What’s on Your Ultimate Disney Bucket List?

What's on Your Ultimate Disney Bucket List?

All Disney fans have one. Perhaps it’s an actual written list or it might just be a mental list of things that make you say, “I’d LOVE to do that someday!” The Disney bucket list is fiercely personal. Each person has their top list of “must-do” in their lifetime items and this is what’s on mine.


What’s on your ultimate Disney bucket list?

What's on Your Ultimate Disney Bucket List?

Vacation Bucket List

Go to Disneyland – It’s where the magic began. I’ve been lucky to enough to live close to the Park and have been visiting frequently since 1974. As I’m leaving the gates at the end of the day, I’m always planning my next return so I guess even though I can cross this off my list, it remains a constant.

Go to Walt Disney World – I was able to cross this off my bucket list last April on my first trip to Orlando. It was everything I’d hoped for…and more! There is so much to explore here that I cannot wait to go back and experience it again (so it stays on my list!)

Take a Disney Cruise – With sailings that cover the globe, this is definitely one of my must-do Disney items. From the interactive dinners, the private beach Castaway Cay to the amazing Broadway-style entertainment, this is an all-inclusive experience I have to do.

Visit Aulani, Disney’s resort hotel in Hawaii – I’ve never been to Hawaii so that’s on my travel list anyway. Why not stay at Aulani? I love that the children’s supervised activity center, Aunty’s Beach House, is included in the price of your stay.

Go on an Adventures by Disney – After my husband and I traveled to Europe in 2014, we are determined to someday get our children there for vacation as well. What would be better suited to children than an Adventure by Disney tour that is customized for all guests to enjoy. I like that there are supervised activities for the kids so that the adults can have grown-up time, too.

Visit the Disney Parks in other countries – Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo and coming soon to Shanghai. So familiar and yet, so different. Tokyo Disney Sea looks breathtaking.


What's on Your Ultimate Disney Bucket List?

Inside the Parks –

Dine at every restaurant inside the Parks – I’ll admit that I’ve eaten at every restaurant inside of Disneyland over the years but am still working my way around the eats at Disney California Adventure Park. Top dining on my list: Carthay Circle. With only one trip to Walt Disney World under my belt, I still have lots of dining to experience there.

Get autographs or photos with all of the Disney characters – Easier said than done, because some characters only make appearances at special events!

Dine at Club 33 inside Disneyland – I’ll  need a special invite for this one. Anyone? Anyone…

Attend a 24 hour event – Pace yourself! Yes, on one day each year, the Parks offer a 24 hour day, can you make it the entire time? I’d like to try!

runDisney – Am I a runner? Nope! But those beautiful medals and being able to run through the Parks is incentive enough for me to lace up my running shoes! I will do this one.

Dress up and attend Dapper Day – I just love the idea of dressing up to enjoy the Parks (so long as I can have cute but comfortable shoes!)

Visit Disney for all seasons – It’s a different experience depending upon the time that you visit, for sure! Disney does a wonderful job of decorating the Parks for each season, even down to the colorful arrangements in the flower beds.

What's on Your Ultimate Disney Bucket List?

Attend Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland or Mickey’s “Not-so-Scary” Halloween Party at Walt Disney World – Though I’ve been to Disneyland during Halloween Time, I’ve yet to experience any of the ticketed Halloween evening events. I love seeing families dress up though it’s still in the air how this will play out in October given the new security policy.

Attend Mickey’s “Very Merry Christmas Party” at Walt Disney World – Holiday atmosphere, entertainment, Mickey dressed up like “Santa”? And it all takes place at the Magic Kingdom? Sounds like a holiday must-do to me!

Spend the night in the Dream Suite at Disneyland or Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom – You can’t buy your way into this one, you’ll either have to win a contest or be invited. But wow, what a dream that would be for sure, to sleep inside the Parks!


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At the Disney Resort –

Stay at all of the Disney Park Resort hotels – With only 3 in California this could be do-able (I’ve yet to stay at Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa). However you’ll have to stay at 27 Resort hotels at Walt Disney World to cover them all!

Have a Disney wedding – “I do” want to renew my vows at Disney but you can be sure that weddings and vow renewals a la Disney are big bucks.

Disney Vacation Club – Membership allows you to stay at exclusive villas at the resorts or use your points to vacation around the world.

Image from Disney Store.com – Affiliate Link

Join D23, the official Disney fan club – I’ve been a Disney fan all my life, why not make it official and join the club? You’ll receive a quarterly publication, there are special member events and exclusive merchandise available for purchase.


We were served a lovely breakfast and given time to chat. I position myself near the front since my vision isn't the best (and I didn't want to miss anything!) There was a lot of valuable information and I captured as much as I could via my laptop so I could share here with you. Buckle up and here we go!

