A Shape Mag-nificent Summer!

Listen closely–do you hear that? It’s the sound of a quiet house! You know what that means? The kids are back in school! Obviously, I love my kids and appreciate their cherubic charm at all times, but I also appreciate a peaceful cup of coffee with Kathy & Hoda and it’s been three months since I’ve enjoyed either of those two things.

My oldest is in 7th grade–which suddenly makes me feel old–and the twins are now in 4th grade. The school year is off to a great and healthy start for all of us, thank goodness!



Shape Mags 1Over the summer, the kids received a care package from the kind folks at Shape Mags, and it has been the only thing to draw them away from their screens for the last month. As you may recall, one effect of the twins’ SMA is weakness of their voluntary muscles, including their hands. Traditional Legos and other snap-on types of building blocks require more dexterity and strength than they’ve ever had, so when I heard that this product uses magnets I was intrigued. You can see from Lauren’s video that she can easily pull them apart and put them back together as she builds things. The kids’ occupational therapist thinks they’re a great activity to keep their hands (and minds) busy, and I agree. We only have two sets so far, but there’s a wide selection of over a dozen different sets here, ranging from $10-$99. I think it’s a fun alternative to Legos for children who can’t “do” Legos–or even for those who can, because what kid doesn’t like to play with magnets? The kids can even combine their Little People pieces, Hot Wheels, or small stuffed animals with Shape Mags to create even more imaginative play! Plus, I don’t see Shape Mags as a choking hazard for small children like I see with Legos. The Starter Set even comes with idea books (also sold on Amazon for $10 each)!
Shape MagsLauren also reminded me that “Shape Mags are good for age three to eighty-three!”, as the box says, so we brought them to my dad to see if he would use them. My father has advanced Parkinson’s and is in a rehab center right now, so I also got to show off the Shape Mags to his therapists. They hadn’t heard of Shape Mags, but they all agreed that the gentle magnetic feature make it an unusual and fun way to keep his hand strength and dexterity. His speech therapist also pointed out that with some “rules”, it could be a cognitive exercise, also–use only the red shapes, or see how many types of round shapes he can make, for example.




Lauren, in particular, is also a big fan of toy reviews by kids on YouTube, so I let her record one–hopefully, this will jump start her career as a young YouTuber, and will jump start that college fund!

Shape Mags have been a fun addition to our toybox, and now they may temporarily relocate to my parents’ house when my dad comes home! Santa may have some ideas already…

Shape Mag







Shape Mags provided the toy starter sets, but we were not otherwise compensated for this posts. Opinions here are my own.


Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl.  Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why she has hope for a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy at byrdsforeacure.org.

Springtime Updates for Your Child’s Living Space!

We recently had the pleasure of talking Spring DIY with the good folks at Trulia, your home for real estate! As we noted last week Spring Break is almost upon us–what about using some of this time to collaborate with your children to refresh their bedrooms (and maybe even, coughcough, some spring cleaning)? We are pleased to feature a guest post by Hannah Goodman of  Trulia with some tips and the latest trends in kid-friendly design!


Spring is a time for new beginnings. As the days get longer and the heat of the Arizona desert begins to rise again, many homeowners in the Phoenix metropolitan area are struck by the inspiration to take on home improvement projects that they have been putting off. For some, spring projects may be as simple as cleaning and redecorating for the summer months, while others will choose to take on a larger remodel or upgrade project. If you are a parent and thinking about taking on a larger scale project, spring is the perfect time to upgrade your child’s living space. With your kids still in school most of the day, you will have time and space to execute your remodel before the summer months begin. The following are some trends and factors to consider when remodeling your child’s living space.

Springtime Updates For Your Child's Living Space!Choose a Design Aesthetic that will stand the Test of Time

Perhaps the most important thing to take into account when conceptualizing your child’s room is the adaptability of the design. Will the color scheme and theme you choose outlast the inevitable changes that adolescence bring? Choosing a neutral color palette for your remodel in Chandler can give you a great base to build upon throughout your child’s formative years. That hot pink or bright green color scheme may seem like a good idea in the moment, but it may end up costing you more time and money down the road. While this upgrade is typically a simple one, repainting can be a daunting and sometimes costly task. so try using wallpaper or wall decals as time and cost-effective method to satisfy the decorative wants and needs of your children. Another way to navigate your child’s change in style is to choose a theme for the whole room. Travel and adventure motifs, in particular, lend themselves to growth and change while also inspiring imagination and creativity.

