Sparks of Magic

The Fluffier, The Better!

Food, FamilyCamilleComment

Pancakes. PANCAKES. P A N C A K E S.

I love them. My kids love them. I think most people love them. 

Know what I don't love about them? Making them. Maybe it's just me, but making pancakes can be messy. I feel like I can't make them fast enough for this little army of mine. On the rare occasion that I am energized enough to wake up early to cook pancakes for a family of seven, I do enjoy it, but it has to be in the quiet of the morning. I just wish I had a pancake machine.

Since I'm gluten free, I make my pancakes from scratch, but since it takes a while longer to get my stuff together, the hubby and kids now opt to make pancakes (that "just add water" stuff) on their own. I am okay with it, as long as they clean up their messes and make sure the glutenous particles have left the building before I need to use the kitchen.

While it's special and sweet that they enjoy making a big mess in my kitchen, I really would rather them head to our #1 pancake spot, Denny's for their fill of gluten (sans the mess).

Sticky Bun Pancake Breakfast - Image © Denny's

Sticky Bun Pancake Breakfast - Image © Denny's

For many people, there is nostalgia in home-made breakfasts, like pancakes. With that in mind, Denny's has recreated their pancake, which is 50% fluffier and packed with a home-made cakey flavor, than ever before. Using real eggs, fresh buttermilk and a hint of vanilla, they are hand whipping the goodness into fluffy, tasty clouds for their guests. I think it's awesome, though I won't be partaking in the pancake party, I will continue to advocate for those of us that have allergies, because it just plain sucks having to watch everyone devour fluffy pancakes while you eat an English muffin. I hope Denny's hears my cries at some point and perhaps offers some gluten free cakes in the future.

Denny's has also expanded its current pancake offerings to include four limited-time Signature Builds: The Sticky Bun Pancake Breakfast, Strawberries and Cream Pancake Breakfast, Double Berry Banana Pancake Breakfast, and Peanut Butter Cup Pancake Breakfast.

While I am extremely excited to see the faces of my kids as they chow down on The Sticky Bun Pancake Breakfast, I will be honest as I am equally nervous of the Peanut Butter Cup Pancake Breakfast, due to the severe peanut allergy that my daughter has (she also happens to be the serious lover of pancakes). The nice thing is, because I frequent the same Denny's I can chat with the manager and the team regarding their kitchen practices in making sure she has a safe dining experience with this new addition to the menu. 

Strawberries and Cream Pancake Breakfast - Image © Denny's

Strawberries and Cream Pancake Breakfast - Image © Denny's

If I could eat any of these new builds, it would be Strawberries and Cream or Double Berry Banana. There's just something about fruit and whipped cream that makes me happy inside. For the first time, Denny's will be offering these Signature Builds as junior size for the kiddos. If you're looking for extra ways to save and enjoy a family meal, head to Denny's on Tuesday nights, as kids eat free. 

Denny's pancake party isn't just in the restaurants, you can experience the fun on social media, too! Dine at Denny's and you can use the fun Snapchat filters to tell your friends and followers that you're having a pancake party, participate in Facebook Live events and you can always find entertainment on Denny's YouTube channel. Denny's also has a "Pancake Rejection Simulator" application where guests have to break the news to family members, telling them that their homemade pancakes are now second best (insert nervous emoticon here). All in all, it's in good fun and great flavor, so enjoy the limited-time tastes and experience. 

Make sure to check out the menu online and go have a pancake party at your local Denny's, with your favorite people! Remember, Denny's serves breakfast ALL DAY!

This conversation was sponsored by Denny's in an ongoing partnership to bring you the newest menus and special offerings, as I am a member of Denny's Diner Ambassador Council. All thoughts and opinions are magical and mine. :)

Finding Where You Belong - Disney's Queen of Katwe

Entertainment, Disney MagicCamilleComment
Image © Disney

Image © Disney

When Lupita Nyong'o takes the screen, she is absolutely mesmerizing. Whether in human form or in CG form (like in Star Wars: The Force Awakens), her characters have depth, insight, and wisdom. Even though she is not the focal character of this film, I know I can count on her role having a lasting impression. Nyong'o plays Harriet, the mother of Phiona. The film introduces Madina Nalwanga as Phiona, and also stars David Oyelowo.

Disney's biopic - QUEEN OF KATWE, is a story that tells of the triumphs and trials of a young girl, as she navigates her way through adolescence in Kampala, Uganda. Her family sells vegetables to make ends meet, and she eventually becomes mentored by a man that teaches her the strategic game of chess.

I get really caught up in these heartfelt type of films, I am drawn into the stories and tend to find something relatable that I hold onto. With QUEEN OF KATWE, I was moved by the theme of "finding where you belong," as Phiona works towards understanding her place in the world, gains the support of family and community, and explores the world, thanks to her newfound love - chess. 

It's not an easy thing, to find where you belong. For many of us, it takes many years to realize their purpose and plan in life. I always encourage people to hold on to what makes them happy, and find things that they enjoy. We only live life once, and when opportunity knocks, or gives us some options to explore what we love and what we are good at, we should feel some sort of obligation to follow our hearts.

Seriously, grab some tissues before you even watch the trailer.