Disney Close to Home – 

Watch (and/or own) every Disney movie – I’ve seen a lot of them and we own a lot of them, but not all of them!

See a Disney on Ice Show- My kids (and I!) would love to see one of these traveling shows.

See a Disney Broadway show – If you can make it to NYC, these showstoppers are a must-see. The shows also have a North American tour so perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to see it in your hometown.

Have a Disney-themed room – Pinterest is the perfect place to start if you want to design your own Magic Kingdom at home. Even if you don’t go top to bottom Disney, a few well-chosen posters, mementos and design features help you capture the magical spirit. I have this poster from Vivid Editions that will be hung near the new baby’s bed.

Get invited to the big Disney Social Media Moms Event – Yes, I had the great opportunity to attend the Disney Social Media Moms On-the-Road event in Portland in late spring and it was fantastic. I’d love to make it onto the invite list to join other bloggers in Orlando for the invite-only event in the late spring *fingers crossed*


Okay, what are YOUR Disney bucket list items? Share in the comments!

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Looking for ways to save on your Disney vacation?  I recommend Park Savers for discount Disney tickets! (affiliate link)

Park Savers affiliate link

Disney-Themed Stocking Stuffers That Don’t Break the Bank

Disney-Themed Stocking Stuffers That Don't Break the Bank

You’ve carefully budgeted your Christmas shopping and then you remember…you didn’t buy anything for the STOCKINGS! Or is that just me? Depending on how well you “stuff the stocking”, this could be a very expensive endeavor! Here are some last-minute practical and inexpensive stocking stuffers that won’t compromise your budget.

I’m a practical gal, I’ll admit it. I tend to gravitate towards stocking stuffer items that my kids already need. A new toothbrush, crayons, winter gloves, bubble bath and yes, even a package of undies make it in to the stocking.

Keep reading for my practical but still fun stocking stuffer ideas and a list of tips at the bottom of this post.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links


 Cozy Up

‘Tis the season to keep warm and these gifts will keep them toasty and stylish. A warm scarf, hat, gloves, slippers or socks are always welcome, especially if they feature a favorite character. Socks in a stocking? Kids will get a kick out of that!

from left to right,  BB-8 Knit hat (Disney Store), Doc McStuffins Kids Lambie Slippers, Star Wars Socks (both from Amazon)

 


 Art Supplies

Always a family favorite in our house. A fresh box of crayons or markers and a coloring book rolled up into the stocking is always a hit. Older kids might like a personalized pen.

from left to right, Disney’s Frozen Magic Ink Pictures Activity Book (Amazon), Walt Disney World personalized pen (from Disney Store), Disney Pixar Cars 12 Jumbo Crayons (Amazon)


Bathroom Fun

My little one  is obsessed with the Disney Magic Timer app that encourages longer brushing. He already has Star Wars mouthwash, Cars toothpaste and an Avengers toothbrush. I was able to find this Frozen-themed set for his stocking that I know he will love. And what’s better to balance out holiday sweets than oral hygiene products! *wink*

from left to right, Star Wars Oral Hygiene Set, Disney Frozen Oral-B Crest and Pro-Health Junior Toothpaste, Doc McStuffins 3pc Bright Smile Oral Hygiene Set (all from Amazon)

Get ’em clean with fun bath time goodies like bubble bath, soap and scrubbers. My older kids like something a little more “grown up” in a more sophisticated scent like the Disney H2O products.

from left to right, Disney Princess Bubble Bath (Amazon), Sea Salt & Marine Spa Collection (DisneyStore) and Bubble Bath Set Disney Pixar Cars (Amazon)

        


Stock Up for the Year

Make practical things a gift. Kids just want to see their favorite character and they are things that you would normally buy through the year anyway!

from left to right, Band-Aid Disney-Pixar Inside Out, Disney-Pixar Nemo SPF50 Sunscreen Stick, Bonnie Bell Disney Mickey Mouse Lip Balm


Vacation Goodies

Think ahead to what your kids will need things for vacations, like sunglasses, a sun hat or a t-shirt. Roll ’em up and stuff it in the stocking!

from left to right,  Elsa Costume Tee (Disney Store), R2-D2 Sunglasses and Minnie Mouse Toddler Girls Pink Bucket Hat
(both from Amazon)


A Little Something Just for Fun

Don’t forget at least one fun little thing that your kids will enjoy through the year. Little ones might enjoy a little stuffy and older girls would love a classy make-up set in a Disney-theme. And don’t forget the Force in the form of a cool new Lightsaber!

