Blogging Mama

Total Pageviews

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Book Review: The Goodbye Year by Toni Piccinini
By Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

Toni Piccinini knows exactly what that’s like to send a child off and have another empty bedroom and in The Goodbye Year, she offers the loving support every soon-to-be Empty Nester needs. Toni asks that readers think of her as their own bossy-but-loving Italian auntie, with modern sensibilities and a packed pantry. She's definitely loving and with the wisdom she’s acquired from saying goodbye three times to her own children, she reassuringly holds the readers hand and is encouraging while providing love and laughter along the journey!

The Goodbye Year is an inspirational, honest, and hilarious tale of Toni Piccinini's approach to the end of an era in her Italian household. The full title of this, Piccinini's first book is: The Goodbye Year: Wisdom and Culinary Therapy to Survive Your Child's Senior Year of High School (and Reclaim the YOU of You) and I can certainly say the book lives up to this fabulous title!

The Goodbye Year is a great book for parents and non-parents alike. Even though the book focuses on a child’s senior year and those specific challenges, even a parent of young children or a non-parent can relate to loving, letting go, and the last time for something special. Piccinini offers love and support as well as some fabulous recipes. She is an encouraging friend who went from dreading those “lasts” to enjoying her own new-found freedom and flexibility. The optimism, support, and humor throughout The Goodbye Year drew me in and kept me interested through and through.

We’ve all been in a situation where we knew it was the end of something special. I remember that feeling the last day of first grade. While the other children were laughing and enjoying the celebratory picnic I was thinking how we would all have different teachers next year and things would never be the same again. I was not able to express the sorrow that came with that ending but as a child I just knew I was sad. Similar feelings came over me the last day of summer camp, the last day before my best friend moved away, and the last day of school each and every year. After reading The Goodbye Year I feel better equipped to lead my children through those ‘lasts’. I have to admit before I started reading I assumed this particular book wouldn’t apply to me since my children are just starting school, but I really have a lot of take-aways and would certainly recommend The Goodbye Year to anyone who has experienced love or loss of any kind.

Piccinini considers herself a bossy-but-loving Italian Auntie and that love shines through on each page. I felt her wrapping her arms around me with love and encouragement. She empowered me to try new recipes, enjoy little moments I would otherwise have missed, and somehow though we have never met, we have shared laughter. I hope Piccinini has a new project or two lined up because I look forward to reading more from her.

Paperback:  264 Pages

Publisher:  Seal Press (September 10, 2013)

ISBN-10:  1580054862

Twitter hashtag: #TGYPiccinini

The Goodbye Year is available as a print and e- book at 

Meet the lovely and humorous Toni Piccinini!

Toni’s writing career started when she  stapled her first "book" together and launched it at a reading attended by her brother, Scotty, and her Boxer, Lonesome. The title-less story was a mash-up of Hansel and Gretel, The Six Swans, and a Box Car Children adventure, with the protagonists (sister, brother, and dog) risking everything in their quest for a magical lump of coal that would save the town. It was an immediate success. During the fifty years between her first and second book, The Goodbye Year: Wisdom and Culinary Therapy to Survive Your Child's Senior Year of High School (and Reclaim the YOU of You) she has, in no order of importance or chronology

·        opened a "Top 100" San Francisco restaurant
·        published scientific articles on the efficacies of antibiotics
·        sang the National Anthem at high school football games
·        published essays, recipes, and cookbook reviews
·        sent three children off to college

Toni lives in Marin County California, which is a long way from her Western Pennsylvania hometown, Heilwood. She is busy on her next book, which may revisit the power found in a magical lump of coal.

The Goodbye Year’s Website:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Channeling the Spirit of Professor Harold Hill

Crystal's son Andre in Kindermusik
Channeling the Spirit of Professor Harold Hill 
- Guest Post & Giveaway with Julia Asel Thomas and her first published book: Loving the Missing Link #LMLThomas

I recently saw that The Music Man was going to be on TV, and I simply had to make time to watch it. I love that movie. Now, we all know “Professor” Harold Hill was a con man trying to make a buck by selling band equipment. But in the end, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that he had the passion, charisma and persistence to convince the town that they needed a band to help their children grow up right.

In these days of music department budget cuts, I wish I could channel the spirit of that character. Somehow, the message that band is practical, positive and far-reaching for our students has been lost. If I could be Harold Hill for just a day, I would convince budget committees across the country that they would be doing their communities a great disservice by cutting funding for school music programs.

I would even have an advantage over Mr. Hill, because I have been in band and I know first-hand the powerful effect it can have on a life. Years ago, when I was a middle school student in a small town, I got the chance to join the band. My parents encouraged it strongly – my mother because she had been a trombone player in her high school band, and my father because he recognized the discipline I would acquire.

