Over The Top Mommy

My First Blogger Conference: Blended

It’s almost a month later and I still smile when I think about how much fun I had at the Blended Conference. Blended was a one day event held in Tempe, Arizona at the Double Tree by Hilton. It’s a beautiful property to stay at and when you check-in you’re always greeted with a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie! (They were so generous that we got a cookie when we checkout out, too!) In the case of Blended attendees checking in, each one of us was also given one of these adorable Shamrock Farms coolers, which were filled with goodies for our hotel room. There was a bottle of half & half, some milk, 3 flavored sour creams and chips to dip them in! Shamrock Farms was one of the generous sponsors of the conference!

Blended was my first blogger conference and I wasn’t sure what to expect prior to attending. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was excited to meet both of the SUPER ladies responsible for the great conference, mainly because they’re both named Wendy also! I just KNEW we were meant to meet! I was also excited to hear all of the guest speakers’ presentations! Normally, I’m not a shy person but I would say I was bit intimidated going in, just because I’m so new to the blogging world. Although I’ve been a blog reader for years, I hadn’t actually sat down to blog on my own until this past summer. I brought my best outfit, a pad of paper for note taking and a stack of my pretty new business cards that were designed by Tania Fischer Designs. (And seriously, my cards turned out SOOO cute! You’ll see them in this picture amongst some my new blogger friends’ cards that I got at the conference)

It was great to connect with some of the other ladies at the informal meet up on Friday night in the hotel bar. It’s always exciting to meet some of the bloggers in person that you’ve only communicated with online. It was even more exciting to chit chat while we enjoyed some Fairytale Brownies (another one of the conference sponsors) that were in a giant basket on the table! What a great conference sponsor to have! Mmmm!

On the morning of the conference, while I was getting ready, I may or may not have had a solo dance party in my room!  I’m not used to having a big giant room all to myself where I can make as much noise as I want! With my coffee in hand, I dressed in my signature color, pink, and headed over the conference room. It was just the best day! I learned so much from each of the amazing guest speakers, (click here to see the list of talented ladies who presented), talked with some of the conference sponsors that were actually present in the back of the room, ate tons of yummy food, and met so many other bloggers like myself. I also appreciated the break-out groups that were led by Wendy Wright of  Choosing Love and Arizona Moms Network  and Wendy Bevill O’Neal of Around My Family Table,  because you could basically ask them ANY question you might’ve had about the blogging world. As if all of that wasn’t enough, they then held a raffle for  some awesome prizes, including each of the centerpieces in the room.  I actually won one of the centerpieces which had been provided by Fry’s Food Stores! My daughter was ECSTATIC when I brought it home!

At the end of our day, we were each given two huge bags filled with even more swag that had been provided by the sponsors! (Click here for a list of ALL of the Blended Conference sponsors)

These are just some of the business cards I collected!
Two fun peeps I met that day: Heather from Brie Brie Blooms & Laura from Pink Cake Plate
And after the conference, we kept the party going over at Joe’s Crab Shack! As you can see, Laura & I are NOT afraid to wear a bib!
The entire event was just an amazing experience and I cannot wait to go back next year!

So….the word on the street is that next year’s Blended will be a 2-day event! I’m crossing my fingers that it is! To sign up to receive information about next year’s event, click here. I hope to meet you there!

Sometimes Instagram is MORE Than Just Pictures

I love Instagram. I love posting pics, I love interacting with others, and I love seeing the variety of pictures that people share. I love seeing pictures of families and fitness and crafts people have made and DISNEY and recipes….etc. Every once in a great while there are pictures that you scroll by and then scroll back to….sometimes several times. You don’t necessarily know the person but then suddenly you almost feel like you want to know them or at least more about them. Today I felt that way about a picture I came across. I have been following this adorable young girl (I’m guessing she’s in her 20s) for just a short while. She is in the fight of her life because she’s battling breast cancer! I don’t know her real name, I don’t know where she lives, I post supportive comments, but the fact that she’s on Instagram, not only sharing pictures of everything she’s going through, but also her thoughts about the cancer is both brave and extremely enlightening for the rest of the world to see! Today I started crying though when I read what she posted with her picture. It was a letter, actually it seemed more like a total PLEA to her cancer. I cried when I read it and then I commented something on her picture and then I read it again.

