Friday, December 19, 2014

Santa Claus is Coming to....Twin Hills, Alaska! #TwinHillsSanta

I never heard about Twin Hills, Alaska, until recently. I had no idea that such a place existed in our country.  A place where there are no stores, no jobs (literally), and a population of 75. They have one school and are fortunate to have that. Everyday necessities are rarity.

As part of the Philadelphia Social Media Moms group (PSMM) I've learned many things and have had the opportunity to be involved with all sorts of fun things including the "Twin Hills" initiative.

A member of the group, Colleen, who happens to be a food blogger, had the idea to reach out to other bloggers as well as some of their collective contacts to pull off a fantastic holiday surprise for 21 children who live in this small remote village in Alaska where one can only get in or out by bush plane or a small boat via the rough Nushagak River. Over 20 bloggers from PA, NJ & DE jumped on board and #TwinHillsSanta began to take off.

A friend (Dani) of Colleen’s took a position in the village teaching this year, Dani didn’t know what to expect when she packed up and moved from Pennsylvania, however she has already fallen in love with the people, their culture and Alaska.

She has 16 students ages 4-13 and the village has 5 additional kids under 4. There are no places for the 76 residents to work or shop, so they live simply.  They don’t have much.  As a matter of fact while discussing Christmas and Santa recently one day in school, one of the younger kids said simply “Santa doesn’t come to Alaska.”  

Let that sink in for a second….

This year...these kids have one heck of a surprise in-store for them!!

We reached out to some of our contacts and I am so humbled and thrilled to share with you that they hopped right on board!  

Lee Jeans is sending clothes to the kids, those kids are going to be so excited and well dressed!!

CVS Pharmacy is sending all kinds of personal products from toothbrushes to scrubbies and body washes, & shampoos to chapsticks, candy, small toys and much more!

Nuby USA jumped in to send the younger children sippy cups, infant and toddler toothbrushes & toothpaste, toys and fun feeding plates & utensils!  

Tyrrells English Chips (who has the most fun website BTW)  sent cases of their crazy delicious chips - those kids are going to be happily crunching away with a new-to-them snack!

And speaking of snacks, Pretzel Crisps sent cases of their crazy-good pretzels - Boy are the kiddos in for a tasty treat! I see new fans just ahead!

Educational Insights was happy to send the kids learning games, reading games, puzzle toys and more.  These kids are going to be happy, busy and fine tuning their skills as they play!

Kind Snacks shipped some of their healthy AND tasty Kind Bars to the kids, those will get them pumped up and full of energy!

And DecoArt sent a bunch of craft supplies to the kids who I hear are LOVE making things and crafting any chance they get, they are going to be blown away!

How awesome are these 7 companies who said YES to pay-it-forward!  When stories like this reach my ears it makes me an even more loyal customer OR it makes me want to try/support a brand I am not familiar with!  Thank you all!

All of the bloggers involved made sure every kids will get a new pair of pajamas, hats, scarves, gloves and more!  Then additional friends, some bloggers and many not heard what was happening and either grabbed USPS flat rate boxes or hopped on Amazon to send stuff the kids way! 

Many thanks to these people who helped make the #TwinHillsSanta effort so amazing.
Becky Adams, Life with Kaishon
Colleen Kennedy, Souffle Bombay
Debbie Bookstaber, Mamanista
Denise Ruggieri, Mom 4 a Difference
Gina Badalaty, Mom Blog
Heather DiNuzzo, Girl Gone Mom
Heather McCurdy, Real the Kitchen and Beyond
Heather Schugar, Diapered Knights
Jennifer Oxenford, Philly Fun 4 Kids
Katie Pietrak, BusyBee Kate
Larisha Campbell, We’re Parents Blog
Lauryn Blakesley, The Vintage Mom
Lindsay Podolak, The Naughty Mommy
Lindsey Shuster, Sisters to Sons
Natalie Dixon, A Turtles Life For Me
Nicole Quier, One Punky Mama
Pam Margolis, Unconventional Librarian
Rachel Blate, Can’t Google Everything
Sarah Mazzone, Made in USA Challenge
Tomika Bryant, My Mommy’s Neighborhood
Tricia Goodman, The Good Mama
Trina O’Boyle, O’boy Organic

As for me, I am such a book lover than I share books, buy books for others, and read to others whenever I can so naturally I went out and bought 20 books for this group of kids along with snacks (also a priority in my world!) and a few health and beauty aides. I truly enjoy bonding with my son during our daily story times. Hopefully these children will get to enjoy that now as well. 

