Happy 2016!

As I am writing my 100th post on the last day of 2015, I thought it would be a good time to share some inspirational quotes for 2016, which I just know will be a refreshing and fantastic new year!  Here we go:

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And for all of us wanting to get healthy this year, here’s one to remember:

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What are some of your favorite quotes?  I’d love to hear…

Happy New Year!

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Turrónes at Christmastime

As a Cuban-American, every year my family and I look forward to Noche Buena, Christmas Eve.  I have the best memories of Noche Buena growing up. While I love my American traditions, there are things that are unique to my Cuban culture, of which I am very proud of.  You see, many Latin families make a bigger deal sometimes about Noche Buena than Christmas Day. On Noche Buena, we gather our huge families, while enjoying our traditional recipes and celebrate the holiday. However, we never want to overlook the importance of Christmas Day, so of course we meet again on the 25th after attending mass, to open gifts, celebrate the birth of Jesus and of course, eat the leftovers from the previous evening. Noche Buena meals consist of some very important staples, such as, lechon asado (roast pork), rice and beans, yuca and fried plantains. After dinner, we all drink my aunt’s Creme de Vie, a sweet Cuban version of egg nog, (I would give you the recipe but then I would have to kill you…as our family’s recipe has a secret ingredient that I have not seen in any other recipe I have come across. But here’s a similar one). And last but certainly not least, comes dessert, where some eat flan, but most eat turrónes (Pronounced TOO-RON-EHS).  What are turrónes you say? Turrón is a nougat confection, typically made of honey, sugar, and egg white, with toasted almonds or other nuts, and usually shaped into either a rectangular tablet or a round cake. Growing up I remember the simple ones made of almonds, nuts and egg yolk (my hubby’s favorite, yema), but nowadays there are many more varieties, from chocolate coated to fruit filled.

My turron selections on Christmas Eve

My turrón selections on Christmas Eve, accompanied by cheese and guava paste slices.

Guava paste slices, cheese and a selection of turrónes, all musts for a Cuban Christmas.

Here are my family’s favorite turrónes for the holidays!

Some of our favorites.

Some of our favorites.

Have you ever tried turrón? If you have, I would love to know which one you liked most…

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Before the Storm…

I have not done a book review in a while, as the Fall season has been quite busy with a lot going on. However, with the holidays upon us, it’s always good to take a break and re-energize before the craziness of holiday shopping and parties begin. I have blogged about Diane Chamberlain before, as I love all of her books, so here I go again (click here for the review of my favorite book of hers).  Some of her books are part of a series or trilogy, as are the two that I am reviewing today, Before the Storm and Secrets She Left Behind.  Once again, I do suggest you read them in order, as it always makes it easier to follow the story line. I simply could not wait to read the sequel to see how the story unfolds, and trust me, you will be just as anxious!

Photo Courtesy of Diane Chamberlain Books.

Photos Courtesy of Diane Chamberlain.

Before the Storm (Synopsis)
Fifteen-year-old Andy Lockwood is special. Others notice the way he blurts out anything that comes into his mind, how he cannot foresee consequences, that he’s more child than teenager. But his mother sees a boy with a heart as open and wide as the ocean. Laurel Lockwood lost her son once through neglect. She’s spent the rest of her life determined to make up for her mistakes, and she’s succeeded in becoming a committed, protective parent—maybe even over-protective. Still, she loosens her grip just enough to let Andy attend a local church social—a decision that terrifies and infuriates her when the church is consumed by fire. But Andy survives…and remarkably, saves other children from the flames. Laurel watches as Andy basks in the role of unlikely hero and the world finally sees her Andy, the sweet boy she knows as well as her own heart. But when the suspicion of arson is cast upon Andy, Laurel must ask herself how well she really knows her son…and how far she’ll go to keep her promise to protect him forever.

Secrets She Left Behind (Synopsis)
One afternoon, single mother Sara Weston says that she’s going to the store—and never returns. In her absence, she leaves her teenaged son alone with his damaged past and a legacy of secrets. Keith Weston nearly lost his life in an act of arson. He survived—but with devastating physical and emotional scars. Without his mother, he has no one to help him heal, no money, nothing to live for but the medications that numb his pain. Isolated and angry, his hatred has one tight focus: his half-sister, Maggie Lockwood. Now the person Keith despises most is the closest thing he has to family—until Sara returns. If Sara returns. . .

So, I hope I have peaked your interest in these terrific mysteries.  Now just pick up a copy of these books, or download them to your e-reader, and enjoy a great read!