I started learning to play the bassoon that year, and my life has never been the same. Our band teacher expected us to be serious about our music, and we were. It wasn’t always easy to force myself to practice, especially when I could hear neighborhood children laughing and playing through my open window. But, I wanted to play music so badly that I trained myself to ignore those other children until after I had put in my practice time. In short, I developed discipline.

My home was brimming with a wide variety of musical influences. Having parents who appreciate music is always a good way to start. Yet, during my time in band, I was introduced to even more music than ever before. And I learned the joy of playing my unique part in the midst of a full band. When we were playing well, I felt as if I was riding on a glorious ship towards an exciting destination. It was fantastic, and that is a feeling I can recapture every time I get a chance to hear a concert band or an orchestra.

What I didn’t know then but have since learned is that learning music at an early age has a dramatic effect on the child’s overall intellect. The rhythms that regulate the band and the individual riffs that add interest are not just pretty sounds. They are also helping the children to absorb a primal understanding and solid intuition about mathematical principles. I know now that band is a serious subject that has strong implications for all of learning.

Crystal & her children at Kindermusik
The benefits of being in a band do not stop when you leave the band, either. You carry with you a strong sense of discipline, an improved intellect and an amazing way of achieving pleasure that is absolutely positive. 

If I could channel the spirit of Professor Harold Hill, I would use all his powers of persuasion to convince schools to fully fund their school bands. Since I have no psychic abilities, I will settle for sharing my feelings and experiences in band with anyone who will listen. And, of course, I will continue to incorporate these ideas and principles into my fiction as I did in my debut novel, Loving the Missing Link.

WOW! Women on Writing
A note from Crystal: Thank you to Julia for stopping with her guest post. Julia's stop and giveaway today are part of a WOW! Women on Writing Blog Tour. For more information about WOW! and their tours/authors, visit their website:

Loving the Missing Link is a fabulous tale about love, success, hope and music. During the 1970's. Young Cheryl Simpson feels trapped in her small Missouri town. As her mother tries to help her find a way up and out, Cheryl begins to feel that it is all an impossible dream. She sees herself living a boring and dismal life for the rest of her days. Just at the moment when she is about to give up on happiness, she gets the opportunity to join her high school band. The band promises a connection with the world outside her town, but Cheryl does not see any future for herself in music. It is just a tool to get where she wants to go. However, Cheryl’s mother arranges for Cheryl to take private lessons with an accomplished musician, who helps her realize the beauty and awesome power of music.
Still, Cheryl feels that small-town inferiority and finds it too hard to believe that she could ever be anyone special out in the “real” world. On the eve of a music contest that could help her earn a music scholarship, Cheryl begins to panic. Scared and feeling alone, Cheryl runs off with her high school sweetheart and gets married, leaving the band behind.
During the next years, Cheryl and her husband make a life for themselves. Cheryl meets friends along the way who help guide her to becoming the woman she wants to be. She becomes interested in the arts again. All the while, Cheryl and husband Jerry face the challenges of homelessness, miscarriage and an extra-marital affair before an unexpected disaster brings Cheryl’s life crashing to the ground. Cheryl survives, with the help of her extraordinary friends and her life-long love for music.

Paperback:  190 Pages

Publisher:    CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (self-published)         Publishing (August 6, 2013)

ISBN-10:  ISBN10: 1480106240

Twitter hashtag: #LMLThomas

Loving the Missing Link is available as a print and e- book at 

Book Giveaway Contest:
To win a copy of  Loving the Missing Link, please enter using the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this post. The giveaway contest closes this Friday, September 27th  at 12:00 AM EST. We will announce the winner the same day in the Rafflecopter widget. Good luck!

About the Author:
Julia Asel Thomas writes stories with vivid descriptions, authentic dialogue and revealing narration. Her debut book, Loving the Missing Link, presents the engrossing and moving story of a young, small town girl who grows up, lives and loves while trying to find a balance between despair and hope.
Like the protagonist in her debut book, Loving the Missing Link, Julia Asel Thomas knows small town life. However, Julia’s experiences were quite different than Cheryl’s. Julia is the middle child of seven children and the daughter of a church organist and a business manager. Growing up in the small town of Hamilton, Missouri, Julia’s family enjoyed a reputation as a bright and interesting family. Julia thrived on the quiet and carefree life she lived in that gentle place.
When Julia was in high school, she earned a scholarship for a trip to Cali, Colombia as a foreign exchange student. The experience, although it only lasted a few brief months, had a profound influence on the rest of her life. After her time abroad, Julia realized in a very real way that, although customs may differ from culture to culture, the substance of human emotions is constant. We all need love. We all need to feel secure. We all have happy moments and sad moments. Back from Colombia, Julia become ever more interested in capturing these human emotions through music and writing.
After high school, Julia took a break before going on to college. During this time, she married her husband, Will. Will joined the Air Force, and Julia accompanied him to bases around the country, taking college classes in each town where they resided. Their two children were born in Las Vegas, Nevada, while Will was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base. Married in 1976, Julia and Will are thrilled to celebrate each new anniversary and look forward to staying together for life.
Julia began writing fiction at the age of ten, when her 5th grade teacher gave her the assignment to write about “My Worst Day.” Julia took the opportunity to concoct every possible disaster a young child could face during the course of a normal day. The teacher loved her work and asked her to read it to the class. From then on, Julia wanted nothing more than to be a writer.
In 2007, Julia began earning her living by writing articles, press releases and website content for a number of clients. As she settled into a routine of working every day on her writing, the old urge to write fiction resurfaced. In 2012, Julia started with a story she had written in 1985 and continued it to create the story in Loving the Missing Link.

