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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Instant Pot...so now what?

Unless you have been hiding under a rock you have heard about the amazing Instant Pot.  Well, after all of the Christmas gifts were put to the test over the last few weeks I was seeing some amazing meals and recipes all created by the Instant Pot.  

Look, I love my slow cooker, I didn't want to fall into the Instant Pot trend but when my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday the two words - Instant Pot - came flying out of my mouth!  Like...wait...I guess...Yup - the Instant Pot magic got me.  

I have been a proud owner of an Instant Pot for exactly 2 days.  Nothing has been prepared yet...because life.  But I am in the club so...now what? 


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Instant Pot...so now what?


Tips I have gathered so far:

1.  Read the manual.  Yeah, got to do that for this one.  This is not just your ordinary pressure cooker.

2.  Start normal...what does that mean?  Be basic with your recipes at first, jumping right to the yogurt or cheesecake might not be the best idea. 

3.  Ask people for their favorites.  Get recipes from friends that have had successfully meals so far!  

4.  Join the Instant Pot facebook group.  Did this, totally overwhelmed but so many great people with amazing tips and ideas.  

5.  Before use, clean Instant Pot by pressure cooking a cup of water to clean and sterilize the unit.

6.  Learn the basics of cooking time for the Instant Pot.  Again, read the manual. 

7.  Experiment!  Take a weekend to check out the rice cooker, saute feature and even the set it and forget it feature.  Time to get to know this new appliance that just might change your meal planning and prepping forever!!

8.  I stated to a friend that I was terrified of pressure cookers due to the "blowing up" issue!  She assured me this was safer as long as you learn how to release Instant Pot when pressure cooking.


Questions I have for you:

1.  Your simple dos and don'ts. 
2.  Favorite recipes.
3.  Your favorite features and settings. 
4.  Cleaning tips. 
5.  Favorite add on items and accessories. 


Please leave me any great Instant Pot knowledge you can!  I am excited and terrified to be in this club but want to rock it!  

Instant Pot....do you have one?


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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

New Years Weekend at YMCA of the Rockies: Estes Park Colorado

Disclosure: In return for our honest review my family and I received free vouchers for activities at the YMCA of the Rockies for a weekend of fun. All opinions are our own.


Over the last few years we have shared our love of the 2 local YMCAs in our area and now we have decided to start a new family tradition with the YMCA of the Rockies.  About six months ago I decided to reserve us a cabin at the Estes Park location for the New Years weekend.  We have never really done much for that "holiday" and the timing worked perfectly.  It was such a great decision.  Like always, we had a great experience at the YMCA but with the additional New Years Eve activities we are now set on making this a yearly tradition.  

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What is the YMCA of the Rockies?


YMCA of the Rockies, located near the town of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, is an ideal vacation, reunion, wedding and conference destination. The best part about this weekend getaway is how easy of a drive it is, even in the winter.

You can fill your day and nights at Estes Park Center YMCA with so many programs and activities. Every season brings fun and excitement for the entire family. Whether you are looking for adventure or a relaxing stroll, we can set you on your way.


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We stayed in a 2 bedroom cabin with a fireplace this stay.  It was the perfect size for our family of 4.  I think our favorite part is the cozy living room with the fireplace.  We we not have a fireplace at home so it is a treat for the whole family to watch the beauty in the flames, enjoy the warmth and hear the crackling of the wood.  Instant relaxation!  Love it!

This 2 bedroom cabin had a full bathroom, a bedroom with a full size bed and a bedroom with a twin bed plus a bunk bed as well as a full kitchen with dishwasher and stove/oven.  Ironically our cabin was named, Serenity.  Certainly brought us some serenity after a busy holiday season. 

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Not only does the YMCA offer great activities for all ages but it gives us a time to escape the world of technology for a bit.  With no TV and very limited WIFI the kids had to find ways to keep themselves entertained while in the cabin. 

Teagan and Jeremy worked 2 big puzzles while Jude and I read a lot.  It is so nice to have that time to just sit and reconnect.  

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Jude did have a few chances to play Pokemon Go to see if he could find any unusual Pokemon in the mountains. 