from left to right, Minnie Mouse Hair Ties, Marvel Universal “Tsum Tsum” (both from Disney Store)

from left to right, ELF Jasmine Face Makeup Set, Maxx Action Galactic Series Photon Sabers (both from Amazon)


 Something Sweet

I bought these mini candy canes for my kids last Christmas and they were just the perfect size to toss a few of each flavor into each stocking. And how cute is that Olaf Hot Cocoa set?! My kids don’t have candy or sweets very often so receiving a special treat in their stockings is always welcome (we even let them indulge right after breakfast!) It is Christmas, after all!

from left to right, Disney’s Mini Candy Canes, Jelly Belly Jelly Beans, Mickey Mouse Special Edition, Wilton Disney Frozen Olaf Cocoa Trimming Kit and Arctic White Hot Cocoa Bundle

      


Stocking Stuffer Tips –

1. What’s your stocking budget? Those little things really add up so make sure you have a cost in mind before buying and don’t go overboard on the cost.

2. Keep size in mind. Take the size of your stockings into consideration. If a gift is too big for the stocking, wrap it up and set it next to the stocking or on the mantle.

3. How many items should you get? Keep the number of stocking stuffers between 3-5 (depending upon the size).

4. Don’t buy junk or just “things” to fill the stocking. Stick to what you know will be used and well-loved.  I want things that will actually be enjoyed so it’s worth spending a little more rather than just filling stockings with bottom-of-the-toy-box items from the dollar store.


 What are your favorite stocking stuffers? Share in the comments…and have a Merry Christmas!

Please note that this post contains affiliate links

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Adventurer’s Guide to the Disneyland Resort

Welcome to this month’s Blogorail Blue Loop. Today we are sharing some tips to help you plan your Disneyland vacation.


Adventurer's Guide to the Disneyland Resort

Are you an adventurer waiting to explore all that the Disneyland Resort can offer in the way of danger and mystery? “Adventure is out there!” and I’m here to show you what you need to bring with you, what to explore at the Parks and how to make the most of your Disney adventures.

Adventurer's Guide to the Disneyland Resort

Adventurer’s Agenda

Adventurers are great planners and make sure their rucksacks are well-stocked. Start your day on the best foot by purchasing tickets ahead of time so you aren’t left waiting in line at the front gate. I recommend ParkSavers where you can not only save time but a few dollars off the purchase price as well. Pack your bag full of snacks like trail mix, that will help keep up your stamina between adventures. Don’t forget to pack your canteen to refill at the drinking fountains (or request water for free at any counter service restaurant).

from left to right, GUSTT® Classic Satchel Rothco Vintage CanteenHDE Vintage Canvas Messenger Bag (all from Amazon)

    


Adventurer’s Attractions

Naturally an Adventurer’s day should begin in Adventureland inside the Disneyland Park. Pick up your FastPass first for Indiana Jones Adventure then hop into line next door at Jungle Cruise (or Jingle Cruise, if it happens to be the holiday season). You’ll board a small craft bound for the Amazon, complete with “wild animals” and corny jokes from your Skipper along the way.

Adventurer's Guide to the Disneyland Resort

View from the top of Tarzan’s Treehouse

Take a tour of Tarzan’s Treehouse, an 80-tree that offers a lovely view of Pirate Island and the Rivers of America. There are plenty of stairs so be sure you’re up for the climb. At the base of the Treehouse, there is a small play area to explore.

Adventurer's Guide to the Disneyland Resort

If your FastPass time hasn’t come yet, swing by the Enchanted Tiki Room to sing like the birdies sing. Be sure to enjoy the totem pole show outside as the island gods are each awakened. Pick up a Dole pineapple treat from the Tiki Juice Bar just outside before you go in and don’t be shy. Singing and whistling along with the 15-minute animatronics show is highly encouraged. Now it’s time for your Indiana Jones Adventure. Guests 46″+ can enjoy this thrilling ride that transports you right into Indy’s world, complete with bumpy Jeep ride, snakes, giant boulders and lots of other close calls.

Adventurer's Guide to the Disneyland Resort

Grizzy River Run – Image Credit: Jeff Holz

Those looking for more adventure will find it over at Disney California Adventure Park and Grizzly Peak is the place to start! Grab a FastPass for Soarin’ Over California, then head around the curve towards Grizzy River Run. Reminiscent of inner-tubing down a rushing river, you’ll need to put your valuables in a locker (located just at the entrance) to prevent water damage. Spend some time at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail and you’ll be able to dry off. There are caves to explore, rope bridges to navigate, rock walls to climb and kids can hop aboard a tire swing. It’s easy to lose your kids in here so make sure you have an agreed-upon meeting spot in case someone gets lost.

