Monday, January 19, 2015

Budding Artist: Dante's Artwork Week 2

I decided since I have so many nice pieces that I would start sharing them on my blog. Here is week 2 of Dante's art. This was a piece of work I had Dante make for Nick for his daddy for last Valentine's Day.
What type of cool art work does your child do?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Mason Jar Recipe #1: Southwest Chicken Salad

**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!**







































I don't know about you but I have a hard time with preparing lunch. I'll do anything to get out of it because I just don't see the logic in stopping whatever I may doing to prepare food in the middle of the day. It's time consuming and breaks my rhythm of whatever I was doing. I  mean after all, once you get started on a good scavenger hunt with your kid who wants to stop? 

And besides on the days I work I can't make a meal at my job which means I have to spend my nights the day before whipping up something. Again, who can be bothered? I have more fun things to be doing.

So when I heard of others make salads in a Mason jars to help preserve them over the course of a few days I had to investigate! This not only allows me to sneak in some vegetables, but I can also create multiple lunches at once and save time. 

The nice thing about it is I can put the salad dressing and salad in the same jar and not have to jungle multiple containers when I go to work.  The key is to pack things correctly and tightly so that the dressing and the lettuce never touch. See the details below.

Here's a one of my yummy concoctions. Notice the title says "Recipe #1" which means more are on the way! Enjoy!


Mason Jar Recipe #1: Southwest Chicken Salad 

Large Wide Mouth Jars 8 Oz with Lid and Bands
1/3 cup of Chipolte Pepper Ranch Dressing (Buttermilk Ranch, spicy chipolte peppers, garlic, and onion)
1/4 cup of black and Spanish olives mixed together (1/4 cup total)
15 grape tomatoes (depending on the size. If they are extra large you can cut down the number)
1 can of Swanson chicken breast drained
1/3 cup of shredded cheddar cheese 
A dusting of Hormel Real Bacon Bits (enough to cover the previous layer)
2 cups of Spring Mix lettuce
1/3 of broken tortilla chips
1/4 cup of classic Sabre Guacamole dip

How to make it: 
1. Pour salad dressing in first. Other, hearty ingredients will go next, keeping the lettuce as far away from the dressing as possible. You don't want it to get soggy.






































2. Add the chicken. Being right on top of the dressing will allow the dressing to absorb into the chicken almost like a marinade. Just keep that in mind if you plan on eating the salad several days after you make it. The more days that go by, the more the chicken will absorb the dressing so they'll be less of it when you go to eat the salad.

3. Add olives.

4. Add tomatoes. Their hearty exterior will create a barrier preventing the dressing to run into other ingredients.

5. Add shredded cheese.

6. Add lettuce and stuff it down until it all fits. 


7. Add tortilla chips.**

8. Add Guacamole dip on top of the chips.**

9. Pack all ingredients down tightly and add Mason jar lid. 

**As an experiment I tried adding the chips and the guacamole to the salad and including them in the Mason jar. As I suspected they were soggy when I went to eat them so simply put them on the salad and add them to your plate when you are ready to eat the salad. 

Tips:
I'd avoid finely shredded cheese because it's very thin. A hearty shredded cheese will create a barrier and prevent the dressing from traveling much the way the tomatoes do.

Make fresh chicken in the slow cooker. You'll be able to shred it easily and it will be very tender.

Avoid iceberg lettuce. It's wimpy and doesn't hold up well.

Make multiple Mason jarsalads and keep in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. I've made them on a Sunday and they were still good on Wednesday. A friend said hers were good for almost a week although she had included different ingredients. 

As you are adding each ingredient to your Mason jar make sure you push everything down real tight. I used a ladle but you can obviously use whatever works for you.


Using a wide mouth Mason jar makes it easier to pack.

Keep in mind that this salad hearty and is as big as a dinner plate full once you pull it out of the jar and put it on the plate. If this is too big, simply adjust the amount of lettuce you use.

For more Mason jar recipes, check out this cool book: Mason Jar Salads and More: 50 Layered Lunches to Grab and Go




Friday, January 9, 2015

Budding Artist: D's Artwork Week 1

My mother-in-law loves art work so her favorite thing to do with Dante is create works of art while I am at work. They often use water color and experiment with different techniques like sponging and other artistic techniques I am not familiar with! I am the writer and book reader. I have no talent for art so I am glad to have her influence in this area.

I decided since I have so many nice pieces that I would start sharing them on my blog. Here is week 1 of Dante's art. There are 3 separate sheets that he did on three separate occasions, plus the owl (which has a special place in my heart since it's Rowan Universities' mascot) was done at a separate time. I decided all these pieces worked well together so I framed them. Enjoy!

What kind of cool art work does your child do?


Be a Servant

I am not sure if God speaks to me more than he use to or I am just able to "hear" him better. I think it's the latter but either way, God has been speaking to me. 

The other day I was grouchy. The internal talk in my head inevitably slipped out of my mouth and I heard it saying things like "I am just a servant around this house" and "All I do is wait on everybody." Ever feel this way?

