Candy Cane Lane {25 Books of Christmas Day 5}

Candy Cane Lane

Candy Cane Lane by Scott Santoro
Pictures By:  Scott Santoro
Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September, 2016
Genre:  Children’s Picture Book, Christmas
Pages: 32
Price:  $17.99
Source: borrowed from the library

From Simon & Schuster:

A group of misfit holiday decorations come vividly to life as they try to make their way home for the holidays in this enchanting and heartwarming picture book from Scott Santoro.

The houses on Candy Cane Lane have some of the most spectacular holiday decorations around, so when a winter storm hits and damages some of the festive lawn ornaments, the residents simply can’t allow the broken figures to ruin their prized displays. Many end up in the trash, including a scuffed choirboy who is sure he’ll never have a chance to bring holiday cheer to the lane again. That is, until a little girl in the only undecorated house on the block saves him and gives him a special spot on her lawn.

But when a misunderstanding the next morning sends the choirboy off to the dump, he’ll have to team up with a plucky group of other discarded lawn ornaments to find his way back to the little girl and the one place everyone wants to be during the holiday season—home.

With classic holiday spirit and illustrations as merry and bright as any holiday display, Scott Santoro brings Candy Cane Lane to life for readers of all ages.

Review:  A little girl lives in the only house on Candy Cane Lane that has no Christmas decorations.  The day after a blizzard, the girl discovers a dented choirboy in the trash.  She rescues him and places him on her lawn, excited to finally have a lawn decoration.  However, her father mistakenly throws him out again and he is taken away by the garbage men.  The choirboy finds some other discarded ornaments who band together in hopes of finding the little girl who will hopefully love them all.

This book is filled with colorful illustrations that have a retro feel.  In today’s age of holiday decorations including the Star Shower, projectors, and Christmas inflatables I’m not sure how relevant this book is for children.   While reading this to my eight-year-old son, he questioned what a lawn ornament was and asked if it was like the ornaments on our tree.  As I mentioned, at least near us, not many people use these types of holiday decorations anymore, so he was not very familiar with them.  The overall story is heartwarming as the castoffs are finally loved. However, this book didn’t appeal to my children.

Overall Rating: Optional


Weekly Meal Plan {Week 57}

2016 CalendarMondays mean it’s time for meal plans.  Meal plans are a must for our family ensuring that we have a (mostly!) healthy dinner planned every night.  It helps keep us on budget as well, since less trips to the grocery store equal less impulse buys!  If you are new to meal planning you can learn more about how I create our weekly meal plan in this post.  This past week it was rainy and cold for a couple of days.  This type of weather means comfort food around here.   Here’s a look at what was on our menu this past week:

Sunday – homemade pizza and salad.  Normally, we eat pizza on Fridays.  But we had come home from visiting my sister and her family for Thanksgiving late Friday evening.  I ran to the grocery store Saturday to just pick up a few necessities and pizza is so easy.  So, pizza it was!

Chicken Sausage Provolone Pasta Bake

Monday – I made Chicken Sausage Provolone Pasta Bake from Cooking Light, January 2005.  This is a recipe repeat and is a dish that I’ve made before.  I had apple chicken sausage in the fridge that I wanted to use and remembered this recipe.  This recipe takes a little prep in the beginning, cooking the pasta and getting the sausage and tomato mixture ready.  And then it has to bake for 25 minutes.  Not super quick but fairly easy to make.  Plus, it uses a pound of pasta, which means lots of leftovers for us.  The kids ate this and enjoyed it.  However, my tastes must have changed since this wasn’t as good as I remembered.

Roasted Broccoli & Cheddar Soup

Tuesday – I made Roasted Broccoli Cheddar Soup from Closet Cooking.  To me soup is not a meal.  So to make it meal-worthy, I served it with some biscuits and Caesar Salad.  This was easy to make but takes some time in the cooking department, since the broccoli has to roast for 30 minutes and the soup has to simmer for 20 minutes.  This was tasty though and kid-approved. It was perfect for dinner on one of our cold, rainy evenings.

Biscuit-Topped Chicken Potpie

Wednesday  – I made Biscuit-Topped Chicken Potpie from Cooking Light, October 2006.  This was a very biscuit week for us!  The biscuits in this potpie are made with baking mix (like Bisquick).  Instead of chicken breasts, which the recipe called for, I used chicken thighs, which I cooked in the slow cooker.  I served this dish with roasted asparagus.  This dish wasn’t quick and required a bit of prep and then oven cooking.  I found the diced potatoes were a bit harder than I would have liked.  This was another kid-approved meal, but one that I probably won’t be making again.

