Best Online Reads: Top Ten Posts of 2015

Thursday, December 31, 2015
At the close of each year, I take a retrospective look back at the blog. This exercise helps me to see the topics that were popular among the readers, and it also helps me narrow my focus for the new year ahead. In addition, it's my own little walk down memory lane. You'd be surprised by how many posts from the past year that I have completely forgotten about.

In place of today's Best Online Reads, I wanted to share the most popular posts from 2015 just in case you may have forgotten about them too.
The Best Long Bob Hairstyles

Our dining room makeover with Raymour & Flanigan


Gaea's Olive Oil Cake

Tuesday, December 29, 2015
If you are looking for a light, easy dessert for New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, this moist olive oil cake is a winner. As you focus on healthier eating when you ring in the new year, this dessert is on point.

  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 12 ounces of Gaea Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 10 ounces milk
  • 2 ounces orange liqueur
  • 2 ounces fresh orange juice
  • 3 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 ounces blanched almonds, finely chopped
  • Powdered sugar, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 10-inch cake pan.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, Gaea olive oil, milk, liqueur, orange juice, and lemon zest. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix the dry mixture into the wet mixture.

3. Whisk until well blended. Fold in the almonds.

4. Pour the mixture into the buttered cake pan. Bake for 1 hour. Place on a rack to cool. Run a knife around the edges and place it on a plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.

What makes Gaea stand out from other EVOO's?
This superb ORGANIC, extra virgin olive oil is a must-have in any kitchen. The “Koroneiki” variety organic olives are hand-picked and “cold-pressed” within hours of harvesting, producing an exceptional quality organic olive oil with unique flavor characteristics and fresh aroma. This oil has a characteristic aroma of fresh green olives and a fruity taste. A classic mix of ripe and green olives make this medium fruity oil especially versatile in the kitchen. (MSRP $12.99)

Loving Lately: Relaxed Glam

Monday, December 28, 2015
As the weather gets colder, I become increasingly dependent on clothes that provide warmth but are also comfortable and stylish. From head to toe (hats to shoes), comfort is key when I'm trying to stay warm. Currently, I am loving these items for casual outings from running errands to a grabbing a quick lunch with a friend when you want to look great but stay warm.


Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 24, 2015
Wishing all of you lovely readers of Pieces of a Mom a very Merry Christmas and all the best wishes for a wonderful New Year. I'll be taking a few days off following Christmas to visit family in Pennsylvania and to get a head start on refocusing for 2016. I have big plans for the blog for 2016, and I'll need to hit the ground running on January 1st!

Until then, enjoy your time with family and friends, and may your holidays be filled with peace, love, and happiness.


Holiday First Aid Essentials

Tuesday, December 22, 2015
The holidays can be a heyday for injuries. From something as simple as a cat scratch to something more major like a burn, the holiday season presents many opportunities for injuries to occur. With more time spent in the kitchen and outdoors, it's a good idea to stock up on first aid supplies and be prepared.

Here are a few of the products to have on hand during the holiday season to avoid meltdowns and trips to the local walk-in clinic.

Is there any product that is more successful at stifling a child's cry than BAND-AID®s? Put one on a cut, scrape, or scratch, and you are good to go. Make them fun, colorful, and filled with your child's favorite characters, and you are seconds away from completely calming your child.

2. Neosporin
Before you put on the BAND-AID®s, apply a thin layer of Neosporin, a powerful pain relief ointment or cream that works on contact.

3. Compeed Blister Cushions
These blister cushions are a lifesaver after a long night of holiday partying in heels. These protective pads stay on for days and provide comfort from rubbing and pressure of blisters.

4. Children's Motrin
Whether it's a fever or a child with a headache caused by overstimulation, the holidays can be exhausting for all of us. A single dose and a little downtime sprinkled in will do your child good.

I like to keep a small first aid kit handy for the holidays. I include all of the above items as well as alcohol pads and cotton swabs.

