Creative Food Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters

IMAG4237My daughter is not even two yet and I feel like she barely eats anything. If it weren’t for pancakes, macaroni and cheese, and cream cheese bagels, I don’t think the poor girl would eat! Don’t get me wrong, she likes fruit and will try the occasional chicken tenders and other foods, but it’s never a “sure thing,” if you know what I mean. I often feel like our fridge is jam-packed with food in the hopes that she will actually eat SOMETHING. Then, inevitably, we end up throwing twice as much stuff out as we would before now. It’s frustrating to feel so wasteful!

I struggle with this every day. The pediatrician’s office had me all flustered when she fell from the 10th percentile or so down to third percentile for weight and fourth for height. She is a tiny little thing, but so cute and very healthy – not really a major concern. I’m not tall myself, so she likely got my genes as far as height and body type. Still, the doctor’s office got me so worried before that I have desperately been trying to get her to eat as much as possible, whenever possible.

Sometimes I bribe her, sometimes I just keep trying new things, other times I cycle through the few things I know she does like. We have occasional success with fish or fish sticks, pasta, and pretty good success with pizza. I have tried to creatively make special things for her to enjoy while still getting essential nutrients, and most times, have failed miserably. For example, my parmesan broccoli fritters looked and smelled (and even tasted) delicious when warm, but once cool enough for a baby’s palate, all bets were off. She didn’t even see the green of the broccoli that I popped in her mouth and still spit it out.

So, out of desperation in my own quest to get my child to eat more, I have decided to make a list of my most successful tips. I’d be thrilled if you can share any of your own tips in the comments so I can add them to the article and try them myself with N. Here’s my top list of tricks to get a toddler to eat more:

  1. Try to avoid letting them fill up on milk, water, juice, or whatever they are drinking. Keep their beverages out of site at first, at least until they get a little food in their belly.
  2. Offer different kinds of snacks often. We rotate through cereal, crackers, goldfish, dried fruit, fresh fruit, bagels, muffins, and other snacks.
  3. Sneak food into their mouths as they are feeding themselves. At this toddler phase, kids will never be as efficient at feeding themselves as you would be. Unfortunately, it seems they may also not be as agreeable to you doing the work as they once were. Sneak in what you can and allow them to have control over at least some of their food.
  4. Encourage your child and praise him or her for eating well. Use a tone that is fun and exciting, expressing how proud you are of their efforts.
  5. Consider bargaining if appropriate. It may not be a practice you want to do all the time, but bargaining can be instrumental in getting your child to try new things or to eat in greater quantity.
  6. Try different settings to give your child variety. The high chair gets old after a while. If you can pull your child’s chair up to the kitchen table without the tray, that could be a suitable alternative. I’ve also seen great success with the portable booster chairs for toddlers and even just letting them run around and pick food pieces up from a TV tray or table.
  7. Have a [willing] family member or guest offer your child their snacks or meals. I have seen more success with my daughter eating snacks she gets from someone new and exciting than from offering what we keep in the cabinets.
  8. And finally, my favorite tip of all – Disguise food as something they love. Create cute animal shapes with the food or use cookie cutters, food molds, or pancake and egg shapes to give your kid a more entertaining, more enjoyable option when it comes to eating the same foods day after day.

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If you have other tips and ideas to get your toddler to be a better eater, please share them in our comments below! You may think your tip or suggestion seems basic, but to someone else it could be a godsend.

Tastes of the Season: Holiday PEEPS® Candies

The company that makes PEEPS® Brand Candies, Just Born, is located in Bethlehem, PA. I’ll be the first to point out I have a bias for my “hometown” foods-soft pretzels, tasty cakes, and of course, cheese steaks of all varieties. However, that does not mean that they aren’t worthy of my praise and affection. The brand has expanded into an online shop and even recently opened a hometown store, which I always liken to a mini-Willy Wonka’s factory.

Whenever I think of the fluffy marshmallow PEEPS®, I’m brought back to springtime, pastels, and bunnies. I was very pleasantly surprised when I received my products to review and opened a box filled with what seemed like an endless supply of wintertime variety.

The complete holiday collection features seasonal flavors, seasonal shapes, and even seasonal plush PEEPS® chicks! The candies are available in Christmas flavors like peppermint, chocolate, candy cane, sugar cookie, mint, and gingerbread.

