This is the cutest idea that I got from my friend Liz Bushong. Check out her blog at Brenna and I fell in love with Liz’s Valentine’s Day Love Letter made of pie crust and cherry pie filling. We set to work making it for my Mom. Our goal was to deliver it warm.

It was super easy. You need an envelope (think square), parchment paper, pie crust, cherry pie filling, butter and white sugar sprinkles.

Open your envelope all the way up. Trace the opened envelope onto the parchment paper and then cut it out. Place flattened pie crust on top of parchment paper. Cut your crust according to the parchment paper diameters.

Place pie envelope form on baking sheet. Spoon your cherry pie filling onto the center of the envelope, making sure to put some at the top of the envelope flap. Note: less is more! The cherry pie filling will expand.

Pinch the flaps of the envelopes back into place, leaving the top flap open. (And cherry filling on top of that part). I free handed a heart to cover the seems. We coated it with butter, and sprinkled on some white sugar.

We put it in at 350 for ten minutes, and kept watching it. I think we pulled it out at twelve minutes, but I’m not sure because we were was so excited about its cuteness! Be careful, the size of the envelope will expand and it will finish much bigger than when you started. This lead us to make a round of tiny envelopes, which I wish I could show you. But I can’t. They were so cute, they ate them before I could snap a pic.

P.S. We did deliver this hot! (It helps my Mom lives three minutes away). It was a total Valentine’s success! xo


Ribbon is like jewelry. If you wrap, but don’t add the ribbon, it’s like putting together an outfit with no accessories. Don’t do it! I know it’s exhausting. I know you are so over the holidays. Trust me. Push yourself. You will never regret the effort of putting a bow on it.

It doesn’t need to even be a bow. It can be a knot. It can be a twist. It can just be the flat ribbon. But add it. My Grandmom said to never wrap unless you use tissue paper. (tissue paper = love). My addition to that mantra: ribbon = love.

This year, I’m loving using two ribbons together. Not on every package, but here and there. Just enough to keep it fun. Tip: If you are only using one ribbon, make sure it’s wired. If you are using two ribbons, the second doesn’t need wire.


And pick your ribbon up as you go. This stuff can be $$$$. I grab it at yard sales, with coupons, and yup, I also pay full price. If your not in love with ribbon yet, trust me and try it. You will be.

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Back to School is a high holiday. It needs to be celebrated! I love the look of our retro “Happy Back to School Day” door. When they were young, the kids loved it. Now, it embarrasses them. Bonus!

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My friend Christine B. had the best and BRAVEST back to school party ever! She had an annual party on the first day back to school RIGHT AFTER DROP OFF! Can you imagine? Would your house ever be ready? Christine pulled it off every September. We all brought something and she had champagne. Best way to start the school year ever! Happy Back to School Day!

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Maeve’s graduating. What? Who let her turn 18? Here’s a few ideas from her grad party that you are free to steal.

I love creating vignettes at a party. Here’s my rule: you need at least three vignettes scattered about your party. If you do it right, they tell the story of the party and let your guests know just why the occasion is special. If you do it wrong, your friends might accuse you of creating a shrine to the guest of honor. (As once happened to me) Try not to create a shrine. It’s a balancing act people.


When decorating for a party, especially graduations, throw back school photos are great. Make use of cake stands and plate stands, to give your display items different visual height. My Mom taught me that framing the party menu is always a nice touch. Candle wax is your best friend. Keep it on you at all times. In a flash, I attached the gold star garland and a third grade pic of the graduate to my menu frame.

Throw back photos are great, but you need to throw in some throw back memorabilia as well. This is why you are saving all that stuff! In this shot, you see the apple Maeve made in school. Yup, this is the finish line. First grade to Senior Year. It’s now or never. Bring some of that stuff out.

