Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Best Mystery Series Ever. Period.

You know that I have a deep love for reading.

And over the years, I have read a lot of books.  Like, a lot.

So when I say I've discovered the best mystery series ever, you can be 100% sure it is the best mystery series ever.

No need to ask questions. No need to research.  Just take my word for it.

The best mystery series ever is the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny.  In the author's own words, here is how she describes her books:

"And finally, a small note about the themes in my books. They're inspired by two lines from a poem by WH Auden, in his elegy to Melville. Goodness existed, that was the new knowledge/his terror had to blow itself quite out to let him see it.

How powerful is that?

My books are about terror. That brooding terror curled deep down inside us. But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness. And kindness. About choices. About friendship and belonging. And love. Enduring love.

If you take only one thing away from any of my books I'd like it to be this:

Goodness exists."

In the words of yours truly, I describe the books as "a thinking man's mystery series". 

Click here to visit Louise Penny's website and get behind-the-scenes scoop on all the books and the author herself.

So here is your to-do list, straight from me to you.  

Tuck the kids in bed, maybe even a little bit early.  I won't tell on you.

Put on some of these comfy pajamas.

Make this Easy Hot Chocolate from Kathy's Kitchen Table.

Curl up with one of those awesome no-sew fleece tie blankets, like this one.

And read the best mystery series ever, starting with Still Life.  Yes, you must read the books in order. Trust me on this.

Are you still here??



After all, it's on your to-do list.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Five Favorites: Products That Make My Life Easier

As the mom of a special needs child, my time is precious.

So I'm always looking for products that make tasks easier so that I can spend my time doing things I really want to do.

Like take a nap.

So today, I'm going to share with you my five favorite products that make my life easier.

1.  A good eyelash curler, like this one from Shu Uemura.

For a long time, I kept switching mascaras, always dissatisfied with the results.  And the time it took to apply them.  Until someone reminded me that an eyelash curler makes even a mediocre mascara better.  Now it's a quick squeeze with the curler, a few swipes of mascara and boom.  D-O-N-E done.

2.  Windex Touch-Up

I discovered this at my mom's house over Thanksgiving break.  Just set this right beside your kitchen sink and anytime you need to do a quick wipe of the kitchen counters, just touch the top with a paper towel, swipe, and toss.  Easy as pie.

3.  Neutrogena Make-Up Remover Wipes

These wipes are a true time-saver.  I can take off my make-up in 30 seconds flat.  I don't even have to run hot water.

4.  Immaculate Baking Company's Gluten Free Fudge Brownie Cookie Dough

Gluten Free Fudge Brownie Cookie Dough

While I don't mind baking most of the time, special diets do generally require that most baking be done from scratch, especially if you want the best taste at the best price. But when I just don't have time or I just need a couple of cookies for Lily's lunch box, I reach for this cookie dough.  And bonus?  It's dairy free, too.  And so good that it will convert even the most hardened gluten lover.

5.  Aerolatte Handheld Milk Frother

Forget the fancy cappuccino/espresso machines that you need to a tutor to show you how to use.  A few seconds with this frother and I'm good to go.  It even works well just stirring things up - like half and half and chocolate syrup, topped with whipped cream.  Not that I would personally know that.  You know... a friend told me.

Now it's your turn.  What products do you love that make life a little bit easier for you?  Do share!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Gift Guide for Special Needs Kids - Lily Bird Edition

Even though Lily Bird has been with us for seven Christmases now, shopping for her hasn't really gotten any easier.  There's just so few things she gets genuinely excited about that we have to think really creatively to come up with some items that might strike her fancy.

And this is the first year I think I've done just that.

I'm excited to share some of what Lily will find under the tree this year in hopes that it will help you with your own child, too.

Let's get started!

Little Lock Box by TAG

Little Lock Box

There are two reasons I think Lily will like this Little Lock Box.  One, she is fascinated with her Dad's tool box and likes flipping all the little compartments open.  And two, she likes latches and locks.  So this should make her one happy little girl.

If the Little Lock Box is a little too pricey for your budget, try this Deluxe Latches Board by Melissa And Doug.

Lily has some of the motorized gears that work on a flat magnetic board and she enjoys watching them spin.  So I'm thinking that lots of spinning gears on a vertical surface might be even more enjoyable.  

However, my fridge is not magnetic.  So don't tell Ryan but he'll be doing a little DIY this Christmas.  I'm finally going to incorporate this idea I saw on Pinterest, the oil drip pan magnet board.

photo courtesy of http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/oil-drip-pan-magnet-boardnic-a-155606

It'll give Bird a nice space to arrange and watch all her gears.  Plus, I can occasionally sneak in some fun learning games, too.

I've seen these before but when we were in Virginia for Thanksgiving, a bookstore we visited had one set up in a corner of the bathroom and Lily loved it!  The ocean sound and the underwater gentle wave motion projected on the walls makes for a soothing and relaxing environment.

Puffer Ball - 2 inch

and Hairy Tangle Jr

Both of these fidget type toys would be fun and relaxing for Lily to roll around in her hands and up and down her arms and legs.  Of course, her favorite way to enjoy them would be if I bought enough to fill up a tub and let her bury herself in them.  Like a ball pit, but better.

EKORRE Hanging seat with air element IKEA
We've actually had this swing for a while now but we're finally going to hang it.  Yet another DIY project for Ryan.  Fun times in the Rush house.

Well that's about it for the Bird but check out these helpful gift guides for even more great ideas:


What about you?  Have you found the perfect gift for your kiddo this Christmas?  I'd love to hear about it.  We can all use another good idea or two!