Thanks to Johnson & Johnson for providing these products to keep us safe during the holidays.

Making Your Home Safer for the Kids

Monday, December 21, 2015
Protecting our children is a motherly instinct for all us. We want nothing more than to keep our kids safe and secure. They are young and innocent, but there are so many dangers and risks that they face each day even in our own homes as they play just feet from us.

The best way to combat risks to your children's safety is to identify them. There are the obvious things such as ramping up your home security with a system or guards. But there are also a lot of things around your home in plain view that you might not even think about that pose risks to the kids. Here are a few items to be on the lookout for and tips for getting them out of harm's way.

Keep the Bleach Out of Reach!
There are many chemicals and hazardous substances that are necessary to have in the home. These might include bleach, kerosene, lighter fluid, and other types of cleaning products. What you need to remember is that these can be highly toxic, corrosive, and flammable. They have to be handled with the utmost care. The problem is that kids don’t know this, and they’re too young to understand the risks. For many young children, everything is a toy. That’s why you have to take it upon yourself to make sure you keep the bleach out of reach. This means that you need to keep it under lock and key, or store it somewhere high where the children can’t reach it.
Photo source:

Fix Faulty Wiring
There are other dangers in the home aside from chemicals.  For example, you might be experiencing faulty wiring. This can lead to all sorts of dangers such as electrocution. Take steps to get the wiring fixed as soon as you can. You don’t want a kid turning the light, on or plugging something in, and getting electrocuted. Hire a Graham and Sons Electrician to nip this problem in the bud, and get it resolved right away.

Don’t Leave Tools Lying Around
With any home comes household tools and equipment. You’re going to need these in order to do DIY projects and the usual home repairs. However, a lot of these tools can be dangerous in the hands of young kids. They could cause themselves or others harm. Toys looks like fun to a child. Make sure you don’t leave them lying around that they might pick them up and start causing damage to someone else or even your home. Make sure everything is put away as soon as you’re finished with it. This might seem like a pain, but it’s important for making the home safer for your kids.

It's my role as a mother to make sure my children are safe from harm. Be vigilant to the risks that they might face and take immediate steps to remove those risks. Your home should be a safe and secure environment for the whole family.

December 2015 Birchbox Deconstructed #Birchbox

Sunday, December 20, 2015
This is my final Birchbox post as I have just canceled my account. It's a combination of not being "wowed" and being sampled out! Last week as I was re-organizing my bathroom and my makeup, I realized how many Birchbox samples I had acquired over the two years I was a subscriber. It was time to walk away and start making a dent in the stash.

As I part ways with Birchbox, I wanted to leave you with a few thoughts. I loved having the opportunity to be introduced to so many brands, many of which became favorites. Opening up the box each month was always a special treat for me, and I always eagerly anticipated discovering what was contained inside. The price was great at $10 per month, and I'm sure I'll go back at some point. But for now, I've got to tackle the samples that lie before me.
Here's what was in this month's Birchbox:

1. Benefit Cosmetics They're Real! Tinted Lash Primer (Received sample. Full size, $24)
This primer can be used alone or under your favorite mascara. It tints, defines, and primes for the full, long lashes.

2. JUARA Coconut Illipe Hand & Nail Balm (Received sample. Full size, $20)
This balm not only hydrates your hands but it's also beneficial to your nails and cuticles helping to strengthen them and keep them soft. I loved how quickly this absorbed into the skin without leaving behind a sticky residue.

3. L'Oreal Professional Mythic Oil Nourishing Hair Mask (Received sample. Full size, $37)
I use a blow dryer and hot tools (straight iron and a curling iron) several times per week. My strands tend to dry out quickly even with frequent trims. This mask helps to balance the natural oils in our hair while hydrating it. It's also paraben-free so you can feel good about what you're putting on your tresses.

4. Serge Normant Volumizing Spray (Received sample. Full size, $25)
Sick of flat hair? Try this volumizing spray for a head of hair that's full of volume. Whether you need it day to day or for a special night out, this spray delivers.