Adventurer's Guide to the Disneyland Resort

Queue of Soarin’ Over California – Image Credit: Jeff Holz

Travel back to Soarin’ Over California for your final adventure, that will take you “flying” over California landmarks, complete with the wind in your hair and the smell of orange groves in the air.


Adventurer’s Attire

Adventurers dress appropriate to the weather. There are no rides in Adventureland where you’re at risk of getting wet, though if you venture to Disney California Adventure Park there is Grizzy River Run to content with and you will get soaked! Shoes that dry quickly and are comfortable for long hikes and climbs are best. Don’t forget a hat and sunscreen to protect you from the elements.

From left to right, Khaki Safari Hat, Disney Women’s Mickey Tropical Print Tank , KEEN Women’s Whisper Sandal (all from Amazon)

If you forgot your pith helmet at home, you can pick up sundries at the Adventureland Bazaar, South Seas Traders and Indiana Jones Adventure Outpost. These are the perfect shops to pick up a tropical top, jungle-themed stuffed animal, rubber snake or faux whip.


Adventurer’s Appetite

Adventurers eat on the go, so there aren’t any full-service restaurants in Adventureland. Grab a fast snack at Tropical Imports, including ice cold pickles and dried fruit. There is always a line at the Bengal Barbeque and for good reason. The kabobs of meat and veggies are delicious and come with dipping sauce. A Dole Whip from the Tiki Juice Bar is a must. Don’t be thrown off by the mile-line line outside. Go inside the gate for the Enchanted Tiki Room and a second line is there that is generally much shorter. Aladdin’s Oasis offers Grab & Go meals that also include a ticket for that evening’s Fantasmic! or Paint the Night parade showing. Over at Disney California Adventure Park, you can enjoy a quick-service sit down meal at Smokejumpers Grill that offers filling classic burgers and salads.

Adventurer's Guide to the Disneyland Resort


Adventurer’s Anthology

You’ll want a memento to remind you of your adventures and all good explorers have their collections. Store photo memories in an album, encircle your wrist with a reminder of your journey or wrap yourself up warmly in a throw blanket as you recollect your adventures.

From left to right, Pixar Up, Our Adventure Book (from Amazon), Disney UP inspired quote bracelet (from ToInfinityOhio on Etsy), Adventureland Tapestry Woven Throw (from Disney Store)

  


Make sure to check out my other Disneyland Resort Guides.

PRINCESS GUIDE TO THE DISNEYLAND RESORT and THRILL-SEEKERS GUIDE TO THE DISNEYLAND RESORT

Princess Guide-PIN    Thrill-seekers guide-PIN


For more Disneyland trip planning tips,
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!


Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Blue | Disneyland 101 Loop:

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5 Easy Party Preparation Tips & FREE Printable #HostingHacks @Costco #ad

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #HostingHacks #CollectiveBias

Easy Party Preparation Tips & FREE Printable #HostingHacks @Costco #ad

Preparing for a party can be exhausting! Lots to do and so much to remember. Parties are 90% prep and only like 10% actual party, right?! And when time is tight, nobody wants to forget important things on the “to-do” list and have to make any extra errand runs. I’ll share with you my sure-fire, easy party preparation tips and #HostingHacks, including a free printable pre-party prep list that will have you saving time (and money!)

1. Buy in Bulk

You do not want to run out of toilet paper or dishwashing detergent on the day of a big event. Costco is our go-to store for bulk items, especially Procter & Gamble cleaning products. We stock up and store items in the garage so we very rarely run out of important every day items. It’s the perfect place to pick up everything from your cleaning supplies to your party appetizers.

Party Prep Ideas & FREE Printable #HostingHacks @Costco #ad

A few days before your party, do a quick inventory. Make sure you have enough laundry detergent for cleaning your holiday table linens and that the bathrooms are well stocked with toilet paper. Need drinking water bottles, soda or coffee? Butter for the rolls and flowers for the table setting? Costco has it and you can get it all for your party in one place without running around town.

2. Clean early

At least a few days pre-party do your top to bottom deep cleaning. This is the perfect time to take a look at doors, door frames and light switches. See any grimy spots that a sponge just isn’t getting rid of? I love that Mr. Clean Magic Eraser takes off those dirty spots and scuffs quickly and without any damage to your paint or walls. And Swiffer quickly gets rid of all the dust laying around. So easy a child can do it (so save yourself the time and give one of them to the kids!)

Party Prep Ideas & FREE Printable #HostingHacks @Costco #ad

In addition to the regular housekeeping, there will be extra party items that will need to be cleaned. Launder your table linens a few days early. We use cloth napkins and placemats every day and I appreciate how Tide Advanced Power detergent removes stubborn food spots (even when one of my kids set blueberries on the cloth napkin and it left purple spots behind!) Toss in bathroom hand towels so you’ll have plenty to stock in the guest bathroom and your kitchen dish towels too.