Disney's Queen of Katwe will be released September 23, 2016.

Like QUEEN OF KATWE on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/QueenOfKatwe/   

Follow QUEEN OF KATWE on Twitter: https://twitter.com/queenofkatwe 

Saying No to the Summer Bod

Food, Health, Gluten FreeCamilleComment

Growing up, I never knew there was a difference between my winter body and summer body, mainly because I am not the type of person that jumps at the chance to lay on the beach, or go for a hike, or strip down to barely there and get into water, either. Mind you, I enjoy looking at the beach or admiring the forest - in pictures. I used to love being in the water when I was younger, and even swimming IN the ocean, especially Hawai'i. Until - FISH.

Once I was old enough to realize they are IN THERE WITH ME - Nope.

No lakes, no oceans, sure as hell no rivers and whatever is growing in there can stay in there. I resolved to only eat fish, they are not my friends - they are in fact food (sorry Nemo, but Bruce was wrong, LOL).

In Northern California, we have long summers. So, even getting a late start on priming our bodies to enjoy the heat of the sun, wearing the allowable allocation of the most minimal amounts of clothing, tends to last longer that other regions of the nation. Granted, not everyone follows the same allocation of clothing to the body, but hey, do you. It's mid-July, but believe me summer is still going strong till October. I'm getting a later start, but better late than never, right?

Forget the summer bod, focus on your lifetime bod

The last few weeks I've been hitting the ground running, in hopes to get my booty in shape for the summer, but with a reasonable goal to reach by my 35th birthday in November. I lovingly call it "Fly by 35." Now, I am all about loving one's self, so for those of you thinking, "girl you're already fly, love yourself," THANK YOU. I know. AND I am going to continue to love myself by making sure I am still running around by ages 50 and 60 because I have a lot to do with my life, like hopefully chase after my grandkids and great-grandkids. You know I want to be able to run down Main Street U.S.A. with each of them, for their first trip. I'm just early-prepping my aging body to withstand the future adventures. That's how I see it anyway.

Then I began to think about it, and I realized that I don't want a summer bod, I want a lifetime bod. I've said it in previous posts, it's easier said than done. My weight fluctuates and my life circumstances change so I put workouts on the back burner, or even at times if food money was slim, I eat the crap to give the good stuff to the kids, or I just don't eat at all. It's a sacrifice as a parent, right? But that's not healthy either and I plan on being around for a while, so I decided that I needed to get in gear. I'm sharing my work-in-progress plan of staying on track with a lifetime bod. I'm not getting any younger, and L O V E countdowns, so my first goal is to see how I can stay on track up to my 35th birthday.

3 Things that Will Help Me Stay on Track for a Lifetime Bod

1. Food

Being allergic to a lot of things means my food intake is already limited. However, I am not allergic to chocolate (thankfully) but that also means that I have to limit what I'm not allergic to (chocolate) in order to balance my gut with my muscles. Regardless, I have to eat. When you're working out, expending energy, you need to intake energy in the form of foods and supplements. For work and home I switch up between morning protein shakes, fruits and raw veggies and I usually will eat leftovers from dinner that week. I haven't gotten into the meal prep craze so I take baby steps. One meal at a time, literally.

When it's time to head out the door for a family meal, there are a few spots that I can count on to customize meals that fit my lifestyle and allergies. Aside from Disneyland, one of my favorite places to grab a bite (at any hour of the day), is Denny's. Breakfast, Lunch, or  Dinner, I know that I can jump in a booth and enjoy a meal that satisfies my tummy and keeps me under calories.

Image © Denny's

Image © Denny's

Even if you don't have allergies to deal with, maybe you're just monitoring your caloric intake or looking for healthier options, Denny's Fit Fare Menu is a perfect place to start. There are four categories for Fit Fare: Lean, Light, Protein and Fiber.

They offer breakfast options like The Fit Slam (Lean, Light & Protein) is egg whites scrambled with spinach and grape tomatoes, bacon and an English Muffin; Banana Pecan Pancake Breakfast (Lean and Fiber) which sounds amazing - glazed pecans cooked into the wheat pancakes, fresh banana slices, egg whites and two strips of turkey bacon; and finally the Fit Fare Veggie Skillet (Light & Protein) - who says you can't have veggies for breakfast?! 

BONUS: For the gluten free customer, they offer gluten free English muffins! Throw the scrambled eggs, into the muffin and layer the bacon (hold the grape tomatoes, or get them on the side), and you have an awesome breakfast sandwich. You can even add a slice of cheese just to make sure it all stays in there together! I love cheese, so regardless of what kind of body I have cheese stays.

I’ll be more excited about the lunch, if Denny’s begins to carry gluten free hamburger buns, because their Chicken Avocado Sandwich is mouthwatering. Denny’s also offers a Cali Jack Burger (Protein & Fiber) and Cranberry Apple Chicken Salad (Lean & Light) for the lunch options. I could always just “bring my own bun” which wouldn’t be a first. :)

Fit Fare Alaska Salmon Image © Denny's

Fit Fare Alaska Salmon Image © Denny's

Dinner time is always a fun time because typically I have the whole family with me, so I tend to either share a meal with the hubby, or just have something light. I don’t like to eat a ton in the evenings, especially restaurant food, it’s heavy on my gut. I can definitely see myself eating off the Dinner options, because FISH. Remember my love for fish - on my plate? Denny’s has two delicious options of seafood - Tilapia Ranchero and a new dish, Alaska Salmon. Want red meat? Then the new Sirloin Steak is your best option.