And, collect up some items on theme. The Graduation Doll is super sweet. And if you are lucky enough to have a friend who loves to bake cookies in the shape of a graduation cap, display those prominently. She even sprinkled them in the school colors. It takes a village to have a great party. xo


Dr. Oz was nice enough to have me on his show as a guest blogger, and what did I do? I stole his fantastic idea. Well, actually it was his staffs’ fantastic idea, but he loved it.  It seems when they  didn’t know what to get the guy who has everything, someone came up with perfect gift.  They stocked the green room with a “nut bar.”   I stole this idea and now I to have nut jars, instead of a cookie jar, on the counter.


We have nuts out and ready to grab at moments notice. Do the kids like them more than cookies? No, but I do see them eating them. So, I count this one as a win.


Now back to the show. Dr. Oz told me he really liked my hair (knew I liked him) and I got to practice my selfie skills.


But, sadly while I was away, someone did this to my kitchen and no one broke in to clean it up.

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Yes, this is what happens at my house when I’m at work. How about yours?

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No more pencils, no more books… our living room at least!  The kids went back at it again last June and collected recycled school supplies to donate to students in need.  Year 2 was a big success as you can see by the mess in our house.

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This year the local media even got in on the story as one angry resident wrote an editorial and made the same observation that my kids already had: perfectly good school supplies end up in the trash come the last day of school. The newspaper covering the story shared what my kids were doing to donate barely used school supplies. This lead to even more donations. At this rate, we will probably be buried in binders next year.


Still, this good deed is pretty simple.  The kids collect the supplies in boxes the last week of school, then they sort and clean them, and we drop off to a donation center.   We got such a warm welcome at the Trenton Soup Kitchen that we will be back for sure next year.


I’m a big fan of porches. Who isn’t? What I love about this one is it’s simple charm.


Nothing here is super expensive, and that’s part of the beauty. I’m sure you’d love to spend some time here.


The blue pot and yellow wreath are the perfect touch of color. And the pot just leaves you dreaming of shucking summer corn. Or better yet, the kids shucking corn.


You get the impression this family has everything it needs: a porch for dreaming, a pot for cooking, wood for warm fires.


And who doesn’t love a milk box. This porch is more than design. It’s a call to a lifestyle. Love!


Ok, I came up with that title a year ago. That’s how long I’ve been thinking about upping my fashion game. Guess I didn’t want to jump into anything!  (It did not take that long to find an orange dress — just fashion lazy!!!)


Found this cute dress at Francesca’s at the mall. Think it was in the $35.00 range. Took a risk with orange, because as a redhead I used to shy away from that color. Decided to live dangerously. Besides, it’s Trendy Tuesday and I don’t have a ton of time. Orange it is.


See how happy I am in my trendy dress?  The fit isn’t great, but its more good than bad. I find Francesca’s is great if your short like me. I don’t have to worry about alterations. Price is good and it is trendy. Here’s my warning: you have to try on and be age aware. In general, I think the store is geared at girls in their 20’s.


And here’s my tip: always splurge for the accessories. They’ve got stylists working for them. Steal the look. Don’t even bother getting dressed if you don’t have an accessory. On Trendy Tuesday at least. So which necklace is better? Gold and Orange or Wood?



Okay girls, just figure out a way to make this one early for your daughters. You will reuse it every year and just think how adorable the pictures will be as your little one grows up in her birthday sash. I also expect you to wear it on your own bday!

You can make this as easy or as complicated as you wish. If you don’t sew, find a friend who does. It’s practically no fabric, and no time. Think pre-cut letters from the craft store, some hot glue and some embellishments. It’s years of fun.  Special thank you to Aunt Deb who made this sash — my mom, myself and my daughter have all worn it!  Family heirloom!

Teacher Tip:  These are also a fun way to celebrate birthdays as school….especially since sweets are now outlawed!



No sooner had we finised the Valentine Cherry Pie Envelope, then someone wanted to make a roll cake that she had seen on YouTube. Hint: it wasn’t me. I was too tired. We weren’t even done cleaning up from the envelope. And as it was explained to me, it seemed to defy the laws of gravity. Something I wasn’t up for.

However, I did notice that of my three kids, two could care less it was Valentine’s Day. Sensing all three kids slipping away, I got on board with the roll cake. Who knows, this could be the last Valentine’s opportunity. I’ve already aged out of any events at their schools. My days doing kid sutff (at least the non-chauffeur variety) are numbered. We pre-heated the oven to 350 degrees.