The traditional PEEPS® chicks come chocolate dipped and regular. Mint flavored trees are available completely covered in chocolate. These treats are individually wrapped so you can one up for your personal indulgence. Another individual sweet treat is the PEEPS® pop- four chicks on a stick.

For a colorful addition to the dessert table or a sugary gift for someone sweet, consider the bigger PEEPS® packages. Stars, snowmen, trees are available in counts of nine. Gingerbread men and reindeer come in a package of six.

Find out what stores you can purchase these candies here.

Thanksgiving Wine Pairings and Cocktails

It’s that time of year when everyone pinpoints what they are thankful for. If you can’t say you are thankful for your flawless ability to create delectable homemade dishes, consider bringing all the makings to a holiday cocktail of your choice to the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Or if you truly tried your best at great-grandma’s classic Thanksgiving dish and failed to live up to hype, fall back on these quick foolproof recipes. (You can say you’re thankful for credit cards and 24/7 grocery stores.)

For fans of Pumpkin flavored recipes, check out our articles featuring some of our recommendations and suggestions. Find my favorite here. It is “technically” named ‘Halloween Brew,” but I’d drink it any time of the year. Flip the name to ‘Thanksgiving Brew’ and guests will be none the wiser.

Sterling Aromatic White

Pick out the perfect wine for the classic dishes of Thanksgiving dinner. Sterling Vintners offers the staples of red and white wine ideal to pair with many holiday foods. Pair Sterling Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir with anything from appetizers up to the main courses. The Pinot Noir should be your go-to with the Turkey dinner as well as stuffings, especially those with chestnuts or mushrooms.

If turkey is not the main course for some diners, the alternative could be a spinach based salad with fresh pears. Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay pairs flawlessly with a salad of this type because the wine’s crisp acidity is an ideal balance to the acidity in the salad dressing. For other food that may be served, Sterling Vintners Collection Aromatic White goes best with fruit and cheese appetizers, particularly those with dried fruits like apricots.

Want to mix things up for a change? Avenue restaurant in Long Branch, NJ mixes a sweet and spicy cocktail called the Cranberry Jalapeno Mezcal Margarita for Thanksgiving.

Cranberry Jalapeno Mezcal MargaritaCranberry Jalapeno Mezcal Margarita

1 oz. Mezcal
1 oz. Triple Sec
1 oz. Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
½ oz. Jalapeno Sour Mix
½ oz. Lime Juice
2 T. Fresh Cranberry Jam
Garnish: 5 Spice Rim (Star Anise, Fennel, Cinnamon, Schezuan Pepper, & Cloves)

Combine all ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake and strain over clean ice.

 

Looking for something to satisfy your sweet tooth? Bring the easiest to make desserts with practically candy-coated cocktails. Smirnoff Vodkas’ new flavors, Wild Honey and Cinna-Sugar Twist Flavored Vodka, are easy solutions with their simple recipes.

It might seem difficult to find an easy recipe with such bold and distinct flavors. Have no fear! Each flavor has two recipes below with one each being simple enough you might not even need to buy any mixings. Smirnoff’s site offers more recipes, not just for these flavors, but every bottle they offer.

Wild Honey Vodka

SMIRNOFF Honey Nut Cake

1 oz. SMIRNOFF Wild Honey Flavored Vodka
0.5 oz. Hazelnut Liqueur
0.5 oz. Creme de cacao
1 oz. Cream

Preparation: Add ingredients to an ice-filled shaker. Shake and strain into a martini glass. Finish with grated nutmeg as garnish.

Honey Cider
1.5 oz. Smirnoff Wild Honey
2.5 oz. apple juice
2.5 oz. cider

Shake and serve over ice in highball glass.

 

SMIRNOFF Cinna-Sugar Twist Cheeky ChurroCinna-Sugar Vodka

1 oz. SMIRNOFF Cinna-Sugar Twist Flavored Vodka
0.5 oz. orange liqueur
0.5 oz. Bailey’s Irish cream liqueur with a Hint of Vanilla Cinnamon Flavor
0.5 oz. light cream
Glassware: Coupe glass
Garnish: Grated cinnamon

Preparation: Shake and serve

Lucky Lemonade

1.5 oz. Smirnoff Cinna-Sugar Twist
2 oz. lemonade
3 oz. apple juice

Add all ingredients together, shake well and pour into stemless wine glass over ice. Garnish with lemon wheel.