When I’m not eating at Disneyland, Denny’s or trying out some cool new restaurant (I wish I did this one more), I’ll be toting my work lunch full of whatever delicious cuisine that my hubby and or kids prepared the night before! Or, I’ll be eating a gluten free cupcake. LOL.

2. Exercise

Eating right is only a portion of getting that lifetime bod. Movement is extremely important. I’ve realized after transitioning from retail to an office environment, sitting at my desk 8+ hours of the day works against my goals of maintaining a hot mama bod. I’m excited to say that I’ve been consistent in exercising either through walking, running, and/or my Nike Training Club workout app the last few weeks. On a good day, I do "two-a-days" which makes me feel super accomplished.

I’ve shared my excitement over the app in a previous post, and I swear it just keeps getting better! With one of the most recent updates, I am able to schedule my workout plan and time frame. This app also works in sync with the Nike+ Running app. I decided to create a workout plan for the month of July, just to test the waters. I’ve had some times that I had to edit my plan, because I didn’t have time, or was too sore, and the app allows that freedom to switch and add workouts.

3. Rest & Recover

I’m honestly having the hardest time with resting. My brain goes a billion miles per hour, there is ALWAYS something that needs to be done. Even if I skip a workout I am not resting, I’m doing something else. It’s important to allow your body to recover, realign and rest. Some of the ways that I’ve found to just relax my mind is by playing a game on my iPhone, or listening to an audio book.

My current rest obsession is Disney's Emoji Blitz. :) It's a cute little game and you play to earn Disney Emojis for your keyboard. H E L L O - Disney Emojis. Having conversations with your crew are more fun with Disney magic.

In case you want to try it out, my awesome friend Mindy wrote all about it over on her blog This FairyTale Life. If you haven't downloaded the game yet, you should. It's adorable and quite therapeutic! 

When you are consistently working out, make sure you are taking the proper time to let your body recover, especially if you are really starting new or have been stagnant for a long time. You will feel it, maybe not immediately, but usually the next day or two. Go hard or go home, yes, but don’t hurt yourself!

All in all, I’m learning to mindful of my body and my spirit. On days that I just don’t want to workout or feel like I need to get that entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s in my mouth, I have to remind myself that I only get one body, so I need to love and care for it on a daily basis, always look to maintaining it for future use. This might look different for everyone, we all are unique. There's no right size or shape. We should work on being fulfilled, happy and whole inside and out. I want to be around for a long time. I know that my hubby and kids want that, too. There’s a lot that I haven’t experienced in life, but I’m hopeful that these eyes will be able to see things, my feet will be able to take me to far off places and that my hands will be able to create magic for a long time. Happy and healthy. That's my goal.

Will you join me in saying "no" to the summer bod and work towards maintaining a lifetime bod? :)

This conversation was sponsored by Denny's in an ongoing partnership to bring you the newest menus and special offerings, as I am a member of Denny's Diner Ambassador Council. All thoughts and opinions are magical and mine. :)

Magic Moments: Travel Planning Fun with Get Away Today!

Travel, Family, EntertainmentCamilleComment

I'm extremely excited to announce that I am a partner with Get Away Today travel! When Jeff and I only had 2 girls, we booked vacations through Get Away Today, and as our family grew, family travel took the back burner. It is unfortunate, as traveling is really fun, especially with kids! Thankfully we've hit the road quite a few times since, and are looking to expand our travel borders in the near future.

I used to want to be a travel agent, my mom worked for a travel agency when I was younger, and it was always fun to go visit her at her office and see all the images of tropical locations and scenery on the walls. I never really paid attention to what she actually did, it was just fun to visit and dream of being in one of those exotic places as I waited for her to get off work.

Fast forward to today, Jeff and I have five kids of our own and we are learning that "organized travel" is extremely important. When I say "organized" I mean, planned, and plotted, making sure we stretch every dollar and get bang for our bucks. We used to lean towards spontaneous, as in "let's go next month" type of travel, and that can get expensive and is somewhat stressful. As our income has always fluctuated, it has been challenging to really save for anything, let alone a full blown family trip with bells and whistles! When doing spontaneous travel, a family vacation was never long enough, lasting only 2 -3 days in southern CA with the kids to visit family and sometimes Disneyland (our happy place). 

About Get Away Today

Get Away Today takes the guesswork out of booking a full vacation package. They have awesome benefits, like a layaway plan and Peace of Mind travel insurance, which is a plus when you're really saving towards a family vacation. The downpayment for travel is $125, which includes a nonrefundable $50 layaway fee. The trip needs to be paid in full within two weeks of travel (many other sites require it from 30-45 days prior). 

When I became a partner with Get Away Today, I was so excited to finally get back to booking and saving. Our family will get to experience more travel in the near future, especially as I am have embarked on a new journey in my career, so saving is a little easier. Work hard, play hard, right?!