You know what? It was spectacular. It did defy gravity. It tasted delicous. Far more fun than the evnelope. All around success. And, I hear you can find out how to do it on You Tube!


We are still in the Hotel House (our name for the rental we’ve been living in since our house was destroyed). The rental house is bare bones, just what you need. We’ve been here almost a year — and we just realized we don’t have a vase! What? This can’t be my life. But it is. No need for fresh flowers in almost a year??? Talk about a crime, but we’ll have to get to that another time. The point is, when Brenna got flowers after the school play, we had no vase. I didn’t think twice, and put them in this water bottle. The Hotel House was brought out the pioneer in me, or as I like to think, the college girl. (She seems more fun than a pioneer, right?)

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Thank goodness my Mom knows better, and showed up the next day with some mason jars. We put Brenna to work, and the presentation was so much better! College girl be gone! We’re adults now, Hotel House or not.


And you know what? If I had a vase, I would have put them in water myself. Having no vase led to a great afternoon. I got to teach Brenna about cutting, preserving and arranging store bought flowers. And she had fun!!!!



My friend Karen posted this. As you can see her daughter is pretty smart!

“So Gracie (and every other member of my family) seem to lack the dexterity gene of putting a new roll of toilet paper ON the holder. So after seeing this again today I said “Gracie, go put the toilet paper on right.” This is what I found. It’s going to be a long 7 more years isn’t it?”

kids…love ‘em!


Everyday, Brenna is working on her 31 Day Nail Challenge. My first reaction was that it’s easy for her to do because she loves it and she’s just a kid. But the truth is she makes time to do it. And it takes a lot of work and patience. So after a particularly bad year of self neglect, and with Brenna as my inspiration, I’ve added a second resolution. (That’s right — I’m adding resolutions, while others are dropping theirs! Also, notice, I have yet to reveal my first resolution – because I haven’t done a thing about it.) OK, back to the second resolution. I am going to use hand cream for 31 Days. That probably seems like a lot of sentences to write about a little resolution. Well, you haven’t seen my hands. How hard could it be? I can already tell you that some days it will feel impossible. I’ve had this amazing hand cream on my desk since September when a friend gave it to me. That’s right, I looked at this for five months, and never opened it. So it might not be as easy as you think. But, I agree. It’s doable. #littlethings


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Remember last year when I told you about January Cookies? Well, today January Presents showed up! We exchanged presents with my Cousin Courtney (Cousin is a proper noun in this family!) when she showed up unexpectedly on January 14. I loved it. Of course, it helped that Courtney wrapped the presents in gold and white chevron. It felt more stylish and current than Christmas paper would have felt. It was as if our presents already realized their New Year’s Resolution and had a makeover!

So two things: 1) January Presents are fine by me! It really helps to have flexible deadlines on some items during the holidays, 2) if you take your decorations into January, paring down your décor to golds and silvers is a great way to go.

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And finally, an update on January Cookies . Daughter #2 informed me they were a complete failure, and she didn’t want to go that route again. She didn’t mention that last year when she was dipping them in milk…

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I love Brenna’s sixth grade teacher! I thought this was the most amazing gift that she gave to every student in the class. According to Brenna, it started like this: Mrs. L. wrote each student’s name on a blank sheet of paper. Then the paper was passed around the classroom and the students wrote down positive thoughts they had about that particular person. Nobody was allowed to see what anyone wrote about them. Mrs. L. later took all the words and organized them around the students’ names in bright colors (and I ran out of time with my holiday to –do list!) Finally, Mrs. L. framed the final product and gave them to the students, who by this time were sufficiently excited to see what was written.
(Read: they were out of their minds).

Brenna loved this gift. It was the gift of confidence from an adult outside her family. She sat quietly looking at it, and later explained the project to us, often mentioning just who wrote what. Can you imagine if you got a gift like that? In addition to fostering a child’s self- worth, Mrs. L. created such a neat atmosphere in the classroom, where the air was filled with everything that was great about each of the students. Maybe this should be mandatory in every work place! (Just kidding, right wing readers).