Ham Fried Rice

Thursday – I made Better Than Takeout Ham Fried Rice from the The Recipe Critic.  This was hands down the winning dinner of the week!  Plus it was so quick and easy to make!  Thursdays are currently the craziest night of the week for us.  I precooked the rice in the rice cooker earlier in the day.  When we got home from piano lessons, I was able to whip this together  in probably 10-15 minutes.  The kids love fried rice.  To spice it up, we add sriracha sauce after to the adult portions!

Friday – Surprisingly we had enough food left over for leftovers tonight!  This happens so rarely, that I was super-excited for a night off from cooking!

What is on your menu this week?


Santa’s Underwear {25 Books of Christmas Day 4}

Cover: Santa's Underwear

Santa’s Underwear by Marty Rhodes Figley
Pictures By:  Marty Kelley
Published by: Sleeping Bear Press on August 1, 2016
Genre:  Children’s Picture Book, Christmas
Pages: 32
Price:  $16.99
Source: borrowed from the library

From Sleeping Bear Press:

It’s Christmas Eve and Santa is busy getting gussied up for the big night. But when he goes to put on his warm, cozy (holey, ragged) Christmas underwear, they’re nowhere to be found! With undies for every occasion, he tries on the rest of his collection. But nothing is quite right. Just when he’s about to give up he find a surprise from his considerate team of reindeer. Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!

Review:  Santa prepares to deliver presents on Christmas Eve but can’t find his special long, red, woolly undies.  He tries on several other pairs of underwear but none of them feel right for this special night.  Will he find his Christmas underwear in time to deliver presents?!  This is a silly Christmas read that will appeal to younger children.  The humorous illustrations of Santa’s various underwear ensembles will have them giggling.

Overall Verdict:  Optional Read


The Day Santa Stopped Believing In Harold (25 Books of Christmas Day 3}


The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold by Maureen Fergus
Pictures By:  Cale Atkinson
Published by: Tundra Books(division of Penguin Random House) on October 11, 2016
Genre:  Children’s Picture Book, Christmas
Pages: 32
Price:  $16.99
Source: borrowed from the library

From Penguin Random House:

Santa has a problem. This kid? Harold? Santa doesn’t think he’s real. He WANTS to believe in Harold–after all, Harold is one of the most magical parts of Christmas. Getting Harold’s letters, eating the cookies he leaves out, feeding his carrots to the reindeer… what would Christmas be without that? But Santa’s just not sure. Some of his friends are telling him they think Harold’s not real. And the Harold that sat on his knee last Christmas looked AWFULLY different. Santa comes up with a plan to find out once and for all if Harold really exists… with hilarious consequences.

Review:  Santa is doubting if Harold is real and Harold is doubting if Santa is real.  The two both come up with a plan to see if the other does indeed exist.  Maureen Fergus has written several children’s books, however this was our first time reading her work.  My son found the illustrations of Santa funny with his giant round belly and body and tiny legs and arms.  The story gets a plus for depicting a multiracial family.  My eight-year-old son is at the age where he may be starting to doubt the existence of Santa Claus.  As I was reading this book to him I was cringing a little inside, hoping he wouldn’t bring up the question if Santa was real.  Be wary of reading this book to children who may be doubting the existence of Santa.

Overall Verdict: Optional Read


Twelve Days of Christmas {25 Books of Christmas Day 2}


Twelve Days of Christmas by Debbie Macomber
Published by:  Ballantine Books (an imprint of Penguin RandomHouse) October 4, 2016
Genre:  Holiday, Romance, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 288 (hardcover book)
Price:  $20.00
Source:  borrowed from library

From Penguin RandomHouse: 

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Continuing in a festive annual tradition, Debbie Macomber returns with a new original holiday novel full of romance and cheer—and the magical prospect of finding love in the most unexpected places.
Friendly and bubbly, Julia Padden likes nearly everyone, but her standoffish neighbor, Cain Maddox, presents a particular challenge. No matter how hard she’s tried to be nice, Cain rudely rebuffs her at every turn, preferring to keep to himself. But when Julia catches Cain stealing her newspaper from the lobby of their apartment building, that’s the last straw. She’s going to break through Cain’s Scrooge-like exterior the only way she knows how: by killing him with kindness.
To track her progress, Julia starts a blog called The Twelve Days of Christmas. Her first attempts to humanize Cain are far from successful. Julia brings him homemade Christmas treats and the disagreeable grinch won’t even accept them. Meanwhile, Julie’s blog becomes an online sensation, as an astonishing number of people start following her adventures. Julia continues to find ways to express kindness and, little by little, chips away at Cain’s gruff façade to reveal the caring man underneath. Unbelievably, Julia feels herself falling for Cain—and she suspects that he may be falling for her as well. But as the popularity of her blog continues to grow, Julia must decide if telling Cain the truth about having chronicled their relationship to the rest of the world is worth risking their chance at love.


