Towanda Long

Will You Shop at a Pop-Up Retail Store this Holiday?

Pop-Tarts World in Times Square

I love shopping experiences. It’s the reason I can find heaven at a flea market as easily as I can at a chic boutique.

It’s also why I love the idea of pop-up retail stores. They take my love of temporary kiosks and stores in area malls, which normally only show up during the winter holidays, to the next level.

These locations look like a phenomenal shopping excursion! For instance, when I think of Pop-Tarts World in Times Square I can’t imagine a cooler way to buy pop tarts.

That being said, this article in USA Today on retail pop-up stores has me waiting for this season’s temporary shopping opportunities.

Maybe I’ll plan a shopping road trip and visit the upcoming TRON by Disney store and a few others… Yes, now my wheels are turning!

Coming in October!

One of the things I have started doing to help me post entries regularly is create a schedule.

This came out of my participation with the SITS Girls 31 Days to a Better Blog Challenge, and I must say it has been very helpful.

October’s schedule is almost complete and I am so excited! I have lots of great content planned.

I won’t give it all away, but here are a few of the things you can expect to see starting on Friday:

  • Ways to Celebrate Fall
  • Tips and Advice for preparing and getting the most out of conferences and conventions
  • Highlights of Breast Cancer Awareness events and things you can do to benefit you and those you love
  • Holiday Shopping Tips
  • Gifts and Ideas for Sweetest Day (I LOVE this holiday!)
  • Chocolate Cookie Recipes (October is Cookie Month!)

If you haven’t, sign up for the RSS feed or email alerts. The links are at the top of the sidebars. It’s the best way to keep up with the happenings (and surprises!).

Chocolate Milk Can Be Good For You!

Today is National Chocolate Milk Day! Did that make you smile? If so, the next sentence is going to make your day. According to this article on drinking chocolate milk after a workout can be a good thing! It seems the combination of carbohydrates, protein, calcium, sodium and sugar can aid your workout recovery.

Of course you can buy chocolate syrup and add it to your milk, but here are a couple of other options for making chocolate milk.

If you want to make your syrup from scratch, try this homemade version:

1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup Sugar (or to taste)

½ tsp or less salt
1 cup water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Mix cocoa powder, sugar and salt in small saucepan. Slowly stir in water, mixing it until it is smooth. Cook over medium heat continuing to stir until it boils. Allow to boil for a minute, remove from heat and stir in vanilla. You syrup is now ready for milk.

Want to add some flavor?

  • Use one part coconut milk to one part regular milk, then add syrup.
  • Melt a chocolate mint in the bottom of cup with a little milk. Then stir in rest of your milk and add chocolate syrup to taste.
  • Add a dollop of peanut butter to cup with a little milk and melt in microwave. Then stir in rest of your milk and add chocolate syrup to taste.

When Chocolate Cake Recipes Go Bad

brownie cheesecake recipe
Bittersweet Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies

I’ll let you in on a secret. While I LOVE chocolate, I’ve been scarred when it comes to baking my own chocolate treats.

See, back in 2003 (YES! I said 2003… don’t judge me…) I baked a chocolate cake from scratch and it was the UGLIEST cake I had ever seen!

It fell in the center, had craters and was just… terrible. It was so bad I sat it in our sunroom because I didn’t want anyone to see it.

Well, what I had forgotten is that Hubby saw me in the kitchen attempting this chocolate masterpiece and he was anxiously waiting for it. And since I couldn’t figure out a way to go to the bakery and buy another one to serve as my own I had to confess. Plus, the bakery frosting would probably give it away…

Well, guess what? He still wanted to taste it. I was mortified, but I gave in and got myself ready for the jokes I knew he had coming. But he LOVED it! So much so he persuaded me to taste it.

It tasted great, like finger-licking, OH MY GOODNESS great! Still, I couldn’t get over how it looked. I never attempted that chocolate cake recipe again even though today, 7 years later, he still raves about it.