What are your Thanksgiving cocktail go-tos?

 

Writer’s Note: I received samples of Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay, Sterling Vintners Collection Aromatic White, Smirnoff Cinna-Sugar Twist Vodka, and Smirnoff Wild Honey Vodka.

Decorating Ideas for Thanksgiving

thanksgiving-decorating-ideas

With Thanksgiving weekend nearly at the door, you’re probably frantically searching for ideas and tips on decorating your house or apartment for the upcoming festivities. You’re thinking of seating and table arrangements for the Thanksgiving dinner, making room for all the guests, decorations to make the place look not just presentable but amazing, what to cook, what to wear

Most if not all of us know just how hectic it can be to plan a memorable and successful event, much less a special holiday meal for the whole family and extended relatives. Sometimes everything comes together perfectly, sometimes nothing does. With this in mind, we would like to ask you to stop panicking, take a deep breath, and relax, because we are about to make your worries just a little bit lighter.

For this year’s decorating ideas, we have decided to concentrate on Feng Shui, the ancient art of decoration that is ofttimes incorporated for maximum positive energy and harmony in a living environment as well as great aesthetic appeal. To present you with the best possible advises and tips, we have taken the help of an expert, ChicagoHealers.com Practitioner Dr. Andie Pearson, DMD, as well as some of our own smart ideas. With our help, Thanksgiving can be a fond memory instead of a traumatic experience!

Clean, clear, and analyze your environment

First things first – Get rid of the mess and clutter that is surrounding you and create space that will both make your home seem less crowded and more open and welcoming. “No matter what the occasion, the first step in Feng Shui is clearing clutter and cleaning the area,” says Pearson. Maybe you can fit a person or two more than you thought in your house, huh?

After you made your house spotless and created the extra space you’ll be needing, it’s time to start planning for the event. How many people are coming and who exactly will be there? What kind of a gathering are you having? “You need to decide on themes, purpose, how many people will be invited, who will be there, and what activities and foods will you have,” Pearson explains. “This should help you with the rest of your planning.”

When planning, you have to think on every guest’s personalities and preferences. If your  cousin Grace is bringing her three little children, make sure you have some room where they can play and keep all the grown-up stuff where they can’t reach things. If Uncle Bob really likes your brownies, try and find the time to bake them. You may have to put in a lot of effort to make everybody happy, but at least you know that it will pay off in the end.

Decorate with warm and relaxing colors, but keep it minimal

Since Thanksgiving is in the middle of fall, seasonal colors will feel best for this occasion. “Use goldenrod, earthy greens, tans, amber, deep rich reds or maroons, etc. You want a color scheme that will be both relaxing and welcoming. Fall and Thanksgiving colors lend themselves to this very well.”

Be careful though and try not to over-decorate. If you exaggerate, not only will your home look tacky, but it will also feel cluttered and crowded – and with all those people, you really don’t want that. “Flower arrangements on the table or throughout the room should be conservative and moderate to short. Anything big or tall will not allow for conversion across the table. Because people will be visiting and talking, music would be very nice, but needs to be low and soft so that it doesn’t compete with everyone there,” Pearson suggests.

It’s also advisable to use side lighting instead of overhead one. If you have table lamps or candles, consider lighting these up to create a warm, mellow atmosphere that is both relaxing and makes your guests feel right at home. A bright overhead light might make them anxious and this would seriously disrupt the positive environment you’re trying to create.

What kind of an event are you having?

file711289155461It’s very important to keep the traffic low, to avoid crowding as well as frustration and the anxiety that can come from that. Planning out the event thoroughly and systematically can be crucial for its success or failure. “Ask yourself – Are you having an actual sit down event, buffet, or cocktails with appetizers?”

“If you are having a formal dinner, have that room separate from the rest of the party, allowing the rest of the party area to be designated as the place for social gathering,” Pearson instructs. “For a buffet-style Thanksgiving, have an area for the food and a section for drinks,” she adds. “You will also need to have seating scattered about in organized fashion that doesn’t block flow of traffic. A Thanksgiving party that is just snacks, appetizers, and cocktails has a bit of free flow. You can arrange several areas for food and drinks scattered throughout the room so that people can stroll from place to place and socialize.”