With the cabin having a full kitchen we did most of our meals in the cabin.  Very convenient and a great perk.  We did take one afternoon to go into town for lunch and also ate one dinner at the YMCA dining hall.  The kids love that because it is a buffet - lots of fun foods to choose from.  

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Just like all of our previous visits to the YMCA, Teagan's very favorite part is going to the craft center. She loves it. The craft and design center offers a wide variety of projects for kids ages 2 to 102! Check out the wood and leather crafts, the jewelry area with thousands of beads, ceramics, and tie dye. The prices of these activities range from $3.00-$75.00 per project. There is literally something for everyone and if Teagan had her way, we would have spent the whole day there! Painting certainly seems to be one of her favorite things to choose. This time she decided to paint a Little Mermaid figure. So focused!

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Jude's highlight of the trip is usually his trip to the Archery range with Dad.  He is actually really great at it and enjoys getting those bulls-eyes.  I love that there are some great activities like this available for his age.  It gets him out of his normal activities and has him trying new things.  

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While we were out enjoying some of the planned activities on property we stumbled on the playground that the kids both LOVED last year.  Teagan could spend the whole day on these spinny things.  Loves it and I love hearing those deep belly laughs.  

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This year they did some major playground additions which made our play time even more fun.  The best part about this is that the kids get to run and play all while enjoying the beautiful Colorado Mountain air.  So refreshing!

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One afternoon we were getting ready to leave our cabin to go swimming I looked out the kitchen window and saw about 20 deer out in the grass.  They were just enjoying a nice grassy lunch.  The kids were in awe as we watched from our deck.  Talk about coming close to nature - the photo ops were pretty amazing!

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New Years Weekend at YMCA of the Rockies: Estes Park Colorado


The whole reason we reserved during this time was to enjoy the last bit of the holiday season as well as some resting for the New Year.  I was so excited to ring in the New Year with my little family away from it all.  

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Guests at the YMCA of the Rockies were able to attend a family dance and "ball" countdown on New Years Eve.  Since this was the first time we had gone to this we did not really know what to expect but I am so happy we did it.  

We walked into the Longhouse gym and the DJ was gearing up, the snacks were ready, the tables were nice and decorated and the party favors were being passed out.  The energy was high and as the night moved along more and more families showed up to have some fun!

At 10pm we celebrated 2017 with a fun Balloon Drop.  Seeing the kids run and have fun was a great way to end our evening and say hello to 2017!

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We all got some fun New Years Even party props and found a spot to enjoy our punch and brownies.  It took awhile for my sweet Jude to get enough courage to enjoy the dancing - he was embarrassed at first.  But once he saw how everyone just didn't care how they looked while they danced he started to have some fun!

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It was so much fun to teach the kids some traditional DJ dances like the Cupid Shuffle, the macarena, and my favorite the Cha Cha Slide.  

New Years Eve is usually an evening that parents have to find sitters to enjoy a night of dancing but from now on our NYE plans will always involve a night of acting crazy on the dance floor with the kids.  

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We were lucky enough to wake up on our last day to a nice blanket of snow.  It doesn't matter that I am a Colorado Native - having a snow day in the mountains is always special and exciting. 

Lodging:

There are a number of different options when looking at lodging including lodge rooms that are similar to hotels, large reunion cabins, yurts and 2-5 bedroom cabins.

Activities:

Keep in mind when you are planning your trip that the seasons do make for different activity options. During the winter the activities that are on site and mostly free to all who are guests of the YMCA include: archery, campfires, crafts, Dorsey Museum, games, hiking, ice skating, snowshoeing, roller skating and pool fun.

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We have not attempted the Ice Skating on the lake yet - one year we will accomplish this!!   This scene is simply breathtaking.  Oh Colorado - you amaze me. 

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Once again we are so pleased with our stay at the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Colorado.  Stay tuned for some great travel tips for any of your upcoming stays at the YMCA.  


Have you stayed at the YMCA of the Rockies before?

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

This is 34 - Birthday Giveaway

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday to ME...Happy Birthday to Me!  

Today I turn 34.  Seems like such a big number this year.  While 2017 has started off with a lot of sickies in our house I am hopeful that this year and this BIG number brings joy and happiness to me and the whole family.  