Party Prep Ideas & FREE Printable #HostingHacks @Costco #ad

Pull out the good silverware and glasses and wash them. Some dishes can take the high heat inside the dishwasher and others may need to be hand washed. We have tried lots of detergents for our dishwasher and none work better than Cascade Advanced Power Gel.

Party Prep Ideas & FREE Printable #HostingHacks @Costco #ad

3. Party Prep

Plan where guests will store their coats & purses during the party. If it’s the closet, make sure there is plenty of space and lots of empty hangers. If it’s a bedroom, be sure that the bed is made and guests can just lay their items on the blanket.

When you have lots of extra guests in the house, the bathroom has a rotating door. Keep a stack of clean hand towels on the sink and plenty of toilet paper on a shelf or the back of the toilet for guests to replace the roll as needed. Refill the hand soap dispenser and place air freshener in a prominent place. A clean and well stocked bathroom makes my guests more comfortable and nobody is left to hunt for any supplies.

Party Prep Ideas & FREE Printable #HostingHacks @Costco #ad

Once you have everything clean and ready, you can decorate for the season. A bouquet of fresh flowers is not only pretty, they smell lovely too. Cluster the entire bouquet into one vase for a showstopping centerpiece or place flowers into individual vases around the house to spread the joy.

4. Last moment tidy

All the cooking we do in preparation for a party makes a big mess in the kitchen. Clean it all up quickly and neatly before your guests arrive. If you don’t have time to wash all the pots and pans, either load them into the dishwasher to deal with later or fill the sink with hot, soapy water and soak them. A quick clean up allows you to clean up yourself with a fresh outfit and make-up before guests see you disheveled!


The party prep doesn’t end when the doorbell rings! You still have a few things to maintain while guests are present. I like to assign jobs to my family members to help so that I’m not the only one maintaining things and missing out on the festivities. Assign one person to greet guests at the door and hang up coats. One of us keeps an eye on the bathroom through the night to make sure it’s tidy. Another of us clears dirty dishes and cups from the sitting areas and takes them into the kitchen. One person makes sure that the trash is taken out frequently so the receptacle is never overflowing. If we work as a team, we can all enjoy the party and still make sure our guests are well served.

5.  Check the bathrooms

Frequently check the bathrooms to make sure they are in proper order. I hate going to a party and the toilet paper runs out and I’m left to hunt for more in the cabinets. Or the hand towel is sopping wet, yuck! Check that there is enough toilet paper on the roll, plenty of hand soap and change the hand towel yourself several times through the evening.

Party Prep Ideas & FREE Printable #HostingHacks @Costco #ad

Be sure to print out my free “to-do” list that discusses more easy party preparation ideas so you don’t forget a thing!

Easy Party Preparation & Pre-Party To-Do Checklist


How will Costco help you in your pre-party planning for your next holiday bash? Share with me in the comments!

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Ways to Remember Those You’ve Lost During the Holidays #CTCA

I have received compensation for this post as part of a promotional program with CTCA and MomSelect. All thoughts & opinions are my own.

Ways to Remember Those You've Lost During the Holidays #CTCA

We lost my dad is renal cancer a year and a half ago. Holidays can be particularly hard when remembering those you’ve lost. When I think back to the last Christmas we had with him (in 2013), it’s a bittersweet feeling. We knew at that time that he wouldn’t be with us to celebrate another one. Surprisingly he hung on and didn’t pass until April 5th. But certainly each time the holidays come around, his presence is greatly missed.

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During the holiday season, how do you remember those you’ve lost?

Here are some ideas of how include the memories of those you’ve lost this holiday.

  • Serve one of their favorite holiday dishes.
  • Light a candle in their honor.
  • Get out the old family albums and take the time to reminisce.
  • Ask family members to write down their favorite memory of that person. When we asked our family to do this, I heard stories about my dad that I’d never heard before and that helped us deeply in our grief.
  • Decorate a small tree with trinkets or special mementos of your loved one. Or make a single ornament in their honor to hang on your tree.
  • Consider a donation to your loved one’s favorite cause or charity.
  • Talk about them. Sometimes the hurt is so bad that we are afraid to bring up old memories but talking about those that have passed helps with that pain. It’s wonderful to recall special memories from years past when our loved ones were still with us.

