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The Mom’s Toolbox blog has moved to a new site. Please visit at www.momstoolbox.com

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Tonight I took an almost 2-hour vacation to a tiny Greek island.

 I got to see a sneak preview of the new movie, Mamma Mia!, starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski and an excellent supporting cast.

I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, and I have only seen one preview, so I don’t know what you might know. But I will say this: I saw the stage version of MammaMia! in Las Vegas, and this one I loved so much more.

And it wasn’t just because I’ve thought Pierce Brosnan was a hottie ever since I thought any boys were cute and I watched him on Remington Steele. This movie was just a fantastic vacation.

Meryl Streep plays Donna, mom to Sophie, who is about to get married. Sophie never knew her father, and no one knows exactly who he might be, so Sophie invites all three men who she thinks might be her dad to the wedding without telling anyone what she has done.

The shenanigans that ensue will make you laugh, giggle and sing along, all the while showing how sweet (and confusing) the mother-daughter relationship can be. It made me want to call my mom (but it is 11 p.m., so blogging will have to suffice) and it also made me think of what my daughter might think of me and feel about me in the years to come.

And it also made me think about how important real live friends are. Friends that really know you, that you’ve done silly things with… and friends with whom you can re-live the past and also grow older.

Meryl Streep, Julie Walters and Christine Baranski did such a fantastic job in this movie, I’d swear they really are long-time buddies who get together and laugh all night long reminscing about the craziness of their youth. (And I want to be there to listen in when that happens!)

This movie is not going to change the world. Do not analyze it. Just go preparing to have a great escape, a good laugh and a lot of fun. And be prepared to dust off some Abba to listen to on the way home from the theater.

And, although your husband might not mind looking at the adorable and beautiful Sophie and her sidekicks, I would suggest you leave him at home… Mamma Mia! is most definitely for the girls.

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Hope you enjoy my review of a recent trip.  I thought you might be interested in more than just my spiritual journey…

 We invited some neighbors and took the kiddos to the Hyatt Lost Pines in Bastrop, Texas (near Austin) to celebrate the 4th of July this year and had a fantastic time.

 This was certainly an ideal family spot… as we checked in with the masses, I cannot tell you how many strollers, scooters, boppy’s, diaper bags and bags of toys I saw being rolled through the halls. And the lobby was welcoming with face-painters, hair-braiders, strolling musicians and apples for snacks. We were in for a seriously family-oriented good time and this place knew how to do it up right.

 Our rooms opened up to a small patio which overlooked a large hummingbird meadow. The kids loved opening up the doors and exploring the gardens, looking for hummingbirds, butterflies, tadpoles and the like throughout our stay. And the patio also proved a great spot for relaxing and chatting with the grownups while kiddos slept in the room behind us, or for waking in the early morning and reading and writing, without waking anyone else.

 I think the kids’ favorite part of the resort, though, was the pool area and crooked river, a long flowing pool designed to be like a river that you float through in inner tubes, being pushed along by the current.

 In the crooked river, the older boys liked to just swim and float along, but I sure liked relaxing in my tube! After balancing my 2 year-old on my lap for the first lap, my friend came to the rescue with a mini tube that had an x in the bottom for the toddler’s feet to dangle while supporting her bottom. For that lap and the many after it, I was in relaxing, floating heaven. The kids had a blast and the grown-ups did, too. And it was great to be so relaxed with all the kiddos… even when my husband was elsewhere!

 The pool area also had a waterslide for kids (old and young) 42″ and taller, a hot tub, a randomly squirting water fountain area, and a sizeable baby pool that varied from 12″ to 1’6″ deep. The actual pool (which connected to the crooked river, waterslide area and hot tub) had a spot for water volleyball and a beach entry, complete with sand. The sand area above the pool was perfect for sand castle-building and the hotel even hosted a friendly competition while we were there. There is also an adults-only pool, but I never checked that out.

 All around the pool area are tons of chairs, tables, umbrellas and roving waiters and waitresses to bring lunch, snacks, ice cream and cold drinks. There is also a full bar and a shop selling anything you might “need” that you’ve left at home. And at lunch they also offered a buffet.

