Thursday, June 26, 2014

Blog Roundup - Top 5 Posts of All Time

Every time I look at my blog, I think of ideas for a redesign. Between creating gift baskets, enhancing Thoughtful Presence website, planning contests and giveaways (hint, hint, one is coming soon!), it's hard to find the time (um, or budget) to redesign my lifestyle blog. Ah well, one of these days, it will happen!

The other day, as I was looking at the site, I recognized that my top blog post of all time had over 1100 views. That might not be a lot for some bigger blogs, but for me, it was a big deal! That post was written about puzzles over a year ago. Who knew so many people were into puzzles! It was actually about Scramble Squares, specifically.  I know from calls I've received over time that Scramble Squares are very popular and can be hard to find. Last Christmas I sold a bunch of them to a customer who wanted them for all of her nieces and nephews. No gift baskets needed, just the puzzles.

Anyway, that got me thinking it's time for a roundup of my top blog posts of all time. So I haven't done a weekly roundup or monthly as some blogs do, but I do enjoy some of my old posts and if you haven't seen them, you may enjoy them too. So after this roundup, I may occasionally republish some of my old favorites, hoping you will enjoy them again too!

Stay tuned, and here are my top 5:

Unique Gift Ideas, Themed Puzzles Add Pizzazz

Unique Party Themes and Gift Baskets - In Celebration of the Hot Air Balloon

5 Baby Shower Themes to Love

New Baby Gift Baskets - Something for Everyone

10 Fun Healthy Snacks for Kids

Have a happy day!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Favorite Summertime Recipe: Pasta Salad with Smoked Mozzarella, Sun-dried Tomatoes and Olives

This is one of my favorite pasta salads. The sun-dried tomatoes add a little bit of sweet flavor to the smokiness of the cheese and the tart vinaigrette dressing.  It just contains all of my favorite things - olives, cheeses - smoked and parmesan, basil and capers. Enjoy!

  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/8 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 T. drained capers
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 lb. fusilli pasta
  • 12 oz. tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 8 oz. smoked mozzarella or smoked provolone cheese, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1-1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved


  1. Blend first 5 ingredients in processor until tomatoes are coarsely chopped. More oil can be added as needed for taste and consistency, but I like to start with less. Set dressing aside.
  2. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water. Drain. Transfer to large bowl. 
  3.  Add dressing to hot pasta; toss to coat. Cool, stirring occasionally. 
  4. Add chopped fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, Parmesan and olives; toss. 
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover; chill. Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What My Dad Taught Me

My Dad passed away 5 years ago. He was 94 and in near-perfect health until the age of about 90 when prostate cancer was diagnosed. He still lived independently, although with lots of visits and meals brought over by my brothers and me. My mom died 10 years before him, so after 50 years of sharing his life, he managed 10 years on his own.

My mom lived 25 years with Parkinson's Disease before much was known about it. Michael J. Fox went public with his diagnosis shortly after my mom died and then it became well-known. During the last 9 months of my mom's life, my Dad cared for her lovingly, unconditionally, and without hesitation. The doctors recommended a nursing home, but he would not hear of it. After she passed I knew there was no greater love than what I had witnessed for the last 9 months.  

My Dad moved into a smaller home, nearer to my brothers and their families, where he would spend the next ten years enjoying his grandchildren immensely. At the same time, I bought a newly built home myself and stayed with him for 3 months while my house was under construction. I didn't think much of it at the time; it just worked out best. I found out later that my being there with him those first 3 months was a true blessing. This strong, cheerful, quiet man was nervous about the newness - new home, new appliances, new neighborhood, and he felt my presence was a blessing. I guess it didn't just work out that way, but rather was meant to be. He adjusted during those 3 months, while I never even knew he had a concern. I am grateful for that time with him.

My Dad died a beautiful death, in his home with all of his family around him. While he was in a coma at the very end, we spoke to him and could see reaction from within. We watched him take his last breath and the next night he appeared in my sleep and told me, "Everything will be okay. Mummy and I will be waiting for you in heaven." I was so moved and so pleased that he was back with his one true love. 

My Dad taught me true, unconditional love for spouse and children. I was engaged and married on Father's Day weekend and every year I get to celebrate the man who taught me about true and unconditional love, and the man who is that for me now.

Happy Father's Day, Boss!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Spring Tablescape Series: Outdoor BBQ

This is the last in our series of Spring tablescapes, and just in time for Father's Day, we've chosen some great looking table ideas for your Father's Day BBQ! And if you haven't seen our store blog, we just shared a fabulous marinade from our favorite BBQ Bible by Steve Raichlen. It works well with meat, chicken, pork or salmon (all heartier meats). You can find it here.

Now onto our favorite BBQ tables:

If your Dad is into sailing, create this great "Set Sail" theme for your table. Party Bluprints has easy-to-follow instructions for this nautical setting:

Taken from Party Bluprints

Table Twenty-one does tradition right with this red and white checkered tablecloth and rustic setting that screams grillers' delight! You may need to buy a few items to recreate this look, but local dollar stores and outlets like TJ Maxx and Homegoods should have similar items at a reasonable price. I especially love the mason jars for drinks and the old fashioned ketchup and mustard bottles.