5. Coastal Scents styleEYES Eyeshadow Palette (Received sample. Full size, $12)
These colors are a nice contrast. One bold and one neutral. I can't wait to wear the dark green shadow...possibly on New Year's Eve!

To see all of my Birchbox posts, click here.

To see more of my favorite beauty products, check out my Beauty board on Pinterest

Best Online Reads

Thursday, December 17, 2015
The ten stories from around the web that I am loving this week:

1. Sneaky ways to make your home look expensive via

2. Seven food trends to watch for in 2016 PureWow.

3. The most googled term in each state in 2015 via Distractify.

4. Colorful, DIY holiday gifts via Lovely Indeed.

5. Sixteen things you should say goodbye to in 2016 via Thought Catalog.

6. A peek inside the renovation of an 18th century French castle via Vogue.

7. This tequila lime Chex mix is a fun twist on a traditional holiday favorite via Gimme Some Oven.

8. The best tip for applying mascara via The Beauty Department.

9. What $1 buys you around the world via When On Earth.

10. 25 ways to get into the holiday spirit when you're not feeling it via The College Prepster.

Gifts for People Who Love New Jersey

Maybe you've crossed everyone off your list. Or maybe you are still searching for the perfect gift for that hard-to-buy for person on your list. I'm still shopping, and along the way, I've found some great gifts for your Jersey friends.

Click on the links below for more information or to purchase.

Top Row:
Wood Sign | Framed Print | Tee Shirt

Middle Row:
Necklace | Cutting Board | Napkins

Bottom Row:
Pillow | Print | Makeup Bag

My Favorite Cupcakes

Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Today is National Cupcake Day, and what better way to celebrate than with a few delicious confections. I've got a wicked sweet tooth, and my favorite way to satisfy it is by eating a cupcake. They are small and offer the perfect amount of cake and icing in a few bites.

Today I'm sharing a few of my favorite cupcakes in honor of National Cupcake Day.

S'mores Cupcakes
These decadent cupcakes just may be better than s'mores. A crunchy graham cracker bottom sets the base for this rich cupcake with a chocolate glaze and a toasted meringue top. Snuggle up next to the fire, and try with all your might to eat just one.

Angel Food Cupcakes
You get all the taste without the guilt with these cupcakes. Top them with fresh fresh for even less guilt.

Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes
My mom made the best pineapple upside down cake in the world. The soft, fluffy cake with the sweet, crunchy top was heaven on a plate. These cupcakes satisfy my craving for pineapple upside down cake but in miniature form.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing
In central Pennsylvania where I grew up, this combination in a cake is very popular. If you go to any farmer's or Amish market, you'll find chocolate cake with peanut butter icing. It's been a long-time favorite of mine since I was a child, and believe it or not, it's actually better in cupcake form.

Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes
Just when I thought it couldn't get better than the popsicle, I found this recipe for cupcakes.

Vanilla Cupcakes
As simple as they may be, vanilla cupcakes are truly the best. Rich vanilla flavor in both the cupcake and the icing, these cupcakes are rich when you use pure vanilla extract or scrape out the inside of vanilla beans.

To see more cupcakes, visit my Cupcakes! Pinterest board.

Remembering the Sandy Hook Tragedy Three Years Later

Monday, December 14, 2015
Today marks the 3rd anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Three years later, and I have a difficult time expressing my thoughts on the horrific events of that day and events that have followed.

I can clearly recall being at the gym on that crisp, clear Friday in December. I was walking briskly on the treadmill watching Live! With Kelly and Michael when the local New York ABC affiliate interrupted to report breaking news. My hearts drops each time I see that "Breaking News" banner flash across the screen. What tragedy has befallen us this time? What heinous act has been committed now?