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Twist on Traditional Pancakes

I've shared my mad love for the cookbook "Cooking for Isaiah" here more than a few times.

Cooking for Isaiah: Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Recipes for Easy, Delicious Meals

The author, Silvana Nardone, is the former editor-in-chief of the Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine.  When her son, Isaiah, was diagnosed with gluten and dairy allergies, she not only made it her goal to safely feed him tasty food, but to make him forget that the food he was eating was allergy friendly.

And I'm here to tell you she has not only met that goal, but blown the doors right off it.

I have yet to try a recipe in this book that isn't amazing.  Of course, I lean towards her baked items because... DUH.  I am a fool for a good brownie.

But today let's talk pancakes.

Or rather, a little outside-the-box pancake.

The corn cake.

A delicious cross between a pancake and cornbread.  Perfect for breakfast.   Or, even better, the ever popular breakfast for dinner, when you can serve them alongside runny fried eggs and crispy bacon.


Let's cut to the chase and get right to the recipe, shall we?

Griddled Corn Cakes with Strawberry Syrup

1 1/4 cups rice milk (I've been using almond milk & it works, too)
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup Silvana's Pancake Mix (recipe below)
1 cup cornmeal, preferably medium grind
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs, at room temp, lightly beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil


1 cup strawberry jelly
1/4 cup water

To make the corn cakes, in a small bowl, stir together the milk and vinegar.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the pancake mix, cornmeal, and salt.  Add the milk mixture, eggs, and oil; stir until just combined.

Spray a large nonstick skillet or griddle with cooking spray, then heat. Pour about a 1/4 cup batter into the pan and cook until the pancakes are golden and set, about 2 minutes on each side. (I make mine silver dollar size)

Meanwhile, to make the syrup, in a small saucepan, warm the jelly and water over low heat, stirring occasionally, until syrupy.  Serve with corn cakes. (Or you can skip this step and just slather on strawberry or peach preserves like we do)

Silvana's Pancake Mix

Click here to get the recipe for Silvana's Flour Blend and make it first.  Then do the following and voila - you've got pancake mix.

9 cups Silvana's Flour Blend
1 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp baking powder
2 1/4 tsp salt

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Transfer to an airtight storage container and store in a cool, dry place or in the fridge.

Now that you've made all that good flour and pancake mix, connect with Silvana on her Easy Eats online magazine  and her blog, Silvana's Kitchen to get more yummy recipes.  And go buy the cookbook!

You can thank me profusely later. 

Have a warm weekend, my lovelies.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Works For Me Wednesday - Easiest Teacher Gift Ever

Teachers work hard every day for our kiddos.

So I like to treat them to a little something fun at Christmas.

But having a special needs child often means there's not just one teacher to treat, but multiple teachers, aides, and therapists.

And that can get real pricey real quick.

So I've found a delicious treat that can be made in large batches quickly, easily, and inexpensively.  And it can be customized for any holiday.

That treat is Confetti Popcorn.

This picture shows the Valentine version.  

But by simply changing to whatever seasonal M&M's are available, you can easily make Christmas, Easter, Fall, or 4th of July Confetti Popcorn.

Here's the recipe:

Confetti Popcorn

1 bag of M&M's (use whatever seasonal ones are appropriate)
Almost 2 bags of Orville Redenbacher's microwave Tender White popcorn (or any kind with no butter)
1 bag Wilton's Vanilla Candy Melts 

Pop popcorn.  Pick out any unpopped kernels and toss them out.  Put popcorn in large bowl.  Melt chocolate and pour over popcorn.  Add M&M's and stir gently.  Spread on baking sheets and sprinkle another handful of M&M's over the top.  Allow to dry completely.  Break up and package as you wish.

Sweet and simple - doesn't get much better than that!

Today's post is linked up with We Are That Family's Works for Me Wednesday blog feature.

works for me wednesdays

Catching Up With The Bird

Well hello again, my faithful readers.

Who haven't had much to read around here lately.

I'll spare you the details of why I've been remiss in my blogging but I will say that the oldest daughter coming home for a whirlwind wedding weekend of a friend + the husband taking a 10 day trip to Israel + another trip to New York City to see Dr. Najjar + a Thanksgiving visit to Virginia = no time to write. 

If you'd like to hear more about the latest doctor visit, click here to read Ryan's update.

Can I just take a minute to say how thrilled I am that you can now use electronic devices during an entire flight?  Flying with Bird just got one million times easier. Look how happy she is that we didn't have to yank away her iPod for take-off and landing:

Bird and Reagan just chilling out while Dad checks into the hotel:

Since the weather in New York was beautiful and brisk, we spent some time at Madison Square Park:

And no trip to New York is complete without a visit to at least one good bookstore.  This time, we visited Strand Books.

We left NYC and headed to Virginia to spend Thanksgiving with Ryley and my family.  Lily was pretty happy to see her big sister.

While in Virginia, we visited a fun combination bookstore, toy store, and teacher store.  Lily found a comfy umbrella chair and settled in with some books.  The funny thing was I kept bringing her age appropriate books to see if anything caught her interest and she kept stiff-arming them away in favor of the teen books.  

She must've sat in that chair and "read" books for 15 minutes.  Funny girl.  But she has been raised in a home of readers so it shouldn't come as any great surprise that the girl knows what to do with a book. 

Now that we're back home, it's time to start getting ready for Christmas.  I'm looking forward to trying some new recipes.  I'll be sure to share the good ones with you.

Have a lovely day, dear ones, and let the merry-making begin!

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