Search This Blog


Thursday, May 23, 2019


The second part of this year's Mother/Daughter vacation (after we spent 3 days in Venice) was Paris and Amboise, France.   Paris was strategically placed as our layover spot on the day of our arrival from Venice and the night before our departure back to the states.  I had only been to Paris once before, which was prior to the pyramid at the Louvre (which makes it prior to 1983 when construction began).
  I wanted to hit some highlights of the city to refresh my memory so I planned a self-guided walking tour for each of those days.  We had about 12 hours total, which allowed us to hit some of the "must-sees" on my list.  I find the metro to be a great resource in helping to navigate the city in a short amount of time.     On our first day, we saw:  Tuileries Garden, the Louvre, Palais Royal, and Le Village Royal.  We finished our evening in a sweet cafe' over a glass of wine and a lovely charcuterie platter.    The morning before we caught our train to Amboise, we rented motorized scooters and were able to see the Eiffel Tower, Place du Trocadero, and the river Seine.  It was a really fun way to get around quickly to take in the sights.    On our last night in France (our second stopover in Paris), we saw:  Sacre Couer, Montmartre, the sinking house, and just the front facade of Notre Dame (due to the recent fire, the streets were blockaded and guarded by the Police and Gendarmarie).   
    The train ride from Paris to  Amboise is just about 2 hours.  There are several choices of towns in the Loire valley to choose from for "home base"; my research suggested Amboise is one of the quieter choices.  We loved our stay here.  It was quaint, small, friendly and we stayed at an awesome place, Le Manoir les Minimes.   The bedding was very comfortable, and the room was on the larger size .  While it doesn't have a restaurant, it's literally a five minute walk into town.     Amboise also delivered the best meal of the trip !  L' Epicerie was amazing.  The owner was delightful, and helped us immensely in translating the French menu. The food was so delicious!                           

The reason I wanted to visit the Loire Valley was because of the chateaus in the region.  There are over 300!  (Not all are open to the public) I dedicated one day to our chateau visits, so I narrowed it down to the top three; the bonus fourth chateau was just up the hill from our hotel in Amboise.  This region is so romantic, I could have spent more time here for sure!

 In addition to the Chateau d' Amboise, we visited, Chambord, Cheverney and Chenonceau.  They were all beautiful, but my absolute favorite was Chenonceau.  Many of the chateaus have some rooms that are furnished so that you can really immerse yourself in the history and get a true feel of life in that era.  Again, Chenonceau was far superior to the others in the interior as well.     

Since I didn't  rent a car this trip, I found a company that I booked a "van tour" with to take us to the three chateaus (Acco-Dispo).  We were gone all day, and were able to visit the chateaus at our own pace.  Our driver was very informative as we drove from chateau to chateau.  It was perfect. 
Chateau d'Amboise
The weather during our visit was cool, but mostly dry and sunny.  We arrived just after the cherry blossoms were at their peak, but the gardens were in full bloom.  Again, Chenonceau's gardens (two) and grounds were stunning!

The Loire valley is also known for its extensive bike trails.  There are plenty of rental shops in the area, and the price is really reasonable.  You can rent by the day or day(s).  We spent one day just biking around the area.  I will say, you need to be prepared for some steep hills (there were times we actually walked alongside our bikes), and spotting the signs for specific trails was a challenge at times. But hey, we biked in France!

I know another visit to France is in my future.  There were so many places I wanted to see when I was planning this trip, but I narrowed it down to the Loire valley this time around.    

Normandy, Provence, Brittany......a girl can dream, right?


Wednesday, May 15, 2019


So who doesn't love a good chocolate cake?  I'm sure there is someone out there.....but, I believe the vast majority of us wouldn't pass up a slice of chocolate cake.  This recipe, my friends, was "touted" as "the best chocolate cake ever".   While I can't necessarily say whether that's the absolute truth, I can say.  It was excellent!
I brought this to Easter dinner and everybody gave it two thumbs up.  The best part if you're going to give it a try,  it begins with a box cake and the added ingredients only make it better!


1 box Devil's food cake mix
1 small box Jello instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
½ cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups mini chocolate chips


1 cup shortening (Crisco)
4 cups powdered sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream


Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray the cake tins (9" round) with nonstick cooking spray.  In a very large bowl, mix together everything but the chocolate chips.  The batter will be thick.  Once mixed; stir in the chips.

Pour the batter into the cake pans.  Use the cooking times on the back of the box as a guide; add additional minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Mine were finished in 35 minutes.  