Springtime Updates for Your Child’s Living Space!Purchase or Upgrade Built-In Furniture

This trend has been around for a few years and seems to be here to stay. Built-ins not only offer great space saving techniques for smaller spaces, they are also easy to modify as your child grows. For instance, built-in shelves that hold toys for young children can be repainted or redecorated and used later on to hold books, schoolwork and picture frames for teenagers. Currently, some of the most popular built-ins are beds with storage drawers. Not only do these furniture pieces help cut down on clutter, they add a classy touch to any design scheme. However, we know that your child will outgrow his or her childhood bed, and that the installation of built-ins can be more complex than a simple paint job. So, as an alternative to purchasing a costly new bed frame with built-in storage every few years, pick up an under-bed storage bag or box which can be reused with each new bedframe.


Springtime Updates for Your Child’s Living Space!Add a Loft or a Decorative Partition

Does your home in Fountain Hills have high ceilings? Consider adding a loft to your child’s room. Although this project is perhaps the largest undertaking, the benefits are immense. Lofts can serve many different purposes and hold everything from beds to desks to reading areas stuffed with pillows. For children sharing a room, lofts can also make each individual child feel as though they have their own space to escape to. Lofts also create more storage and living space in a smaller room. For a more temporary solution, try setting up a reading nook with pillows in a window seat or create some divisions in your child’s room with decorative partitions.

There are many different ways to update your home this spring. While it may be tempting to go for the typical kitchen or living room remodel, consider an improvement to your child’s space, as it can save you time cleaning and repainting for years to come. If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out Trulia’s Life at Home blog for more tips and tricks!

Brace Yourselves–Spring Break is Coming!

Spring Break: It’s like summer break, but only lasts one week and we parents still want to pull our hair out three days into it.

Do you remember when we were kids, and Spring Break was a glorious week of no school, of sleeping in while Mom & Dad went to work and left us with the house to ourselves and our pesky siblings? The only house rules we had back then were 1) Do not open the door for anyone, including and especially the Ice Cream Man and people giving away puppies, and 2) Do not use the stove until Mom gets home.

Well, it’s 2016. I wish my kids would run outside to chase down the ice cream man. Or try to cook. Anything to get them to forget about the Xbox for a few minutes and overpay for a cold, creamy-yet-crunchy, and sugar-laden facsimile of a taco (Choco Tacos are the best!).

Brace Yourselves--Spring Break is Coming!
Type 2 Diabetes Not Included (but coming soon)

Other rules we have at our house here in 2016 include the children playing only educational games on their $500 electronic tablets (I could have bought three Nintendo 64 consoles in 1984 with that kind of money), which for the most part has simply resulted in the children arguing the educational virtues of Minecraft. You know what, just turn the volume off when playing that game and we’ll call it a deal.

Another rule is if the kids don’t get their chores done, we change the house wi-fi password and they won’t get the new password until their work is done. Kids entirely dependent on wi-fi? This is in stark contrast to 1981, when the only “fi” in the house was the hi-fi speaker on my pink record player.

Brace Yourselves--Spring Break is Coming!
The only password this needs is TOTALLY BITCHIN


Aside from growing weary of enforcing house rules, I have some other, more serious ideas on how to spend Spring Break with your kids. Many of these are specific to the Phoenix area, but you should be able to adapt my suggestions to Looneyville, Texas (that’s a real place) or Normal, Illinois (again, real), or wherever it is you may call home–You know your town better than I do!

Brace Yourselves--Spring Break is Coming!

My daughter and me outside the tattoo parlor

You could take your kids to:

Visit the public library
Make “art” at a pottery painting shop (i.e. As You Wish)
Spend the kids’ college funds at Dave & Busters
Enjoy the Phoenix Zoo, Wildlife World Zoo (Litchfield Park), or Sea Life Aquarium (Tempe)
Venture down one of Phoenix’s 40 hiking trails
Not catch butterflies at Butterfly Wonderland (Scottsdale)
Get concussions at a trampoline park
Get calloused with indoor rock climbing
Hold a dance off with tortoises at the Herpetological Society (Scottsdale) (the tortoises are terrible dancers, so you may win)
Get matching emoji tattoos




Spring Break only lasts a week. Your kids won’t even get bored of hanging around the house until at least two hours after they get home from school on the Friday that leads into Spring Break. Wouldn’t it be fun if this led to a lively dinnertime discussion about how you enjoyed Lake Havasu every Spring Break of your college career? Pro tip: Describe yourself as wearing twice as many clothes as you really did in the version of the story you tell your kids. They’ll figure it out when they get to college.

Brace Yourselves--Spring Break is Coming!


One-Pan Four-Cheese Sun-Dried Tomato & Spinach Pasta Bake

Finally! A dish so incredibly delicious, and is meat-free so you can plan it for Meatless Monday!