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Imagine what happens now if each parent hangs this present in the student’s home?
Of course, we promptly placed on the mantle where it became part of the decorations

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Yes, this is a Christmas Pyramid, or the closest thing we could get to it in the Burke house. The need for this architectural feat was revealed to me after a week of insane work travel with only hours to the deadline. (In retrospect, I was lucky I got the few extra design hours).

The scope of the project was revealed slowly, and I was lured into a sense that all was ok on the home front. I’d been away. They’d survived. Somehow everything was handled, except getting stuff together for the pyramid. Really? The Christmas Pyramid? Somehow that was left for me.

It didn’t sound awful at first, just annoying. Everyone had to bring in something to decorate the pyramid. Brenna’s class was learning about Egypt and instead of decorating gingerbread houses, Mrs. L’s class was going to decorate pyramids. Hurray for Mrs. L! She makes learning fun. I was exhausted, but what did I need to run out and pick up?

Uh, the pyramid? Well, what are the other kids bringing in? Heshey Kisses, gum drops, icing. Hershey kisses, gum drops, icing, and WE GOT PYRAMID? I looked at her face, and I just knew. You signed up for pyramid? You didn’t!!! She did.

My heart should have been warmed that she thought I could do it. That I would want to do it. But, it wasn’t. (Then at least.) Instead, like a scene from ‘Nam, flashes went through my head: ten cups cooked macaroni revealed at 7am same day they were due (Maeve in second grade). Four dozen cinnamon brownies for Spanish class (Maeve, 10th grade). Empanada dish (J., 7th grade). Pineapple smoothies (made to order no less in class, Brenna 4th grade) Four dozen cinnamon brownies (J., 9th grade) —wait didn’t I make these Spanish brownies already? Or was I so good at it, I got assigned them again?


So here’s the deal, as you can see in the time span of the above examples, kids don’t really get the hang of giving you notice on when to bring things in. And, they don’t make these things themselves. It doesn’t get better: “The teacher just told me! I forgot! College hinges on it! Please, I’m trying to make friends. Everyone wants empanadas!” You get the idea.

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What I’ve learned to do is to accept. Lord, grant me serenity for the things I cannot change. Yup, this is a childhood disease. I don’t know one mom friend who’s kid doesn’t have it. Also, if the whole class is bringing something in, don’t pay attention to the quantities. Whatever the first batch yields, that’s it. No matter what the assignment says. (trust me, half those cinnamon brownies will be back, but your containers won’t). And ask if they are actually going to eat it. Something makes me think those Egyptian pyramids might have gone up with hot glue…


This really happened, but it was a couple of years ago. Let’s say it’s not easy to forget. I was given a pair of car reindeer antlers by an adoring daughter who was sure she got me the perfect gift. I, gulp, put them on my car. Because it was the perfect gift. I was not breaking any hearts that Christmas.

If you have seen them, I’m referring to the kit that comes with a red nose for the center of your car’s grill, and two antlers that clip to the roof of your car. In under three minutes, my car was transformed into a mobile reindeer. Not your vision of motherhood? Just wait.

The first time I took my reindeer car out, of course, I was driving the kids somewhere. They loved it! And almost immediately, a strange occurrence. There was no driving stress for me. Drivers of reindeer cars don’t cut people off, or get annoyed at other drivers. In fact, drivers of reindeer cars let people in, yield and wave to other drivers, drive slowly. They enjoy the ride. I’d love to say the kids stopped fighting, but this isn’t a fantasy. Just us running around town, sporting a red nose and antlers.

With the kids in your car, you can just shrug your shoulders, and give other drivers that “what are you gonna do” look. But, the first time you drive a reindeer car without your kids – that’s a bit of an unnerving experience. Still, it’s too much of a hassle to take them on or off. You convince yourself, “I’m a grown up. I can drive a reindeer car.” You remind yourself of this the first time you stop to put gas in your reindeer car.

