Tuesday, July 31, 2012

LeapPad 2 Kids' Toy Review

When I find a product that we love, I do my best to share it with you here. Christmas may be months away, but my gift idea lists are already being planned in my head. Many of us find ourselves watching our wallets this year, spending only on quality items and planning ahead for big purchases. The product I'm reviewing today is, hands-down, a total win for kids...and I can recommend adding it to your gift list too! Want to see why we love the LeapPad2? Keep reading!

If you're not familiar with the LeapPad products, the LeapPad2 is an educational learning tablet toy for kids. My girls think their daddy's ipad is pretty awesome, but they also know it's not a toy. We limit the time they spend watching TV, and I've steered clear of computer games and gaming systems. Knowing that the LeapPad2 offers children the opportunity to learn through play made me feel comfortable enough to let the girls test it out.

The LeapPad2 has front and back cameras and video recorders, 4GB of memory, and it comes with plenty of free content:
  • A music player with 5 learning songs
  • A cartoon director creativity app
  • An art studio creativity app
  • Pet Pad writing app
  • Your choice of an additional app
I love that the tablet isn't filled with mindless games. Sure, there are games for the kids, but they are learning games designed to help your little ones grow their skills in math, reading, science, social studies, logic, and more. And they are funYou can track a child's progress online, to see where they excel and where they are being challenged. This is helpful in showing me what I can work on with them. 

My girls didn't mention it, but I was impressed with the quality of audio and animation with the games, eBooks, and videos. The sound is clear (and adjustable!), and the images are crisp.

As I said before, I limit the time my kids spend with TV and electronics, but a toy like this is a gem. The same as any other electronic toy, it's my job as a parent to keep an eye out on what they're looking at, playing with, etc....and also to be sure it stays a play thing and not a habit. Perfect for long car rides, waits in doctor's offices, or mornings when you want to sleep in an extra half hour and need to keep them quiet. {wink} And, ironically, it's helping them work on their social skills because they have to share!

The possibilities are endless with the LeapPad2. I've done a lot of shopping when it comes to electronic learning toys (we own tablets from two other brands), and LeapPad offers much more of a variety in cartridges. LeapPad2 works with all of the existing LeapPad and LeapPad Explorer game cartridges and digital apps! 

With the online library, LeapPad will have over 325 games, apps, music, videos, and more by the end of the year. You'll also be able to purchase gel skins, storage cases, a recharger pack, car adapter, headphones, and more.

LeapPad2 is now available for pre-sale at major online retailers, and will be available online and at major retail locations in early August!

I can't thank LeapFrog enough for sending a LeapPad2 our way! My girls are having a blast learning about science with Brave and math with Phineas and Ferb. They can't wait to play more!

If the LeapPad2 isn't on your list, I highly recommend adding it.

Here's a quick video showing how excited they were to open it (you'll have to click over to the blog if you're viewing this in a reader):

*LeapFrog sent a LeapPad2 to us for review, but I was not financially compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

Linguine with Shrimp, Tuscan Style

My family loves pasta. Michaela Byrd likes it plain, and could eat a plate full of it if I'd let her. One of our favorite summer pasta dishes is Linguine with Shrimp. T loves shrimp, but I know seafood is not everyone's favorite. I've made this dish and substituted chicken for the shrimp...also delicious. 

Funny, sometimes the best recipes are ones you just run across randomly. I picked this one up on one of those grocery store index cards years ago, and it's now one of our favorites!

Linguine with Shrimp, Tuscan Style
adapted from Giant Food

1 pound cooked shrimp (Jumbo or other size)
1/2 pound dried linguine
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, Italian-style
1 fresh lemon

Notes: I sometimes substitute 2 or 3 chicken breasts, chopped. If I don't have fresh garlic, a dash of minced garlic from the fridge is fine. I usually add some of my own pepper, oregano, thyme, basil, and even a dash of rosemary and a bit of kosher salt.


1. If you use frozen shrimp, defrost them by running them under cold running water for 3 to 5 minutes and the cut off the tails. Pat dry.
2. Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil on low in a large skillet and cook garlic for 1 minute (do not brown). 
3. Add your shrimp (or chicken) to the skillet and cook with the garlic on medium.
4. Add the can of diced tomatoes, along with your seasonings. 
5. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain well.
6. Toss the pasta with the shrimp or chicken mixture. 
7. Top with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Serve with a fresh salad and some bread.