These tips are very simple, yet they have the power to make your Thanksgiving party into a memorable experience. Still, no matter what you do, the most important thing is to enjoy and be thankful for the company you have around you and have a great time!

About the Expert:

Dr. Andie Pearson, DMD, is a practitioner at ChicagoHealers.com. She practices holistic dentistry, general dentistry, craniosacral therapy, body-based orthodontics, and dental homeopathy. For more information, please see http://holisticdentalchicago.com.

Thanksgiving Getaways and Travel Ideas

thanksgiving-getaway-ideasWhile it’s not for everyone, Thanksgiving getaways are a popular type of travel for many people. The extra day or two off from work for the holiday add to the vacation time when you travel for Turkey Day. Whether you want to spend the Thanksgiving weekend getaway with family or with friends or simply your significant other, you can find the perfect long weekend trip to celebrate the holiday.

TOP Thanksgiving Weekend Getaways
Where do you want to go? Is it going to be just you and the sweetheart, or are you taking the whole family with you? Are you thinking of isolated retreats or big cities? Are you packing bathing suits or skiis? Here are some of our ideas for the perfect Thanksgiving experience.

A Family Visit – Thanksgiving is not just stuffed turkey, pie, and cranberry sauce – it’s also about family. This is why lots of people want to spend their Thanksgiving with their families. If your family lives far away, consider going for a visit – a warm family gathering celebration might just be just the thing you need for a perfect Thanksgiving.

thanksgiving-turkey-fryResort Hideaway – Perfect for the lovebirds looking for some time alone for Thanksgiving, consider a romantic escape for just you two. Deep in the Smoky Mountains, the Blackberry Farm in Tennessee offers a relaxing atmosphere for the body and soul. The whole Thanksgiving week is full with activities, including a turkey fry, bonfires, apple pressing, and more. If you’re thinking more in terms of bathing suits and umbrella drinks, the Tropical Palm Resort is having an entire Thanksgiving weekend event, complete with a pie eating contest!

A Family Adventure – Take your spouse and kids and go on a fun Thanksgiving adventure! Consider thinking of California – San Diego’s Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival, Sea World, and the San Diego Zoo are all places where everyone can have fun on this very special day. You can also celebrate Thanksgiving at sea by taking a cruise with Disney Cruise Line. There’ll be a turkey dinner, themed dinners, and a lot more for the whole gang to enjoy.

file0001747233568An Urban Experience – The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York is an unforgettable experience. For 80 years, this parade is one of the biggest and greatest, and to be a part of it is truly a privilege. The Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade is the oldest of its kind in history and also one of the most beautiful. Enjoy this kind of Thanksgiving experience at least once in your lifetime!

A Ski Getaway – Since November isn’t peak season for skiing, you can get cheaper packages and lodging rates. If you think turkey is too conventional, you’ll be thrilled with The World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Competition on Thanksgiving Day at Beaver Creek. If you’re interested in culture, be sure to visit the Thanksgiving Art Festival at Mammoth Mountain.

Since lots of other people will also be traveling for Thanksgiving weekend, you can easily find yourself in a tight spot. To avoid fully booked venues or flights, you should make your preparations and reservations at least a week or two ahead. You should also be prepared for more congested airports and heavier volume at the other forms of public transportation, such as buses, trains, and the subway. If you can plan your trip outside of the top travel days (typically the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week), you should spend less time waiting in line and on your commute. Give some advance thought to your travel plans for Thanksgiving and you should be in good shape!

My Unofficial Version of the Pink Leaf Cookie from Italian Bakeries

pink cookie sandwich baking partyFor as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the pink leaf cookies with the chocolate sandwich middles that you get at Italian bakeries and sometimes in the gourmet cookie assortments at the grocery store if you are lucky. These cookies come in pink and green sandwiches in the exact same leaf shape, and they have a layer of chocolate holding them together. I believe the pink cookie is a strawberry flavor and the green cookie is supposed to be pistachio, I THINK. For almost as long as I’ve loved these cookies, I’ve been desperate to learn how to make them. I’ve scoured the Web and asked chefs and others I know who love to bake. Always coming up empty handed, I thought about reverse engineering the cookie with a basic Italian butter cookie recipe. I found a pretty good amount of success with this method.