I am an avid reader of Debbie Macomber and have read most of her Blossom Street Series as well as the Cedar Cove series.  I believe that Macomber writes an annual Christmas themed book as well, which I’ve read many of.  She is the perfect author to read when you’re looking for a feel-good story with wholesome characters.

I find her Christmas books to be especially sappy and Twelve Days of Christmas didn’t disappoint.  What intrigued me most about this book was reading about Julia’s blog and her kindness experiment, since I haven’t read many books focused on a blogger.  The blogging parts were my favorite parts of the book.

Julia was a likeable enough character, although a bit perky and perfect-like.  I liked her determination in trying to land her dream job and putting in the long hours of retail employment to pay the bills until she gets there.  Cain’s past relationship that ended badly and his unusual childhood upbringing has made him very guarded and reluctant to enter a new relationship.  I found the romance between Julia and Cain to be a bit unrealistic in regards to how quickly they end up falling in love with one another.

I recommend this book if you’re looking for a heartwarming, seasonal romance book.

Overall Verdict:  Optional Read


Five on Friday {First Weekend of December}

Happy Friday everyone!  I’m sure that many of you are in disbelief with me that we are in the first weekend of December!  The holidays are quickly approaching and I am nowhere near ready.  My Christmas cards have been ordered and I’m awaiting their delivery.  The tree is up and decorated.  But there is not one present bought or wrapped yet.  It’s really bad!  This weekend is busy with a Girl Scout event, my son’s first basketball game and the kids’ Christmas piano recital.  Here are five from this week:


1.  Reading – I’m in the middle of reading Flawless, the second book in the Pretty Little Liars series.  I’m also reading lots of Christmas books with the kids for our 25 Books of Christmas (see below).

Madam Secretary (CBS) Logo.png

2. Watching – I haven’t been watching a lot of television this week.  I did get in a few episodes of Scandal and I just started watching Madam Secretary again on Netflix.  I’m way behind on those shows and have been trying to catch up!

Roasted Broccoli & Cheddar Soup

3. Eating – Check out this upcoming Monday’s weekly meal plan post for this past week’s dinners.  But this week’s menu included Broccoli & Cheddar Soup and Biscuit Topped Chicken Pot Pie.  Lots of comfort food going on here.  I also was able to have a lunch date with a girlfriend yesterday, which was lots of fun.

Turkey Cake

4. Celebrating – I didn’t post last Friday because we were down in Maryland visiting my sister for Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving also happened to fall on my niece’s birthday this year so we did lots of celebrating!  She really wanted a turkey cake, so my sister, with the help of my husband, created this cake.  It’s a store bought sheet cake with a decorated chocolate turkey and chocolate covered bacon feathers.  Yes, chocolate covered bacon is a real and delicious thing!

5.  Proud Parent Moments – My son auditioned for advanced recorder this week and found out that he made it.  He was so nervous about trying out but he practiced a lot and was well prepared.  The first quarter of middle school recently ended  and my daughter made the high honor roll!  We are so happy that she’s thriving in her first year of fifth grade!

ICYMI on the blog this week:
Monday I shared Food Buys and Tries.
Wednesday I wrote a review of the Warwick Valley Bed and Breakfast that my husband and I recently stayed at.
Thursday I shared the first book in NY Foodie Family’s 25 Books of Christmas.  Every day from the 1st through 25th I’ll be posting a review of a Christmas book.

I’m linking up with Tif, Andrea and April!  Have a great weekend everyone!


Clark The Shark Loves Christmas {25 Books of Christmas Day 1}


Clark The Shark Loves Christmas by Bruce Hale
Illustrated by:  Guy Francis
Published by: Harper (imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) on September 20, 2016
Genre:  Children’s Picture Book, Christmas
Pages: 32
Price:  $17.99
Source: borrowed from the library

From HarperCollins:
Clark the Shark loves Christmas more than anyone! When Clark’s class organizes a Secret Santa exchange, Clark decides to find out who will be giving him a present . . . and forgets to get a present for his Secret Santa! What will happen on the day of the gift exchange? Will Clark learn about Christmas giving?