In fact I’ve only tried three chocolate cake recipes since then and this one from Hershey’s has become my go-to because it is easy and comes out perfect each time (just not as good as the ugly cake, LOL).

I thought about my hesitancy to try new chocolate recipes when I saw this Bittersweet Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies recipe on Willow Bird Baking.

I have never made brownies from scratch, but these look too good not to try (did you see the picture?!), so we’re having it this Sunday. Let’s hope they turn out great and I can be one step further in my chocolate baking rehab.

Girlfriends Party With A Purpose

When the opportunity to host a Johnson’s Girl Talk Cause Party was presented, I jumped on it because I wanted to host a girlfriend “gift-together” and I knew this would be a great opportunity to talk about Birthday Blessings (BB), one of the most amazing nonprofit organizations ever.

Their mission includes celebrating, inspiring and supporting homeless children, and one way they do this is by throwing birthday parties. Before I learned of Birthday Blessings I never thought of a child not celebrating their birthday.

The thought of that breaks my heart because birthdays are such a huge deal in my house. My girls look forward to their birthdays like most kids look forward to Christmas.

It’s a day all about them, when they don’t have to share the spotlight with siblings, classmates or family. It’s the day we can celebrate them joining our family and the unique joy they have added to our lives.

Then I think about how hard being a a tween or teen girl can be, and add to that the issues that arise from being homeless. These children absolutely need the chance to celebrate their life, to know that they are not forgotten and that their life is priceless.

So, yes, I was very happy to do this! Plus, a girlfriend gift-together, or purpose party, is a pretty simple one to host. I cooked dinner, invited my girlfriends and asked them to bring gifts for a tween and/or teenage girl that was homeless.

As we ate I talked about Birthday Blessings and why I wanted to support them. I set a small table in the living room with additional information on BB and ways that they could volunteer if they were interested.

I also put bottles of Johnson’s baby oil on the table so that they could try them as they read the other information (a nice perk for guests). This worked well because it served as a conversation corner for the ladies to try the products and talk about BB.

It was also a reminder of why we got together when the conversation went on to other topics like life, reality TV and recipes. After all, it was a girlfriend party… lol.

As the party came to a close, each of my guests had the chance to take some of the Johnson’s products with them (they were VERY happy!) and we were all pleased that the donation table was overflowing.

We collected over 125 gifts, ranging from lip gloss and shower gels to hair accessories, journals and stationery sets. I know the girls that get them will be ECSTATIC!

p.s. While my party was to collect for teen/tween girls BB collects for all children. One of their other programs is Blessing Baskets, where they make baskets for newborn homeless children. I will be donating bottles of Johnson’s baby oil for this purpose.

Update Your Summer Wardrobe Now

If you find shopping off-season daunting, try my Top 5 Rules for buying clothes a year ahead and garnering your favorite designers marked down 40-80% off retail.

Look for staples. Every summer wardrobe needs crisp white shirts, light-colored slacks and fabulous sandals.

The key to buying these pieces is to stick with classic cuts. Buttoned shirts, contemporary khakis and white jeans are safe pieces that you’ll love just as much now as you will next year.

Then next year, you can complement these pieces with something trendy.

Go to department stores. I find my best deals at these stores (especially Macy’s, Dillard’s, Belk and Bloomingdales), and markdowns can go as big as 80% off!

One of the biggest thrills is finding the perfect summer white shirt for 80% off. Your savings are even better if you get an additional coupon for 15-20% off. Also, consider traveling to a mall in a less-populated area. I find these have the best deals in a number of sizes because not as many shoppers have picked over the clearance rack.

Buy your true size. I know how tempting it is to buy something that is a size or two too small because you really believe you are going to lose weight. However, now is not the time to build your “wish closet.”

Buy for the size you are now, and if you lose weight you can always have the items tailored to fit your new shape. However, a tailor cannot make that awesome pair of designer slacks or that awesome dress larger.

Avoid trends. Yes, those pants may be all the rage this year, but look at them honestly. Will they stand the test of time? Can you see yourself wearing them two years from now? If not, leave them on the rack.