Sometimes I wonder if my little guy times his requests. Ya know, like after I set him up with a snack, give him a drink and a napkin than get settled in under my fluffy Sherpa blanket with my magazine to half pay attention to whatever nonsense is on TV. That's right when he says, "Mom! I need....fill in the blank here. And as most of parents know, this goes on all day. Good thing he's cute!

Then of course in my mind I am husband's servant too. Making dinner, picking up groceries so he will have his favorite lemonade, going to the bank per his request. Well, you get the point.

As a wife and mom I come to expect these things and most of the time, I'd say about 90% of the time, I actually really enjoy doing these things for my men. But this one particular night I just felt like no matter how hard I worked I just couldn't get either of them settled long enough to catch a break. This was during the holiday rush when we had a million additional things to our already busy routine. So at this point I had had it.

That night God spoke to me through a devotional book, The Confident Woman, by Joyce Meyers. Yes, at the very end of the night I actually was spared a few minutes to read it! Ha! 

I turned to the date and do you know what the title for that day's devotional was? "Be a Servant." No, I am not kidding. God was actually telling me on that day when I was so frustrated taking care of everyone else that that was what I supposed to be doing. He knows I love books and the written word so I guess that is how he will get through to me. 

Verses from Matthew 25 are noted. Here is a little of what Joyce was focusing on: 

Matthew 34-40:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
 
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Verse 45-46 also tells us: 
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

It was about this point that I realized that I should be a "servant" to the world as these Bible verses indicate but I also realized that it starts in my own home. I must be a "servant" to my family and in doing so I will please God. 

Loving others means taking care of them and I have to try and remind myself that all the other busyness just isn't important. One of my goals for 2015 is to trim down the unimportant stuff, meaning less physical stuff, less online clutter, and less unimportant time commitments so I can focus on what matters more to me and God.  



 






























Awwww.....Aren't these two cute? How could I not serve them?!
 
Who will you be a "servant" for and what will you do for them?

Friday, January 2, 2015

My 2014 at a Glance and Happy New Year!

This year has been a whirlwind. We didn't have any major life crises, just plenty of busyness and a few rough patches. I have to say, I was more than happy to send 2014 off. A new year, a new beginning. 

It started back in the spring with a reoccurring illness. This time it hit me hard - one of the worse "episodes" as I like to call it, that I've ever had. I spent a few months in a lot of pain and going for various doctor's appointment and tests. All of the tests came back negative which is a good thing except for I was dealing with the pain. We all have pain right? But this was debilitating. I felt like I had become a very, very, advanced aged, senior citizen. Through process of elimination, my doctor determined that the pain was being caused by my reoccuring illness. It was nothing more.  It was just worse this time. I began medication, started taking Motrin, and started doing Yoga. This was a first for me and I have to say, I am really enjoying it. 


I've since gone off all medications because I still have high hopes that there will be another precious child added to our family. Keep that in your prayers and that I stay in good health!

The next phase of the year brought upheaval at work. I've been at Rowan University 10 years this spring, most of which has been good. Really good in fact. I have quite a history there - I achieved a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and a Master of Arts in Writing there. My mom went there in the 70's and now I've worked there in a professional part-time role for nearly a decade. I think you get the picture. I really like it there. 

If you haven't heard the place is growing just a bit. They have ambitious plans to increase their existing 13,000 student population to nearly double that (25,000) by 2023. With that comes change. A lot of it. We're dealing with reorganizations, building relocations, new employees (one hiring phase brought 24 new people!) I am amazed that they were able to find places for them all to sit!

I became affected personally when it was required of us two part-times to change our schedule to five days a week. We were both working three days a week and were quite happy about it. I took the job with the intention of having flexibility so I can maintain a place in the workforce and still have time for the family I hoped would come. So far I have my precious Dante and I am adamant about spending time with him so I knew if this didn't change I'd have to move on. I had interviews at the college for other positions (they were three hours long for a part-time job! Help me!) and after talking with them I knew they weren't the answer to my problem because they both were more days that I want to work. 

At that point I made a plan of all the things I could do if I quit: blog more with the intention of making money, because a virtual assistant, go to Bible study, take Dante on more "field" trips to help him learn, work on my hobbies, etc. But I decided I had to try one more time before giving up so I went to talk to my boss and kindly explained my situation. As much fun as the above list sounds, I really didn't want to quit. Remember, I said I actually like it there. I think if it was any other ordinary job I would have outright quit but I just couldn't do it with Rowan since it holds such a special place in my heart. 

Thankfully my boss was supportive and told me that I wasn't being unreasonable. I was thrilled. She even wrote a letter of recommendation to send to the higher up bosses which was much more than I was hoping for or expecting. It was noted at "trial" basis which is good enough for me. So for now, I am back to my three days of work and am able to focus on my Dante on the other four days of the week, and who knows, now that I wrote myself a list of things I would have done had I quit, maybe, I can tackle them when Dante is at preschool. And at least I have a full agenda to keep me busy should I have to revisit leaving again! 