Featuring bright, colorful artwork from Guy Francis and hilarious read-aloud text from Bruce Hale, this Clark the Shark picture book is the perfect story for Christmas reading fun.

Clark the Shark: Afraid of the Dark is a 2016 Children’s Choice Book Award finalist!

Clark the Shark stars in a series of books by author Bruce Hale.  However, this was our first time reading a Clark the Shark book.  My eight-year-old son read this book aloud to us and enjoyed the story and colorful illustrations.  He was quick to notice that Clark’s Santa hat doesn’t actually sit on Clark’s head.  Hmmm.  The story has characters with fun fish names and teaches an important message about gift giving.  However, as my husband pointed out, the lesson Clark shares he didn’t actually follow himself.   This a fun holiday book starring a character that many readers may already be familiar with.

Overall Verdict: Optional Read


NY Foodie Family’s 25 Books of Christmas


As a lover of both books and Christmas, over the next 25 days, I am presenting NY Foodie Family’s 25 Books of Christmas.  Every day from December 1 – 25 I am posting a Christmas book review.  Most of the books will be children’s picture books, however, there are some adult Christmas reads as well.  The majority of these books are also new releases and were published this year.  So, stay tuned tomorrow for day one of the 25 Books of Christmas!  Hopefully, one or all of the books will help get you into the holiday spirit!



Warwick Valley Bed and Breakfast

Warwick Valley Bed And Breakfast

Located in Warwick, New York, only about an hour’s drive from New York City is the Warwick Valley Bed and Breakfast.  Conveniently located in the historic district at 24 Maple Avenue, this bed and breakfast is housed in a restored Colonial that was built in the early 1900’s.

I recently visited this bed and breakfast with my husband, as a surprise weekend getaway to celebrate his 40th birthday.

Warwick Valley Bed and Breakfast

The bed and breakfast has seven different rooms to choose from.  Each room has a name and unique decor, with varying bed sizes and arrangements.  All rooms have a small seating area, a desk and a private bathroom.  Rates range from $144 to $229 a night, depending on the day and season.  Children are welcome at this bed and breakfast at an additional cost.

Reservations can be requested online and a confirmation e-mail will be sent to confirm your selected dates and price.  In our confirmation e-mail, Loretta, the Innkeeper also noted that she could help arrange appointments for massages or facials and make dinner reservations as well.

Back Entrance

When you pull into the driveway of the bed and breakfast there is ample parking around back.  You then enter through the back entrance.  The bed and breakfast has a no shoes policy.  Upon entering, there are shelves to store your shoes.  Slippers are available to wear.

Paisley Room

I booked the Paisley Room, which as you can see is named for the Paisley bedding.  This room has a Queen-sized bed and overlooks the back driveway.  It’s on the second floor, that is shared with two other rooms.

Sitting Area

I took Loretta up on her offer and had her arrange for an in-room massage for my husband as part of his birthday present. While he had his massage, I went down to the sitting area and read a book.

A benefit of staying at a bed and breakfast is that a homemade breakfast is included in the cost of your stay. There are two dining areas in the bed and breakfast.  We ate in the main dining room, pictured below.

Dining Area

We only stayed one night, so I’m unsure if the breakfast menu changes daily.


Loretta cooks everything herself in the kitchen adjacent to the dining room.  During our stay, breakfast began with a bowl of cinnamon-spiced fruit and nut mix.  We then had a choice of french toast, an omelet, or eggs cooked in any style of our choosing.  Sides included roasted butternut squash and bacon.  You could have any combination (or all!) of these breakfast options. I ordered the french toast with a side of bacon and butternut squash.  It was delicious!

I love that the Warwick Valley Bed and Breakfast is conveniently located in the historic district.  It is within reasonable walking distance to the nearby shops and restaurants.  The day of our arrival, the weather was beautiful and on our walk into town we discovered the Craft Beer Cellar and Taco Hombre.  The next morning we woke up to snow but still trekked back into town to check out the last weekend of the outdoor, local farmer’s market.

Iron Forge Inn

Saturday evening we had dinner at the nearby Iron Forge Inn.  This is a farm-to-table restaurant located in a revolutionary era home built in 1760.  Chef/owner Erik Johansen is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and provides a menu of Modern American cuisine that changes seasonally.  We had an amazing dinner and I highly recommend dining here!

On our way home we stopped at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets to enjoy some child-free shopping!  Other nearby attractions include Mountain Creek and the Warwick Drive-in Theater.  Several wineries including the Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery and Applewood Winery are nearby as well.