A funny thing happens when you drive a reindeer car. You start to spot other reindeer car drivers. That’s right. There’s a community! Reindeer cars are happy when they see each other! They honk! They wave! Instead of the finger, reindeer cars give you the thumbs up!

Which is why a few weeks into December, I was on the side of the road desperately searching for where my husband said the reindeer antler flew off. (Christmas is a magical time, and I unfortunately, am prone to believing anything). It couldn’t be found. What would happen now? Would the kids be disappointed? How would my reindeer friends know I was one of them?

We never found the missing antler. We did drive around as a disabled reindeer until the end of the season, mostly because we never came across another kit to buy. And, I never did get another. But driving that reindeer car changed me. Every year, I love spotting them on the road. I know they are happy people, and that makes me happy. I’m not there yet, but I don’t judge the cars with the big headlight eyelashes. It could happen to anybody.


Got to show Maeve Rodeo Drive. For a teenager she was sufficiently impressed (although not as impressed as going to the American Apparel Factory. If she ever sends me the pic, I’ll share). Of course, there was no parking. She said we didn’t have to get out. Even though we had to park blocks away, and had to cross paths with a senior citizen party bus loading up, I insisted. It was worth it. She even let me take her pic…one of my most successful parenting moments. ( I get it, she was dazzled by the materialism. I’m still counting it as a win. Until she puts a Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Jimmy Choo anything on her Christmas list…)


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Even if you love to bake, give yourself the treat of attending a bake sale this holiday season. Go for the home made cookies that are the most time consuming and add those into to your own holiday treats. Love those little church ladies who love to bake. They make us all look good.

Ziploc prep like to pros

Ziploc prep like the pros

I was delighted when Ziploc included me in their holiday round up of experts. Oh, dear Ziploc you do not know how I honor you daily as I pack those never ending lunches. Thank you for keeping their fritos safe and dry, their chips from spilling all over their backpacks, and jelly from a squished sandwich contained. You may have just found me, but I have loved you forever.

Check out the Ziploc post:

Thanksgiving Prep Like The Pros


Coleen Christian Burke is a holiday decorator for the White House. She recommends taking the family on an autumn hike to pick up seasonal treasures for your Thanksgiving display. “You can collect whatever catches your eye: twigs, berries, pinecones, etc.” she explains. “You can’t help but feel thankful when you bring nature into your home at Thanksgiving.”


I always smile when these turkeys come to town! Before the ice storm last year, I was rotting with turkeys. I didn’t have the space to display them all. So I’m extra thankful for these turkeys that survived. To make the display, I use tall glass vases and some white candle stick holders.


If you have a lot of turkeys, use different size vases to create different levels. Turkeys can be tricky– some stick with tape, others require sticky candle wax. (My go to magic adhesive for every occasion). Your kids will love seeing their artwork,


and you will love seeing what their little minds were thankful for!


Canaloween is an amazing idea! I heard about after it was over last year, and promised myself we’d go this year. Easier said than done, with two reluctant teenagers. At least my eleven year old wanted to go. You read it hear first, I am officially not dragging anyone to anything else. Those days where we could just go and do fun, campy things are over, and I begrudgingly accept it. That said, WE HAD A REALLY GREAT TIME! (that’s not denial, we did!)


So here’s the gist. We live in a place that has a beautiful canal that leads to the river. Some genius (I mean that in the nicest way, I wish it was my idea), decided it would be beautiful to come together as a community, carve jack-o-lanterns, line the canal path with them and take a candle lit stroll.


Local businesses sponsor the event, so its no cost to the families. They even provide all the tools. In the end, everyone had fun (one teenager even admitted it). And we can’t wait to come back tonight to see how it looks!



Halloween is a really fun time to help your community. The Moonlight Trail in Montclair, NJ is one great example. It’s run by Van Dyke Health Care. It’s a moonlit walk through over a thousand carved jack-o-lanterns. Some spooky, some sweet, all for a really good cause. And it’s a great place to take a shameless selfie.


The Moonligtht Trail raises money for the local food pantry. You can see by the set-up, how much fun it is…and how much work goes into getting it done.