The recipe fell into my lap courtesy of Half-Baked Harvest.  Here’s my finished result–read the recipe and scroll down for my personal tips, and then you gotta go make this yourself.


1.  Skip adding the 1/2 cup of wine.  Add an extra 1/2 cup of broth, and then go drink the wine.  There is so much flavor in this dish, you don’t need the wine.

2.  If you like basil, double or triple the amount the recipe calls for

3.  I wasn’t paying attention and did the steps out of order.  The recipe suggest you combine all the dry ingredients (except pasta) and sort of mix it together and then add the rigatoni.  Instead, I dumped the pasta into my pan and then layered all the ingredients in order on top of the pasta–it worked just fine.

4.  As the recipe author points out, you can take liberties and add Italian sausage or your other pantry favorites: artichoke hearts, black olive, cannelini beans, and roasted garlic!


This recipe is good enough to make every week.  Try it!


Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl.  Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why she has hope for a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy at byrdsforacure.org.



I <3 Garlic and You Will, Too.

I have a love-love relationship with garlic, in that I love it fresh and I also love it roasted. I put it in nearly every dish I make and I’m about to make a case that you should, too.
Roasting garlic is not only simple to do, but roasting mellows the bite of raw garlic and adds savoriness to any dish.  Plus, garlic can also be good for you!  It’s known to boost our immune systems and contribute toward improved cardiovascular health as well as generally reducing exposure to vampires, thereby potentially extending your lifespan so that you have even more time to enjoy (what else?) garlic.

No vampires were injured in the taking of these photos (this time).

I roast at least one head of garlic almost every Sunday for use throughout the week.  Instructions are thus:
1) Trim ends of cloves by placing head of garlic on it’s side and using a knife to slice the tips off, exposing a little bit of every clove.
2) Place head of garlic root side down in a casually formed “bowl” of tin foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt & pepper.
3) Close the pouch of tin foil over the head of garlic and place in oven. Usually “low and slow” is the best strategy, but you can throw it into an already hot oven anytime there is space for it.  Perhaps 45 minutes at 450 degrees, or 90 minutes at 350 degrees F.  You’ll know it’s ready when you open the foil and the garlic cloves have a browned, roasted, almost caramelized look to the tips and the cloves squish out when you apply pressure to the outside with your fingers. Squeeze all those cloves out and use immediately or refrigerate for another day.
4) When ready to use, place on cutting board and use the flat side of your knife to smoosh your soft roasted garlic clove(s) into mush, and then chop up as finely as you need it.
Uses for your new roasted garlic skill set:
> add to homemade salsa
> add to any hot or cold dip for chips–artichoke, spinach, Lipton Onion Soup mix dip
> add to home cooked chili or stew
> add to any pasta dish, especially one with jarred red (or white) sauce
> add to your baked pasta or to any casserole
> add to your au gratin potato dish
> add to your homemade or take-and-bake pizza
> mix into your meatloaf
> roasted garlic and mushroom risotto
> as a topping on your baked potato
> roasted garlic mashed potatoes
> roasted new potatoes with garlic
> macaroni (and roasted garlic) and cheese
> caramelized onion and garlic grilled cheese
> garlic bread or cheesy garlic bread
> naan with roasted garlic
> roasted garlic fried rice
> garlic & parmesan steak fries or tater tots
> roasted garlic & parmesan chicken wings
> roasted garlic and mushroom risotto
> cheese & roasted garlic quesadillas
> roasted garlic & asparagus, whole mushrooms or any other vegetable
> stir fried roasted garlic and fresh green beans, haricot verts or other vegetable
> garlic butter, on anything and everything
Did you know there’s even such thing as garlic ice cream?  The Stinking Rose–a legendary restaurant in San Francisco’s North Beach and just a ten minute walk from the Embarcadero–is known to include garlic in every single item on the menu.  This restaurant alone goes through over three thousand pounds of garlic every month!  These are my people!
Not to mention the divinity that is a good garlic festival.  They’re all over the place every summer!  The must-see garlic festival in Arizona these days is at Queen Creek Olive Mill, but attending the Gilroy Garlic Festival is on my bucket list for sure.  I am so glad this is finally a thing.

IMG_2610If you do it right, everyday is a garlic festival.

Peace. Love. Garlic.


Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl.  Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why she has hope for a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy at byrdsforacure.org.


Recipe: Roasted Green Tomatillo Salsa

Newsflash: I do indeed make recipes which do not involve a slow cooker.  This is one of them.  I love my green salsa recipe and you will too.  Or scroll down to the bottom for a red salsa recipe which doesn’t taste “dumbed down” but is so full of shortcuts it’s embarrassing.