Enjoy! I made this dish last year for our family beach trip, and everyone loved it:

What's your favorite pasta dish?

Monday, July 30, 2012

DIY Rosette Embellished Girl's Tank Top (Simple Sewing)

You guys know I love my ruffles! I shared a couple of shots of my girls in some cute embellished tank tops not too long ago, and saw some nice comments and emails asking for a tutorial. Natalie and Michaela Byrd love girlie girl outfits, and they flipped when they saw what I made for them. This project does not require a sewing machine, so any beginner can complete this simple sewing project!
DIY Rosette Embellished Girl's Tank Top, Serenity Now blog

Fabric Flowers Tutorial (Simple Sewing), Serenity Now blog

-Inexpensive, Plain Tank Top (ours were from WalMart)
-Ruffled Trim (I bought pre-made cotton trim from Hobby Lobby because I thought it would wash well. They also make trim from grosgrain ribbon)
-Petti Flower (You can make your own, but I used the affordable pre-made option from The Hairbow Company). 
-Coordinating Thread

How to Make Fabric Rosette Flowers, Serenity Now blog

1. Cut a length of trim for the base of your fabric flower. 
The length will depend on how large you want your flower to be. There's no right or wrong. I played with it until it looked long enough to contrast in size to the petti flower. 

2. Curve the trim around to make a circle with the ends slightly overlapping.
It's okay if the trim bunches up in the center where the "donut hole" is. It will be covered up later.

3. Sew the ends together with matching thread.

How to Embellish a Girl's Tank Tank with Fabric Rosettes, Serenity Now blog

4. Lay your base down flat on your work surface so you can see your ruffles.

5. Layer the petti flower over the center of your ruffle base.

6. Using a thread that coordinates with your petti flower, hand sew the fower to the trim part of the ruffle base.

7. Choose a spot on your tank top and hand sew it firmly down.
I considered making the rosettes into detachable pins, but my girls (and a lot of little ones) hate pins because they don't want to get "stuck." These tanks are also super duper thin, and I worried that constant pinning and repinning might wear a large hole in the tank....

Now you have a lovely embellished tank top!
DIY Fabric Rosette (Embellishment), Serenity Now blog

They really looked adorable paired with the sweet pettiskirts that The Hairbow Company sent us. I even hauled the outfits (carefully) down to Myrtle Beach for a fun seaside photo shoot, and the girls got tons of compliments on their "little princess" outfits from early morning beach walkers. 

I love finding fun ways to dress up and embellish plain store-bought pieces...and it's amazing how easy it can be! I'll share the beach shoot photos another day, but here are a few we snapped elsewhere....
Girls' DIY Fashion, Pettiskirts and Rosette Tank Tops, Serenity Now blog
Little Girl Fashion, Serenity Now blog
Little Girl Fashion, Serenity Now blog
Pettiskirts, DIY Fabric Rosettes, Serenity Now blog

Have you done anything crafty lately?

Linking to Between Naps on the PorchHome Stories A to Z, The Shabby Creek CottagePositively SplendidThrifty Decor ChickHi Sugarplum

*The Hairbow Company sent me supplies to review and craft with, but I was not financially compensated for this post. All opinions are my own. 

eMeals Giveaway Winner!


The winner of the eMeals Giveaway was #35, Steph of The Silly Pearl.

Congratulations! Steph, please email me by Thursday at 5 pm to claim your prize!


Sunday, July 29, 2012

More Highlighted Links--Share Your Best Post!

Good morning, friends. If you're here to link up to Weekend Bloggy Reading, it's open for new links until 10 pm (ET) tonight. Please share your best post of the week with us...crafts, recipes, home decor, book reviews--all kinds of posts are welcome.

I like to Feature bloggers who not only have great projects, but who also take the time to  link back to me within their post(s). I add many of these Features to my Pinterest page as well as Facebook!

Here are a few links from Weekend Bloggy Reading that caught my eye.

~Double Workspace Office Makeover via Starr Circus
Double Workspace Office Makeover

~DIY Sunburst Mirror via Building This Nest
DIY Sunburst Mirror

~Homemade Curried Lentil Soup in a Jar via The Path to an Organized Tomorrow

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Highlighted Weekend Links-- Share Your Best Post!