All those pumpkins need to get carved, set-up and lit. Volunteers are always welcomed. Last year they raised almost $2,500. So get in on the fun. Find out what’s going on in your town. It’s a chance to be spooktacular. (sorry, couldn’t resist).



Life Rule #11 (ok, I just made that eleven number up. But, I feel like I should at least have eleven rules to live by at this point, right?). So back to #11: you must have art in your life. To do this, you must make friends with artists, if you are not lucky enough to be one yourself. The artist in this instance is my fabulous cousin Courtney. Maybe making friends with artists is too ambitious. Just go for one. Your life will be better. Check out Courtney’s art at #WatercolorWednesday.

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One of the best things about the first day of school is the memories you get to create. I absolutely love what my fabulous cousin Staci did chalking the word kindergarten in giant letters down her long driveway. And I think I just found my new favorite stylist in her daughter Carly Jane!! (Carly, I so love your dress and boots- please make me over!)

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It was a such hit, I’m afraid Staci’s going to have to do it every year!

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And it’s even better when the older kids will still pose! Here Carly Jane’s brother David gets ready for 5th grade. If you make it fun, you only have to force them a little bit — at least with my crew.

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What better way to run off to school on the very first day! Love it!

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The first day of any school can be nerve wracking for kids and moms. Even the bravest kids get butterflies. My little cousin Carly Jane got a letter from her teacher that she was not allowed to open until the night before the first day of school. She was super curious to say the least!


The big “night before” came and Carly Jane was finally able to open the letter. What we found, complete with confetti, is that Carly Jane had gotten herself the best teacher ever. I loved the letter so much, I posted the whole thing below. P.S. Carly Jane was delighted to sleep with it under her pillow.


Magic! Talk about a wonderful way to start the school year.


Before summer slips away there are four things you must do: look at the ocean (not on your phone, in real life), ride a bike, look at the stars and catch fireflies. You get extra credit for chalking the sidewalk and blowing bubbles.

Back to School Hacks because I’ve learned a thing or two….(or stolen them from my friends).

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1) Sharpie on a String. Oh, how I love my sharpie on a string. As somebody who can never find a pen, or one that writes, having a incredibly bold sharpie to put names on lunch bags, sign last minute forms, label clothes as the kids are going out the door, just makes my life easier. There’s something so permanent about a sharpie that it just makes me believe whatever is going out the door, just might come back.

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2) Create a downstairs Hair Station. I swear, there’s something about children that they just don’t like to go back upstairs by themselves once they come down. Save yourself time and aggravation by making a Hair Station. Everything is right where you need it. Even if you don’t have a downstairs bathroom, keep your hair products on the first floor. It’s a time saver.

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I thought I was so clever using ribbons for the barrettes. Let you know how that goes. Don’t forget your toothbrushes. They can move downstairs too.

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3) Set your house up like the Pros do. I stole this one from Brenna’s fourth grade teacher. Keep your supplies in see through jars (plastic is probably best) that kids can easily access. No wonder our school supply drawer was always a disaster. Kids need to be able to see what they need.

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4) Skip White Board Erasers. From that same wonderful teacher, I learned you don’t have to waste money on white board erasers. Old socks will do. Finally, I don’t feel so guilty about those socks who permanently lost their mates. Now my widowed socks have a whole new career.

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5). Save that Art/Use Archival Folders. I know we can save everything on our devices, but I’m Old School when it comes to my kids’ art work. I know it can be overwhelming, but I promise it goes away. I hardly get any new pieces these days & I treasure the ones I saved. In fact, one of my top mom moments, was when I heard my daughter’s little friend saying, “You’re so lucky, your mom always hangs your art up.” Oh, did I eat that up! So here’s what’s worked for me:

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I bought a few of these Archival Art Folders, which you get at art supply stores. They come in a bunch of sizes, and I went for the largest size. So I could drop anything in that came home without worrying about folding and crinkling stuff. Archival Folders are designed to protect and preserve paper. They also lay flat, so they can slide under beds or hang at the back of a closet. I labeled each one with a couple of holidays, and simply drop artwork in as it comes home. I love displaying their art through the year. Totally indulgent!!! But, I’ve grown tired of my ornate frame….I’m feeling a makeover coming on.