WARNING: STOP reading here if you might be disappointed in learning of a possibly different origin for these scrumptious cookies other than the quaint Italian bakeries of your childhood or the pleasant Italian women you’ve pictured baking these from scratch —

Okay, you’ve been warned… I also, through my research, came up with a new theory that the pink and green leaf sandwich cookies might be a product of a company that mass produces them for sale at bakeries and so forth. Sort of like a Nabisco or Keebler, but more upscale and more “white label.”

kitchenaid-mixer

Again, just my suspicion, but it would certainly explain why a recipe is so hard to come by! And also why, no matter what brand, store, or model, I cannot find quite the right leaf shape cookie cutter or cookie gun with leaf shaped disks.

From a previous blog post I wrote, I’ve received a few requests for my version of the pink leaf bakery cookie recipe, so here goes nothing! If you try it, please let me know in the comments what you thought and if you have any improvements or modifications that may be useful to other people.

Unofficial Italian Bakery Pink Leaf Cookies Recipe:

pink-leaf-cookie-dough

Ingredients:
1/2 pound butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
pink-leaf-cookie-cutter1 egg
1 tsp strawberry extract, or to taste
2 & 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
Red food coloring

(Yields 40 cookies, depending on size. I usually double the recipe. When you need two cookies per sandwich, the recipe doesn’t stretch very far…)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using an electric mixer (my favorite), cream the butter and sugar until super fluffy (around 3 minutes or so).
  3. Add eggs and strawberry extract and mix until blended completely.
  4. On the lowest speed, add in the flour, baking powder, and pinch of salt.
  5. Mix the dough just until it’s blended. Avoid overmixing.
  6. Add in a few drops of red food coloring and mix with spoon until blended. Adjust to your desired shade of pink.
  7. pink-leaf-cookie-pressFill your cookie gun (cookie press) or roll out a handful of dough for use with cookie cutters.
  8. Attempt to make equal numbers of the same shape of cookies – for example, I have used the Wilton Cookie Pro Ultra II Cookie Press as well as the Wilton Leaves and Acorns Cookie Cutter Set, although you can find other cookie cutter options as well. You will need pairs of cookies to make the little sandwiches. Space them apart by about two inches on your cookie sheets.pink-leaf-cookie-tray
  9. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges begin to turn golden brown.
  10. Cool on cooling rack.
  11. Heat about 1/3 of a bag of semisweet chocolate chips in a glass measuring cup. Be careful not to overheat – I put mine in for 60 seconds followed by another 10 seconds, mixing in between.
  12. chocolate-leaf-sandwich-cookieUsing a spoon or other utensil, spread the melted chocolate on the bottom of one cookie and press the other half together so they stick.
  13. Place on a sheet of wax paper inside a plastic container.
  14. Repeat for all cookies until done.
  15. Place container inside refrigerator for about 10 to 20 minutes to “set” the chocolate. This way the chocolate won’t melt and smear as much as it otherwise might.
  16. Enjoy and share your cookies and this pink leaf cookie recipe with family and friends!

pink-leaves-on-tray

Please let me know what you think of this recipe if you decide to try it! I would be glad to use your comments to further improve the recipe for our readers, myself, my family, and friends. Also, if you’ve attempted the green leaf cookies, please share as well. Thanks, and happy baking!

pink-leaf-sandwich-cookie

A Delightful Kitchen Addition – The Miallegro MiTutto, an Immersion Hand Blender That Does It All!

Even if you’ve never been handy in the kitchen before now, the Miallegro MiTutto is about to change that up for you. This is a great kitchen addition whether you receive it as a gift or you purchase it yourself.

I found the Miallegro MiTutto to perform like a dream come true when using it. Incredibly fast, the MiTutto did its work so quickly that I felt like I had blinked and missed it. I’ve used quite a few choppers in my time, and this one is by far my absolute favorite. It offers five different speeds, so you’ll be able to prepare a variety of recipes in little to no time at all.

You can mix up so many different recipes from smoothies to soups to shakes to quiches to puddings to so much more. In fact, the Miallegro MiTutto is styled to mix, crush, chop, mince, mix, blend, puree, and whisk your food with relative ease. Among its many offerings are four innovative attachments intended to chop, puree, aerate, and blend with little effort on your part.

strawberriesmilkshakeIt has a number of accessories, including a beaker, a stainless steel blending shaft, and a food processing container. Plus, it’s easy to grip and use due to its ergonomic styling, enabling a firm, secure grip. Its 550-watt motor has five speeds, including a turbo option, so you can work with foods of all temperatures.