Hurry, this offer ends 6/26/16 for travel through December 31, 2016.

Hurry, this offer ends 6/26/16 for travel through December 31, 2016.

Book with Get Away Today

So what does this mean for you, my readers, family and friends? Well, if you choose to book through Get Away Today Vacations, you will receive a $10 credit towards any 2 night stay (use code "SPARKS" when booking) and I will earn a small commission for referring you. Stay tuned for special offers throughout the year, like Adults pay Kids Price at Disneyland, which is going on until June 26, 2016. I'll keep you updated and look forward to hearing your travel stories, too!

We just booked our Fall vacation and cannot wait to share our experience with you!

Magic Moments: Games and Learning with Kids - Scrabble x Disney

Family, Entertainment, Disney MagicCamilleComment

Naturally, we love Disney games at our house. I purchased the Scrabble "Disney Theme Park Edition" game last year, but I never made the time to sit and play with the kids. I know, that's terrible, but that's the facts. My intention is to change the fact that moments with the kids are few, at least when it comes to organized games or activities. Half the time I'm lucky my dinner table is cleared of "life" so we can sit down and enjoy dinner together, let alone a board game!

One of the kids' favorite games to play with my parents is Scrabble. When I saw that Disney had their own version (of course), I had to pick it up. The game is just as magical as you would think it to be, with a twist of pixie dust added. You get extra points for using Disney words and/or phrases, which is perfect for us Disney-loving people.

Playing board games can be a fun treat at home, or on-the-go! Consider packing one or two for your next road trip or family vacation. You'll be making memories on vacation, even in your "down time."

Learning: Scrabble is a fun word game that really is perfect for kids, regardless of age! When we first started playing with my parents a few years ago, the kids usually teamed up with an adult. Today, they play on their own and they're increasing their vocabulary as we have them look up words in the dictionary and thesaurus. Granted, when playing with younger kids, each turn takes a little longer than if we played with all adults, but it really is a fun game to play together as a family. The kids learn to be resourceful with a dictionary, and we all have a fun time learning new words and realizing how big our imaginations can be when we accidentally create words. The game gives us all practice in patience, teamwork, comprehension, and exercising our creative brain muscles.

In the box: This special Disney edition comes with some fun pixie dust! Aside from the board, 4 wooden tile holder and 100 tiles, you receive a cute little pouch with the castle graphic & fireworks. The bag has a velcro closure, which is great since it lays flat in the box. The tiles are imprinted with the letters and point value in blue. Unlike classic Scrabble, there are also 26 Magic cards that come with it, fully decked out with Disney graphics, and special instructions enhancing game play. I think it's a pretty awesome game to have in our collection, and one that we will play for years to come. We also have monopoly, but let's be honest that game takes days to end. This is perfect for a family game night before or after a Disney movie, of course!

Where to buy it: I honestly can't remember where I purchased my version, but after looking at Amazon, it's slim pickings. The only ones are available for a minimum of $100 for the Disney Theme Park Edition. If you're a mega Disney fan, it might be something you'd consider. For me, I know I didn't pay that much, so I'm thinking in the range of $50 max. You might be able to get it in store at Target or Walmart. Sometimes your local hallmark will have special edition board games.

I'm sure you know by now, that we will try anything that is Disney themed at least once, and I'm happy to report that this game will be one we will be taking on road trips to play in the hotel!

Do you have a favorite Disney themed or classic board game?

Realizing Why I Write and How I am Moving Forward

Thoughts, Family, LifestyleCamilleComment

I woke up from my sleep in tears. Literally. I had a dream full of emotion, it was bittersweet and I was cut to the core in the midst because, for some reason I was in my dream, KNOWING that I was only dreaming. I was being reunited with some of my dear Disney friends at a celebration of some sorts; we shed tears of happiness, caught up on moments missed and chatted about our different paths in life. I was so overwhelmed this morning as I wiped away what was left of the moments that never really happened. 

My brain runs like a motor that has a broken off switch.

I told myself, "Self, you better get up this morning and do some writing." I'm not sure what writing has to do with my emotional dream, but I do know that writing helps me to process everything that goes on in this crazy-beautiful, ADHD head of mine (wide eyed awake, or asleep). I've also noticed that since I've been on a writing hiatus, my brain feels like it might explode since I'm not releasing anything mentally. 

Hitting "publish" offers a different kind of satisfaction and solace than just having a verbal conversation. I don't have a huge audience of readers here, so for me, this entire process has been about a release. Believe me, I LOVE to talk. However, I tend to convey my thoughts better through written form. I write about things that are important to me (family, fun, life), and I also have sponsored content that I create for brands. I'm blessed with the opportunities that I do have, but at the end of the day, this space is still for me and anyone else that is seeking to find some magic in their lives.

My world outside of Sparks of Magic is very R E A L.

I know that life is not perfect, but I choose to be positive about most of it, which includes my writing and my visual imagery for my blog and social spaces. I like pretty things but I have a messy house more often than not. I can't stop my kids from loving crappy junk food or wearing mismatch socks. They also tend to be angels in public and I have no idea where I get them from when they are at home. My husband and I are seriously best friends but you also should know that we drive each other crazy (which is where we got our crazy kids).

