Movie Night with Pillow Forts and Pop Secret!

This post is sponsored by Pop Secret. All opinions (and pillow fort design) are mine alone.
#PopSecretForts

fort

Who didn’t ever make a pillow or blanket fort when they were a kid? We used to do it all the time. We had two large sofas and a big corner table in our family room that you could crawl under. We would move the sofa cushions around so they were standing up and drape blankets across everything so we could hide underneath. It was awesome. It’s part of childhood… and even though my kids are 15, 12 and 10, I still catch them with forts in their bedrooms every now and then. Not sure what it is about “hiding” underneath a ton of blankets but it is FUN.

We try and do a Family Movie Night every Friday night in my house… it’s something we all really look forward to. Sometimes we’ll pick a movie from Redbox or Netflix, other times we’ll  just catch up on TV shows that we’ve recorded. Either way, we make some snacks and all settle in together for some family bonding.

When I suggested that we make some caramel popcorn for our movie night, I heard a few screams in my house. If you’ve never made it yourself it’s incredibly easy to do… and really tastes so much better than store-bought. I started with Pop-Secret because it’s so fast and easy to make in the microwave. My husband insisted we buy the Kettle Corn, but you can use whatever flavors you like.

pop1

It only takes a few ingredients:

3 bags of Pop Secret popcorn – already popped
1/2 cup of butter
1 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of corn syrup
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cream of tarter (don’t ask me why but it’s in the recipe)
1/4 tsp. baking soda

Heat all the ingredients EXCEPT the baking soda in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the baking soda. Spread out the popcorn on 2 baking sheets and drizzle the caramel mixture over the popcorn. With a spatula, turn the popcorn over until it’s pretty much all coated. Bake in a 200 degree preheated oven for an hour, turning occasionally.

popcollage

 

WARNING: This is NOT going to last very long. It’s amazing… seriously! The perfect snack for movie night.

Of course, while I was making the caramel popcorn, the kids were busy doing what kids do: building a fort!

 

fort2

Think there is any room for me in there?

laurynpopcorn

WAIT! Don’t eat all the popcorn… we haven’t even put the movie in yet!

Making your own pillow fort? You can submit your photo to Pop Secret’s Facebook page for a chance to receive a fun prize pack and other surprises! While you’re over there, download a coupon for $1.00 Pop Secret microwave popcorn.

 


Setting Goals: Home, Career, and Vitamin C

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias and its Advertiser.
All thoughts and opinions are mine and mine alone and should not be construed as medical advice.
#24HourEsterC #CollectiveBias

esterc

I’ve been writing a lot about setting goals the past few weeks. Resolutions are out the window (so old school). The problem is that goal setting doesn’t have to encompass just one area of your life. Goals setting should cover ALL aspects of your life, including your home goals, your career goals, and your physical goals… even things as easy as adding in some more Vitamin C.

I’ve gathered a bunch of things that are going to help me focus on what goals I need to make and I want to run them all down for you so you can get an idea of how they will all work together to make 2015 an even better  year than 2014.

Home Goals

We tend to always focus on the larger picture when it comes to goal setting. We want bigger and better jobs, things, travel plans. We tend to forget that if our home isn’t a calm and happy one, most of the bigger things just aren’t going to happen. So focus on your home this year and make it your sanctuary of peace and calm.

esterc collage

  1. Everything in it’s place. I’m determined to get better organized in 2015. That means the physical condition of my home as well. I’m so tired of  not being able to find anything… and I’m tired of the kids leaving shoes, backpacks, books, socks, everywhere BUT their bedrooms. I’m going room by room making sure everything has it’s own place to live. Socks do NOT live under my couch!
  2. Chores… the kids make the messes, they can be responsible to clean them up. We have had chore charts in the past, but as parents, we are really bad at making sure they are followed. Now that I’m working pretty much full time, I don’t have the extra hours in the day to pick up after the kids, do laundry, dishes, prepare meals, etc. It’s time the entire family starts pulling their weight. Time for the kids to step up and learn how to manage a house.
  3. Meal Planning. This has always eluded me for some reason. I’m so bad at planning meals and it really has gotten out of control. We eat out way more than I’d like to (see Heath Goals below) and it’s expensive as well. I have so many friends who are very successful with their weekly and monthly meal plans that I’m going to do my best to start focusing on pre-planning in the new year. I downloaded this printable online that I’m going to use. Wish me luck!