My Story

My dad’s symptoms started in 2002. The doctor’s discovered that he had a blocked kidney that was causing urinary troubles and the kidney was removed. Cancer was never discussed. Five years later he started to have some health concerns and after a body scan it was discovered that he had small cancerous spots on his lungs and spine. The doctor explained that during the kidney removal surgery, cancerous cells had gotten into the blood stream and metastasized onto other spots in his body. Though the cancer was now growing in other locations, it was still considered “renal” or kidney cancer. These cancerous spots were only the size of a dot from the tip of a pin but they were in multiple places throughout the body, so the doctors said they were inoperable.

My love for Disney started with my dad.

My love for Disney started with my dad.

My dad was placed on a daily radiation medication and he was given a diagnosis of one year to live. We braced ourselves for the worst. And a year came and went. Then another year. And another. He continued taking the daily radiation medication and the cancerous spots stabilized. It had some nasty side effects (blisters on his feet and tongue, scaly skin and rash) but he was still with us. In early 2013, doctors said that the medication was no longer effective and my dad started chemotherapy. He had one single treatment before coming down with pneumonia. Then came a transitory stroke. He was never strong enough to start back any cancer treatments. His health started to decline. Looking back at the time, it seemed like a rapid decline to us, but given that he hung on for over a year after stopping the treatments, it was really quite slow and agonizing. Rough for us and even more hard for my dad, who was in constant pain.


Cancer Treatment Centers of America #CTCA

After so many years in the battle with his cancer, my dad was prepared and ready to stop his treatment. However for those who are still strong enough to fight, there’s the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. There are a number of facilities available across the country with many patients traveling out of state to receive care. Each person’s cancer is unique. That’s why the Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) uses leading technology to aggressively treat cancer. They also offer nutrition therapy, naturopathic medicine, pain management, mind-body medicine, spiritual support nutrition and other therapies, because they know that managing the side effects of cancer treatment is half the battle.

Image from Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Image from Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Though my dad’s personal treatment helped him stay alive longer than expected, the side effects on his body and mind were brutal. I think often if we’d been able to keep him healthier longer if nutrition therapy and mind-body medicine had been used. Knowing that the Cancer Treatment Centers of America treats the whole person and not just the cancer,  I am relieved in knowing they are helping so many others in their battles.

For those of you fighting, my thoughts and prayers are with you. And for those of you who are dealing with loss, know that through the pain there are the memories. I pray that you find peace during the holidays and can choose one of these special ways to celebrate those who have passed.


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Everything Good Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe #SplendaHoliday #ad

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #SplendaHoliday #CollectiveBias

Everything Good Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe #SplendaHoliday #ad

It’s baking season at our house! When visiting friends, attending holiday parties or participating in cookie swaps, I like to bring something that’s full of flavor but with an ingredient twist and I really love taking full fat and sugar recipes and tweaking them. Using SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend is a way to cut out some of the sugar but still retain lots of taste in my Everything Good Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe. The addition of whole wheat flour, coconut oil, and ground flax seed add a nutty flavor and nobody ever knows that I’ve strayed from the standard recipe, they just want more!

I was able to pick up the SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend at my local Walmart, along with a few other necessary ingredients like eggs and vanilla.

Everything Good Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe #SplendaHoliday

I’ve been making these cookies for my family for years and have been tweaking the ingredients in different ways to our liking. Out went about half the butter, replaced with coconut oil. I’ve used whole wheat flour in addition to all-purpose flour. I add a bit of ground flax seed for extra fiber. We usually use raisins because that’s what we most often have in the pantry, but have also used dried cranberries with much success. Chopped walnuts add a wonderful texture. Chocolate chips, yes! But with all the other yummy ingredients, you won’t need a lot of chocolate in the dough. Can you see why I call these Everything Good?

Everything Good Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe #SplendaHoliday

BAKING TIPS – When subbing SPLENDA® Sugar Blend into your own recipes, keep in mind that you’ll use half the amount of SPLENDA® Sugar Blend as you would sugar. A half cup of SPLENDA® Sugar Blend has the sweetness of one full cup of sugar, so a little goes a longer way.

Everything Good Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe #SplendaHoliday #ad

I also found that when using SPLENDA® Sugar Blend in my cookie recipe, there is less spreading. This is easily remedied by flattening the dough slightly with my fingertips before placing into the oven.

Everything Good Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe #SplendaHoliday #ad

Everything Good Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Everything Good Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 2/3 cup SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seed powder
  • 3 cups oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, broken up with fingers

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Beat butter and sugars until creamy.
  3. Add eggs and vanilla, Beat well.
  4. Add flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and ground flax seed. Mix well.
  5. Add oats and combine.
  6. With mixer running, add raisins, chocolate and walnuts and mix just until combined.
  7. Drop by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheet. Dough may be crumbly and require shaping and flattening with fingers.
  8. Bake 8-10 minutes. Cool one minute on the pan then transfer to a wire rack for cooling.
  9. Baked goods made with SPLENDA® should be stored in an air-tight container and will retain freshness up to 24 hours. Freeze extra cookies.
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Stop by Walmart and pick up your bag of SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend this baking season! It’s a great way to participate in the SWEET SWAPS™ Initiative and remove some of the sugar from your holiday treats. Enter the J&J Holiday Baking with SPLENDA® giveaway and win Walmart gift cards!