One nifty trick I learned from the Food Network is that you can turn your salsa into enchilada sauce by sautéeing it with a little flour (I’m simplifying–if you take that literally as the one step to make enchilada sauce, you will be a very dissatisfied, hungry person in the end).  But with that knowledge there are more ways to use this recipe–which is why I make a triple batch most of the time, because if I’m going through the trouble to roast vegetables and get the heavy blender down off the top shelf then I want to make it worth everyone’s while.

I’ve separated the ingredient lists into those for “roasting” and those “used raw”.  Partly because that’s how I remember what to buy at the supermarket without a written list and partly because I don’t have a single photo with all ingredients.

salsa 1Saturated with olive oil, salt the silent killer, and freshly ground black pepper.  Let’s do this.

Ingredients for Roasting:

  • ~1lb tomatillos, husked (one pound is about 1/3-1/2 the capacity of the baggie from the dispensers in the produce department)
  • 1 yellow (or white) onion, chopped into thick pieces or wedges
  • a couple gloves of garlic (yeah I used like ten cloves of garlic here)
  • 1jalapeno pepper, to taste.  Or three.  I used three.

Roasting Instructions:

  1. Organize ingredients on baking pan.  Drizzle with olive oil.
  2. Sprinkle with salt the silent killer and black pepper.
  3. Broil at 500° for 6 minutes.  Keep watching, it could take one or two more minutes before things start browning.  Then remove from oven.


Raw Ingredients:

  • one bunch cilantro, roughly chopped (some stem is okay)
  • one bunch green onion, sliced into thick pieces (your blender will pulverize them, so no need to spend the time to slice them shorter)
  • juice of one lime

salsa 2


  1. In a blender*, layer roasted tomatillos, onion, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, green onion & lime juice.
  2. Set blender to pulse, being mindful that a chunky salsa is sometimes preferable to a completely smooth, pureed salsa.
  3. It may require more than one batch in your blender–try to divide the ingredients so that a little of everything is in each batch, and then combine the mixtures.

*I used the Ninja Ultimate Blender for this recipe.  I included the top blade, which is what powers through chunky ingredients like the tomatillos.  This meant that my mixture spent less time at the bottom of the pitcher getting pureed and resulted in a slightly chunky salsa–which is ideal.  I will never use a regular blender again for this recipe.


salsa 3

salsa 4


  1. If you’re a tomatillo novice: you’ll find them in the produce section, usually around the jalapeno and bell peppers, although tomatillos are not spicy.  They look like small green tomatoes covered in a papery thin, green husk.  They’ll roast more evenly if they’re all the same size.  Also, be aware that sometimes there can be dirt on tomatillos which can be rinsed off, but if a tomatillo has black specks which require scraping off, that’s mold.  And mold is no good.
  2. The recipe calls for a jalapeno, but you could use any pepper.  If I’m making salsa just for me, I use habanero or ghost peppers.  You could use a serrano, too.  I suggest starting with a jalapeno and see what you think.
  3. Before juicing your lime, nuke it in the microwave for fifteen seconds.  It loosens up the juices inside.  Thanks for the tip, Rachael Ray.
  4. If you have a Ninja Kitchen blender, use it for this recipe.  I’ve made this recipe for years using my regular blender (food processor works, too) and it does the job, but this recipe is just made for that dual blade on the Ninja.  So efficient.  It works like a dream.


I love tomatillo salsa.  The tartness of tomatillos is so appealing, and I love experimenting with different spicy peppers.  If this all sounds fine and good to you but you just don’t have the time or inclination, I give you permission to forgo this recipe and try out my go-to recipe for red salsa which is laughably easy but still tastes like it’s homemade.

You don’t get pictures of this one.  It’s too easy.

You need:

  1. Two cans Ro*Tel Tomatoes & Green Chilies (found on the shelf with other canned, diced tomatoes)
  2. One bunch cilantro, washed and the bottom stems cut off (some stem is okay, just not the thicker, woody stems at the bottom)
  3. One bunch green onion (scallions), roots cut off and the rest roughly chopped into smaller pieces
  4. One jalapeño, stem removed, roughly chopped
  5. Juice of one lime

Put all ingredients into your blender on pulse until you’re satisfied with the consistency.  Add salt and black pepper to taste.  You’re welcome.

rotelThey did all of the hard work for you.


Link to your favorite salsa recipe in the comments, or if you have a favorite brand of salsa that you don’t just tolerate but you love, share that too!


Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl.  Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why they have hope for a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy at byrdsforacure.org.