I live a daily battle with anxiety and depression that I don't usually talk about outside of my immediate family and close circle of friends. I love people. I love connecting with others. I work full time in human resources and at times find that I take on the emotional stresses of colleagues and students on campus. Sometimes I just can't help it because I care. I cry in my office with students and new hires that are trying to survive working to support their families, I celebrate with them when they are getting their first job or retiring from years of service. I cry all the time. Happy. Sad. Frustrated. Elated. Mad. Confused. It's just what happens. If only I shed water weight like I shed tears.

There is this perception that bloggers have a picture perfect life.

I will never attest to that, and the bloggers that I know will be the first to tell you that is not true. Perhaps you're reading the wrong blogs if that is the expectation. We tend to joke about being "Martha Stewart" in the kitchen as the epitome of the perfectly marketed domestic lifestyle. No. That is her BRAND. Real Life is meant to be lived. Life is messy. Life is hard and most of us work our asses off to get where we are. I might not have buckets of money pouring in from my sporadic content, but do you know what I do have? Enough. The universe takes care of me and my family, and things come along when they do, WHEN they are meant to happen. 

There is A LOT of hard work to put into having a successful blog, and I give MAD PROPS to my peeps that are doing it SO WELL. (I am going to need to compile a list of some of the diamonds in the blogging game, people that are raw, real, and some of the best). I just don't have the same desire or time to put into growing my blog; I had to come to that realization and not beat myself up over it. Over the course of past the year, and during my hiatus I really wanted to understand myself, set some goals for my life, and figure out why I couldn't seem to stick to the consistency needed to build my Sparks brand the way that I can totally envision. Then, it hit me.

B E I N G a "full-time blogger" is not my calling, and I am realizing it is not my desire.

Let it be known, if you don't know me already, my career passion lies in working for a brand that has existed for decades. If you remember the early stages of Sparks of Magic, it began as a Disney-focused blog. It was a means to an end. It gave me comfort to write about the magic I experienced, and long to have back, when I worked for The Walt Disney Company. I truly believe that Disney is my destiny. I put it out in the universe years ago, and my journey keeps moving in that direction. No matter where I am job-wise, since leaving Disney, it has always been my goal/dream/destiny to go back. I worked hard to finish my Bachelors Degree last year and am studying for my GMAT to apply for my MBA program. There have been times that I've wanted to give up, mainly because a career with Disney includes a 300 mile relocation for my family of seven, not to mention a much higher cost of living; then, I look at my kids.

Kids don’t do as we say, they do as we do.

I've grown up with a passion and drive to follow my heart. I work 24-7 for myself and my family and I don't ever want to be in a place where I am settling. I pursue my goals and take necessary steps towards achieving them for myself, but also for my kids. What better role model would they have than one that birthed them, loves and cares for them, and will always be here to support them?  My husband and I parent in a very transparent way, our kids might "know too much" for a lot of people's standards and opinions, but we are gearing them up to live a very real life for themselves. We can't keep them bubbled up and they need to know that you succeed when you give it your all, and then some. They also need to understand that success is different for everyone. They also need to understand that mistakes and failure are part of the journey. Determination and working through failures and mistakes towards our goals gives us learning experiences that we wouldn't have any other way.

All that to say?

I guess I no longer feel like I need to be something that I am not meant to be.

Granted, in just 2 years time, I have been able to do some really awesome things with Sparks of Magic. If I compare my success to another blogger's or my journey to another person's, it is easy to say I haven't achieved much. Sometimes I forget how far I have come in a short amount of time. I can't forget that, and I am encouraging each of you to remember where you started, where you are and where you are heading.

Today, I am working on propelling myself to where I know I belong. My blog will continue to serve a purpose, and it might not fully support us financially, but it does help. It might not be the top blog in any specific category, I may never win any awards, but you know what? That's okay. I am choosing to move forward and focus on what my blog IS: It is a place that spreads magic, big and small, to anyone that stops by. Sometimes I feel it helps me more, but I love to inspire, and sometimes we CAN inspire ourselves. I will continue to write here and share the awesome and not so awesome things that I face, like sassy teenagers, fun-filled family trips, thoughts on real-life situations, dreams and aspirations, and obviously a whole lot of pixie dust. I also will continue to write for brands that have values that align with mine.

For whatever reason, I am now realizing that I just have a different mindset. I guess that's what it comes down to, my perspective. I feel like I needed to express the justification for not being as consistent as I would like. I still can't pinpoint what my dream has to do with this, aside from being inspired as my friends continue to inspire me hundreds of miles away, to just keep writing. Kinda like Dory. So, I think you'll be seeing "me" more with this new mindset. Hey now, two blog posts in a week. See, progress already. :) Thanks for hearing my heart.

Moments in Dining Out Together

Family, Food, ThoughtsCamilleComment

If you're anything like me, dinner time can be hit or miss. With the hustle and bustle of working full time and coming home and assuming the "homework dance," while attempting to cook dinner with your spouse, whilst having a conversation, it gets pretty overwhelming. Sometimes, it's nice to just say to cooking, "not today," and plan for a night out.