J&J Holiday Baking with Splenda®

Everything Good Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe #SplendaHoliday #ad


 

Practical Christmas Gifts that Make it Easier to DIY

Practical Christmas Gifts that Make it Easier to DIY

I think people like practical Christmas gifts more than they like to admit. After all there are only so many sweaters or candles a girl can receive, right? I prefer to receive presents that I can use all year-round. Yes, practical Christmas gifts can be fun too, because if you enjoy DIY, having the right tools on hand can make your life so much easier and you can save money in the long run, too.


For the at-home baker

I received a Kitchenaid mixer 15 years ago as a Christmas gift and use it several times a week. I’ve recently gotten in to making my own artisan bread dough and the Kitchenaid makes it a cinch. Slide on the bread hook…no kneading necessary and no floury mess!

Practical Christmas Gifts that Make it Easier to DIY

My KitchenAid is plain white but I’m partial to this one in “sea glass”. What a gorgeous statement that makes on the kitchen counter!


For the paper crafter

I adore my HP Printer. And HP Instant Ink is a life saver, truly. Before I had my printer, I was having to go to the copy store anytime I needed something scanned or printed out, which was such a hassle (especially when we were trying to buy our house and were constantly needing to send paperwork). We finally bought an HP Printer and I love having access to the scanner as well as free coloring and activity page printables for the kids, the ability to print photos and pretty much print whatever and whenever!

hpsnapshots

HP Snapshots

Then I found out about HP Instant Ink and I no longer feel like I have to scrimp on what gets printed. My printer is in contact with HP and I’m automatically sent a new ink cartridge before my printer runs out. The cost is so much better than the ink refills at the copy shop, so it’s a definite win-win. And if you sign up now, you’ll receive 6 months for free!

This post is part of a sponsored campaign with MomSelect. All thoughts and opinions are my own.


For the seamstress

I bought myself a very nice sewing machine about ten years ago. I’ve been selling my sewn items on Etsy for a while and needed something that made my products look more professional. My Husqvarna Sapphire sewing machine has a foot pedal that allows me to tap and lift and lower the presser foot, making applique so much easier and quicker. But what about the inner seams of my sewn clothing? And how about sewing with knit fabrics?

Practical Christmas Gifts that Make it Easier to DIY

Minnie shirt, sewn by me and finished off with a serged edge inside (and along hem)

Look inside your store-bought tee and see the serged edge that covers the raw seam? A Babylock Serger Machine will give that polished look to your clothes instead of a raw seam that unravels and frays in the wash. And it makes sewing with knit fabrics so easy because of the stretchabilty of the serged edge. With automatic tension and jet air threading, it makes sewing so much fun without the stress. Expensive? Yep…but if you’re a serious seamstress, having the Babylock is fantastic. I’ve had mine for 8 years and it’s never needed servicing.


For the photographer

I’ve had my Canon Rebel XTI for ten years and have been able to take great looking photos over the years. I’ve never paid for a professional photo shoot because I have a nice camera that I can use to capture special occasional. But I’m ready for a change. The Canon is perfect for outdoor shots, especially under open shade. But I’m always disappointed with my indoor shots because it doesn’t shoot well in low light. In fact, my cell phone takes better indoor shots than my Canon. Also my Canon is big and heavy, which gets to be hard to carry around when we’re at amusement parks.

Taken with my Canon Rebel Xti

Taken with my Canon Rebel Xti

I’ve read some reviews and have been looking at the Sony DSC-RX100/B 20.2 MP Digital Camera. It has great views for shooting in low light and is lightweight and compact. Looks like a great camera to take to Disney!


For the cook

It’s so easy to get overly “gadgety” in the kitchen. All those little things are cool and some can be very useful but then you have to find a place to store them (and remember to use them!) I prefer to receive a really great cookbook. Having new recipes helps things stay fresh and fun in the kitchen. Here are a few of my favorites (some that I’ve borrowed from the library and can’t wait to add to my home collection).