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Last year when we were moving, Good-Bye Mugs were one of those projects that really made me feel like I got it right as a mom. Brenna wanted to give her friends a little gift at the end of her going away party. Good Bye mugs were perfect because they allowed Brenna to feel connected to her friends as we prepared to move away. Plus, we love crafting!

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You will need mugs, chalk board paint, a paint brush and painter’s tape.

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If you want, you can rough up the area you plan to paint with sandpaper. It’s not necessary, but the paint will adhere faster. Then tape off the area with painter’s tape, paint and allow to dry over night.

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Even a year later, I still love looking at the little messages she wrote to her friends!

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July resolutions

One July day my youngest asked me, “Isn’t it time to make promises?” After some back and forth I figured out she was talking about New Year’s Resolutions. I told her we make those in January. To which she replied, “Well, I think we should make them in July.” I’ve decided she was right! It’s much easier to make a resolution in July. There’s less distraction. Less stress. July is a much better time to make changes. And if you don’t feel like taking on something brand new, it’s a great time to circle back to the resolution you did make in December.

Happy July Resolutions!


When our home was destroyed last winter by a burst pipe, we were left with next to nothing. When it came time to go back to school, we had no computers, no books, no paper or even a pencil. It made an impression on all three kids to say the least. Taking a page from the world according to Oprah, I knew we all would feel better about our situation if we somehow tried to help others. And that is the short story of how the living room in our temporary housing came to look like a Staples store had exploded.


The idea actually started with my son J.’s teacher. She mentioned that almost new school supplies go into the trash at the end of every year. In June, we set up boxes to collect gently used school supplies, and we got more than we bargained for. We lugged all the stuff home and started the triage. We divided our haul into three piles: trash, good as new, and hospital. The hospital pile required tender love and care. We got a God wink when we realized we were in dire need of a good eraser, and two suddenly appeared in the next box. Rubbing alcohol, hair spray and nail polisher remover helped us remove names, subjects, and occasionally, who was in love with who.


In the end, we collected an enormous amount of binders (who knew drab green was so popular!), marble notebooks, spiral notebooks, pencil cases, paper, and even a few calculators. Our first thought was that we could ship them to a school overseas, but the freight was prohibitive. We ended up donating them to a soup kitchen, whose patrons were in dire need. It made us feel like we had A LOT. And we do.

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If I cursed, I might be cursing about now. How did my daughter get to be 16? I love and cherish her….but 16, are you kidding? And what happened? We somehow forgot to save for college, which is now just around the corner. And apologies about not being able to throw that big debutante ball! (which you know I am only half kidding about. I would really, really like to go to a debutante ball starring my feminist, sometimes goth, sixteen year old).

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Still, 16 calls for cake. As many layers as you can possibly get. Throw in some flowers — they’re all edible, right?

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Kids are great for inspiring creativity (that’s when they aren’t zapping it out of you!), and there’s nothing like a school art show to inspire, amaze, and plain make you smile. Here’s a couple of things that caught my eye this year, and left me amazed at imagination run wild.

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I mean, who wouldn’t want a giant, oversized box of crayons and paint? This one left me feeling deprived!

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And of course, inspiration from my very own artist.

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My son J. made his Confirmation this year, and we had a party to celebrate. (He’s 13). When it’s a special occasion, I try to think of ways the kids can participate in getting ready for the party. A favorite is having them help with the “take home” gift bag each guest is given. J. loves chocolate bark, so that was the winner. We put the bark in cellophane bags ( read: I made it), and J. personalized the tags by writing “Thank You” on each one. Did he love it? Let’s say he endured it!

But for me, it served many purposes:
1) It was a special party for J. I wanted him to see it required special effort.
2) I wanted to J. to realize his guests were going to a lot of trouble to come to his party.
3) J.’s job at the end of the party, was to give each guest a party favor when they were leaving. This forced him to look each guest/adult in the eye and personally say “Thank You.”
4) The final benefit was to me. The bark looked great displayed in a big bowl, and added to the party décor. I love decorating for a party.