Nothing could have prepared me for the update I was about to be given. Children and educators gunned down in an elementary school in an affluent Connecticut town. I nearly had to grab on to the treadmill to keep myself from falling. My knees were weak, and I felt as if I was about to tumble. I hit the emergency stop button and watched in complete horror. I don't know how long I stood on a treadmill that was no longer moving. Five minutes? Forty-five minutes? I don't know. What I did know was that I was terrified.

I drove home from the gym in a state of shock. As a mother of two school-aged children, this was my worst nightmare. I planted myself firmly in front of the TV and waited for details. The details that unfolded in the coming hours, days, and months were grim. In total, six educators and 20 children died that day. Precious lives lost at the hands of guns.
The playground erected in Manasquan, New Jersey to honor Olivia Engel, one of
twenty-six victims of the Sandy Hook shootings.

I am proud to be an American. Each day I wake and realize how lucky I am to live in one of the greatest democracies in the world. I try to never take my freedoms and rights for granted, and I certainly try to never abuse them. I understand the importance of the constitutional amendments of the United States.

However, times have changed since the 1790s when most of the amendments were ratified. And it's time to review the 2nd Amendment. It's probably time to review some of the other amendments, but the 2nd Amendment is the most pressing considering recent events.

I don't know what the answer is. There has to be common ground. My dad was a hunter. He was a responsible gun owner, and as a child, I knew that my dad's rifles were his and only his. They were locked in a cabinet, and we were taught, at a young age, that they were not toys. We knew the many dangers that guns possess, and we knew that their purpose was not to harm another human being.

I do believe that the majority of those who own guns are responsible gun owners and handlers. Unfortunately, too often guns fall into the wrong hands, either legally or illegally. And when that happens, the end result is often fatal.

It's hard to feel safe anywhere anymore. My daughter went to the movies with her friends over the weekend, and I worried that a theater shooting could occur. The thought crosses my mind when I go to the mall, the grocery store, a concert. Where are we safe? Does the concept of safety exist anymore? Are we always at risk?

This is no way for any of us to live. In constant fear. Fear for ourselves. Fear for our children. The gun violence has to end. There has to be a better way to control it. Surely there's a better solution than what is happening right now. Less talk. More action. More steps in the right directions. Less lives lost.

My Holiday Wish List

Saturday, December 12, 2015
Each year I hint at a few of the things I'd like to have. Of course, I don't expect to get everything on the list, and quite frankly, being surrounded by my family and seeing my children filled with joy on Christmas Day is enough for me.

But The Hubs always insists on buying something for me, even if it's a small gift. I like to give him several options so I can be surprised. If I give him only 1 or 2 ideas, he'd buy both, and where's the fun in knowing what I am getting?

Here are a few of the things on my long-term wish list (perhaps for Christmas or maybe a treat for myself in the next year).

1. The Apple Mouse $79
For me, a mouse is one of those things that I can't live with and I can't live without. I have terrible luck with them. The cords start to tear. If I buy a wireless one, they stop working after a week. I am hoping that a pricey mouse will do the trick, and I can stop buying $10 mice several times per year.

2. La Creuset Signature Marseille Round Wide French Oven $270
These French ovens are a bit on the pricey side, but they are fantastic. If you make a lot of soups or stews, this is a must to add to your kitchen arsenal. I've wanted one for years. Maybe this year is my year! They are the highest quality and last forever. Well worth the money.

3. Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, "How Easy Is That?"
I'm all about the easy, and I love Ina Garten. I have all of her cookbooks and definitely need to add this one to my collection.

4. Gucci Soho Leather Disco Crossbody Bag, $800
This is the big splurge item on my wish list. A girl can dream, right?

5. Diptyque Mimosa Scented Candle $60
I love Diptyque candles, but I've never had the Mimosa-scented one. It's one of my favorite drinks, so naturally, I'd most likely love the candle too.