 Aside from the incredible pool area, the resort hosted a horseshoes tournament and all sorts of other activities throughout all the days we were there. They had lots of silly games for the kids and grownups… Our 5 year-old enjoyed one “game” where he and a bunch of other kids used their mouths to search for a maraschino cherry in his own plate filled with whipped cream. They also offered more traditional activities like tennis, golf, horseback riding, stargazing, a complete workout room, yoga and mat pilates classes, a great playground area, and s’mores every evening around a fire with plenty of rocking chairs everywhere.

 The resort is situated near Bastrop State Park which is nestled in a very hilly part of Texas and is host to quite a challenging road bike path. (I’d say it is the most harrowing part of the MS 150, a ride that rolls from Houston to Austin every spring to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis.) My husband was able to escape to take that ride while I had a leisurely breakfast with the kids and then floated along the crooked river. If you’re a cyclist, try to arrange it so you can make the same escape!

 On the 4th, they put on a fantastic fireworks display with patriotic music mixed in with American favorites. (My kids were especially excited to recognize the Star Wars and Indiana Jones themes.) The fireworks display was perfect… just enough “wow” and just the perfect length. We watched from the pool area, some of us stretched out on pool lounges. We never felt crowded and rather than fight traffic on the way home, we just took a quick walk back to the rooms for bed time. Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh. That was nice.

 The rooms were spacious, the staff was accommodating, the food was great and the resort offered a lot of fun things to keep grown-up and kids happy. I hope to be back.

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While trying to figure out how to celebrate our soon-to-be two-year-old’s birthday in an already action-packed day, my husband came up with the idea of inviting the girls in our neighborhood (instead of the usual long list of all our friends) over for a breakfast celebration. It wasn’t long after that I saw a flower-shaped pancake mold on the Williams-Sonoma website and well, a party was born!

 

We invited all the girls (ages almost 2 to 15) and their moms (we don’t need to know their ages), suggesting they wear their PJs and wander over at 8:45. It was a girls-only party, so my husband and our 2 boys spent the morning upstairs, rejoicing over the fact that they got to eat breakfast upstairs in the gameroom. (Woo-hoo for them!)

 

I had the tables (adult and kid-sized) set with all sorts of pancake toppings: berries, bananas, mini-chocolate chips, whipped cream, butter, nutella spread and, of course, syrup. I served OJ, milk and mimosas to drink.

 

At about 9, we sang “Happy Birthday,” and our daughter blew out the candles on her stack of flower-shaped pancakes. Then each guest received her own stack of pancakes to fill, top and devour.  (I made all the pancakes the night before and just heated them in the morning.)

 

After breakfast we opened the gifts and played with them for a bit before a few of the girls decided they wanted to play on the playset in our backyard. At about 10:15 the guests began leaving, and I sent each pair off with a heart-shaped pancake mold of their own.

 

The party was a great way to start the day, without consuming it. It was simple to set up, simple to host and everyone seemed to have a great time.

 

Making the pancakes:

Making the pancakes took much longer than I had anticipated, but that could be because I had to make three for each guest, so they would each have a nice stack. My flower mold was designed to make 3 flower-shaped cakes that had a hole in the center for berries and other filling. I used an Aunt Jemima mix, the kind that all you add is water. I find those pancakes always fluff up well. I also added a bit of flaxseed to each batch for some secret nutrition.

 

In making the pancakes, be sure you really get your griddle hot, and also preheat your molds on the griddle. I sprayed nonstick spray on the griddle and molds between batches. And, when using the molds, don’t completely fill them up with batter… the batter will expand as it heats.

 

After letting the pancakes cool on a cooling rack, I wrapped each stack in parchment paper and sealed the stack tightly with foil. I put them all in the fridge overnight.

 

About an hour before party time I put each wrapped stack in my oven’s warming drawer, set on high heat. (You could probably do the same with a 200 degree oven.) When I opened each packet for the party, all the pancakes were hot and still fluffy, just like they came right off the griddle!

 

Pancake molds:

www.williamssonoma.com

            I just checked the site and now they have stacking stars as well as the flowers!

www.amazon.com

            Lots of fun shapes! Plus, many come in sets of 2 for about $5. Break them up for party favors.

www.cooking.com

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