Career Goals

We tend to set unrealistic career goals, don’t you think? We want to be a CEO or have a million dollars… sure, that’s great. But what we don’t ever consider is HOW we are going to get there. When you set career goals, make sure you plan out exactly WHAT you are going to do to GET to the place you want to be.

calendar

  1. Do something every day that is going to bring in new business. For me, this will most likely be things as simple as making a new contact (in real life or online), writing a new, valuable blog post for my business, commenting on a potential new client’s blog or Facebook page. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time… just let people know you are here and you provide a service (or product) they need.
  2. Do something extra for the client’s I already have. I spend a lot of time researching my client’s industries and creating unique strategies for them to market their business. Sometimes this goes above and beyond my scope of work (and often times my pay grade) but I do it to add value to what I already offer. I want to be the one who goes above and beyond… because I want to be the one they keep hiring and keep recommending.
  3. Try new things. Sure, my business is in blogging and social media, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t try other avenues. I’m considering adding video (considering… it scares me a ton), but whatever I do, I know that sitting at doing nothing more than I’m doing now isn’t going to get me where I want to go.

Health Goals

We try really hard to take care of ourselves, but we know we can definitely do more. We are a busy family and none of us has time to be out of commission, even for a few days. We’ve got to make sure we are in top fighting form.

tennis

 

  1. Eat right. We are pretty good eaters and love veggies, but I have to admit I’ve been slacking a little lately. It’s hard around the holidays to serve great meals when there is so many chances to just grab a bit while you’re out shopping. Sounds trite, but when you are getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet, your immune system can better fight off the germs. Since I’m working harder on meal planning, part of my goal is to make sure those meals are better for us.
  2. Exercise. It’s not only for your weight, but exercise supports your immunity to help you fight the germs that are floating around. Even a 20 minute walk a day is going to do wonders.
  3. Load up on Vitamin C. Seriously, we are kind of crazy over here about it. My husband has always been a huge Vitamin C fan and now all of us make sure we have extra on a daily basis. Aside from citrus juices that we drink every day (orange and grapefruit), we’ve been adding more Vitamin C with Ester-C 24 Hour Immune Support. I purchased the 500 mg tablets and 2 of these each day stay in your white blood cells longer than regular Vitamin C tablets to give you 24 hour immune support. Plus, they are non-GMO and are gentle on your stomach. We get ours at Walmart since it’s convenient (I’m there several times a week anyway) and they usually have the best prices. Gotta love a Rollback!

esterc1

 

esterc

 Follow Ester-C on Facebook and Twitter for immune support information.

Goals… they don’t have to be difficult and they don’t have to be scary. Do small things that will yield a big impact. I want you to end 2015 in a much better position than you are starting. Even if you are starting out pretty great (like I am), there is always room for improvement.

So tell me… what baby steps are you taking to make 2015 your best year yet?

 

Ester C Bottom Disclosure


Celebrating Friendship This Valentine’s Day with M&M’s® Red Velvet White Chocolate Bark

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser.
All opinions are mine alone. #RedVelvetLove #CollectiveBias

barkfriends2

Valentine’s Day is typically known as the day you tell your sweetheart you love them. Okay, we all know it’s a made-up holiday, despite the fact that there really was a St. Valentine. It’s a great time for retailers, but it’s also a nice opportunity to tell some of those “other” people in your life how you really feel about them: your friends.

I always give my husband and kids a little something on Valentine’s Day – cards, candy, you know the drill. And even though the kids used to do class Valentine’s treats when they were younger, they don’t do it anymore. I thought it was kind of nice that they had the chance to tell their friends how they felt about them (even though they were expected to give them to the entire class… even the kids they didn’t really like all that much). Adults just don’t have anything similar – a special way to tell our friends how much they mean to us.

I’m not sure where I would be without the incredible friends I have. I turn to them more than I do my family sometimes. They are the ones that share my struggles and triumphs with me… and they are my sounding board for new ideas, family issues, and even parenting tips. This Valentine’s Day I wanted to make sure they know what they mean to me. My friends ARE my family. They are that important. I decided to make them something special from my heart: M&M’s® Red Velvet White Chocolate Bark.

I picked up all the ingredients I needed for my complete Valentine’s project at Walmart. There is something about walking down the candy aisle and seeing the crazy amounts of candy available. It’s like I just want to buy them all… which would make my kids really happy… and which is why I went shopping on this particular trip without them.

candycollage

I love the holidays when all the fun flavors come out. I’m dying to try the M&M’s® Red Velvet… and I also picked up some Dove® Promises. I also picked up a few other items to present my M&M’s® Red Velvet bark in. I’m so excited for this project.

friends

There really isn’t much to this recipe, but there are a few tips I’ll give you as well.