Whether we sit together at our own dinner table, or plan a special time out to eat together, there is something special about sharing a meal with your family. At the end of a long day, even if I do spend time in the kitchen, sitting down with my family brings comfort, peace and I love the interactions that ensue.

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This past week I began a new year as part of Denny's Ambassador Council, so it was a special treat to take the kids out (on a school night at that!), and share a family meal. My kids & I love our local Denny's in Lodi (I-5 and Hwy 12); the staff is always very attentive, they take great care of us, and the experience is always wonderful.

I know that I've shared before that Kids Eat Free on Tuesday nights, and with a large family, we like to take advantage of the savings! We specifically went to Denny's to try their newest menu "Red, White and Bacon!" Do you love bacon? Because my family LOOOOVES bacon (I won't lie, I'm eating a gluten free bacon breakfast sandwich as I type). My kids freaked out when I told them the menu was all about bacon. They were immediately sold and the countdown to our Tuesday night excursion began.

For all of my bacon-loving movie fans, Denny's "Red, White and Bacon" menu is a partnership with Twentieth Century Fox and their new film, Independence Day: Resurgence. 

Our kids are usually little angels when we go out. All of a sudden they remember their Ps and Qs, they are cordial with each other, and they share food! I often think we should go out more often for that alone! Unfortunately, the pocket book doesn't always agree, so we get out when we can, and make it memorable with each experience. 

If your kids can eat off the kids menu, let them. We encourage it, especially when we are looking to save a bit of money and honestly they get enough food, even as little tweens. Now, we do have a couple that can eat off the adult menu, so then we add an extra side (usually 99¢) from the kids' menu.

Selecting their food is half the fun, as the kids' menu changes just like the adult menu. Our kids still love to color and do the activities in the menu. I seriously hope they always keep their love for creating and handwriting, along with their childlike spirits! They are so fun!

The kid's menu doesn't have anything "new" but the activities, and you CAN substitute the new honey jalapeño bacon for regular bacon and it is delicious!

MOMENTS NEVER FORGOTTEN

I think my favorite times when we eat out include the conversation. The kids are always entertaining, and it is sweet to see how they are growing up into little adults. We will never get these moments back. Some days are absolutely trying as a parent, but nothing brings a smile to your face more than a stranger encouraging you and telling you how wonderful it is to see a large family enjoying meal OUTSIDE the home. I think it's rare to see large families out and about, let alone confined in a restaurant. There was a time when we didn't really go out because being outnumbered by toddlers and little ones isn't always fun and games (for them it is, though). Ha. But they are growing up, and have almost mastered their inside voices that getting out is good for ALL of us, especially on those nights where my "not today" attitude is showing. Food brings us together, and it's been blessing to have more opportunities to get out and dine together as a family. So, thank you Denny's! 

THE MENU

Some of the new and returning things that you'll see in this limited edition menu include:

  • Red, White & Blue Slam® - It's back! In honor of "Independence Day: Resurgence" this classic entree includes two fluffy blueberry buttermilk pancakes topped with strawberries, cream cheese icing, and whipped cream. Of course, a slam isn't complete without two eggs cooked to order, hash browns, and your choice of two bacon strips or sausage links.
  • Honey Jalapeño Bacon Slam® - Everything that the Slam is known for – two eggs cooked to order, two buttermilk pancakes, hash browns, and thick-cut honey jalapeño bacon.
  • Triple Bacon Sampler - SIX strips of bacon!! Two strips each of honey jalapeño bacon, turkey bacon, and hickory smoked bacon, hash browns, two eggs cooked to order, and your choice of bread (don't forget they have gluten free).
  • Honey Jalapeño Bacon Sriracha Burger - This is a Sriracha seasoned, hand pressed 100% beef patty topped with cheddar cheese, two strips of honey jalapeño bacon and creamy Sriracha sauce, served on Denny's new brioche bun with a  side of French fries.
  • Loaded Bacon, Steak & Potato Skillet - note, this does not include honey jalapeno bacon, but it can be substituted!
  • Bacon Cheddar Tots - House-made shredded potatoes, bacon and cheddar cheese, served with sour cream for dipping! I bet this would actually taste good with ketchup. Or ranch. Or both. Just saying.
  • Maple Bacon Sundae - say WHAT?! I'll have to go to Denny's again, but on an empty stomach, because honestly by the time we got to dessert, I couldn't look at anymore bacon. :) It is on our "try next" list. This is exactly what it sounds like. Premium vanilla ice cream, maple syrup and crispy bacon.  
  • Sweet Blueberry Sensations beverages
    • Lemon Berry Smoothie
    • Berry Blue Lemonade

ENTER THE SPECIAL SWEEPSTAKES

For a limited time, Denny's and Twentieth Century Fox are inviting you to participate in a fun sweepstakes, with the grand prize being whisked away to the red carpet for the Hollywood premier of Independence Day: Resurgence!

You can enter by posting a photo of a person that you'd want fighting alongside of you, should we ever encounter an alien invasion! Use the hashtag #IDRSweepstakes on Twitter and Instagram and be entered to win an all-inclusive trip to the Hollywood premier!