Reasonably priced at approximately $70, the MiTutto certainly delivers great value for a small financial investment. This hand immersion blender features a compact design that gives it convenient portability, makes it easy to bring this with you on extended vacations or to visit a friend or family member.

It makes it easy to prepare nearly any recipe, and you’ll feel like a pro doing so! You can use it to chop all sorts of vegetables, including onions and garlic without creating any odor or making your eyes tear up uncontrollably. Now is a great time to make up a batch of homemade applesauce. You can find a wide variety for sale and with the MiTutto, so you can dice up your apples quickly, giving you a head start on the cooking process!

If you one of the many consumers who enjoy taking something out of the box and using it right away without any side tasks like putting it together, just give yourself a couple of minutes. It’s not that difficult to set it up, particularly once you’ve done it. It’s easy to let yourself become overwhelmed by the number of blades and parts, but in actuality, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy using this handy implement without them. The blades offer the kind of versatility that any well-versed cook desires, and does so in a way that is highly effective.

Whether you are looking for quick preparation for your meals or the fastest way to get to the delicious taste of a breakfast shake, the MiTutto is armed and ready. It offers an 18-month warranty, and it’s easy to store. You can even use the MiTutto in your own pots and pans without any worries over scratches or nicks in the finish. The Miallegro MiTutto is available in two colors – kiwi and blueberry.

I received the kiwi version free for the purposes of this review and I love it! Of course, I began with the sweet stuff (a milkshake) and progressed to sauces (sweet and spicy) to food preparation for a variety of delicious recipes.

Halloween Cocktails

Make your Halloween event stand out from the others with themed cocktails! Have fun with glassware by adding flair to drinks like candy eyeball stirrers or blood dripped drinks with grenadine. Continue reading Halloween Cocktails

How to Make the Most of your Small Space

Whether you’re living in a dorm room, studio, or really small apartment, you probably don’t have a great lot of room. It can be even more complicated when you are sharing a space with someone else. I’ve got some tips that can help make your place seem more of your own while giving everything you need a home.

Never Underestimate the Power of a Dollar Store
My local store has oodles of plastic containers of all shapes and sizes. This not only saves me an incredible amount of time usually spent scouring every corner for a certain cardi or the jewelry pièce de résistance, but also saves me money that could have been spent on extravagant storage pieces claiming to save x amount of space. Because it’s so inexpensive, it’s not a heartbreak or a dent in your savings to get rid of when you need to move.

Vanity

Use every inch you’ve got.
There’s no reason a cabinet should have empty space. Find creative ways to stack items. I’ve used locker shelves waaay past high school. (They might be my best investment.) I’ve used them to stack my shoes in my closet, doubling my shoe space. They’re currently in use as extra shelving in my kitchen and giving me more space on my makeshift vanity.

Find ways to hide what you need, but don’t want to see.
Because I travel a lot, I have a lot of luggage. I use it as storage for clothes that don’t fit the season, or simply to hold all of my other travel bags. Although maybe not the most “grown-up” thing, the bed risers I have give me plenty of space to store these things and put them out of the way. For other “unsightlies,” I’ve found that the spaces between tv stands or bookshelves and the wall are perfect places to store items. For large shelves, bigger books can hide items placed behind them.

Shelves

Think vertically.
If you’re in a dorm, loft the bed. It provides excellent space for desks, dressers, couches. Back in the day, I’ve used the best posts to dry laundry or store a sweatshirt or two. Opt for tall skinny shelves rather than stubby wide tables or shelves. Place items you use most frequently at eye level. Items you use once in a blue moon belong on the tippy top. Make sure you have something stable to stand on if you need a boost to get to the top of your shelving unit.

If you live in a rented space that isn’t brand spanking new, there’s sure to be a fair share of holes in the wall. Try to avoid creating new holes by using the same ones that are already placed there. I tried to use as many of the leftover nails and photo hooks left in the wall as I could without relocating them. For my place, metallic flower accents were placed in the old tack holes. For multiple or bigger marks on a wall, large pieces of artwork or tapestries can cover spots while adding color to the room.

Studio Space

Do you have any tips for saving space for your home or apartment? Comment below and let us know!