For the frosting, cream the shortening until fluffy.  Add the sugar and continue creaming until well blended.  Add salt, vanilla, and cream.  Blend on low speed until just combined.  Beat at high speed until frosting is fluffy.  


recipe c/o:

Wednesday, May 8, 2019


This year's Mother/Daughter vacation was truly a dream come true.  I've wanted to visit Venice for a long time and the Loire valley in France turned out to be equally as magical.  Since there is so much to share, I decided to break this post into two parts.  First up, Venice.
We flew into Marco Polo airport (via Frankfurt) and took the express bus into the Piazzale Roma which is the main transportation hub for the city.  From there, we hopped on one of the water taxis to our hotel.   Finding the right transportation into Venice took a lot of research.  But, I'm happy with the choice that I made.  I purchased the bus tickets right from a machine in the airport and we were at the Piazzale Roma in just about 30 minutes.  From there it was about another 30 minutes to our hotel......but, what a 30 minutes it was!  The Grand Canal was amazing!                             The hotel I selected (Hotel Violino D'Oro) worked out well.  It had a complimentary breakfast included and was within ten minutes of St. Mark's square.  We were furthest away from the Rialto bridge, but we found that area to be the most congested so it all worked out great.     We'd start the day early, with full bellies from breakfast and go all day long.   As always, I had a planned itinerary for each day, with some wiggle room if needed.   I had one organized tour planned (a visit to the Doge's Palace and Secret Itineraries), but the rest was "self-guided".
We purchased full day water taxi tickets another day (the most economical) to expolore two of the many surrounding islands.  We went to Murano, which is known for it's glass making and Burano for it's lace making.    Both were very unique.  My daughter and I favored's so colorful!  Another "must see" for me back in Venice was St. Mark's Basilica and the Campanile.  I really enjoyed going up in the Campanile.  The views were amazing! I highly advise purchasing the tickets online so you can "skip the line".   Not only did we not waste time standing in line, but it allowed us to plan the rest of our day, knowing when we needed to be back for our reserved time.                                                            

We walked on average seven miles each day.  Walking is truly the best way to see the city!  There was one other water taxi ticket we purchased since there was a church I really wanted to see (Basilica dei Frari or Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari) on the other side of the canal and we had been walking in circles ( maps is not the best way to navigate, it gets very confused with all the water).   We also did what many guide books and blogs recommend and that's to get lost.  It truly was fun, and we were able to find our way home each time.  We also found some great hidden gelato shops off the beaten path!                                                                                                                         
I guess my best advice is to be prepared for crowds.  And, in a city with as much water as it has, and tiny little streets, alleyways, and bridges, it's crazy!  Especially when people want to stop for selfies on the bridges.  We've been really lucky avoiding the peak travel season by traveling in April/May each year.  I thought by traveling right after Easter we'd miss the crowds.  Not true.  It was crazy.  And, we ran into a celebration which I wasn't aware of on April 25th.  Liberation Day.  A holiday commemorating the end of Nazi occupation during WWII.

It's similar to our Independence Day with lots of pomp and branches of the military in St. Mark's square.  It was fun seeing it....but it obviously brought in the crowds too. 
 My second piece of advice is to start early.  The large groups didn't seem to make their way out until about 10:30ish.   Getting up as early as we did, we took advantage of the quiet streets early in the mornings.

We spent 3 days and 4 nights in Venice and personally I thought that was the perfect amount of time.  Don't forget to try some cicchetti while you're there.  It's Italy's version of Spain's tapas.  It was perfect for us on a couple of occasions.  Try a glass of wine, a bellini or aperol spritz with it and you're good. 

Because we had an early morning flight, I chose to splurge on our departure with a private water taxi to the aiport.  It arrived at a pier literally three minutes from our hotel and took us to the airport.  It was a great way to end our visit!

Saturday, May 4, 2019


Drink coasters have been one of my "go to" housewarming gifts for several new homeowners.   This time, I tried a new design using song lyrics as the theme.  I thought this individual would appreciate the song theme due to his love of music.  How did I choose the songs....well, who doesn't love a classic Lennon and McCartney song?
The process is a transfer process.  Which involves creating the image you want to use, then you need to flip the image.  That is then transferred to a standard tile.

I worked in my Silhouette software, but I've also done this in Microsoft word.  In this case, I captured the lyrics I wanted to use.  I broke the words apart, used different fonts, then I flipped the image so the words were the mirror image when I printed them.
When printing you want to use a laser printer.  For me, the easiest thing to do is go to Staples and use their laser printers.  If you use your standard inkjet printer at home, the image will smear or bleed. 
You need two  products for this project.  First, is Liquitex professional matte gel.  It is the key ingredient to transfer the image onto the tile.  Mod Podge is used afterwards to seal the image onto the tile and create a nice finish.  I will tell you that I've attempted to use Mod Podge for both steps, but I've found the Liquitex so superior to Mod Podge that I would definitely invest in it.
There are several good videos out there that step you through the process, so I'll let you view those.  I will tell you in advance that it takes 24 hours for the transfer to occur properly, plus after you remove the paper, you'll need to allow them to dry properly before you apply the Mod Podge.  I used two coats of Mod Podge and allowed 24 hours drying between each coat.  With that said, you need to give yourself a good 3-4 days for this project.  Additionally, the one video I watched suggested that for the Mod Podge to be fully cured it takes 28 days before it is dishwasher safe or heat resistant.  I don't know if that is a true, but it is something you may want to consider and budget your time accordingly.

The final step I took was to put cork on the back of the tiles to provide protectors for table tops.  You could certainly put a whole sheet of cork, or use felt.  Whatever you choose, this is a nice finishing step.

I found my tiles at Home Depot.  They usually have several types available that can be purchased individually.    Be sure to rinse your tiles in clear water to remove any dust or residue and let them thoroughly dry before you begin the transfer process.