Happy Saturday! Please pop in to link up YOUR best post of the week at my Weekend Bloggy Reading link party. More Features on the way tomorrow! And please don't forget to enter this week's Giveaway for Meal Planning from eMeals!

All kinds of posts are welcome here: We have recipes, party ideas, room makeovers, crafts, tips and tricks, fashion advice, and more! The code for the button is near the end of this post, or you can add a text link back to me within your post.

Keep reading to see just a few of the posts that caught my eye so far.

~Guest Room Makeover via The Life of CK and Nate

~Secret Garden Theme Baby Shower via Parties for Pennies

~How to Get the Perfect Paint Finish via In My Own Style

Friday, July 27, 2012

::Weekend Bloggy Reading:: Link Up!

Welcome to my Weekend Bloggy Reading link party. I hope you'll link up your best post of the week today, and maybe leave me some comment love. Please be sure to read my guidelines before you add a link. *Don't forget to enter this week's eMeals Meal Planning Giveaway!

All kinds of posts are welcome--recipes, crafts, funny stories, home decor, etc.; but please do not link to Etsy shops, businesses, items for sale, etc. (I have a Sponsors section, if you'd like to Advertise with me.)

Here are a few of my faves from this week:

sources listed below

~Yellow and Gray Bird Themed Nursery via the house of wood

~Shabby Flower Pillow via burlap + blue

~Charming Kitchen Makeover via Dixie Delights

~DIY Dresser Beverage Station via Bliss Ranch

~And Me? This week featured:

    Time to link up your best post of the week!

    Thursday, July 26, 2012

    Online Meal Planning (emeals Giveaway!)

    -Giveaway Closed-
    One of my goals for 2012 was to work on meal planning. I was so excited when emeals contacted me to see if I wanted to try out their online meal plan service and to offer a free 3 month subscription as a Giveaway for one lucky reader! Keep reading for details...


    If you aren't familiar with emeals, it's a fantastic online meal planning resource! After you choose a subscription, you find the kind of meal plan you want and the store you want to shop at, and they email your plan each week--with a categorized and priced shopping list. They have over 30 menu plans for a family ranging from 2 to 6, with options including low carb, low fat, clean eating, natural and organic, and vegetarian. They have a nice selection of grocery stores and mass retailers to choose from.

    It doesn't get much easier than that, people.

    I was worried that my picky husband would starve for lack of tasty options or that my kids would ask "where are the nuggets?" but we have been pleasantly surprised. There have been a few times I've glanced at the menu and knew one particular dish would not appeal to small kids (or a grown man with the palate of a four year old). Easy peasy---I just made a few changes to the dish, sides, or decided to try something different for that particular meal.

    Without giving away the secrets of emeals, I did want to show you how cleverly organized it all is. Here's a peek at the Menu Plan for a week (I chose Wal-Mart). Items are marked as "make ahead," "grill," and even "slow cooker." Each ingredient is clearly listed, along with instructions for the meal.

    The grocery lists are organized by section, and the price and number of each item is clearly listed. Love this!

    I think you could find ways to save even more by substituting or couponing, but I like that by using the grocery list, you have a predictable budget.

    You can also visit the emeals blog for recipes, tips on organizing your life, and planning family fun!

    Want to WIN a 3 Month Subscription to emeals?

    *Here's how you can enter to win (separate comments for each entry, please):

    1. (Madatory entry) Visit emeals and leave me a comment here with the name of the meal plan you'd like to try.
    2. "Like" emeals on Pinterest
    3. "Like" emeals on Facebook
    4. Tweet this Giveaway with a link to this post: @eMeals Meal Planning #Giveaway via @Serenitynowgirl! http://bit.ly/OlsApW
    5. Facebook this Giveaway with a link to this post.
    6. Link up a post to my Weekend Bloggy Reading link party this weekend and include a link back to me within your post for an extra entry!

    Get your party hats on! My Weekend Bloggy Reading link party is scheduled as usual for tomorrow morning (8 am ET), so be sure to swing by with your best post of the week.

    Here's the button code for the party if you want to get a head start! Recipes, crafts, home decor, party ideas, tips and tricks, you name it. Come prepared to showcase your blog and find some great weekend reads.
    Weekend Bloggy Reading

    *Giveaway open until 10 pm (ET) on Sunday, July 29, 2012. Open to U.S. residents only. Odds of winning depend on the number of entries received. I received a subscription to emeals in exchange for a review of the system. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.

