15 Ways to Enjoy the Last Month of Summer

howtoenjoysummerThe sky was a gorgeous rainbow of blues, pinks and lavender this evening, and adorned with some of the fluffiest clouds ever. It was mesmerizing, until I noticed it was almost sunset at 8:15 p.m.

To some this means nothing, but for me it was a reminder that Summer will be over soon. The days are getting shorter and if I’m not careful I’ll be thrown into fall without getting the most from Summer 2015.

So, instead of panicking, I made a fun list. Hopefully this will be my reminder to live in the moment, and not get totally distracted with Back to School planning and all of the many things that vie for my attention. And hopefully it will encourage you to get the most out of yours, too!

“Last Month of Summer” Inspiration List

  1. Serve a Summer-inspired brunch one weekend, featuring lots of summer fruit.
  2. Have an outdoor movie night.
  3. Have a family water fight. My girls have so much fun with water balloons and other water toys!
  4. Up the ante and create a water obstacle course. Include everything from sprinklers and slides, to kiddie pools and buckets for dumping.
  5. Get the most of long summer days by sleeping in one day and then staying up late. On another day get up early and go to bed early!
  6. Be lazy. It’s Summer. No other reason is needed to just relax and enjoy the day.
  7. Spend an hour (or more!) playing childhood games. There’s nothing like a good game of kickball, hopscotch or jump rope. Bonus: It’s fun exercise.
  8. Pick a night to stargaze.
  9. Check out a local festival or event.
  10. Have a “me time” picnic in the park.
  11. Stroll the farmer’s market for fresh dinner idea.
  12. Fit in another trip to some water. Pool, beach, lake… something.
  13. Throw some veggies on the grill; maybe some protein, too, :-).
  14. Attend a free concert in a park.
  15. Choose fun one day over household to-do list. Chores will always be here, but Summer won’t!

Bonus: Here is a summer bucket list I created. You may find some inspiration here, too.

Enjoy! Towanda

 

 

Ice Cream and Cake Birthday Party

icecreamcakebirthdaypartyplanningThis year I decided at the last minute to have an ice cream and cake birthday party.

Here’s how I pulled off a fabulous 40th Birthday Party in a few days.

I texted/emailed my friends and family the invite. I sent each one individually so that my guests wouldn’t be bothered with reply all answers.

Trust me, this is very important.

Plus, the personal note was a nice touch, especially given the timing.

Next I ordered a custom cake.

40th birthday cake edible bowThe other supplies were easy to purchase, but the cake needed personalization. I chose Sweet It Is and luckily they could fit me in. You can also try your local grocery store in a pinch.

Once the cake was ordered, I worked on my party shopping list.

For decorations I made a sign to frame in an 8×10 frame for the ice cream buffet table.

ice cream party bar free printable signFeel free to download the free ice cream buffet printable and use!

I went with gold and white, and splashes of pink, for my theme colors. This saved time and money because I was able to repurpose Christmas decorations.

I love using white for entertaining because it is the perfect backdrop for almost everything. For this event, my white was the tablecloth and some of the serving pieces.

The white tablecloth was a nice balance for the glitzy gold. I draped a bright pink cloth over the cake stand to add a pop of color to the table and to bring out the pink flowers in the floral arrangements. I picked the flowers at Trader Joe’s.

toppingsicecreambarI wanted to keep a carefree atmosphere (and limit the amount of work I needed to do) so I let the ice cream and cake buffet table serve as the decorations. It served as a focal point, and even better, there was only one area to clean up at the end of the night.

I set up a smaller table with drinks and supplies for overflow.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re having an ice cream and cake party.

Make sure you have dairy and non-dairy options. I purchased vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice cream. I also purchased coconut milk ice cream and soy milk ice cream. This provided options for guests that were vegan and/or dairy free.

Offer different types of toppings. I included fruit (strawberries and blueberries), candy, chocolate and hot fudge. I also added cookies and cake. This way each person could make their own favorite dish.

Start later in the evening. I had a start time of 7 p.m. so that guests could have dinner before coming. I made sure everyone understood it was an ice cream and cake party, but the time was a further reminder to eat dinner beforehand. This also worked for the kids, because it was a great treat after their dinner.