Jack-O-Lantern Inspiration and Tips

Make the most of your Jack-O-Lanterns this Halloween with Pumpkin Masters Kits. Pumpkin Masters has a variety of decorating kits fit for every skill level. This brand’s supplies are geared towards children, jack-o-lantern novices, and the veterans of the art. I received four kits and two lights to test out and tell readers about.

Carving saws are not meant to last forever or even for more than a few jack-o-lanterns. If you plan on having a carving party, invest in multiple saws as well as kitchen knives to make sure there are not only enough for everyone, but that you have replacements for when they inevitably break.

Kid carving kit

The Kids Carving Kit includes a saw with an easy grip handle and a different type of blade to reduce injuries. It should be held like a pencil and perpendicular to the pumpkins surface to resist breaking.

The Kids Carving Kit incorporates simple designs and easy to use tools. Children can trace their chosen design with a crayon on the pumpkin’s outer shell. Before their creation is ready for lighting up, children can choose from four pairs of eyes to add mystique to their jack-o-lantern.

If you’re ashamed of your ability to carve out a triangle shaped piece out of an orange gourd, the Decorating Punches Pumpkin Tool Kit is made for you! A book of patterns included in the kit provides easy designs to transfer to a pumpkin’s surface.

Holey pumpkin

 A Yayoi Kusama inspired masterpiece in the works.

Align the punch tool with the design and push through the surface. The two different punch tool s minimize the time it takes to cut through the shell manually and guarantees a clean shape. The punch tools allow for two different sized circles or petal shapes.

The traditional Pumpkin Carving Kit includes saws, a drill, a scooper, and a pounce wheel. The pounce wheel transfers patterns by rolling across the lines of the design and creating impressions on the pumpkin’s shell. The included patterns indicate how challenging the designs as well as how to properly carve out the design to prevent breaking.

Prolong the life of your pumpkin handiwork with a carved design. There is no need to carve out any insides, so don’t expect any pumpkin seeds from this creation.

The Surface Carving Kit includes twelve patterns and three interchangeable tips for so many possibilities. Depending on the design you select and the time you carve, your pumpkin can double as fall decorations. I chose a pretty leaf pattern, which will not become irrelevant come November 1st.

jack-o-lantern

I received two LED Xtreme Strobe Flashing lights. These are the coolest pumpkin lights I’ve seen! I wish I had them as a kid. The flashing lights add a spooky flair or a dance party vibe depending on what design they are lighting up.

The Xtreme Strobe Flashing LED Lights are safer than candles and are easy to transfer to different pumpkins. (My group of carvers tried them in a few different lanterns to check out how they turned out.) No need to worry about running back to the store – batteries are included so they are ready to go as soon as they are out of the packaging!

jack-o-lanterns

Happy Carving!

Don’t forget to take pictures of your jack-o-lantern! Pumpkin Masters hosts an easy to enter Pumpkin Carving Contest. Find rules and how to enter here.

Exercise Ideas and Fun Outdoor Activities for People and their Dogs to Enjoy

Puppies love playing outside in the summer!Staying fit and healthy is just as important for people as it is for dogs. A daily dose of exercise can positively impact one’s health, not to mention mood and outlook on life. Different breeds of dogs often benefit from different types of exercise. Certain intense exercises may not be appropriate for all breeds of dogs, while other types of exercise, like going for a walk, can be just perfect for people and dogs of all ages.

The right amount of exercise can help improve the quality of life as well as increasing the lifetime of dogs and humans. Consider these exercise ideas for people and their dogs to enjoy together:

•    Go for a walk. Try different walking routes a couple times a week to keep things interesting.

•    Go running or jogging together. Training for a 5k race or just trying to get back in shape can be a lot more fun when you have company. If your vet approves, consider taking your pup along for your jog.

•    Play fetch in the yard. Sticks, tennis balls, and other toys can serve as the perfect distraction from a dull day. Play fetch in the yard to give your pup some much-needed exercise. Toss the toys in different directions and teach your dog to bring the items all the way to you with commands like “closer” and “all the way”.

•    Play Frisbee. Teach your dog how to do a number of Frisbee tricks, whether you make them up as you go or you watch YouTube videos for the coolest tricks to replicate. Remember to keep your dog’s safety in mind at all times.

•    Run around at the park. A trip to the park can be fun for any dog. Explore a park with a lake or reservoir, a boat landing and marina, or a lot of ducks, fishermen, or other interesting features. A park with a running trail or course can be a lot of fun to experience with your dog.