6. Tory Burch Fitbit Caged Metal Bangle $195
It wasn't long after I got my Fitbit Charge that I realized how difficult it is to get it to blend in with other jewelry. I didn't think it would be a big concern of mine, until of course, I was a Fitbit owner. This metal bangle fits neatly over the Fitbit and conceals it so that it seamlessly blends in with other bracelets.

7. Hello Gorgeous Black & White Gold Glitter Stripes Throw Pillows $35/each
I'd love to have a pair of these for the ghost chairs in my office.

8. A Fabulous Planner
If you haven't figured it out yet, the key to life is staying organized. For me, that means writing EVERYTHING down. From coffee dates to conference calls to major appointments, everything goes in my planner. And my planner takes center stage on my desk where I can see it at all times. Choosing a planner is a very personal thing. Find the one that works for you and rock it!

9. A Cure for Type 1 Diabetes
This has been at the top of my Christmas list since Harper was diagnosed. I am always hopeful for a cure, and even the smallest of donations can help put us closer to one.

    Friday Fresh Picks: Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Holiday Scents

    Friday, December 11, 2015
    One of the many things I love about the holiday season is the holiday scents. Many, many years ago the Gap offered a candle during the holiday season aptly named "Holiday". It was an evergreen tree candle that was so incredibly fragrant that you could smell it long after it had been blown out.

    Ever since I first discovered that candle, I've been hooked on holiday scents. A few years ago I made the switch to using green household cleaning products, and Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day has been my go-to for everyday cleaning products. During the holidays, Mrs. Meyer's offers holiday scents that fill my home with the best smells of the season.

    In today's Friday Fresh Picks, I'm sharing my favorite Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day holiday products and scents.

    Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Everyday Cleaner - Cranberry Scent
    I use this spray everywhere from the bathroom to the kitchen to my kids' bedrooms. The light, fruity scent is perfect for the holiday season but could be used year round.

    Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Hand Soap - Iowa Pine Scent
    I love switching up my hand soaps to coincide with the holidays and the seasons. One of the things I like about this particular soap is that its scent isn't a typical evergreen or balsam fir scent. There is something refreshingly different about this pine scent, and I definitely like it. I think it's the addition of clove and cedar that gives it a unique smell.

    Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Dish Soap - Orange Clove Scent
    The orange clove scent is by far my favorite of the Mrs. Meyer's holiday scents. Since I was a child, I've been poking cloves into oranges at Christmas time and hanging them in the kitchen. This scent replicates that heavenly smell. I've been finding every excuse I can to actually wash dishes!

    Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Candle - Orange Clove Scent
    I love holiday-scented candles, and this one is a perfect addition to the kitchen for the holiday season. Burn it while you bake and decorate cookies.

    To shop Mrs. Meyer's products, click here.
    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.

    Disclosure: I received products to facilitate this post. All opinions are my own.

    Holiday S'mores

    Thursday, December 10, 2015
    Whether you are gathered around indoors in front of a cozy fireplace or outdoors at a fire pit, one thing is for certain. S'mores are a must! In the winter, we like to put a fun twist on traditional s'mores by adding a festive touch to them.

    Swapping out the graham crackers for ginger thins or ginger snaps and using peppermint chocolate instead of milk chocolate adds a hint of holiday to the s'mores and makes these s'mores as fun to eat as they are to make.


    Ginger thins or ginger snaps. I like to use Anna's Ginger Thins.
    Marshmallows (plain or peppermint)
    Hershey's Candy Cane candy bars

    1. Roast marshmallows over an open flame (adult supervision required).

    2. Place a square of candy on a ginger thin. Top with the roasted marshmallow and cover with another ginger thin. Lightly apply pressure to smash the s'more together.

    Enjoy with a mug of hot chocolate!


    Best Online Reads

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

    1. The best mug ever via MarriedInMayDesigns on Etsy.

    2. Conversation starters for painful lulls in conversation via Man Repeller.

    3. How to fake a clean house via The Cut.


    Gift Guide: Fun and Fab Gifts for Teen and Tween Girls

    Wednesday, December 9, 2015
    As the mother of a 13 and 9 year old, I understand exactly how difficult it can be to shop for teens and tween girls. They seem to change their minds by the hour, and it's hard to know if a gift they wanted yesterday is what they want today. I've put together a gift guide of simple gifts that any teen/tween girl will love today, tomorrow, and next month!