Ingredients:

2 bags of white chocolate chips (the better quality, the better your bark will taste)
1 9.9 oz. bag of M&M’s® Red Velvet (or you could use the milk chocolate, peanut or peanut butter varieties)

mmshop2

Direction:

There are two ways of melting chocolate: either in the microwave or in a double broiler on the stove. For chocolate chips, it will be much faster to use the microwave and your chocolate will come out creamier. The trick is to put both bags of chips into a large microwave-safe bowl and set your timer for 1 minute. After a minute, the chips will look intact, but when you mix them with a spatula, they will start to melt and blend. You may need to stick the bowl back in the microwave for another 10 – 20 seconds, but do not do it any more than that. Chips WILL burn if they are microwaved too long. (I learned that the hard way.) Better to do a few seconds at a time than to have a bowl of burnt chocolate. What a waste!

meltedchocolate

Spread the creamy white chocolate onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. You can use aluminum foil if you don’t have parchment paper… but I love parchment paper for baking so I highly recommend you have some around at all times.

barkcollage

DO NOT MIX THE M&M’s® in with the white chocolate. You will regret it. They will start to melt (which will make your bark a huge mess) and they will be coated in the white chocolate which won’t look so pretty.

Stick the entire cookie sheet in the refrigerator to let the chocolate harden. Meanwhile… you can work on the other special treat for your friends.

I admit it… I love candy. I always have a little something around for when I’m working. I like a sweet snack every now and then… who doesn’t? I know my friends are the same way so I wanted to do something to let them know how much they  mean to me… and I wanted to give them something that would be around long after the candy is gone.

I had seen Sharpie decorated dish ware on Pinterest and I’ve always wanted to try it myself. I thought this would be the perfect time. I bought some cute little candy dishes at Walmart and I got my Sharpies out to decorate them. The beauty about this is that you can do dishes, mugs, platters… any kind of clean, white porcelain. You can use any Sharpie color you want as well, although I’m using black because some of the other fun colors don’t show up as well. I found a few special Friend Quotes online and used them on my candy dishes.

Make sure the surface is completely clean. Be creative!

dishcollage

When you have your design completed, set the dish ware on the center rack of your oven… a cold oven. Then you’ll turn the oven to 350 degrees. You want the dishes to warm up with the heat so a) they won’t crack and b) the marker gets baked in really well so it won’t smudge off.

Bake for 30 minutes and then turn the oven off and leave the dishes inside the oven to cool for at least 30 minutes. Take them out and you’re done. The marker will be baked in and shouldn’t be able to be washed off. I would NOT recommend putting these in the dishwasher, however. Why take a chance?

Now the fun part!

barkfriends1

 

barkplate

If you are an M&M® fan, you should follow them on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and YouTube… because who doesn’t want to watch all those adorable M&M commercials. 

If you are feeling ambitious and want to create something magical with M&M’s® Red Velvet yourself, There will be a Pinterest contest with this campaign, so please focus on large, beautiful photos and pinnable images. We are looking for vertically-oriented images with a width of at least 600px. The ideal size of an image for Pinterest is 600px by 1200px and can be a full image or a beautifully designed collage. In-store photos are not ideal for a Pinterest image. These should be beautifully designed photos of your creation or a collage of your party decorations and creations. Some examples of great photos for a Pinterest contest are below:

So tell me… how do YOU celebrate Valentine’s Day with your friends?

4.0 from 1 reviews
Celebrating Friendship This Valentine's Day with M&M's® Red Velvet White Chocolate Bark
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Easy white chocolate bark for Valentine's Day and any day!
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Ingredients
  • 2 bags good quality white chocolate chips
  • 1 9.9 oz. bag M&M's® Red Velvet
Instructions
  1. Pour the 2 bags of white chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl.
  2. Microwave for 1 minute and then stir the chips to melt.
  3. If necessary, heat for 10 - 20 seconds more and stir again.
  4. Mixture should be creamy and not lumpy. Do not over heat or the chocolate will burn.
  5. Spread onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  6. Add M&M's to the top of the chocolate. Do not mix in with the chocolate.
  7. Refrigerate until hardened.
  8. Break apart and enjoy.

 


Getting Back Into the Groove

After three weeks of a full house, the quiet is a little disconcerting. As much as I looked forward to going back to our regular routine, I miss the girls waking late and shuffling about the kitchen in their pajamas wondering what they were going to have for breakfast. Despite not being able to get as much done during the day as I wanted to, I miss them all being around.

Three weeks was a long time to get out of our school/work routine and it’s hard to go back. This past weekend we celebrated Temera’s 15th birthday and I took a much needed weekend off from work. I usually tend to grab and hour here and there, but I unplugged (at least from my computer if not my phone) and enjoyed the time off.