Set everything out and let your guests serve themselves. This was an easy party to organize in a short period of time, because most of the supplies could be purchased in one place, and the buffet was self-explanatory. This also meant I had time to socialize and enjoy the party, not work the party.

Enjoy and good luck with your shindig!

AC Santo Mauro in Madrid, Spain (a review with pics!)

AC Santo Mauro hotel in Madrid Review
Lobby of AC Santo Mauro

AC Santo Mauro is a part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection and it is FABULOUS!

It’s a boutique hotel, which I LOVE, especially when traveling for vacation. With boutiques it really is about the experience and the city you’re visiting. I felt like I was in Spain from the time I walked through the gates, plus there was the perk of earning Marriott reward points, :-).

AC Santo Mauro was built in 1894 as the residence for the Duke of Santo Mauro, and it still feels like it is fit for royalty.

santomaurophotoandreviewoflobbyFrom the time you walk through the gates you are surrounded by elaborate and beautiful details. And while the common areas feel like a palace, our room was modern and sleek with all of the comforts you expect.

When we entered our room we were greeted by a hallway that opened up to the living/sleeping area.

reviewandphotosofguest room Santo Mauro MadridThere was a walk-in closet that had plenty of room for me and Hubby’s things.

santomauromadridreviewguestroomclosetphotoThe bathroom was well-maintained and stocked with Morton Brown toiletries.

santomauroguestroombathroomreviewwithphotos

AC Santo Mauro review and photos of bathroomWe had a basic guest room, so the bed, lounge area and table were in the same space. However, this didn’t make it feel cramped. We were very comfortable.

santo mauro madridreviewThe grounds are beautiful and have a lot of areas that are perfect for strolling, grabbing a drink or hanging out with friends. During our night stroll we saw groups sitting outside enjoying the patio/garden area and others coming back from an evening on the town.

The staff was very nice and accommodating. We were checked in quickly, they gave us suggestions for things to do and when we called down for extra supplies they were delivered fast. Hubby ordered room service late one night and it was also delivered quickly.

The other great thing about AC Santo Mauro is that it’s walking distance from Puerta del Sol, and the walk is through a vibrant area. It took us about 20 minutes to walk and that’s because we were people-watching and admiring the neighborhood. It’s Madrid, how can you not do this, :-).

Madrid Spain Puerta del Sol areaYou can also jump on transit a couple of blocks away if walking is not your thing.

I’d definitely stay here again and I can’t wait to try another hotel in the Autograph Collection.

Enjoy your visit!

List of July Holidays, Including Ice Cream Month!

list of july holidays and events

Happy July!

In honor of this fabulous Summer month, here is a pretty good list of holidays and things to celebrate in July.

Enjoy the list and be sure to check my Facebook page throughout the month for entertaining and fun tips.

July is:

  • National Ice Cream Month
  • National Anti-Boredom Month
  • National Blueberry Month
  • National Hot Dog Month
  • National Cell Phone Courtesy Month
  • National Culinary Arts Month
  • National Grilling Month
  • Social Wellness Month

 

Holidays:

Day                Holiday

1st                     Second Half of the Year Day

4th                    Independence Day

7th                    Chocolate Day

9th                    National Sugar Cookie Day

10th                  National Pina Colada Day

13th                  National French Fry Day

20th                 National Lollipop Day

25th                 National Dance Day

26th                 Parents’ Day

28th                 National Milk Chocolate Day

Goetze Candy: A Candy Time Machine For This #SouthernGirl

caramelcreamcandy_summerfunRunning all day in my Keds. Picking plums off the trees and finding berries in the woods behind Ms. Mattie Mae house.

These are just a few of the childhood memories this tin of Goetze candy brought to mind.

See, as a child I spent lots of summer days with my family in rural South Carolina. This meant days playing with cousins, running from house to house and going to the local church for lunch.

Lunch was a highlight of the day, because close to the church was a little store that sold candy.

Most of the kids went straight to the penny candy, but I had standards.

I would go for quality. Yep, I would be a baller and buy the 5 cent candy, lol! I couldn’t have as much, but it didn’t matter because I had caramel AND a creamy, sugary center. I would eat it that way, too. First, the caramel, then the center.