    Wednesday, July 25, 2012

    Favorite Smart Phone Apps?

    All my dreams came true last December when I got my first iPhone. Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but I had no idea how handy a smart phone could be. Whether you have an iPhone like me, or another fancy schmancy phone, there are some super cool apps out there. I want to share a few of my favorite apps today and I'd love to know what your favorite apps are! 

    Not a sponsored post; I'm just a little addicted to my handheld technology and am perhaps also a bit nosy. Please tell me I'm not the only one who loves to "collect" apps.

    *I download my apps by going to the "App Store" on my phone and searching for them there.

    1. Instagram
    I use this app all. the. time. You can upload/edit photos and share them with people all over the world. I love browsing photos to "Heart" while I'm waiting somewhere. For bloggers, it's a great networking tool...another way to give your readers and blogging friends sneak peeks of upcoming projects. I love having a spot to catalog everyday life...fun pics of coffee, my kids doing something crazy, a cute outfit or home decor item I want to remember. My instagram username is serenitynowgirl.

    2. Twitter and Facebook
    If you like social media, use it to promote your content, or you just like to connect with readers or other bloggers, these apps are a must! It's so much easier to click on the apps, as opposed to trying to log in from your phone's internet browser.

    3. Pandora
    Oddly enough I mostly use the Pandora app when I am at home. I plug my phone into my little Sony speaker thingie and blast my favorite radio stations while I clean, cook, or work on stuff around the house. Great for entertaining too!

    4. Pinterest
    Well, I mean, how could I not have the Pinterest app?! I love that it connects right to my regular Pinterest account, and I can browse new Pins, comment, etc. while I'm waiting for the girls' dance lessons to be over. It also makes for nice entertainment when you're stuck in traffic and your husband is yelling at the other cars. Not that I know firsthand or anything. You can find me on Pinterest here.

    5. QR Reader
    We're seeing more and more of those funky looking black puzzle picture thingies on ads and business cards, in magazines, etc. They are scannable codes that take you directly to a particular website. I have one on my business cards that, when scanned by a smartphone, directs the person to my blog.
    6. allrecipes.com Dinner Spinner
    This one is so cool. You plug in the kind of recipe you want (Beverage, Main Dish, Bread, Soup, etc), ingredients (chicken, vegetables, cheese), and the amount of time you want to spend (20 min or less, 45 minutes or less, slow cooker, any, etc.) and it "spins" to find you a whole list of clickable recipes. Too cool!

    7. Angry Birds
    A game with an annoying background song. It keeps my kids occupied in sticky situations. Enough said.

    8. GPS Drive MotionX
    LOVE this app! The download is just $0.99 and I believe you get 30 days of free voice guided navigation. After that, you can purchase the voice navigation for a year for only $9.99. Wow! There's a less expensive package, but the year was really worth it. I can't tell you how handy this one is.

    I know people who spent a couple of hundreds of dollars on expensive GPS systems and still have to pay yearly to update their stuff. This MotionX thing has direction lists, maps to follow, searches for food/shopping/hospitals/parking, etc. Well worth the buck to try it out. Has given me accurate directions on every trip we've taken!

    9. Lines (Disney Touring Plans)
    This was a pricey, but very much worth it if you're planning on spending several days in Disney parks. It gives you approximate wait times for the rides, and also offers wonderful customized touring plans for all sorts of groups who might be exploring Disney (families with young kids, families with older kids, seniors, newlyweds, college aged kids, etc)

    10. The Flashlight App
    There are several flashlight apps. I'm not sure which one it is that I have, but it is bright! It came in very handy when I was walking the dog while we were at my Nannie's house.

    That I have 2 apps in my "health" folder on my phone (MyFitnessPal and another one), but 9 apps in my shopping folder is telling.

    So, I've shared my top 10 apps. I'm dying to know...

    What are your favorite apps?

    I'm back tomorrow with a Giveaway from emeals!