As I pass another year I find myself even more grateful and thankful for this growing world of connections on my blog.  I would have never thought my space on the internet would have grown to this over the last 10 years.  So...while I am enjoying my day with my family and thinking about the year to come I want to thank you all by offering a fun and easy giveaway. 

WIN a $25.00 Starbucks Gift Card!!  

Enter to win by filling out the Rafflecopter below!  Good luck and thank you for taking the journey with me...here is to another great year!!

Rafflecopter Form:
a Rafflecopter giveaway


What is your favorite drink to order from Starbucks?


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Friday, January 13, 2017

Pizza Baked Potatoes

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of RAGÚ® Homestyle Pasta Sauce. All opinions are entirely my own.


This time of the year the holiday traditions are packed away in the garage and the families get ready for the Big Games. Seems like every weekend there is some sort of sporting event to get excited for.  In our house we have sports on the brain and on the TV pretty much every weekend. Poor kids; daddy won't share the TV!  Now, I am going to be honest with you, I don't care a bit about the sports that are on TV, instead I think about hosting the best Big Game party for our friends and family!  Hosting is the best part - meal planning, decorating and of course the kitchen visiting.  

My biggest issue with hosting these great parties is the timing - usually the Big Games are in the evening.  Dinnertime with kids means we need to provide more than chips and salsa for our menu and just any other day, I do not want to spend a ton of time around the stove preparing a meal.  

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Introducing our new favorite Game Day menu item - Pizza Baked Potatoes.  This recipe is a whole meal without having to spend a ton of time in front of the oven.  When I first came up with this idea, I was literally holding a jar of  RAGÚ®
Homestyle Traditional Pasta Sauce while looking at some potatoes on my counter.  It's like it was meant to be.  

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Pizza Baked Potatoes 

Free Printable Recipe here.


Ingredients:

Baked potatoes 
RAGÚ Homestyle Traditional Pasta Sauce
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Pepperoni
Optional: any other pizza toppings


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Directions:

1.  Prepare potatoes to be baked.  I do mine in the oven, slightly oiled.  

2. Place potatoes on a foil lined baking pan; preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

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3. Once potatoes are baked, slice them open in order for them to be filled with sauce and toppings.

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4.  Pour about 3 TBSP of RAGÚ Homestyle Traditional Pasta Sauce into the potatoes. 

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5. Sprinkle shredded Mozzarella cheese over the sauce. 

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6.  Place pepperoni and any other pizza toppings on top of the cheese. 

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7.  Bake Pizza Baked Potatoes at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.  

8.  Remove from oven and serve while hot.  Enjoy!


Although, this might seem like an adult Big Game meal option, I will let you know that this creative spin on a kid favorite is a hit in my house.  It is so much fun to think of new recipes using traditional household favorites like RAGÚ pasta sauce.  

Big Game Party Tip:

Create a Pizza Baked Potato bar to allow your guests a little freedom with their Big Game meal.  Set out prepared baked potatoes along with sauce and all the toppings in bowls on a bar or table.  Instruct your guests to add sauce and toppings to their baked potato and then the hostess can pop them in the oven while the game is on.  

Super easy tip but this will have your guests in awe over your Big Game Party hosting skills!  

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Start your creative Big Game spread planning by heading to your local Kroger like I did.  You can find your favorite RAGÚ pasta sauces and get cooking!  I told Jeremy that we have to start thinking of other non-pasta dishes using these great RAGÚ sauces that come in three other varities - RAGÚ Homestyle Cheese Pasta Sauce, RAGÚ Homestyle Meat Pasta Sauce, and RAGÚ Homestyle Roasted Garlic Sauce.  There are so many possibilities and so many of them could be great for any upcoming parties like the Big Game. 

Why do we choose RAGÚ?

RAGÚ has a delicious made-from-scratch taste, contains farm grown ingredients, vine ripened tomatoes, fragrant herbs like fennel, garlic, basil, ground black pepper and no artificial flavors, and no high fructose corn syrup!  

This is a Homestyle Pasta Sauce I can feel good about serving my family and friends!  


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Be sure to download the coupon for $0.75 off any ONE RAGÚ Homestyle Pasta Sauce today! 


What #Ragutailgating non-pasta dishes will you create using RAGÚ pasta sauces for The Big Game?

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