PRODUCT REVIEW: #AVON Skin So Soft Oil Really Works for Keeping Bugs Away!

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SO recently during one of my book clubs we got to talking about bug repellant. For the life of me, I cannot remember how we got to such an odd subject, but some of the older women in my group swore by AVON Skin So Soft as a bug repellant. They claimed it was even better than Off! or other deet-filled bug repellant, and much safer to use. I had never heard of such a thing-and I am a Girl Scout leader! Evidently this is an old wives tale that has been shared around since the '70s. I was skeptical, but seeing as how we were going to Michigan on vacation and the bugs near the lake at night were intolerable, I thought I should give it a try. We always cut our night excursions short because the bugs were always too obnoxious. So we just go to bed covered in deet. YUCK!

I bought a bottle on Amazon because I did not know any AVON reps, but later I discovered you can shop AVON products right through their own website, so it's up to you how you want to get it.

The first night we went fishing at sunset. I sprayed myself down. It was a little greasy as it is a light oil. I sprayed my legs, arms, neck and forehead and lightly rubbed it in. Then I fished away. We fished well into 10:00 at night, and I did not get one mosquito bite. NOT ONE. Hubby was getting bit, then he sprayed it on and said he could feel bugs hitting his legs but not landing.

I used that spray every night fishing and during campfire nights. I did not get a mosquito bite once. Usually, I am a delicious buffet, but not this time! The one woodland walk I took I forgot to spray myself and I got two bites on my face and two on my arm. So they were around, they just stayed off me when I used Skin So Soft.

It works, guys. and there is NO DEET!

The only draw back is that your clothes gets a little bit oily. I had a light cotton skirt one night and I noticed when we got back inside, there were some oil stains on the skirt. It washed out easily, so it's not a big deal. Just don't wear anything nice when you are outdoors battling the bugs. I was so pleasantly surprised to find something that works without chemicals, and my skeptical-swarthy-fisherman-husband is amazed it worked at all.

True story! I have 15 large mouth bass pictures caught at night to prove it!

ENTERTAINING: Hosted a Great Party Last Night where the Smart Phones were Surprisingly Scarce

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Last night I hosted our Annual Sayonara Summer Party. It started years ago as a huge birthday party for my daughter. My birthday is right after Christmas (which stinks, by the way), so I always loved taking advantage of my daughter's summer birthday. As my daughter got older, she wanted smaller and smaller festivities. But my family and friends got used to our shin-digs at the end of summer. They love all the food, the farm fruit pies I make, the decadent lasagnas, the ribs my hubby lovingly grills, all the crazy stories my Italian dad tells. The kids make a bee-line to the basement playroom and they don't come up for air until dessert. I am proud to say that the event is looked forward to by our loved ones, and it's something my husband and I really work hard on all month to get ready for.

It dawned on me today, as I came out of my exhaustion and fog from all the fun and hard work yesterday, that no one, including me, took out a smart phone and took a picture to post anywhere. 
No selfies, no group pictures or silly photos eating chicken wings or giant pieces of pie.

To be completely transparent, these were the only two pictures I took, and they were before and after my party. It was of my killer dessert table which I was pretty proud of.

Everyone was too busy eating, conversing, laughing and enjoying themselves that no one felt the need to document it and share what we were doing with the world.

Even I, with 1600+ twitter followers and a blog to nurture weekly, did not feel the need to document every move my guests made and every bite they took. I just was in the moment, focusing on my food and spending time with my guests. I put the pressure of needing to share to the world by the wayside and just enjoyed myself and my loved ones. I have to admit, it was the most enjoyable party I hosted in a while.

SO next time you have a dinner party, urge your guests to put the smart phones away for a little while. Create an environment that everyone can be in the present and really enjoy their time with you. You work hard on your dinners and preparing your event. Be in the moment. Let your guests be in the moment. Trust me, when simply enjoying the moment is all they need to worry about then that's all that happens!

RECIPE: Pamela's Gluten Free Blueberry Muffins

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A recent Michigan trip has us up to our eye balls in fresh blueberries. Having fresh blueberries from the farm is quite an experience. They are nothing like the ones you buy at the store off season. If you can have them from the farm, jump on it! You won't regret it.