Taken from Table Twenty-one

For the Golfer Dad, Party Pinching has some great inspiration for creating a golf themed table setting. Many of the items used to create this look can be found at your local dollar store as well.

Taken from Party Pinching

And lastly, if the Dad in your life is outdoorsy kind of guy (hiking, camping), very Rosenberry has found some amazing ideas for this table theme. I did save the best for last as this one is definitely my favorite!
Taken from very Rosenberry

What's your favorite Father's Day theme?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Best Camping Food Recipes

We are big campers, usually striving for about 3 camping trips per season. I love the outdoors, the beauty of nature, and feeling so relaxed and carefree.  Of course, I don't love the bugs or the occasional loss of a pork chop to a raccoon, but as girls in the woods, we deal as best we can!

We are tent campers, and yes, that is our tent in the picture. We don't wear make-up or style our hair, and we wear technical shirts and zip-away pants. But one thing we don't skimp on is our food (uh, or cocktails)!

We take gourmet camping cooking to a new level, and I know (from a little internet surfing) that we are not alone. We do things like Italian sausage cooked over the fire, pasta cooked on our Coleman stove, and Caesar salad in a bag. We do French toast with bacon or sausage and fresh fruit. Every meal is different, sometimes meat, sometimes fish, sometime vegetarian. Always an appetizer, a couple of sides, and dessert. Late night snacks include peanuts with shells thrown into the fire, toasted marshmallows and s'mores, and jiffy pop popped over the fire. That last one is a tricky one!

With that, I give you my favorite homemade granola recipe. Not to be made at the campsite, but baked a couple of days ahead and brought along for breakfast. Enjoy!

This recipe is originally taken from an old cookbook I have from Country Living Magazine, Country Mornings Cookbook.

Crunchy Almond Granola

Makes 10 cups


5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups wheat bran cereal
1 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup sunflower oil
1 cup dark seedless raisins (or craisins)


1. Heat oven to 300. Line a large, shallow baking pan with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, combine the oats, bran cereal, almonds, sunflower seeds, and cinnamon.

2. In a 1-quart saucepan, heat the honey and oil just until bubbles appear around the side of the pan. Pour the honey mixture over the oat mixture and toss until well combined.

3. Spread the granola evenly in the foil-lined pan. Bake 40-50 minutes, or until the cereal is golden, stirring it every 10 minutes. Stir in the raisins. Cool and store in an airtight container.

If you have a favorite camping dish, please share it with us in the comments.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Spring Tablescape Series: Backyard Wedding Brunch

In our family we've had 3 weddings in 2 years, that's 3 sisters married within 2 years! No, not my daughters, but my nieces, and the third is actually next weekend. So needless to say, I have weddings first and foremost on my mind! What do I wear to the rehearsal? Which dress for the wedding, one of my previous or buy new? Which cookies should I bake for the sweet table? What exactly is garden party attire? I think I know that one, but my husband is still a bit unsure! Ah well, I still have a week to figure all of that out. Now on to the subject at hand...

When the first of my 3 nieces got married, her parents hosted a backyard brunch the morning after the wedding. It was a nice, casual way to enjoy the day after the festivities with family and friends. With that in mind, I gathered up a bunch of ideas for hosting a backyard wedding brunch. If you have such an occasion on the horizon, pick and choose from these ideas, and make them your own. If nothing to host on the horizon, simply enjoy or modify these ideas to suit another occasion!

Note some of these ideas are suitable for either a day-after brunch or an actual backyard wedding.

From The Treat Table, I love this look. This is actually a fall backyard wedding brunch but easily adaptable with summer colors. Of course, perhaps you are planning a fall wedding, in which case this is perfect!  I really love the cake :)

Photo taken from The Treat Table

Bloody Mary's are big in my family on the holidays, so when I saw this from SouthBound Bride, I had to include it. If you and your guests are into bloody Mary's, set up a bar with lots of garnish selections (or hot sauce if so inclined)!

Photo taken from SouthBound bride

HWTM has a post on whimsical wedding ideas, and I love a lot of what they've done here, so take a look at the whole post. There's lots of pictures. One of my favorite ideas is individual jars or clear vases with single stemmed flowers placed all around the table. Choose the flowers based on their wedding flowers or colors.


I also especially love this ideas with the coffee mugs spelling out "LOVE". (All photos taken from HWTM)

Kara's Party Ideas always has something worth checking out.  This one is a vintage style wedding, but I love the "Love is Sweet" banner for the sweet table, and added decor around the table such as the vintage bike add to the theme.

And since June is the month of Roses and Pearls, make sure your sweet table includes these fabulously decorated cupcakes. If you're a baker and decorator, you can simulate these or print out the photo and take it to your bakery.

Have a happy day!