulled from the stem. I've never seen anything like them. They were for sale for $3. There was a farmer who was showing everyone how they can be seeded as well as other uses for the sunflowers. We didn't buy one, but once we had gotten home, I wished we had.

I am always a little resentful of autumn for pushing summer out of the way. But I do love the colors of fall. The earth tones mixed with the oranges, yellows, and greens are lovely. Plus, who can forget the pumpkin pie and red wine?

This bowl is an enormous mixing bowl about 16 inches in diameter. Yes! We have that many apples!

I love that this apple still has a leaf on it.

We have lots and lots and lots of apples. I see apple crisp, apple crostada, and maybe some apple butter in my future. I'll be sure to share recipes and pictures.

Although Eastmont Orchards had an abundance of apples and pumpkins, they did not have any yummy fall baked goods. But don't despair. Just down the road a bit is Delicious Orchards, famous for their pies, baked goods and their unbeatable selection of high-quality, fresh produce. I must warn you. Delicious Orchards is literally standing room only in the fall. Think mall at Christmas time. Yep. It's just that darn good. So, if you pull into the parking lot and are overwhelmed by the volume of cars, don't drive away. It is worth the trip.

Some of my favorites include the apple cider, the apple cider donuts, the pumpkin pie tarts, the coconut cream tarts, and and the pepper crusted Brie cheese. So. Good. I do love the culinary delights of autumn.

What do you love about autumn? Do you have special fall outings or traditions?