    Top row:
    Shower squids | Pillow | Philosophy Gift Set

    Middle row:
    Gloves | Slippers | Starbucks Gift Card

    Bottom row:
    Unicorn Bank | Cup | Headband | Scarf


    Christmas in Our New Dining Room & $500 Raymour & Flanigan Giveaway

    Monday, December 7, 2015
    I love decorating for the Christmas holiday season. This year I have been especially excited about decorating our new Raymour & Flanigan dining room. This will be our first Christmas entertaining in our new dining room, and I want it to be special.
    Although I love decorating, I have a minimalistic approach to it. For me, less is more. I like strategically placed decorations that don't overwhelm the senses but rather delight them. Plus, having two children and two cats, I have to be practical about my decorating choices.

    Let me start by saying that after months of putting it to good use, we are totally in love with our Gray Street dining room set. Not a day passes that I don't walk into this room and literally catch my breath. It is a gorgeous set. It fits perfectly in our space, and it couldn't be more ideal for our family and our dining needs.

    Since most of our Christmas celebration will take place around our dining table, I wanted it to be festive and elegant. I chose not to use a tablecloth because the concrete overlay on the table is stunning. Why cover it up? I was careful not to overcrowd the table and make it too busy. I kept the centerpieces simple, so the beauty of the table is evident.

    The Gray Street buffet server will prove to be a most functional piece this holiday season. We've already set it up for at-home happy hours and cocktails for when friends drop in.

    But by far my favorite piece in the dining room is the Gray Street bench. It's not always easy adding elements of comfort to a dining room, but the Gray Street bench screams comfort. It adds an element of coziness to this room that a dining room may not normally have. To take that one step further for the holidays, I added some fun and fluffy pillows and a plaid throw to the bench. Pre-dinner, the Gray Street bench is a great place to sit while enjoying a festive cocktail.
    {car pillow | merry christmas pillow | antlers pillow}

    Obviously, we aren't the only ones who love the Gray Street bench!

    The tiniest details can make a huge impact. I hung these snowflake ornaments from the windows, and you can't miss them each time you enter the room.

    'Tis the season of giving! I and four other bloggers are partnering with R&F to share how we decorated some of our favorite pieces of R&F furniture. In return, Raymour & Flanigan is generously offering our readers the chance to win a $500 gift card to shop at Raymour & Flanigan. Each blogger is giving away a $500 gift card, so be sure to visit all the participating bloggers to increase your chances of winning.

    Win a $500 Gift Card to Raymour & Flanigan
    Stop by the participating #RFBloggers to enter to better your chances of winning the $500 gift card:
    Christina: IG @christinasadventures –
    Shannon: IG @shannoncozycountryliving-
    Amie: IG @memehillstudio –
    Alice: IG @thoughtsfromalice-

    Join us! Post a picture of your decorated space or a favorite spot in your home on your social media channels and tag it with #rfholidayhome!

    Menu Plan Monday :: 12.7.2015

    I'm coming off a celebratory weekend. I celebrated my birthday on Friday, so it's been a weekend of dinners out or The Hubs has cooked. But this week it's back to reality. I'm taking it a bit easy on myself this week. The dinners will be good, but they will be easy to prepare, and who knows, I may even enlist the help of the kids!

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

    Monday - Slow cooker minestrone soup

    Tuesday - Meatball parmigiana sandwiches

    Wednesday - Vegetarian stuffed peppers

    Thursday - Chicken stir fry with rice

    Friday - Dinner out

    Saturday - Make your own pizza (our Saturday night winter tradition)

    Sunday - Green chile chili

    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.