•    Check out a local dog park or dog beach. Your dog will likely love a trip to the local dog park or a dog beach, even if you have to drive a little bit to get there. You can meet other dogs and allow your pup to be as social as he wants.

•    Host a puppy play date. Get the neighborhood dogs together or have your puppy’s friends over for a fun day in the yard. Set up a doggie obstacle course or plan for some Frisbee throwing, ball, and plenty of water and treats.

•    Try out a dog sport like agility or fly ball. Depending on where you live, you might be able to find a center that offers agility courses or maybe even sheep herding. It can be a fun experience for you and your pet, so give it a shot.

•    Go for a hike. Find some trails or a mountain that has popular hiking trails. Take your dog, along with a picnic lunch, and enjoy all that Mother Nature has to offer.

•    Take a swim in a nearby lake. Some dogs love to swim, but you’ll never know if yours is one of them if you don’t give your pup a chance to try it. Toss the Frisbee a few feet out into the water to get your dog to brave it, but expect you might soon have a tough time getting your dog out of the water, too, once she sees how much she loves it.

These are just a few ideas for fun activities you can enjoy with your dog as a form of exercise. Before you begin an exercise regimen with your pet, consider speaking to your dog’s veterinarian. A good vet can advise on whether you dog can keep up with your mile pace or your preferred distance, as well as commenting on other activities you may tend to enjoy with your pet.

You can find fun and exciting, active things to do with your dog all year long. Some of the most fun activities seem to take place in the warmer seasons. Consider these suggestions to enhance the quality of life of your favorite pet.
Keep Reading: Top 10 Summer Activities to Enjoy with Your Dog…

Fun Ideas for Unisex Baby Showers

gender neutral baby shower themesBaby showers are traditionally quiet affairs with games, cake, and punch. But today moms want something more. Planning a baby shower for today’s moms-to-be requires a bit more creativity than in the past. Add the fact many parents want to wait to find out the sex of the baby and be surprised, and you can see the traditional blue or pink baby shower just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Here are some creative and fun ideas for unisex baby shower themes to help you plan the perfect party for your favorite mom-to-be.

Pamper Party
A pamper party is a great theme for treating the mother-to-be like a queen. For an intimate shower with just a few guests, especially for a mom having a second baby who might not have an all-out baby shower, consider booking a day at the spa and so everyone can get mani / pedis and massages. You can ask the salon to set up refreshments or provide your own. The spa may also have a private room where you and your friends can enjoy the day in peace and quiet so everyone can have fun and relax. Most spas have packages for parties, so check around your area to find one you can host a pamper party. This is a fun idea for gender neutral baby shower themes. You can also do a spa day at someone’s home, setting up stations for nail painting, foot soaking, and maybe consider hiring a massage professional to come to the party. An at-home spa party could probably accommodate more guests, especially since the pamper party can quickly become expensive at a real spa and salon.

Decorate a Onesie Party
This cute idea gives your guests and the mom-to-be a chance to be creative and celebrate the upcoming birth of the baby. You’ll need white cotton onesies in different sizes (newborns grow out of them quickly), fabric paint, glitter, fabric stamps, rickrack, and any other embellishment you can think of. At the party, let everyone decorate the onesies to their hearts’ content. After the party, your mom-to-be will have keepsakes that are useful and memorable. This party idea plays right into unisex baby shower themes, making it a popular and special choice when you don’t know if a little boy or little girl is on the way.

Baby Book Party
Instead of traditional baby shower gifts or even just instead of cards, ask guests to bring their favorite childhood book. They can also write a short note to baby in the book to make it really special. You can choose themes from a favorite childhood book series to help you plan the unisex baby shower, making sure the theme runs through the cake, decorations, and centerpieces. Guests will give baby a head start on his or her library, and they will also enjoy sharing memories of their favorite books.

Planning Tips for Gender Neutral Baby Shower Themes
You want everyone to have a good time, especially the mom-to-be, so try to keep the baby shower no longer than three hours in most cases. Keep the refreshments simple; cake, sandwiches, candies or cookies, and cocktails or wine are popular choices. Be sure to have mocktails for the mom-to-be and guests who don’t want to drink. Be creative with the decorations. For example use baby bottles, a diaper cake, and other items that can be used after the baby is born. Most of all, have fun!