Here’s the picture she posted: 
Here’s what she wrote: 
“What’s on my mind this morning: my eyelashes. Cancer you’ve taken my hair, my boobs, my periods, you can take my eyebrows, my toenails, whatever, just please don’t take my eyelashes. Pretty please. I’ll buy you some ice cream or a cold pop. But ain’t nobody got time for that, leave the eyelashes. Thank you! Sincerely yours: The girl who’s going to kick your ass!”

I’ve been thinking about it all day. I feel like I want to know her name. I feel like I want to know her. I know I can’t help her much, but even if I can just encourage her and pray for her, I know it’s something. Some people think it’s silly to exert any of your energy on complete strangers. I don’t. Some people don’t quite get the power of social media and how it connects strangers sometimes. I’m guessing that the positive support she gets from her Instagram followers actually helps her get through some tough times, like her rounds of chemo.

Luckily, I am a great investigator and I was able to find her and ask for her permission to share. If you’d like to follow this sweet, adorable chick too, just go and look up @screamqueen13 on Instagram!

Scrummy Joe’s Spaghetti Squash

I’m on a constant quest for semi-quick and easy meals to prepare for dinner that my daughter will actually eat. One of the best places I’ve gotten ideas from is at Trader Joe’s. Every week when we go in to do our weekly shopping, my daughter gets excited to visit the back of the store where the samples are being made. On our last visit there, they were preparing this Scrummy Joe’s Spaghetti Squash. (How cute is that name?) Emi kept sneaking back for more. (shhhh!) I knew she was “sold” on it when she asked, “Mommy, WHICH part is the squash?” as she kept eating it. The best part about their samples, is that everything that’s used in the recipe is usually in a fridge right next to the preparation area or sitting up on the counter. They also have little recipe cards typed out for you to take home. It really couldn’t be any simpler. Moms like me REALLY appreciate Trader Joe’s!

So here is the recipe. Just wait til’ you taste it!
Ingredients:
  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1 bottle Kansas City BBQ Sauce
  • I can diced tomatoes with green chiles (drained)
  • 2 lbs Organic ground beef (turkey meat can be substituted)
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • Shredded cheddar cheese

 

  1. Preparation:
    The first thing you have to do is to conquer the spaghetti squash! First wash it really well. Then cut it VERY CAREFULLY the long way and scoop out the inside, along with the seeds. It’s JUST like a pumpkin! Then place half of it in a microwave safe bowl, pour a little bit of water actually on the squash, cover with plastic and microwave for about 10 minutes total. The plastic is going to be EXTREMELY HOT, as well as the bowl so use caution when taking it out of the microwave to allow it to cool. I removed the plastic right away and left it on the counter for a few minutes. After the squash is cooled a bit, you can use a fork to make it shred into spaghetti-like strands. I shredded all of the inside, placed it in a bowl, sprinkled with some salt and pepper to taste, and set it aside.
  2. Saute ground beef (or turkey) with onion and drain.
  3. Add the bottle of BBQ sauce and the can of drained tomatoes and mix well. (I actually blended up the can of tomatoes so it was a fine sauce because my daughter is picky if she sees big, red tomatoes in her food)
  4. In a 9 X 13 dish, spread the squash evenly in the bottom, layer the meat/sauce mix on top of that, cover with cheese and warm in the oven until the cheese is melted!
I could barely wait until it cooled down to eat it! Emi ate 2 servings of it. Now your turn!
*For more Trader Joe’s recipes, go here.

Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Bread!

I love Fall! I love so many things about it, but mostly the fact that it’s the beginning of the October-December holiday season which means time to bake!
This year I decided to start hand writing the recipes as I make them. With so much technology available, I find that I rarely hand write anything. I want Emi to have things that I’ve actually written, which I can only hope will become some of her most cherished keepsakes of me. I want her to have a recipe book full of things I’ve made for her. What this also means is that I need to start expanding my recipe repertoire because she probably thinks I can’t cook anything unless it has batter!
Today I am making chocolate chip banana nut bread. The great thing about this recipe, aside from the fact that it’s easy to make, is that you can alter it. If you don’t want it too sweet, omit the chocolate chips. If you don’t like or can’t eat nuts, leave them out, and if you aren’t a big banana lover, you can still just make this with the chocolate chips and nuts. I am in LOVE with using Nestle mini chocolate chips for this recipe. I’ve made it with regular size chocolate chips too, but the minis are WAY better.
 These are a few of my favorite things (for baking):
Ok so here comes the recipe:

The Ingredients:
*2 1/2 c. All-Purpose Flour
*2 c. sugar
*1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
*1/2 tsp. salt
*3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter, softened
*2 large eggs
*1 tsp. vanilla extract
*3 c. (about 7 medium) ripe bananas, mashed (I only use about 3)
*12 oz. mini (or regular) chocolate chips
*4 oz. walnuts, chopped
The Instructions:
*Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
*Grease two 9X5 inch loaf pans.
*In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt with a wire whisk; set aside.
*In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with mixer on high speed. Add eggs, bananas, and vanilla, and      beat at a medium speed until thick. Scrape sides of bowl.
*Add the flour mixture, chocolate chips, and nuts, and then blend at low speed just until combined.      DON’T over mix.
*Pour batter into prepared pans.
*Bake on center rack of oven for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
*Cool in pan for 10 minutes. turn pans on sides; cool to room temperature before removing and slicing.

I hope you get as addicted to this chocolate chip banana nut bread as I am! Happy Fall!

The Sweatshirt

I think my heart broke for a little girl today. Not my little girl, it was a little girl in my 1st grade class. What’s odd about the whole situation is that today I did something good to help her, but just doing it actually made me MORE emotional than before I did anything. I brought her a sweatshirt. It was a gently used, hot pink sweatshirt that Emi had outgrown. The sweatshirt said “GYMNAST” across the front, had some bling on the letters and a tiny heart as a zipper pull. I remember when Emi got the sweatshirt…one of her grandmas had taken her shopping at Justice. We love Justice. I’m sure my little student probably doesn’t even know what Justice is?!! She probably doesn’t know what a “gymnast” is either, nor will she ever have a chance to be one. (Do you see why my heart breaks?)

I’ve been teaching 1st grade for 18 years. My students are very needy, most are poor, and many are neglected. Before I was a mommy, I used to spend TONS of money on my classroom and on my students. Now I just can’t do that. After I became a mommy, I had to learn how to disconnect when I left work, because if I thought about how these children were living and compared it to how my own daughter lives, it was too painful. I know I can’t save the world, so I do my best when I’m there and even though I don’t shower them with gifts and treats, they are really appreciative of what I do for them. I sometimes think they even enjoy getting disciplined because after I’ve spent a day disciplining them they’ll still hug me and tell me they love me as they leave out the door. Maybe it’s just the fact that SOMEONE is paying enough attention to them and disciplining them at all? I don’t know?
So back to the little girl….She’s adorable (I think all of my students are adorable though). She’s adorable, as in a cute little face and a head of light brown wavy hair with bangs. She’s pretty quiet but when she talks to me, I cannot understand her because her speech impediment is so bad. (don’t get me started that no one has done anything to get her referred for speech because it’s BAD). She comes to school in her WAY TOO BIG uniform everyday. When I watch her walk out to recess, I can see the shoes slipping on and off because they are about 4 sizes too big. (I’m not exaggerating about this either). I recently noticed that she’s been wearing this GIANT women’s size jacket over her uniform. It’s something with pink and white and the arms are WAY long. Well, as the days passed this week, I noticed that the jacket would appear to be dirtier and dirtier each day. Like FILTHY. Most likely I noticed this because the sleeves were white but it hurt my tummy to see it, because in my mind, little all girls should be happy and cute and clean. (I worry about Emi’s finger nails and ALWAYS make her wash them before going somewhere) I just kept feeling ill that this little girl was sitting here, dirty at school, just trying to get by. I’ve had students in my classroom before who were labeled as “homeless”, I just don’t know enough about this particular class yet, since it’s still the beginning of the school year. So today, I finally did it, I remembered to bring in the sweatshirt for her! I couldn’t directly give it to her, so I put it in the office and had them call her up. She came back with the sweatshirt in her hands and within 3 minutes, she was wearing it…..AND SHE HAD THIS LITTLE SMILE ON HER FACE AS SHE WAS DOING HER WORK!

No one in the class knew, but I knew, and I almost started crying! I had to sneak a picture of her as she was proudly working on her Math, but I had a giant lump in my throat for the rest of the day and even as I blog this, I feel like I could start bawling my head off! My daughter is sitting in the other room, Face Timing her cousin and playing with toys while they chat…and I think about my little student and know that she’s sharing some tiny space with 5 other siblings and probably isn’t doing what my daughter is doing. I know she doesn’t have a soccer game tomorrow or have any sleepovers to attend. It hurts my heart to think about it, but I have to smile and know that I did something good for someone in need today. I have to remember that sometimes it’s the little things and in this case, the sweatshirt is the little thing.