    Friday Fresh Picks: Birthday Edition

    Friday, December 4, 2015
    Today is my birthday. There's a point in our lives when we dread birthdays. It's that point in our thirties when growing older and aging are not-so-welcome prospects. But then we turn a corner and realize that birthdays are a reason to celebrate. They mean we are another year older AND wiser. I'm at that point in my life now. It means I've lived and experienced another year, and I am reminded how precious life is.

    In this week's Friday Fresh Picks, I'm sharing a few of my favorite things from today, my 48th birthday.
    {A bouquet of purple and yellow hues from The Hubs from my favorite flower shop}

    {A decadent peppermint cupcake for breakfast to kick off my birthday celebration}

    {A birthday present to myself to finish off decorating the dining room for the holidays}

    {The best birthday text I received was this picture of my sister's cat watching bird videos on YouTube}

    {Now that's what I call a birthday drink}
    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.

    Best Online Reads

    Thursday, December 3, 2015
    The ten stories from around the web that I am loving this week:

    1. Thirty-six ways to use a Magic Eraser via Pure Wow.

    2. A little known but amazing 9/11 story via The Hits.

    3. Habits to steal from people who are never late via Elle Decor.


    Gift Guide: Fabulous Gifts Under $25

    Wednesday, December 2, 2015
    For those times when you need a small gift for an acquaintance, neighbor, or someone who did a little something special for you.

    1. Warm and fuzzy pair of mittens

    2. Festive gold nail polish

    3. An inviting but light perfume

    4. A twist on a tea light holder

    5. Fun shot glasses to toast the season

    6. A comprehensive kit for little emergencies

    7. For soft skin during winter's harsh months

    8. Refreshing hand soap and complementing lotion

    9. Perfect mug for morning coffee

    10. A delightful cup for concealing wine

    11. Comfy fox socks

    12. A wish bone for good luck

    Garlic Smashed Red Potatoes

    Tuesday, December 1, 2015
    This post was written in partnership with Tasteful Selections.

    'Tis the season for comfort food, and hands down, mashed potatoes are my favorite. Thick, creamy, buttery mashed potatoes. What's not to love?

    After years and years of making traditional mashed potatoes, I've finally changed up our favorite mashed potatoes recipe. There are so many options when it comes to mashed potatoes, but one of my favorite additions to mashed potatoes is garlic. The combination of garlic and potatoes is heavenly.

    I've tried several different ways of adding the garlic to the mixture, and after some trial and error, I have finally settled on a fool-proof and delicious way to combine the garlic with the potatoes.

    Here is my favorite recipe for smooth and creamy garlic smashed potatoes.

    Garlic Smashed Red Potatoes

    1-40 oz. bag Tasteful Selections Ruby Sensations potatoes, quartered
    4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
    1 teaspoon salt + 1/2 teaspoon
    2 tablespoons butter
    1 tablespoon sour cream
    3/4 cup milk (I use 2% milk fat, but feel free to use what you prefer)
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

    1. Place potatoes and garlic cloves in a large saucepan in cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are very tender. Drain.

    2. Over low heat, warm the milk and butter.

    3. Add the milk and butter mixture to the potatoes as you are mashing them. Add sour cream continue to mash. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper. Check for seasonings and adjust accordingly.

    Helpful hints:

    • Any means of mashing will work. You can use a stand mixer, hand mixer, or by hand with a potato masher.
    • I like to heat the milk and butter before adding it to the potatoes, but this step is not necessary.
    • When reheating, add a small amount of milk and butter to the potatoes.

    Not only is Tasteful Selections producing delicious and high quality potatoes, its also giving back to the community. Tasteful Selections is donating profits from specially marked bags of Ruby Sensation and Honey Gold potatoes to support your local Katie’s Krops grower. Katie’s Krops growers are part of a non-profit organization empowering children and teens ages 9 – 16 across the US to grow gardens and donate their fresh harvest to the hungry.

    This post was written in partnership with Tasteful Selections.