Find out more about this author by visiting her online:

Author blog:

Author Twitter Page:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Healthier Chocolate Cake Recipe

This one is for my dear friend Ellyn so is looking for a healthier chocolate cake recipe that is easy and fool-proof. Sorry for the lack of photos, but please feel free to submit your own - we would love to see them!

Healthier Chocolate Cake Recipe

3 cups whole wheat (unbleached) flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons cinnamon (I'll be honest, the more the merrier with cinnamon in this house)
3 farm fresh eggs
1 cup applesauce (home made is best and leave it chunky for added moisture)
3 teaspoons vanilla (don't scrimp on vanilla and use the real deal if it's available)
1 1/4 cups agave nectar (or honey - but if using honey you may have to use a bit more)
2 cups grated zucchini (if you have picky eaters you may want to process the zucchini so it is not detected)
Chocolate Chips - use your discretion...I say you can never have too much chocolate (especially dark) so throw in the entire bag if you'd like!

I wish I could tell you that it matters which ingredients you put in first, last, or in the middle...but I honestly do most of my baking with small children so we are just happy to get all the ingredients in the bowl and not on one another...(side note - when telling a 6 year old to find something hard to crack the egg on - you may want to specify that although you often tell your six year old how hard-headed he is...his head is not what you had in mind).

We toss all the ingredients in the bowl and mix with a vengeance until everything looks just right! Then we have a conversation about what type of pan we are going to use - this particular recipe can be divided into a muffin pan for cupcakes, into a bread pan and called chocolate bread, or into a cake pan and frosted for a birthday do what works for you and adjust the baking time accordingly.

Set the oven to 325 and bake for approximately 40-60 minutes for a cake (less for cupcakes, more for bread).


Saturday, September 14, 2013

It's All About Perspective

Some of you who know me well will know where this is going right away - others may get a good giggle in the end, but either way you'll get the gist of how important perspective is.

I am patiently waiting for our son to arrive. It's one of those situations where the Dr. keeps saying "any day now" and I go home and wonder if it's going to happen in the middle of making supper, giving the dog a bath, picking weeds, feeding calves, or driving to the grocery store. This is a good time to reflect on the births of the older children which brings me to a little story I want to share.

Before the birth of my daughter (who is now 6 and officially hates me more of the time than not) I took time off work and stayed at this great place about 45 minutes from home. The staff was fabulous and I am still friends with several of the nicest ladies you'll ever meet. I stayed on the 3rd floor and had plenty of fresh flowers, ice water, clean sheets, fabulous food, and plenty of cable channels to choose from. I even had room service to cut and color my hair, wax my eye brows, and do my nails (toes and fingers).

I look back on those days (I think I spent nearly 3 months relaxing before she arrived) and hope I appreciated them as much as I should have. Now, with 2 older children, a farm, and a husband to care for - there is very little relaxing time much less time to sleep in. you read about where I spent the time prior to giving birth to my daughter you may have been thinking "must be nice to be wealthy" or "must be nice to hang out at a ritzy resort for pregnant chicks" but I have to admit...I was on hospital bed rest. I started off on bed rest at home due to an incompetent cervix and eventually things got worse and I was hospitalized. When people hear about the hospitalization they say 'oh, I'm sorry - how terrible' and I really want you to know that I didn't find it terrible at all. It was just as wonderful as any resort and the nursing staff quickly became friends whom I couldn't live without.

I suppose I could complain about the bills that weren't covered by insurance, the fact the bed was narrow, or how I missed the comfort of my own home...but in reality, if you set your mind on enjoying something, you will. I could have cried myself to sleep and had a pity party every evening, but instead I ate ice cream, watched Gilmore Girls, played solitare on my laptop, and chatted with my friends.

I still think a week or two of bedrest might be nice for every expecting mama. After all, giving birth is a miracle and you should be pampered. It is my dream that when my children get old enough to have children of their own (so my daughters and my daughters in law) that I am able to put them on a sort of bed rest where I can take care of them and pamper them for a few days so they don't have to worry about things, but until then...

it's back to waiting for me. I'm off to bed...maybe it will be tonight that my water breaks - you just never know!

Hugs to ya'all!

May your paths be abundantly filled with lemons, sugar, sunshine, and plenty of time for reflection!