Here's a pic: 

I can’t wait to share more specifics, which I will do in January once I get the intel from Dani as to how it all went.  The pilot who flies in and out of Twin Hills with deliveries won’t know what hit him and neither will the post office!  
Magic is in the air!!  When people come together...great things happen!

Thank you Lee Jeans, CVS Pharmacy, Nuby USA, Tyrrells English Crisps, Pretzel Crisps, Educational Insights, Kind Snacks and DecoArt
for making THIS a very special Christmas for 21 children, who I know are going to be so very grateful!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Seafood Paella + Engagement Memories

**This post contains affiliate links which means I would receive a small commission if you make a purchase off my site. This helps pay the bills and make donations to local charities. Thanks for visiting my site and for your support!**

As I pushed the oars to the old fashion rowboat around Lake Retiro in Madrid, Spain, my husband, Nick, impatiently demanded that I give them back. Not sure what all the hoopla was about I handed them to him with an inquisitive look. In exchange he handed me a delicate little box with a bird carved on it. Ah, that's what it was. He wanted to give me a gift the way he always did when we went on a trip. It has become a tradition. Except for this one was different. 

As I turned it upside down to see if it said "Made in Spain," another tradition, it made a clinking sound. Something was inside! I immediately open it to find a gorgeous sparkling engagement ring inside. Without hesitation, I took it out and slipped it on my finger! I didn't want to get so excited that I end up dropping it in the water. Can ya blame a gal?! Nick still teases me about this since he wanted to put it on my finger. Whoops! 

I said yes with as much enthusiasm as a Flamenco dancer stomping around the stage! 

Thirteen years later we have a precious little guy and taking off to Spain (or anywhere in Europe for that matter!) isn't quite as easy. So, I thought I would recreate a little bit of Spain right in my own kitchen by creating this Seafood Paella dish.

Paella is a Spanish word and means "rice dish." You can serve it in a variety of ways, but here is how I did it:

Seafood Paella Recipe

6 cups of clam broth
1 onion
1 tablespoon real crumbled bacon bits 
1 bunch of scallions
1 small red pepper
4 cloves of chopped garlic (more if you prefer a stronger taste)
1 tablespoon of parsley
1 can of diced tomatoes (or 1 fresh tomato) (I used Ro*Tel diced tomatoes and green chiles)
1/2 cup of Spanish olives
2 cups of rice (I used  Goya Spanish Style Yellow Rice Arroz Amarillo - delish!)
2 dozen mussels
1 dozen clams
1 dozen large shrimp
2 filets of thick, hearty fish of your choice (I used cod)
1 1/2 cups of Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling wine (note: this may be a bit much. I really like to taste it so I added more than I think most recipes call for. If you just want a hint of the flavor you may want to go with 1 cup of a little less.)
Saffron (optional - I didn't use it but may next time!)

How to make it:
1. Coat the pan with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
2. Lightly saute fish for about 2 minutes. Remove and keep warm.
3. Saute chopped garlic, onion, scallions and red pepper.
4. Add clam broth and saffron and bring to a boil.
5. Lower broth to medium heat and add rice and cover (cook for about 7 minutes)
6. Add shrimp, clams, mussels (push them down into the liquid so they won't become dry), tomatoes, Spanish olives, and Riesling.
7. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.
8. Once most of the liquid has been absorbed, serve and sprinkle with bacon bits and parsley.

Keep in mind that you can adjust seafood choices to your liking. Maybe you'd like more shrimp and less fish. Maybe you'd prefer something other than cod. It's really up to you. The next time I make this I am going to leave out the fish. I like it, but more on it's own rather than in this dish. I think I'll also bump up the shrimp to two pounds. I love it! 

Oh and also, adding saffron is popular in paella dishes - I left it out because I wasn't going for that flavor. 

And finally, many paella recipes will tell you you need a paella pan to evenly cook the rice. I'd say it probably would enhance it but isn't necessary. I used a large saute pan and it came out great! 

Do you know someone who loves to cook? Check out these great gifts for the cook in your life! 

La Paella Kit
Two pack of premium Spanish Saffron for Paella
La Paella: Deliciously Authentic Rice Dishes from Spain's Mediterranean Coast
Paella!: Spectacular Rice Dishes From Spain

Friday, March 7, 2014

Sauteed Spinach with Sun dried Tomatoes

I never served spinach to my family other than adding it to a salad made mostly of romaine lettuce. There was really no reason. I just never gave it much thought. But one day Jo-lynne Shane from Musings of a Housewife posted her Simple Sauteed Spinach recipe and it looked, well, so simple I decided to give it a try. It was delicious! Knowing it's really healthy for you I decided to serve it more often. 