Buying something at 75% off is not a good deal if you won’t wear them because they are out of style.

There is no such thing as too many sandals. I wear mine starting the first of spring through half of the fall (just add tights on those cooler, crisp days…). Wedges and stilettos are pretty safe bets, because they never go out of style.

Sticking with basic colors (black, brown, metallic) also help because they easily match most pieces.

Bonus: Don’t forget accessories. Now is a great time to pick up summer scarves, bags and jewelry. Plus, depending on the color you can rock these into fall.

Zhuniverse Rocked!

Princesses in Hamster Habitat Trail

Last weekend Princess #1 came home from school asking for a Zhu Zhu pet. This was huge for a couple of reasons. First, my 4 year old is a true girly girl and rarely requests anything that is not shiny, sparkling or princess-y. Secondly, it’s not often that the stars align so well for me to get “cool mommy points.”

See, I had already scheduled for us to go to the Zhuniverse Tour when it came to the Charlotte area. And since I had not told her or her younger sister, not only could I surprise them with an afternoon Mommy-Daughter date, I could surprise them with a VERY COOL outing!

When we arrived at Toys ‘R Us for the tour the girls saw the set-up outside and became instantly ecstatic. And by “instantly” I mean they couldn’t wait for me to park before they were out of their seats.

We started with “Which Zhu Zhu Are You?” to find out P1 is Peachy and P2 is Cappuccino. This is so scarily accurate I was tempted to get myself ZhuZhued, but I had no time because the girls saw the Zhu Zhu table. They spent most of their time here, though they found time to hunt coins in the hamster habitat trail.  They enjoyed the obstacle course, too.

However, the table was hands down their favorite. There were just so many things for them to do, from driving cars to getting a blow dry at the hair salon to making and delivering pizzas. The girls had SO MUCH FUN!

We ended up buying three zhu zhu pets (one in princess attire…) and a couple of the accessories. The girls are ecstatic and if they can make sure their new pets stay in the playroom and not migrate upstairs, mom will be ecstatic, too.

*Disclaimer: While I received compensation for my participation, rest assured this is my honest opinion. I value your trust and I WILL NOT publish anything that I don’t believe.

Restroom Etiquette For The Office

If you share a public restroom at work, school or anywhere else for that matter, please read. And if you have colleagues or classmates that struggle with restroom manners, please share. It’s for the public good and it can make everyone’s life away from home a little more pleasant.

Stall selection is key. If you have to “really use” the toilet, choose the last stall. This signals to anyone entering the restroom that someone is in there and they may be a while. Also, it is less likely for someone to end up in the stall next to you, which goes to the second point of stall selection.

If at all possible, leave a buffer stall between you and other occupants. Trust me, we all like a little privacy, even in public.

Courtesy Flush! Again, if you have to “really go!” please don’t wait until you are finished to flush. I don’t know how to say this delicately, so here goes – as soon as your “business” drops flush the toilet. The longer it sits in the toilet the worse the restroom will smell.

Spray. Lysol and Target Stores now have travel size sprays. I love these for two reasons. First of all, if you must sit you want to sanitize and these are great. Just spray, wipe and line the seat. Secondly, you can spray when you are finished and it shouldn’t be too bad since you’ve done courtesy flushes.

Rinse the sink and wipe the counter. Many people brush their teeth after lunch. Please clean the sink when you are finished. Your colleagues do not enjoy washing their hands in a sink with old toothpaste in it. They also do not enjoy seeing your hair or paper towels on the counter.

Double check yourself. Before you leave the stall, sink area or paper towels make sure all remnants of your use has been cleaned. This may mean another flush, wiping the counter of picking your paper towel off the floor.

No work. Conversations about work should be reserved for the sink area, if it must occur. And for the love of all that is good and right in the world, please do not try to bring files and papers into the restroom for discussion. It’s awkward and exactly WHERE are you supposed to put them?!

Tell Maintenance. If you see a problem, report it. The longer the problem is not addressed, the worse it will be for everyone.

These are my top rules; if you have other pointers, please share.