Our Top 3 Films for 2014

Like almost everyone, watching movies is one of my family’s most favorite past times. When we want to spend a quite night in with the kids, we just pop in the DVD of one of our favorite movies and huddle up with a bowl of popcorn. However, not a week goes by without us hitting the movie house to watch the new releases.

2014 has been a great year for the movie industry. A lot of fantastic movies came out which includes another installment to the Hobbit Trilogy. Before I sat down to write this post, I sat down with my family to discuss our most favorite films of 2014. Without further adieu, here they are in no particular order.

Maleficent

This movie is a dark fantasy film that is told from the point of view of one of Disney’s most popular villains – Maleficent. If you aren’t a Disney junkie, Maleficent is the villainess in Sleeping Beauty. The main character is played by none other than Angelina Jolie. I must say, she portrayed the role beautifully.

Anyway, it is a story of love, betrayal, and revenge. However, the main reason why we love this movie is because it shows how humans really react when they are betrayed. This movie has allowed us to teach our kids the importance of not letting greed get the best of them and to never betray the people who love just so they can get what they want. Another thing that this movie shows is that no matter how dark a person’s path has become, there is always hope that he or she will someday see the light.

Annie

Annie is one of my most favorite Broadway musicals so I got very excited when I heard that a film adaptation was going to come out. As you can expect, I dragged my family to the movie house on opening night.

I wasn’t sure if my kids were going to like the film when I brought them to the movie house. After all, the original version of it was set during the Great Depression and it was about an orphan girl. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the movie adaptation was set in the present and that they even managed to squeeze in Instagram and Twitter into the story. That was really something my kids could relate to.

I’m glad my kids loved this film as much as I loved the Broadway musical when I was younger. Like me, my daughter was singing “Tomorrow” non-stop for days after we watched the movie.

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Penguins of Madagascar

Now who doesn’t here wouldn’t love the highly intelligent and witty penguins of Madagascar? Madagascar is one of my kids’ most favorite cartoons of all time! I’ll admit, it’s one of my too! When we heard that a movie focused on those darn penguins was going to come out, we knew we weren’t going to let it pass.

It’s one of those movies that will have laughing the entire time you are watching it. The wit and antics of the penguins were the same as how they were in Madagascar. My kids loved it!

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

We recently went to a holiday to Istanbul where we had the time of our lives. The main reason why we chose Istanbul for our family holiday is because we wanted to take the kids to a place that had a lot of history and culture. Also, John wanted to study the architecture of Istanbul’s greatest masterpieces – the Ayasofya Müzesi or Hagia Sofia- because his current client wanted the design to his house to be inspired by it.

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We stayed in Istanbul for two weeks. Since it was the first time in a long while that we were taking a vacation abroad as a family, we decided we would go all out. We booked a room in one of the best hotels in the city. The room we got had a fantastic view of the skyline of seven hills of the Old City.

We took the kids sightseeing during the day visiting the museums, grand palaces, and imperial mosques that Istanbul is famous for. With so many places to see, two weeks of sightseeing every day was not enough to get through everything on our list. However, it there was only one thing I wouldn’t let pass, it was the opportunity to shop in one of the best bazaars in the world – Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.

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The Grand Bazaar is popular for being the ones of the biggest shopping centers in the world. The place can be a town in itself because of the large area it covers. Just imagine how big it really is that is able 4000 shops. Okay, I didn’t exactly count the number of shops there but that’s what our guide told us.

Shopping isn’t the only thing you can do at the Grand Bazaar. There were also a great number of restaurants that served different kinds of cuisines that can satisfy even the pickiest of taste buds. In fact, one of my most favorite meals during our vacation was at a small restaurant at the bazaar.

I visited the Grand Bazaar about five times the whole time we were there. I had the kids with the first couple of times but when I told them I was going to go shopping for the third time around, they flat out refused to go because they claimed that it was too exhausting. I really can’t blame them. The place just made it too easy to forget about the time that you don’t even realize that you’ve already spent an entire day there.

Despite my sore feet and limbs, I was always remained in very high spirits when I got back to our hotel. So did I manage to buy? All sorts of things! I got an authentic Turkish hand woven rug that now lies handsomely in front of the fireplace in our living room, glazed tile and pottery pieces, some copper and brassware to add to my collection, and also an array of clothing and bags made from beautiful leather.

Needless to say, I spent a lot more than my allotted shopping budget but I have no regrets. After all, it’s not like we’ll be going back to Istanbul any time soon. If you plan on including Istanbul in your bucket list, make sure that you allot a couple of days of shopping at the Grand Bazaar. Trust me, a single visit is not enough to get your fill of what the place has to offer.

My Latest Discovery: Pressure Cooking

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I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t discover the joys of pressure cooking until three weeks ago. Ridiculous, right? I know that the process of pressure cooking has been around for more than a century but I’ve never really given it much thought. In fact, I was quite against the idea because to me, it was only for people who were too lazy or too impatient to cook.

You see, I was brought up a very traditional way. My mom baked in a brick oven that was fueled with firewood and my dad chopped wood for our fireplace. That’s right, we didn’t have centralized heating in our home. Instead, we had a fireplace in our living room and radiators in our rooms. Although I don’t practice simple living to that extreme, I have used traditional methods when cooking. In fact, I even had a brick firewood oven built in our backyard. To this very day, it’s still what I use in baking breads, oven roasting meats, and cooking homemade pizza in.