Friday night I went with my friend Melissa to see a taping of the TV show “Mom” at Warner Brothers Studios. Her step mother was in this particular episode and invited us. I don’t watch a lot of sitcoms anymore… I’m usually busy with the kids between 8 – 10 at night and I’m lucky if I can get some time to catch up on the recorded shows I like. But “Mom” is actually one of the ones that is really funny… not like it’s trying to be funny… I just think Allison Janney is absolutely hysterical… and Anna Faris, well, she just rocks in everything she does.

mom

If you have a chance to go see a taping of the show, definitely go. They even give provide you with pizza for dinner. Seriously… thank you Antonio’s for providing the pizza for the entire audience.

After the show we had the chance to take a walk around the sets with Beth Hall. Of course, I had to tone down my fan girl side. Beth also plays Caroline, Roger’s secretary on Mad Men. I remained cool and collected… I think.

Saturday was filled with birthday festivities! I’m still having a hard time with the fact that I have a 15 year old daughter. We spent the day together at the hair salon (thank you Adrienne), had lunch at Tea Elle Garden Cafe, got our nails done at Nail Garden, and did some serious shopping. We met the rest of the family for dinner at Solita and topped it off with a stop at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. We know how to do birthdays right in our family!

So… back to the grind. The kids are already wishing for summer break. Can’t say I blame them.


Gourmet Lunch On The Go

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser.
All opinions are mine alone. #LoveLunchIn #CollectiveBias

soupphoto

I’ve never been a breakfast person. Give me my cup of coffee (or twelve) and I’m happy, but around lunchtime I get pretty hungry and I am NOT a peanut butter and jelly fan. I love going out to lunch, but now that I’m a working gal again, I don’t have time. I typically eat right at my desk while I’m working so I need meals that are super fast to prepare, but super delicious… and meals that make me feel like I’m eating something extra special… because this year it’s all about changing habits… including my meal choices. And having a gourmet lunch includes Campbell’s Slow Kettle Soup.

soup1

A few days a week I work in my home office, the other days I’m going to start working outside my home and I’ll have to actually bring my lunch with me. I’ve been looking for quick and easy meals and ones that I can stock up on that will save me time and money during the week. One of my favorite things to eat during the day is soup (probably because it’s been so cold and dreary out lately). While at home, I can heat it up on the stovetop in minutes and when I’m in an outside office, I can heat it up in the microwave. And with a few added gourmet touches thrown in, you will be rocking that lunch thing in no time.

I got several different kinds of soup at Walmart to prepare for the upcoming week. My favorites are the Creamy Broccoli Cheddar Bisque, the New England Clam Chowder and the Tomato & Sweet Basil Bisque. I thought I’d give you an idea of how I’m jazzing up my lunch.

New England Clam Chowder has always screamed to me BREAD BOWL! You can purchase small, individual sized sourdough bread bowls at most grocery stores. Just heat up your soup on the stovetop or microwave and pour into a cored out round loaf. You’ll feel like you are eating at a seaside cafe.

breadcollage

breadbowl

When I have a craving for Creamy Broccoli Cheddar Bisque, I usually want some homemade parmesan crisps with it. I love making these crisps because they are easy and will keep for a few days. Not that they actually keep for more than a few hours in my house. The kids love to snack on them too so I have to make sure I bag some up for ME when I know I’m going to be wanting them for lunch.

broccoli3

All you need is some pita bread, melted butter and parmesan cheese. I use the grated kind because it’s easy to shake on the pita bites. Cut up your pita bread and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Brush on some melted butter and shake on that parmesan cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until slightly toasted and browned. Don’t overcook because they burn easily. Serve warm or cooled.

crispcollage

And when it’s a Tomato & Sweet Basil Bisque kind of day, it’s a grilled cheese all the way. I love mixing my sandwiches with a variety of cheeses – it just comes out tasting so much more gourmet. Some of my favorites are cheddar and swiss, or brie and gouda. Mix and match and play around with flavors. I also like adding tomato and mustard – they really give your grilled cheese a not-so-typical taste that makes you feel like you are treating yourself to something special.

grilledcheese1

For good measure, add a little goat cheese to your Tomato Soup. You only need a drop and you will be amazed at the flavor sensation you’ll get out of your soup.

tomato

Have I made you hungry yet? Ready to make some lunch and get back to work? Campbell’s Slow Kettle Style Soup is offering a coupon for $0.75. Grab the coupon and turn your lunch into something special.

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 12.20.24 PM

I would love to hear what your go-to lunches are. What are your favorites during your busy week?