You can easily freeze farm fresh blueberries and enjoy them in the winter. Here's a post I wrote a few years ago on how to do it. It certainly allows you to not waste such wonderful summer bounty. If blueberries are starting to get too ripe, they may be too mushy for eating, but they are great for baking. Here is an easy muffin recipe I whipped up using Pamela's Gluten Free baking mix. I like mashing up a handful of blueberries and throwing it my muffins. It gives the muffins a layer of subtle blueberry flavor throughout the batter.

Pamela's Gluten Free Blueberry Muffins


2 1/2 cups Pamela's Gluten Free Baking Mix
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar and 1 Tbsp, divided
1/4 cup oil
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blueberries, cleaned and picked through and 1/4 blueberries, divided
1 Tbsp. orange juice


First, mash up the 1/4 cup of blueberries in a small bowl or cup with a fork. Add the orange juice and 1 Tbsp. sugar and mash up some more. Set aside and allow flavors to meld until the batter is ready.

Preheat oven to 350˚. Grease a medium muffin tin or prep with paper liners and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the 2 eggs with the oil, vanilla extract and milk with the sugar. until smooth and creamy. Add the baking mix and mix well until just combined. Add a splash of milk if the mix is looking too dry. You want it nice and smooth. Add the mashed up blueberry mixture and the cup of blueberries and fold in. Pour batter into the tins until they are about 2/3rds full. 

Bake for about 15-20 minutes. The top should be lightly golden and spring back when touched. Let cool 5 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a cooling rack to cool down some more. Serve warm. Store extras in an airtight container for a few days. 

I froze mine because back-to-school time is around the corner and any quick help during breakfast is much appreciated!

RECIPE: Farmer's Market Vegetable Pesto Pasta

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OK. Yes, it's all back-to-school-palooza, and Joanne Fabrics has aisles and aisles of halloween stuff right now. But come on guys! It's still August and the farmer's markets are bursting with fresh produce-not to mention your own garden. In fact we are over run with tomatoes right now, our first big harvest was just last week!
Halloween is two whole months away.
Summer is short, enjoy every minute. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. I love fall sweaters and pumpkin spiced lattes like the rest of you, but that will come in time.

Now go get your fresh produce on this beautiful August day and whip this up tonight.

You can use whatever vegetables you want in this, just sub in what I used. The key to this dish is a subtle technique that makes a huge difference that I discovered doing some research around pesto. I noticed some recipes calling for blanching the garlic. It tones down the bitter aftertaste of pesto making it creamy and sweet on the tongue. It's an extra step, but worth it. The chicken broth in the vegetables is a technique I always use to round out vegetable flavors in dishes that are olive oil based. You don't have tomatoes or cream to carry it, and chicken broth prevents a vegetable focused dish from being too bland. Of course, farm fresh vegetables have a lot more flavor on their own, so use that to your advantage. The chicken broth is just an added bonus. Be sure to reduce it down as I suggest or else you will have a soggy-soupy pasta.

Remember kids, it's still summer in my book! Let it be in yours too.

Farmer's Market Vegetable Pesto Pasta

Vegetables and Pasta:
1/4 cup minced onion
2 cloves minced garlic
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup hot water with 3/4 tsp. chicken broth bouillon granules, dissolved
1 zucchini or 4 globe zucchini, sliced
1/2 yellow and 1/2 purple bell pepper (other colors can work except green, mix and match based on what the farm stand has)
4 oz. sliced mushrooms
salt and pepper to taste
1-1 1/2 cups green beans, trimmed and cut in half
3/4 lb. rotini pasta (we used gluten free but you can use whatever you wish)

Pesto (makes about 1 cup, enough for the pasta and vegetables):
2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
1/2 large clove garlic or 1 medium sized clove, cut into quarters
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup toasted pine nuts

Have extra grated cheese for garnish


Make the pesto. In a small bowl, mix the quartered garlic with enough water to cover them. Heat up the bowl in the microwave for about 1 minutes. Th water should heat a boil. Let sit for a few more minutes. Pull the garlic out and pat dry. Slice the garlic and add to a blender or food processor. Add the pine nuts, basil and cheese. Pulse a few times until finely chopped. During processing, add the olive oil and continue to process until a creamy sauce is formed. Set aside.