    Tuesday, July 24, 2012

    How to Cut and Slice a Pineapple

    I served cut up pineapple as a little snack at a get-together recently, and a friend remarked that she never serves pineapple to her kids because she doesn't know how to cut one. I wondered if there might be other readers out there who are unsure of cutting and serving pineapples...they are a bit scary looking with their spikey sides. Pineapple is such a yummy summertime treat, so today I'll show you a quick tutorial on How to Cut and Slice a Pineapple.
    How to Cut and Slice a Pineapple, Serenity Now blog

    I think its important for bloggers (and readers) to remember that there are plenty of people with zero kitchen experience. We all have to start with the basics at some point, and learning to slice a pineapple is one of those basic kitchen skills.

    You really only need a couple of things to make this work: a pineapple (duh), a cutting board, and a good knife.

    Let's get started:
    How to Cut and Slice a Pineapple, Serenity Now blog

    1. Lay your pineapple on its side and slice the lovely green top off.

    2. Turn it around and hack the bottom right off.

    3. Set your pineapple right side up and slice off all four sides, being careful not to cut too deep and waste tasty pineapple.

    How to Cut and Slice a Pineapple, Serenity Now blog

    4. You'll be left with a nekkid pineapple with little spikey bits left on it. Don't panic!

    5. Use your knife to slice away those little spikey bits that were left behind and discard them.

    6. Turn your pineapple log on its side and slice some lovely squares.

    7. Use a smaller knife (if you have one) to cut the circle core out of each slice.

    How to Cut and Slice a Pineapple, Serenity Now blog

    8. Cut small slices or cubes from your cored pineapple squares.

    9. Store in a tupperware container in your fridge for a tasty snack.

    Ready to eat!

    What's your favorite simple kitchen tip?

    Linked to Tasty TuesdayHome Stories A to ZPositively Splendid

    Monday, July 23, 2012

    Custom DIY Canvas (Personalized Art)

    I'm taking one more day to unpack and "recoup" from our Myrtle Beach trip, so I invited Tracie from Cleverly Inspired to share a DIY project with you all that is simple, affordable, and super-adorable! Stick around to learn how to create your own Custom Canvas Art:

    I hung out with Tracie at Haven, and she is just as cute and sweet as she is on her blog. And, boy, does she have some DIY skills! Please help me welcome her to Serenity Now!

    I am so excited to be visiting here at Amanda’s !! Thanks so much for having me! We had so much fun hanging out at Haven…cannot wait to catch up again next year! My name is Tracie and I am author of CleverlyInspired. My blog focuses on thrifty DIY projects, decorating, remodeling and some easy recipes. My goal is for your to be inspired to be clever in your own home. I hope you can stop by and visit me sometime!



    Here is a great project that you can get done this weekend. Personalized art....perfect for any room! DSC_0009

    I am so thrilled that you all like how the peanut’s room came out! She is loving the space. Her brother is anxiously awaiting his new room now. I wanted to share with you how to create the artwork that I used in her room. It is really simple and I think it is always nice to have something personal on the wall. 

    I ordered 3 prints from costco. They are 16 by 20. I did black and white because we thought that would make a nice statement on the wall. DSC_0002DSC_0003DSC_0004

    Get some inexpensive canvas sets at the craft store that are also 16 by 20. Spray with tacky spray and position a print on top. Flip over and smooth out. DSC_0006

    That is it!! I know..so simple and on the cheap! Love it! Nice thing about these is that when we have another great picture to blow up…we can change them out without too much cost. Cause you know how 12 year old girls are…they tend to change their mind a lot! :)

    Thanks for having me, Amanda!!

    Thanks, Tracie, for an inspiring start to our week!

    Head over to Cleverly Inspired today, and let Tracie know I sent you. Her DIY skills will knock your socks off!

    What's your favorite kind of wall art to use in your home?

    Sunday, July 22, 2012

    Highlighted Weekend Links-- Share Your Best Post!

    Happy Sunday! Please pop in to link up YOUR best post of the week at my Weekend Bloggy Reading link party

    All kinds of posts are welcome here: We have recipes, home remedies, room makeovers, crafts, tips and tricks, fashion advice, book reviews, and more! The code for the button is near the end of this post, or you can add a text link back to me within your post.

    Keep reading to see just a few of the posts that caught my eye so far.

    *If you are a Pinterest user, Pin from the original source so that each blogger gets credit for his/her work.*

    ~Screen Makeover with Homemade Chalk Paint via Miss Kopy Kat

    ~How to Repair a Cracked Cement Patio via four generations One Roof

    ~Swiss Chocolate Almond Parfait via Adorned from Above

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