The last time I made it I put this spin on it: adding sun dried tomatoes. Yum! It will only take a few minutes to get this tasty and healthy side dish on the table.

Sauteed Spinach with Sun dried Tomatoes


Extra Virgin Olive Oil 
1 pound of bagged fresh spinach (not frozen)
1 clove of fresh garlic (or 1 tablespoon of jarred minced garlic)
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)
Sun dried tomatoes 

How to Make It:

1. Pour enough Extra Virgin Olive Oil in your pan to cover the entire pan. Use a big, open frying pan. Let the oil heat up over medium heat. Test to see if it's hot enough buy sprinkling water over it. If it dances it's ready.
2. Chop garlic and saute in pan.
3. Meanwhile, wash the spinach (I do this even if the bag says it's been washed!)
4. Saute the spinach covered over medium heat for about 5 minutes
5. Cut up sun dried tomatoes and add them to the pan just long enough to heat them up.
6. Sprinkle with salt and fresh pepper.


Keep in mind that the spinach looks like a HUGE amount until it starts cooking down. If you need a large portion considering going to Sam's Club or B.J.'s for bigger portions, cheaper 

Serve as a side dish like I did or serve it on top of chicken breast or pork chops. 

I used dry sun dried tomatoes as opposed to those jarred in olive oil. I think the olive oil tomatoes would only make the recipe greasy since we're already used olive oil to saute the spinach. These tomatoes were found where the nuts and dried fruits are sold in the supermarket. 

Other ways to Serve Spinach: 

Simple Sauteed Spinach by Musings of Housewife
Beyond The Margarita – Pizza With Spinach, Goat Cheese, and Eggs by Modern Domestic
Spinach Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms


It's a New Day and a New Blog

So now that I am no longer focused on coupons I feel much more free to be creative to post about things I love rather than worrying about trying to find the latest deal! My frustration with finding sales and every last hot coupon actual kept me from posting anything at all because I felt like the sale I was posting wasn't big enough!

How silly! Well it's a new day! I have new site design I love and the sky's the limit now to do whatever I want and write about whatever specific things interest my readers. Get in touch with me if there is anything specific you'd like to see.

I am thinking in the near future of posting a few tasty recipes I've fallen in love with, focusing on spring related activities including what to do with your kids once the weather gets nice and reviews of local Jersey places to do outside, and highlighting inspiring kids. 

Looking forward to this new journey on Mom 4 a Difference!

What would you like to see?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Enter to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card to Celebrate the New Site Design of Mom 4 a Difference

Welcome to the newly designed Mom 4 a Difference! I am Denise and I am glad you are here! This site was launched as Couponing 4 a Difference back in 2011 but I've since hung up my "couponing" hat to focus more on lifestyle issues.

After studying other coupon blogs I realized that a good coupon blog needs to be far more than I have time for. Whew! Those coupon bloggers really work! Some have up to 20 posts a day! For starters, I am just not that good. Add to the fact that I have a day gig that tends to get in my way of blogging goals (fortunately it's a good job at a university that I really like!) and the fact that I have a super ambitious toddler I just simply do not have the time you need to invest to be a really good coupon blogger. 

About the new Mom 4 a Difference
So what does the future hold for this blog? I really enjoy writing attraction and event reviews so that will still be part of the mix! I'll also offer info on family matters, toddlers, recipes, and keeping safe which an important issue to me. Every once in a while I'll feature something from an old blog, Blessings from Above, which focused on celebrating the little blessings God sends our way everyday. I'll share my blessings and feature others stories as well. 

And there's no escaping it - I'll still share coupons, deals and freebies as I see fit. I love giveaways so we'll do them from time-to-time too!

One thing that won't change is the "4 a Difference" component. I still want to help people as I able so I am committed to donating a percentage of the earnings of this blog to the Food Bank of South Jersey and other charities as I see fit. 

I've made my first donation of $25 a few months ago and I sincerely hope that I can continue to make donations from time-to-time. Affiliate links, advertising, sponsored posts, and printing coupons from the homepage on the right side bar (hint, hint!) will help with this. 

To learn more about me, visit my About page. 