Whew! Was that a busy and stressful time! I am so glad that the dust is sorta settling and I can somewhat be happy at work again. I am looking forward to having lunch with friends on campus again (when I was working 5 days a week I worked short days and didn't get to take a lunch), and checking out campus events that I was too sore with the place to go to. The planetarium is having a kid friendly event, The Secret of the Cardboard Rocket, in February, that I know Dante will love, and I am on the look out for some music event that I can go to. My husband and I have always loved jazz. We'll see! 

Oh, and now that I am less cranky about my job, I finally got the chance to go check out the new Rowan University Welcome Gate Arch. It's beautiful! My husband said he actually saw it disassembled on the highway en route to the college. He knew about it before I did! Check it out! Welcome Arch.

Once things got settled with the job, things became unsettled with my mom. She fell on a shopping trip on a VERY uneven sidewalk crack she didn't see. Yikes! The poor thing tore a tendon in her right knee and fractured her left ankle so she is completely out of commission at the moment and has been since two weeks before Thanksgiving. I have to give her credit. I don't know HOW she being tolerant of sitting and going absolutely no where. She's a lot like me in that we like to go, go, go (when we're well that is!) At this point there isn't much for mom to do but just sit and wait for the healing to take place. She's gone to a few very casual physical therapy appointments where they stretch her legs a bit, but it's going to be a quite  a while before she can do any intense physical therapy or be up and around in any way. I feel bad! Sometimes, though, God sits us a down for a reason!

I hate to sound like "Denisey" downer! There were plenty of good times throughout the year. My favorite was our trip to California. We wanted to go somewhere that was kid friendly and a place that Dante hadn't been yet (he must be well traveled!) We also wanted a warm climate. Since we had been to Florida recently, we opted for California! It was awesome! We spent about eight days there in Anaheim and down to San Diego and back. We tried to go in the spring but since I wasn't well we postponed it until September and I am glad we did. I never would have enjoyed it with the way I was feeling. 

Postponing the trip until September meant that I would fall right within the week of Dante's 4th birthday! What a better way to spend a birthday than traveling, well, in my opinion anyway! 

Look!  We decorated the hotel room for his birthday so he could see it when he first woke up. He loved it! 


We started off at Disneyland and it was so fun! There were in the midst of putting up Halloween decorations when we got there which was extra cool for me because I've never been to any of the Disney parks during a holiday. The only problem was, and you'll never see this in Disney World, I don't think, was they closed many of the rides to enhance them with holiday decor. I thought my husband was going to cry when he found out the Haunted Mansion was closed! It ended well though. More on that in a bit!

One of the highlights of our Disney visit was Cars Land at Disney Adventure Park, particularly the Radiator Springs ride. Oh my, was that fun! You  must, must, must FastPass it if you go. I think the wait was like, three or four hours! Whoa! And remember, that was in September when all the kiddies were already in school. I can't imagine what it would have been like during busy season! Either way, we did it twice, once during the day, and once at night to experience the neon lights in the dark, and was it amazing. The ride itself was well thought out, entertaining, and fast! Loved it and so did my four year old. He's going to take right after his momma - the wilder and faster the ride, the better!

Once we had our fill of Mickey, we headed down to San Diego, the usually moderate weather place. Unfortunately this time, they were having a killer heat wave that even the locals were complaining about. It was in the low 100's. We still had an amazing time even though we were baking! 

Here were are in La Jolla. It was so beautiful and what the weather being what it was, can you blame us for taking a dip? 





































One of my favorite things we did on the trip, though, was a helicopter ride. It was part of my Bucket List (ya know, things ya wanna do before you kick the bucket). I've always wanted to do this but since it's a bit expensive I've been stalling. Back in July when the hubby asked what I wanted for my birthday I decided enough of materialistic things - let's go for the Bucket List! A helicopter ride it will be! And since we were heading to California, where it is much more beautiful than NJ (ahem!) we decided we would wait until the vacation. 

I really enjoyed it and could have stayed up there all day. It was beautiful! And I really liked checking out attractions up close and personal and then viewing them from an aerial view later. If you've never been on a helicopter you should check it out! 


Later that week after during Dante's actual birthday we had plans to take him to Legoland. I was sorely disappointed with them. Months, and even weeks, before the trip we checked their site numerous times to make sure they would fit into our plans. Thankfully the day before we were supposed to go I checked their site one last time only to discover that they were now randomly closed. Be warned! If you ever plan on going, apparently they close on a whim and post it on their site last minute. Just sayin'. So we went back to Disney Land for his birthday and saw a whole other set of attractions we missed the first time (a week before) including the Haunted Mansion I mentioned earlier. This made the hubby happy!

Well that's a wrap for 2014! Bring on 2015! We can't control our lives and things that happen to us but if I had my choice, this is what my 2015 would look like:

  • A new Ruggieri would come on the scene (yes, that means I'd like another baby before I get too old!)
  • Mom would get better and back up on her feet. Literally. 
  • Our house would sell (we're putting it up for sale in the spring.)
  • We'd figure out where we're heading (that's right. we have no idea!)
  • I'd have more time for blogging or figure out a way to work it in to my existing busy life and make money for donations and extra cash for our family. 

That's enough aspirations for now! What will you be up to? What are your plans?

Happy New Year! Have a blessed year!

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.

Tips:
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