The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking

Seriously Delish: 150 Recipes for People Who Totally Love Food

Food Network Magazine Great Easy Meals: 250 Fun & Fast Recipes

    


For the social media maven

Several years ago my husband and I took the kids to Disneyland and by 3 pm, both of us had totally dead batteries on our cell phones. Too much photo taking and uploading to social media at the beginning of the day and we were left without any cell power. I did some research online and bought a small, compact charging device. It’s fine for when it’s just me and I need to boost mid-day but it’s not enough juice to charge both phones. After chatting with a social media friend, she showed me something similar to this EasyAcc Monster Power Bank. This thing can charge like crazy so there is no worries about your cell phone running out of power when you’re snapping pictures, taking video, tweeting or sharing on Facebook.


What are your favorite practical gifts? Share with us in the comments!

Please note that this post does contain affiliate links.

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Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes for Easy Entertaining #PotPiePlease #CollectiveBias

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #PotPiePlease #CollectiveBias

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes for Easy Entertaining

Our holiday leftovers are gone and we’re moving into a busy time of year. With two birthdays, several Christmas parties, decorating, wrapping, cooking and crafting along with our favorite holiday traditions all squeezed into the month of December, we have a lot on our plate! On those days when we have lots of other activities going on, it’s nice to have dinner items ready on hand that can be easily popped into the oven and ready to serve.

After Thanksgiving, I still had a huge bag of gold potatoes. Well, my family never gets tired of having mashed potatoes, so I whipped up an extra batch of them and put them in a casserole dish, ready to heat up in the oven during the week. Buttery potatoes, mixed up with cream cheese to make them even more creamy and then topped with sharp cheddar cheese for that extra “zing”. This is an easy, but decadent accompaniment that goes perfectly with chicken pot pie!

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes for Easy Entertaining

Marie Callender’s pot pies at Walmart…quick, easy and budget-friendly!

I stopped by Walmart earlier this week and picked up a Marie Callender’s pot pie for each of us. They were displayed in three places, an end-cap freezer, the main freezer aisle and the Family Size was with other large frozen dinners. I bought three chicken and one beef, just to be different! I already had the potatoes done, just needed to warm them up and set on the broiler for a few minutes to melt the cheese on top. Mmmm…it was a homey dinner we all appreciated on a chilly night. Marie Callender’s pot pies are warm, filling and taste like homemade.

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes for Easy Entertaining

We all enjoyed our individual pot pie and delicious potatoes before heading out to walk through our neighborhood to look at Christmas lights. It’s an annual tradition. We were warmed inside out with our satisfying dinner! Here’s how I prepared them.

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes for Easy Entertaining

Aluminum foil strips prevent the crust from burning.

Marie Callender’s pot pies have a delicate golden, flaky crust so I crimped together two strips of aluminum foil and curved them around the edges of the pie to protect the edges. My kids loved having their own pie to themselves but you can also purchase the Family Size that is convenient for serving to guests.

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes for Easy Entertaining

Perfectly golden and flaky crusts!

I enjoy entertaining but don’t always have the time (or money) for large, extravagant meals. The Marie Callender’s Pot Pies are fast, tasty and reasonably priced for serving to guests. Make sure to check out the rebates available right now for the 10 oz or 16 oz size as well as the Family Size.

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes for Easy Entertaining

Serving Marie Callender’s Pot Pies at a family gathering is a great way to share a delicious meal and not spend a ton of time in the kitchen when you could be socializing. Having the Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes prepared ahead of time means you only have to pop the casserole into the oven when guests arrive. Later this month I’ll have guests over for a holiday crafting party and I know just what to serve for dinner!

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes for Easy Entertaining

Broiled cheese send these potatoes over the top!

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes for Easy Entertaining

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes for Easy Entertaining

Ingredients

  • Gold potatoes, approximately 8. Scrubbed, peeled and quartered
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp cream cheese
  • 1/4 tsp seasoned salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • Milk
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Instructions

  1. Steam or boil potatoes until tender.
  2. Melt butter and cream cheese in a pot over low heat.
  3. Add cooked potatoes and mash, keeping heat low to prevent lumps. Mash potatoes until completely broken apart.
  4. Add seasoned salt and pepper.
  5. Drizzle milk into potatoes and mash. Continue to add milk until desired creaminess.
  6. Spoon potatoes into medium casserole dish. Can refrigerate until ready to cook.
  7. If preparing dish straight from the fridge, heat at 350 degrees about 30 minutes, until potatoes are warmed. If preparing dish while potatoes are freshly prepared, skip the warming step.
  8. Sprinkle top of hot potatoes with cheese and set under the oven broiler on high for 3 minutes (check constantly to make sure it does not burn). Cheese should brown and bubble.
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What side dish would you serve with your Marie Callender’s Pot Pie? Check out these meal ideas!

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes for Easy Entertaining

The perfect dinner


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