Home Depot Kids Workshop

In our family, we LOVE going to the Home Depot Kids Workshop every month. These events are held at any Home Depot, are free of charge, and are a great hands-on experience. They’re recommended for children between the ages 5 and 12 and give children an opportunity to build a project by assembling, painting, and often using stickers as the final touch. I already have the 1st Saturday of each month marked on each of my pocket calendar pages, as well as my iPhone calendar. We try to be there right at 9 a.m. sharp because Emi always wants to be the first one! Workshop hours are 9 a.m. until 12 noon.

Emi loves wearing her own personalized, Home Depot apron to the event because, well, she IS my daughter and always needs to dress for the theme or the occasion! (I think I’ve taught her well.) If your child doesn’t have one yet, they can also get one on the day of the event AND put their name on it.

All children receive a special themed pin that matches the project to add to their apron, as well as a certificate of achievement for EACH monthly Kids Workshop that they attend!
Click on the link here to see what the next scheduled workshop is going to be and register!

The Candy Corn Wall in Downtown Disney!

If it’s possible to have a “favorite wall”, I do! I found it last year when Emi and I were walking through Downtown Disney, on our way into The Disneyland Resort for some casual Halloween-time fun. We stopped to admire the Lego Store display outside and BOOM…there it was! The wall spoke to me, like no wall had ever spoken to me before, and demanded that I photograph it immediately! Maybe I was imagining, maybe I just had candy corn on my mind, because seriously this wall looks like a giant piece of candy corn! Although I’m fortunate enough to have a very photogenic model for my pictures, she’s not always as enthusiastic as I am about having to be camera-ready almost all the time.

Regardless of what I got out of her, which looks to be a bunch of smolders, looking back at these pictures just gets me REALLY excited for Halloween time at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure! It’s such a beautiful time of the year in the parks. It’s just something that everyone should get to experience at least once! I love the beautiful decorations, the pumpkin goodies and the happy Fall feeling in the air!

Have YOU had the chance to visit the parks at Halloween time? If so, what are some of YOUR favs?

It’s Time for Apple Picking in Julian!

I absolutely LOVE this time of year! It’s the beginning of fall and, although we have such warm weather in Southern California, the apple orchards are open by the end of September and the apples are ready for picking!

(How adorable is this sign I found at Home Goods?)

This year we decided to visit the adorable town of Julian, since it’s just a hop, skip & a jump away! (Ok maybe it’s actually a couple hours away) The downtown area of Julian is adorable and has many little shops, restaurants and pie shops. You can also ride in a horse-drawn carriage down the main street. The farms and apple orchards are all pretty close to the downtown area, so you can either stop at them on your way into town or as you’re leaving. On this particular trip, we ate lunch at Julian Cafe & Bakery,  before going apple picking. Not only was the food yummy, we also enjoyed drinking out of glass boot mugs! After lunch was when we wandered into the town pie shops and country stores.

Our favorite pie shop was Mom’s! We sat down inside to eat some warm pie a la mode and then we stopped at Mom’s again on the way out of town to take some pie home!
 (They have more than one location!)
This year we visited The Julian Mining Company for apple picking.
We bought a bag to put our freshly picked apples in.
 It was a bit tough to be there with a little perfectionist because Emi ONLY wanted to pick the perfect apples! Her selection process required a lot of patience on our part.
Luckily she was content after filling up one bag.
Little one-day adventures like this are something I hope will stick in Emi’s memories of her childhood.
So you tell me…do YOU think she had a good time?
Happy Fall!

Everyone Loves a Carousel!

My favorite kind of day is one where I can stop and enjoy the moment without being in a hurry.

Emi and I had one last “Mommy & Me day” before she went back to school. She usually has a vision in her head of how most occasions will play out so first off, she needed to get appropriately dressed up.

Our first stop, was the nail salon. With the start of 3rd grade being SUCH a big deal, she wanted to make sure to have just the right design on her nails (and toes).

I LOVE little nails and toes and wish I could get away with having something this adorable on mine!
Our next stop was lunch. Nordstrom Cafe is one of our favs, especially the tomato soup and kids grilled cheese! I can’t say that a cookie wasn’t also snuck onto our tray.
After lunch, we walked around the mall for a long while, getting back to school necessities. Although my little girl is growing up too quickly, I love that she still asks to ride the carousel!
Everyone loves a carousel!