Now prep the vegetables. In a large saute pan, heat up the olive oil. Add the garlic and onion, and cook until translucent. Then add the peppers and cook until soft. Then add the zucchini and turn up the heat. Cook until the zucchini begins to brown. Add the chicken broth and simmer, reduce the liquid a little. Finally add the mushrooms. Cook until the liquid is reduced down until you just have 1-2 tablespoons left. Take off the heat and set aside while you cook the pasta.

Cook the pasta according to package directions in slated water. Halfway through cooking time, add the green beans to the pot so they blanch nicely with the pasta. When the pasta is al dente, drain the pot.

Reheat the vegetables in the pan and toss in the pasta with the green beans. Finally add the pesto and toss around until everything is heated through. Serve hot with extra grated cheese.

RECIPE: Farmstand Berry Crumble Bars

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Recently we came back from Michigan, where farm stands were ripe with wonderful fruit and vegetables. One of my favorite things to do on break up there is bake my heart out with all the fresh fruit. This bar cookie I came up with after my husband brought home the ripest raspberries I had ever seen! You make a basic shortbread, then use it for the crust and the crumble top, making it a super easy bar cookie to make. Lemon keeps the berries bright in flavor.

Farm stand Berry Crumble Bars

2 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. corn starch
dash of salt
1/2 pint fresh raspberries
1/2-3/4 cup fresh blueberries
1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup soft butter
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
dash of salt
1 beaten egg
dash of cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375˚. Grease an 8"x 8" pan. Set aside.

In a small bowl gently mix the berries with lemon juice, salt, corn starch, berries and sugar.
Let macerate while you prep the crust.

In a large bowl, mix the flour with sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until mixture is crumbly. Add the beaten egg and knead until dough begins to form and come together if pressed. Take 1/3rd of the mixture and set it aside for the crumble top. Pour the rest in the pan and press it until evenly flattened.

Pour the berry mixture over the crust evenly. Crumble the reserved shortbread on top of the berries evenly. Bake 30-40 minutes until berries are bubbly and crumble is lightly golden brown on top.

Let cool for 10 minutes, then cut up into squares. Store in an airtight container for 3-5 days.

LIFESTYLE: Coloring for Adults? Yes, Please.

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I have been seeing posts about adult coloring books lately with claims of stress reduction and improved creativity. It got me thinking that maybe I should try it out. After all, I am an artist at heart. I used to love coloring with my daughter when she was small and did find it therapeutic. But I was skeptical I would find the time. I barely had time to do my own art projects-why would I find time to color?

Then as I walked through my creativity seminar with some new employees, I hit a slide that talked about the differences between children and adults when it came to creativity. There was a quote I pulled stating that you start your education with a huge box of colored crayons and you graduate as an adult with a black or blue ball point pen. It was a way to reinforce that as adults, we don't really live in color, but bringing in color in your daily life is a great way to stimulate creativity.

So I went to my favorite "get creative juices flowing" shop at lunch, The Paper Source, to hunt down a grown up coloring book. To my delight they had two from the same artist, and I picked the garden one, being an obsessive gardener. I was so excited to get started. The intricate patterns and designs were stunning in just black and white. I couldn't wait to get some of it colored. As I was checking out, the woman at the register said that she was a social worker as her main job and had a lot of these in her office. She said they helped her patients quiet their minds and center themselves, and she bought herself one, too.

I brought the coloring book with me on vacation with one of my daughter's countless left over colored pencil kits from school. I have to honestly tell you, it was wonderful.

Once you get going, you end up in a meditative state-the mecca of right brain activity. The world around you disappears as you play with colors. Time flies by. It is completely engrossing and just plain fun. It is almost as if you give your right brain a yoga session for a bit. I felt it really helped me decompress, too.

I urge you to get your hands on one of these books as well as some markers, crayons or colored pencils. Even if you take 30 minutes a few times a week, you will reap a lot of rewards. It's like giving your brain it's own yoga session. You take care of your body, right? Why not do the same for your brain?

Here are some links below to other books for you to check out. Also here is a link to the one I bought. Once I am done with it, I am going to buy the artist's other ones. Her name is Johanna Basford and she is quite talented.

Here is Johanna Basford's site where you can see her other awesome work!

Here are some at Barnes & Noble

As Georgia O'Keefe once said, "I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for." Find your voice-or your quiet place-coloring.

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