And now? I’m still eating them the same way, :-).

Goatze is 120 years old this year, so I’m sure they are a part of lots of summer memories.

In fact, they’re celebrating with free samples throughout the Southeast at some Fourth of July parades and community events, so be on the lookout when you’re out making memories this summer.

Happy Birthday Goetze  and thank you for the time machine! It made me smile.

 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary gift pack of Goetze candy. As always, all opinions and words here are my own. I value your trust and would not publish anything that I didn’t believe.

Riad Farnatchi: A Review of Our Stay While in Morocco

Marrakesh, Morocco Part 1

wheretostaymarrakechmorocco_riadfarnatchiWe chose Riad Farnatchi for our couple’s trip to Marrakesh, Morocco this year. To say it was an excellent choice is an understatement.

Everything, from the service and staff to the grounds and accommodations were top-notch.

It is absolutely beautiful.

Walking to the riad you are in the midst of the old medina, a very busy and interesting experience.

However, the riad is the opposite. When you enter the doors you are transported to an oasis of Moroccan luxury and calm.

We were greeted and offered a fabulous glass of mint tea in one of the many lounge areas, while our bags were delivered to our suite.

moroccanminticedteariadfarnatchi
The mint iced tea!

After we finished our tea, a staff member gave us a tour of the grounds and then showed us to our suite.

We stayed in Suite 8, and absolutely loved it! Just… YES!

Living Room of Suite 8 Riad Farnatchi Marrakech Morocco
Living room of our suite

It is such a comfortable and luxurious space. I truly felt like I was staying with family, well-to-do family, :-).

I realized this when I was comfortable enough to walk bare feet in my room the first night and I didn’t spray everything with Lysol first.

riad farnatchi suite 8
Stairs leading to bed and sofa

Until this, I have always prepped my hotel room before getting comfortable.

bedroomriadfarnatchimarrakechmorocco
Bed area of suite

The staff made sure we were comfortable and that our accommodations were always ready for us. The first night we showered and went out to dinner. Upon return we found our bathrooms had been recleaned and restocked!

Bathroom in Riad in Marrakech Morocco
Sink area of bathroom

When we needed our clothes pressed, they handled it. This happened each night.

One night we came in at midnight and wanted a little snack. The staff gave us these Moroccan pastries and tea. Yes, at midnight, :-).

moroccan pastries in marrakech at riad farnatchi

One reason Riad Farnatchi feels so intimate is the size. There are plenty of lounge areas, a rooftop with lounge chairs and a grill, an amazing dining room, a hammam and a pool, but there are only nine suites.

pool in Marrakech Morocco at Riad Farnatchi
Pool area at night

This means you have this fabulous oasis that is not crowded, but that has the perfect amount of staff to help you and enough options for you to have plenty of peace and quiet.

I’d have to say one of my favorite perks was having my chosen breakfast (the vegetable cheese omelettes were SO. GOOD!) served whenever and wherever I wanted it. Some guests chose the lounge areas throughout the riad, but I chose my room’s patio that overlooked the pool. It felt like the perfect place to eat, enjoy my cup of Moroccan mint tea and relax before starting my day. It was also a great place to read and meditate.

moroccanbreakfastatriad
My breakfast every morning was an omelette, moroccan pancakes, fruit, yogurt, fresh-squeezed orange juice and tea.

Here is the private outdoor space off of the bedroom.

marrakechmoroccosuitepatio

 

And the beautiful supply of Molton Brown toiletries.

moltonbrownproductsatriadmarrakechmoroccoI used the eucalyptus shower gel every day. Yes, EVERY. DAY.

A few things to remember when you book your stay at Riad Farnatchi:

Make sure you contact Riad Farnatchi and let them know when you’re landing. They will arrange ground transportation for you to and from the airport. This is VERY. IMPORTANT! I am sure we would still be looking for it if we had to find it ourselves, :-). Because the alleys get narrow in the medina, at a point you will need to get out and walk. The first time you do this, you will want a staff member from the riad guiding you.

Have dinner at the riad one night. This is the one thing we didn’t do and I am still kicking myself. The other guests  raved about it and it looked amazing. Next time, we’re doing this!