To celebrate my new design I am giving away a $25 Amazon gift card. There so much on Amazon there has to be something you would like!

Here's how you can enter to win: 
  A Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Very Furry Christmas @ Sesame Place #Furry Christmas

As part of Sesame Place's Sunny Day Blogger program, I received four free tickets to Sesame Place in exchange for a blog post. I did not receive any monetary compensation. As always, my opinions are honest and my own.

The family headed to Sesame Place to get in the Christmas spirit and boy was it fun! I enjoyed the twinkling lights, the festive music and checking out the cute holiday outfits on the characters. I love me a cute Christmas sweater! 

You'll get plenty of chances to check out their cute Christmas duds if you go since the characters were out and about all over the park. You can also sign up for a character dinner or check them out at the parade. There are two parades throughout the day, one at 4 o'clock and at 8 o'clock. As you can imagine, it is super crowded so keep that in mind. Tons of people line up almost an hour beforehand. (this is even the case during the regular park season!) It's worth it though! There are tons of floats and the characters stop in the middle to sing and dance. What fun!

I'd say about five rides were open, our favorite being the roller coaster Vapor Trail! The track is windy and the ride is fast! It was calm enough for my three year old to just LOVE and exhilarating enough to satisfy me, his momma, too. I am really into wild rides!

Here's a peak into our day:

Posing with the cute decorations. 

Character greetings.

The merry-go-round.

 He won this himself playing some fun games! 

The parade. 

More of the parade. 

They had some cute areas to stage pictures. Aw....this came out cute!

Check out the A Very Furry Christmas website for details on shows and special events.

I wrote another post on Sesame Place in the spring. Check it out for more helpful details on the park.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How to Have Birthday Party for Your Toddler's Stuffed Animal + Life Lessons

My toddler, D, dug through the party decorations in the basement and picked out his favorite: swirly Donald Duck hanging decorations, a vibrant red tablecloth and a homemade decoration of Styrofoam balls on a stick in a beach pail that I made to look like Mickey Mouse. We had plenty of decorations from his birthday party last year.

We had been stuck in the house all weekend because D was sick. Now that he was starting to feel better I wasn't ready to take him out yet but I knew I had to come up with something more exciting than just another movie. So, we had a birthday party for his favorite stuffed animal, his penguin from the movie Happy Feet.

First I had D create a Happy Birthday card for "Penguin." He loves to color and decorate with stickers so this just added to the party fun. 

While we were digging around for the decorations we found a present for Penguin (a stuffed toy that I got at a blogging conference) and we put him in a decorative box. Then it was off to decorate!  D helped me smooth the plastic table cloth and then he started putting out the table decorations. The cute Mickey Mouse ear idea was found on Pinterest. Where else?! Check it out. And since one of D's favorite things are balloons I had to blow them up and rub against the wall. He loved that.

Now it was time to set the table. I put D on this since I was using paper plates but we had to decide what we would use first. We didn't have any more Mickey Mouse table settings (hey, I am not perfect we already ran out!) so we had a choice between summer beach theme or Elmo - he went with Elmo of course! After all the plates were in place he put out the napkins and cups. 

Next up? The party guests of course! I told him he could invite three other "friends" besides Penguin so off we went to his room to decide who should come. He choose his frog, his stuffed dog and another adorable penguin. He set them at the table so we could serve them their doughnut hole. If you really wanted to extend the activity you could make cute cupcakes but since this was somewhat a spur of the moment activity I didn't have time. Consider these cute frog cupcakes. Or how about these fishing cupcakes? I love them! D loves doughnut holes just the same so it worked! The only problem is we only had five left which is why we had to keep our guest list limited!  

After we "chatted" with our guests we had to sing "Happy Birthday" to the guest of honor. D was just learning the song but he didn't do too bad! I took some pictures to document the special event and so did D with his "big boy" camera.

Penguin loved his present and card and D felt great about giving something to him!

All-in-all the event was a success! Since we spent so much time preparing for this I left it up for a few a days. While my family thought I was a little crazy D loved it and that's all that matters right?

Learning lessons from stuffed animal parties:
Your child learns to make their own decisions.
It teaches them to be thoughtful and do nice things for others.
Your child learns a few domestic skills (decorating and table setting).
It's a chance to let your child's artistic abilities to shine (card making, picture taking, decorating). 
If you made homemade cupcakes they learn how to bake and some basic mathematic concepts when measuring flour, etc. 

To what lengths have you gone to watch your child's face light up?