Have you ever read a novel by Diane Chamberlain?  If you have, I’d love to hear which was your favorite.My Signature

Great Gifts for One-Year Olds

My baby niece and goddaughter just turned one a few weeks ago…wow, time sure does fly! She is of course super adorable and I wanted to make sure I got her some cute, age appropriate gifts for her birthday.  It’s so hard to pick and choose, because there are so many cool toys out there, however, they are not always good for babies. After some research and remembering some of my daughter’s favorites when she was a tiny tot, I narrowed my list down to these top picks (just in time for Christmas too!):

  1. Princess Cozy Coupe 30th Anniversary Edition by Little Tikes  $55; sold at various places like ToyRUs, Target, Walmart or the Little Tikes website.  This adorable ride along is also available in various other colors as well.  The website says it’s for 18 months-5 years, but my niece is very tall for her age, so I included this item on my list because I think many one year olds could use it with the correct supervision.
  2. Baby Stella Brunette Soft Nurturing First Baby Doll by Manhattan Toy $27; Amazon.com. This first nurturing baby doll is ultra-soft, has cute, embroidered toes and belly button, and loves to cuddle.  Dressed in a soft onesie that is easy to change, with a removable cloth diaper and pacifier that attaches magnetically, it inspires creative role play for a young child.
  3. My First Purse Playset by Gund $12; geniusbabies.com.  My first purse, makes a precious gift, for little girls who love to play dress-up just like Mommy. My daughter had this toy and absolutely loved it when she was little. It was one of her favorite things to play with.
  4. Walk-A-Long Puppy by Hape $23; Amazon.com. This adorable puppy is ready for playtime, encourages coordination skills, balance, and active play. Toddlers will love taking this silly pup on walks. Non-toxic finishes and child safe materials.
  5. Anywhere Chair by Pottery Barn Kids $100; potterybarnkids.com.  These cozy and comfy chairs come in a variety of slipcovers both for boys and girls and can be personalized or monogrammed.  Also, the chairs are lightweight and have a handle for easy toting from room to room. Oh and machine-washable slipcovers zip off for cleaning. My daughter had a few of these in her playroom when she was young and she loved them.  Another nice chair of this type is the Nod Chair, offered by the Land of Nod.
  6. Caterpillar Spiller by Munchkin $6; fatbraintoys.com.  These Caterpillar Spillers are seven cups that link like a caterpillar, stack like a pillar and pour like a spiller. So much fun they’re sure to be a thriller! All toddlers love these types of stackable toys!
  7. Push N Go Car by Tomy $12; fatbraintoys.com. Speed off into sensory learning with a bulky red car and smooth-rolling wheels. Push down on the cool driver dude’s head, release, and ZOOM! The car goes speeding fast on gripping rubber tires! Bright brilliant colors excite the eyes while smooth contours and sleek stylings get the senses exploring. Encourages gross motor skills, cause-and-effect learning and imaginative play. All kids love toys that move.
  8. Wonder Walker by Hape $90; fatbraintoys.com. Little ones find confidence. Babies happily stand. Toddlers learn to walk. Appropriately named, the Wonder Walker is top-notch excitement on wheels. Set back wheels are steady and strong as your baby pulls themselves up to stand. Solid wooden construction, this rolling masterpiece is built for generations of developmental learning. As if pushing and pulling wasn’t enough, the Wonder Walker is decked out in stimulating hands-on fun. A wooden peg maze is such a delight to operate. Move the tree, house and car up and down the spiral path. Great toy for both boys and girls!
  9. King of the Shape Sorters Toy by Kiddopotamus $25; Amazon.com. Shape sorters are always a big hit with the little ones and this one is no exception with its large shapes that are easy for baby to hold and fit into the shape sorter and large reusable bowl that can be repurposed for many other fun ideas.  And of course the squeaker nose and cute lion face are adorable.
  10. Chunky Wooden Puzzles by Green Start $15; fatbraintoys.com. Perfectly darling puzzles for teaching early skills.  Puzzles are fantastic for targeting developmental skills.  These are bright and colorful and come in 5 darling selections – Silly Squares, Circle Garden, Swish Fish, Big & Little, Shape Parade.  My daughter definitely went through her puzzle stage and loved working on puzzles through the age of 5! I highly recommend these.

I hope my list facilitates your toddler toy shopping whether for birthdays or holidays. What are some of your favorite toddler toys?  I’d love to hear…

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