Are you enticed by the deliciousness of bacon? I'm not sure how well you can fight off aliens on a full stomach, but at that point I don't think you'd care. :)

This yummy conversation was sponsored by Denny's in an ongoing partnership to bring you the newest menus and special offerings, I am a  member of Denny's Diner Ambassador Council. All thoughts and opinions are magical and mine. :)

Back at it Again!

Family, Entertainment, TravelCamilleComment

Well, it's the second quarter of 2016, and it has been an eventful year, thus far. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you might have seen what I've been up to outside of work and family (surprisingly not too much, especially in the writing area). The past three months have been extremely busy and unfortunately, Sparks of Magic was put on the back burner as I worked, at one point 3 jobs, and maintained my sanity on the home front as mama, wife, and everything in between.

I'm relieved and so excited to say that I am pretty much settled into one full time job and our little business is doing great with my hubby taking the reigns on that! 

Here's a fairly quick recap of our family's last three months:

December:

image.jpg

Christmas!! We made an epic Christmas card (That I never sent out, aside from social media) dedicated to our family's favorite franchise: Star Wars. The holiday season was great to us. We were blessed with extra family time and I transitioned out of working multiple jobs. to just one. Yay! And as you can see below, my degree came in the mail! I finished my Bachelors program at the end of November. 

January:

I honestly can't remember January, aside from celebrating my mom's birthday, working, and staying afloat! This month almost everyone got the flu, it's kind of all a haze. :)

February:

Big changes, the hubby had a job change mid-month, and we began to officially plan our spring break excursion to Southern CA to see family, and our favorite Mouse. :)

March:

Spring Break finally rolled around, and the happenings included visits with family and friends in Los Angeles, a whirlwind day at Disneyland Resort, and, unfortunately, the hospital. Thankfully our daughter is doing well, and back at living life 110% full of energy and sass. :) Jeff and the kids that were in good health, spent a night at the beach with the in-laws. We had a blast, but think we need a "do-over" at the Happiest Place on Earth with no wheelchairs or ice packs involved!

So, what's up for the future?

Sparks of Magic: A lot of fun! In addition to picking up momentum here, I'll be linking to my writing that can be found on other fabulous sites like Disney Moms of Color, DisneyExaminer, Entertainment New Media Network, and The Blogorail!

I will be attending at least two conferences this year (ConnectHER and ENMN) that I can't wait to update you on and some ambassadorships/partnerships will be revealed soon! While I will continue to partner with brands that compliment my site and offer value to my readers, my writing will remain transparent and I plan on writing more from my heart. I'm excited for what is in store.

HAN Creative Co: We are thrilled to dive into offering workshops and expand some of our photography and event services. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, you can visit our business site: www.hancreativeco.com. We are currently taking a few design/small business clients over the next month, you can subscribe to our newsletter that will launch this quarter.

The Walls: For our family, we are putting it into the universe to spend more time together and travel as a family more. Whether it is a day trip or weekend getaway, we want to see the world - together. Bits and pieces of our documentation will be found both here on Sparks and on our business site. We are encouraging the kids to write more, and are setting up a place for them to do some of their own blogging and journaling of their lives and experiences on family trips. All in good time. :)

I want to thank those of you that have checked in with me to make sure I'm A-OK since my quarter-long blog hiatus. I appreciate all of you and cannot wait to be back in the groove of things again. I hope your 2016 is treating you fabulously! 

A Very Mickey Christmas

Entertainment, Disney Magic, FamilyCamilleComment

Welcome to this month's Blogorail Yellow Loop! Today we are sharing our Favorite Holiday Movies and TV Specials.

I have an affinity for all things Disney and Christmastime is no different. Even prior to getting married and having a family, my husband and I grew up with Disney and holidays coinciding. Naturally, when the time came, we introduced Disney magic and our kids have also grown to love the cherished stories of Mickey and Friends, too!

This was a few years ago, I haven't gotten a picture of them all sitting still together with their hot cocoa since! :) 

This was a few years ago, I haven't gotten a picture of them all sitting still together with their hot cocoa since! :) 

One of our favorite pastimes includes family movie nights that leave us with peppermint hot chocolate hangovers and sweet dreams full of magic and the Christmas spirit! In fact, we just recently had one of those nights and it was so fun being home to snuggle with my favorite people and enjoy a Disney holiday fix.

Our first holiday movie that we watched this season was Its A Wonderful Life. It's my husband's favorite non-Disney holiday film, and I pretty much cried most of it. It's a great film, but my favorites are Disney so we decided to start out with Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas!

Image © The Walt Disney Company

Image © The Walt Disney Company

We love Disney's holiday films, especially when they feature more than one story. Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas includes three stories, each special with a unique lesson teaching the spirit of Christmas, giving, friendship, family, and love. This special film anthology was released in 1999, and has been a favorite of mine ever since!

Image © The Walt Disney Company

Image © The Walt Disney Company

Donald Duck: Stuck on Christmas is a hilarious holiday take starring Donald’s nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, as they are wishing to have Christmas every day and then realizing that Christmas is more than just presents and yummy food, but about cherishing time with loved ones and appreciating the season to spread joy and love with others.