My husband and I enjoyed our stay at the Warwick Valley Bed and Breakfast.  It was great to get away to celebrate his birthday and we loved the town of Warwick.  This was a perfect parents only get-away, as we decided our children wouldn’t appreciate the history and architecture of the village, that we found so charming.  There is enough that we didn’t get to see and do that we’d like to make a return trip soon!



Food Buys & Tries {Volume 1}

I’m not into buying lots of “stuff.”  However, for me food doesn’t fall into the “stuff” category.  You buy it, you eat it and hopefully enjoy it and then it’s gone.  If you don’t like it, it’s not a big deal and you don’t have to buy it again. Food doesn’t clutter up the house and for the most part is reasonable in cost. I’m always on the lookout for new food products for the family to try.  For the first volume of Food Buys & Tries I tried to focus on more healthy choices. However, I do have to warn you that ice cream and kettle chips are high on our list of likes!

Brooklyn Bred Bistro Buns

Brooklyn Bred Bistro Buns (Country Potato) – My kids are not big sandwich eaters.  This can make packing lunch a challenge.  I saw these Brooklyn Bred Bistro Buns in the bread aisle of Shoprite and thought they looked interesting.  They are thin and soft.  I added some cold cuts and lettuce to the sandwich and both kids enjoyed their lunch.   These were $2.99 for a pack of 8.  Brooklyn Bred is a company based in Brooklyn.  I enjoy supporting New York made products and will be purchasing these again.

Verdict:  Buy.  Support made in New York products. Plus, they are really good!

dr. Praeger's Asian Veggie burgers

dr. Praeger’s Asian Veggie Burgers – I like a good veggie burger.  I especially like Asian veggie burgers since they tend to be really flavorful.  This burger was a good veggie burger.  It’s made with cooked brown rice, carrots, peas, broccoli and more.  I’m not a huge fan of ginger, which unfortunately is an ingredient in most Asian veggie burgers, this one included.  The taste of ginger in this burger was evident but not overwhelming.  I added a slice of cheese and some lettuce and it was enjoyable.  dr. Praeger’s is an independent, family-owned business, started by two heart surgeons. The company focuses on making great-tasting products with simple, whole ingredients.  Just a note, this burger was extremely soft.  I heated my burger in the toaster oven and it practically fell apart when I flipped it, as directed.  The burger can also be heated in the microwave or a skillet.

Verdict:  Buy if you like veggie burgers and Asian flavors.  This is a flavorful, but soft burger.


Froozer Blue Aloha frozen fruit snacks – These frozen fruit tubes are just that, frozen fruit and veggies.  I bought the Blue Aloha variety that includes pineapples, grapes, bananas, blueberries and carrots.  There are six fruit tubes in a box and these are found in the frozen fruit section of the grocery store.  I like that there is no added sugar or preservatives in these bars.  My son made a face when he first tried this and stated that “it tastes weird.”  However, he did end up finishing it. I tried a taste of his and noticed the lack of sugar right away.  This snack was an adjustment for my kids who are used to eating sugary cereals and snacks.  However, I plan on buying these again and trying the other flavors, tropical sunset and strawberry bliss.  These fruit tubes are a good source of Vitamin A & C.  They will make a nice addition to our winter breakfast rotation when the kids get sick of eating apples, bananas and oranges!

Verdict: Buy.  Your kids will get fruit and veggies in a fun way.

Litehouse Caramel Dip

Litehouse Caramel Dip – My kids are big fruit eaters and come fall, apples are a staple in our house.  I bought this caramel dip on sale at Acme for $1 for us to try.  This dip is super sweet!  My kids enjoyed it, but they like anything sugary.  The dip is not thick and was sliding off the apple slices.

Verdict:  Skip.  My kids like to eat apples.  No need to complicate the process or give them unnecessary extra sugar.

Egg White & Turkey Sausage Breakfast Pockets

Sandwich Bros. of Wisconsin:  Egg White & Turkey Sausage Flatbread Pocket Sandwiches – Mornings are pretty crazy in our house.  Most mornings my daughter has to be out of the house by 6:55 to make a 7 AM club at her middle school.  These breakfast sandwiches are only half a pita and contain an egg white with cheese and turkey sausage.  Each box contains six individually wrapped sandwiches.  It only needs 75-85 seconds in the microwave to heat it up and it’s easily transportable (she can take it with her and eat it in the car if needed!).  My daughter really enjoys these.  I tried one with a little ketchup and thought it was okay.

Verdict:  Try if you can buy them on sale.