Each suite has its own decor and they are all nice. My friends stayed in Suite 6 and they loved having a private rooftop area. I really don’t think you can go wrong with any of the superior suites.

Let the staff help you book your excursions and ask their opinion on restaurants, etc. They were extremely helpful in booking our day trip and hot air balloon excursion. They are knowledgeable and have developed great relationships with vendors. This is an advantage.

When you check out you will feel like you are leaving family. The managers and staff are extremely friendly and great at their jobs. As such, you will feel like you’ve made lifelong friends.

Enjoy your stay and if you have questions, feel free to ask me! I’ll be happy to offer more insight.

 

Towanda

How To Manage The Demands of Work and Family

howtomanageworkandfamilyschedule

Dear Tee,

What is one way you manage the scheduling demands of work and family?

Funny you should ask. A few weeks ago there was an article  that discussed how the world’s most successful women make the most of their time. Until this article, I had no idea my balancing act had a name.

It’s called the split shift.

Instead of working a straight 8-5, I have informally adapted the split. Here’s a typical day.

Before I go into the office I check my email and revise my to-do list for the day. Then I do family stuff (help the kids get ready for school, make breakfast, take them to the bus stop). When I know they are ready for their day, I am ready to move on with my day. I work until 4:30ish, then I dedicate the evening to family and working out. Once the kids are in bed (usually by 9 p.m.) I finish any work I didn’t get done during the day.

This working split shift accomplishes three important things.

First, it allows me to be fully present where I am, without worrying about the other. I’m not at work concerned about my kids, and I’m not with my family thinking about work.

Secondly, it allows me to be a happy working mom. I’m sure it’s possible, but I would struggle emotionally if there were no flexibility in my schedule. I am way more productive because I have some control over how I spend the hours of my day.

Third, I can work in a way that fits my personality. Some people do their best work at 7 in the morning. I am not one of them. My best time to be productive begins around 8:30ish. That being said, I don’t need a lunch break in the middle of the day, so I typically eat at my desk. Mini breaks throughout the day work much better for me.

I hope this helps you with your journey of family, work and life!

 

This post is part of the “Ask Tee” advice column. Have a question about managing work, family and fun? Send it my way! 

20 Healthy Food Donations for Your Community Bank

BestHealthyFoodBankDonationsDonating healthy food to your community food pantry is a great idea. It is especially important over the summer months when children that get free lunch in school may not have access to healthy meals.

Here are twenty healthy food donation choices that are non-perishable and pretty tasty:

  • Fruit cups in fruit juice
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Peanut butter
  • Canned fish in water (tuna, salmon)
  • Canned chicken breast
  • Canned vegetables (low sodium)
  • Oatmeal
  • Grits
  • Cereal (Cheerios, Rice Krispies)
  • Whole grain crackers
  • 100% juice boxes
  • Bags of beans (pinto, kidney, etc.)
  • Shelf-stable milk
  • Corn pasta (great for gluten-free diets)
  • Raisins
  • Dried fruits (cranberries, mangoes)
  • Mixed nuts
  • Granola bars
  • Soup (low sodium)

Along with food, many food pantries accept household items. Here are some items that may be in high demand at your local bank:

  • Dish detergent
  • Laundry detergent
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Shampoo
  • Grocery store gift cards
  • Toilet tissue
  • Paper towels

If you’d like to consider other options here are five general guidelines for donating food.

Choose non-perishable food. Most food banks prefer non-perishable food because there is less likelihood of food expiring on the shelf. Also, many locations do not have refrigeration.

Only donate unopened food that is in commercial packaging. The safety of donations is imperative.

Shop for things that are in non-breakable containers. Think plastic, cans and boxes. This makes it easier to stock and it cuts down on the likelihood of someone getting cut by broken glass.

Make sure your containers have expiration dates. This is important for the food pantry and for the person/family that receives it.

If you have produce and are interested in donating, call ahead. Some food pantries will accept produce if they can distribute it before the expiration timeframe. However, not all pantries have the capacity or system in place to handle produce.

 

Thanks for donating your resources and let me know if there are other things that should be added to the list!

Towanda