Image © The Walt Disney Company

Image © The Walt Disney Company

The next film, A Very Goofy Christmas, is probably our children’s least favorite film in the series, because they have never really been huge fans of Goofy’s son, Max. They often chatter about Max’s bad attitude and disrespect towards his dad, Goofy. Max does tend to have an attitude of entitlement (assuming it is because of his teenage years) and the kids recognize this as something we’ve really worked on teaching them - the importance of gratefulness and positivity. However, that being said, this specific film is always a good reminder for them to be grateful and have a good attitude even if things don’t go their way. We laugh together as we watch Goofy spread Christmas cheer and blessings to others in the film. Max eventually realizes the spirit of Christmas is about believing and sharing the joy and cheer with others.

Image © The Walt Disney Company

Image © The Walt Disney Company

The final story is one of selflessness and love. This one is Mickey and Minnie’s Gift of Magi, a retelling of the classic story where a man gives the love of his life a special treasure by selling his most prized possession. Ironically, this woman gives up her most prized possession to compliment the man’s item. While their gifts end up being "useless" it is the idea of the priceless time and thought, and act of love by giving up what they love for the person they love.

I really appreciate that the films touch on topics that we can discuss with our kids, it is far more than entertainment and with everything that we watch, we attempt to share what we learned or took away from the stories. 

In this day and age, it is important to have these discussions with our kids, in order to foster a home environment that has open communication and is founded on love, learning and growing together.

If you have yet to see Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas, I highly suggest it! We will definitely be watching it again, in addition to the sequel, Mickey’s Twice Upon A Christmas, this weekend!


Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Yellow | Favorite Holiday Movies + TV Specials Loop:

The Christmas Season Brings New Flavors

FoodCamilleComment

Well, it’s officially the Christmas season. The year has seemingly flown by and with Thanksgiving now on the back burner, people are okay with mentioning Christmas carols and seeing dancing lights amongst their neighbors homes. I’m okay with Christmas any and every day.

If you know me personally, you know that I love all the Christmas things. To be honest, I started listening to Christmas music the day after Christmas last year off and on, but the consistency picked up probably around July. One of my favorite songs is the holiday version of "it's a small world." You must also know that I love all Disney Christmas, too.

Some of my favorite pastimes of the holiday season is going to Disneyland, or viewing Christmas movies with my family, while drinking my homemade peppermint mocha. I also love Christmas shopping and holiday flavored/scented everything - from candles to cupcakes. So, naturally, it’s no surprise then if I tell you how excited I am for Denny’s Tastes of the Holidays menu! Even though I cannot eat most of it, just knowing that my family can enjoy my serious love for Christmas and I can live vicariously through them, makes me happy.

Image courtesy © Denny's

Image courtesy © Denny's

This holiday season, Denny’s is unwrapping three new festive dishes, a fun Rudolph Pancake Breakfast that was inspired by the classic and famous little red-nosed reindeer himself, which includes two pancakes with turkey-bacon antlers, whipped cream, chocolate eyes and nose, with sides of eggs and hash browns; a fluffy Pumpkin Pecan Pie Pancake Breakfast that will treat your taste buds with pumpkin pancakes decked out with pecans and pecan pie sauce, served with eggs, hash browns and either bacon or sausage; and a sizzling Holiday Harvest Skillet served up with a blend of gouda-apple chicken sausage on flavorful red-skinned potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, grape tomatoes, and fire-roasted bell peppers and onions. To top that sizzle off, there’s an Italian cheese blend and your choice of two eggs. Just writing this all out is making me drool for breakfast!

In addition to the new flavors, the returning dishes include the Build Your Own Holiday Slam® returns, where you can customize your breakfast and include pumpkin pancakes and gouda-apple chicken sausage, and the traditional Holiday Turkey & Dressing Dinner, complete with sliced turkey breast, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce - plus two sides of dinner bread!

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I love to get the kids a little midday treat, and since Denny’s offers take out, one of the things that we will take advantage of this season is ordering the Santa’s Milk & Cookie Shake. While I am secretly crying inside because it is chock-full of sugar cookies, inevitably meaning I cannot enjoy this due to my food allergy, I know that my kids will love it. It looks so cute and festive! The shake is vanilla flavored with a blend of sugar cookies topped with whip cream and sugar cookie crumbles. I might have to make my own gluten free version at home and perhaps add a dash of peppermint or candy canes! 

Image courtesy © Denny's

Image courtesy © Denny's

One of the little holiday treats that your kids will enjoy is the new menu! It’s all about the holiday, and features Rudolph and friends. You will also see the new Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer kid’s cup, which would be oh-so-cute to add to our cup collection and the kids can enjoy homemade peppermint shakes or drink their favorite cold beverage.

Image courtesy © Denny's

Image courtesy © Denny's

I’m truly grateful for my time with Denny’s this year, it has given us an opportunity to get the kids out of the house for special meals, and have new experiences in dining. We all tried new things, and found new favorites. Our local Denny’s was always warm and inviting, and they took really good care of us each visit. 

Remember, kids eat free on Tuesdays, so make it a family night!

This holiday conversation was sponsored by Denny's; all opinions and magical thoughts are 100% mine.