I know what your thinking, is she done torturing her kid yet? The answer is…No! He still has to write “Thank Yous.” All this was not appropriate when he was younger, but it is appropriate at 13.

Tip – I learned the hard way, don’t cash the checks until the Thank Yous are done. We usually let our kids keep some part of the gift money they receive for special occasions. Getting to spend that money is an incentive to write those notes. Plus, having all those addresses right on the check is a real time saver.

It’s been three weeks…..we’re almost done.

If you want an easy recipe for chocolate bark, check out my ehow video. It’s not just for Christmas!

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If you learn nothing else reading this blog, remember you must have bubbly on your birthday. This year I was lucky enough to be served in a glass that had my “B” monogram — it had nothing to do with the fact the restaurant’s name started with a B.

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Random things I found on vacation, that I loved, and that convinced me I need to go on vacation even more!

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And yes, my friends were horrified, that I gathered up about thirty pounds of these beautiful white ocean rocks, and packed them in my suitcase. I tried to convince them I knew just what I was going to do with them. Check back to see how it works out.

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Life Lesson not to be messed with: try on bathing suit in February. Yes, February. That’s when you still have enough time to maybe get it together for the summer. Try to stick to this rule. That’s when the bathing suits first hit the store racks, so you have more options. It is also the only time you are allowed to buy a bathing suit that is tight.

I bought a new bathing suit in February this year, and actually wore it in February! For the first time in forever, I went on a vacation with friends. Requirements for a beach body in February, are far less stringent in my book. It’s like a dress rehearsal. Everyone should realize you are not quite ready for the main show. Hence, the picture in the cover-up. I know what I need to do. Check back in summer to see if I can actually do it. WARNING: high likelihood of another cover-up shot.

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Although we just moved back last summer, I grew up in Pennsylvania near the banks of the Delaware River. Never, ever did I see a winter that turned the river into a jam of ice. I knew this was a spectacular event, that might not happen again. My three kids were less convinced. They fought me, and each other, all the way to see this natural wonder.

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An extreme version of my yearly winter walk, the frozen river provided the type of awe only nature can deliver. Even the kids got it. Miracles do happen. They were amazed and I was right. Totally worth the hassle.

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There are a few promises I’ve made to myself, and one of them is to take a walk after it snows (or while it’s snowing!), at least once each winter. The winter landscape puts everything into prospective– so you think I’d jump at the chance to pull on my boots, right? Not always so. Sometimes, I have to force myself out the door, but in the end I am always thankful I do. Snowfall is a gift — take a moment to enjoy!

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If you’re like me, you might just run out of time to do everything you want to do before Christmas. That’s what inspired “January Cookies” in our house. I decided not to beat myself up when we did not get to make our annual sugar cookies before the big deadline. Instead, we just mixed it up by making our cookies in January. We even added some blue sprinkles to celebrate winter.

Guess what? We still had fun. January Cookies taste just as good with milk. And I like to think I gave my kids a gift, that might just last until they are adults. When they grow up, I hope they don’t drive themselves crazy trying to squeeze everything into 25 days. Maybe they’ll remember January Cookies and give themselves a break.

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Next year, I’m still aiming to make cookies in December. But I know it’s not the end of the world if they get pushed to January. It just makes the makes the season last a little longer.

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I got a kick out of watching my teen age daughter get TV ready for her first on camera interview! Here’s the back story:
This year, I was thrilled when I got to be part of the decorating team for First Lady Michelle Obama. I was even more thrilled when I got to bring my teenage daughter Maeve to see the decorations in D.C. Then my friend Lynn Doyle, host of Comcast’s “It’s Your Call,” invited both Maeve and I to be guests on her show! I talked about the history of White House Christmas decorating and Maeve talked about what it was like to go to a White House Holiday Party. I know I had more fun then she did, but it was pretty awesome. Moms of teenagers don’t often get the chance to be cool!

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Here’s we are on set. Not bad, huh?

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