That said, I never really had any problem in simmering a particular dish for long hours so I didn’t see the need to invest in a pressure cooker Besides, I had some backward beliefs about pressure cookers. For one thing, I thought pressure cooking wasn’t healthy because the food would lose all of its nutrients because of high the high heat and pressure that the food was being subjected to.

Next, I thought they were a hazard because they could explode if too much pressure is contained inside. I had a friend whose pressure cooker blew up and scattered Bolognese sauce all over her kitchen. It’s a good thing she was in her living room when it happened or else she could have been seriously hurt.

Last, pressure cookers were expensive. The cheapest pressure cooker in the market is around $100. I’m no cheapskate especially when it comes to things for the kitchen. However, I just couldn’t justify the thought of spending that much on a pot.

All this changed when I was gifted with a pressure cooker set by my sister. The first thing I did I opened the gift was laugh. I asked her if I’ve ever served her rubbery meat because I couldn’t understand why she was gifting me with a pressure cooker. She told me in reply that it was about time that I stepped into the 21st century when it comes to my kitchen.

In the days that followed, I kept researching about pressure cookers and how they affect the quality of the dish being cooked. It was then that I was able to disprove my initial thoughts about pressure cooking.

First, it’s not true that essential nutrients in food. According to my research, pressure cookers are able to preserve a lot more nutrients because cooking time is a lot less. Since the food is cooked faster in a pressure cooker, less nutrients are broken down. Next, pressure cookers these days are equipped with safety features that eliminates the risk of explosion. My last point (that pressure cookers are expensive) is still true but since I was given one as a gift, my argument was kind of moot.

Since I received my pressure cooker, cooking has been a lot easier. I no longer have to wait hours for dinner to be done. This has allowed me some free time to play with my kids and enjoy quiet time. It has also improved my dishes especially in the broth department. Broths have always been a problem for me because I am rarely able to make that perfect gelatinous broth no matter how long let the pot simmer. Overall, I think a pressure cooker is something everyone should have in their kitchen.

How to Have a Dog AND a Clean House!

Puppies come into our lives and fill our homes with love, laughter and warmth. Unfortunately, they also fill our homes with hair, slobber and toys! It is definitely possible to have it all- a dog and a clean home, that is. If you are willing to put in a little extra effort, your dog and your family can coexist in shiny, fresh smelling harmony!

Choose a non-shedding breed: The best way to keep your furniture fur-free is to adopt a dog that doesn’t shed! Poodles, Shih Tzus and Maltese are known for their low shedding coats. Just remember that with these breeds come constant grooming expenses!

If you are already in love with a dog of the shedding variety, prepare to do some damage control! Popular breeds like Pugs, Labradors and Huskies shed quite heavily and will need frequent sessions with the brush. Be sure to establish a routine so that your dog will grow to expect brushing and cooperate. Brush your dog outside to prevent stray hairs from scattering through your home. Certain products may help reduce shedding, but frequent brushing and a steady cleaning routine are the best ways to minimize dog hair tumbleweeds in your home.

Limit access to select areas in the home: Decide if you would like your dog to have full access to the house or only select rooms. Begin enforcing that decision from the start. Your dog needs a comfortable place to sleep, a play area, and a feeding spot. The dog friendly area of your home should be where your family spends most of their time. Dogs are social animals and if they are kept isolated it can lead to anxiety and destructive behavior.

Provide plenty of exercise: Any dog trainer will confirm that a well exercised dog is a happy dog. Caesar Milan lists exercise as the number one need for a dog, above food, water and shelter! A bored dog is more likely to develop destructive nervous habits, like chewing furniture or soiling in the house.

Crate train and potty train your dog early. Relying on puppy training pads teaches your dog that eliminating indoors is ok. It is important to spend the time and effort it takes to potty train your dog from the very start. Bad potty habits can continue throughout the life of some dogs if training is neglected.

Spay/neuter. Intact male dogs are much more likely to mark indoors. This is an act of dominance and territoriality that is far less common in females. Intact female dogs develop urinary tract infections and hormone related incontinence more frequently than spayed females. There is also the messy heat cycle to take into account with female dogs.

Feed your pet in an easy clean up area. Laundry rooms, mud rooms and enclosed porches work well for doggy dining rooms. Tile flooring is ideal, but a stylish doggy placemat works, too. If your dog has longer hair, be sure to wipe his face after he eats to save your carpets and furniture from becoming his personal napkins.

Goodbye mancave, hello home gym!

Well, here we are – the latest blog update from Planet Smoot! It’s been a crazy week (when is it ever NOT a crazy week though!) but it’s been a good week. I may have mentioned it before but we have been expanding our home gym. So now we can actually call it a home gym! What would we have called it before than!? I think – a man cave! A TV, a punchbag and an old treadmill does not a home gym make. I think my husband used to just go in there to get a bit of peace and quiet from the family, ha ha, but we have called his bluff and spent the last few weeks renovating and upgrading his space into a place where we can actually get a real workout!

Thanks to everyone who has recommended different gadgets and machines – it’s been a real godsend having you all commenting and to friends and family that I’ve badgered over the last few months about it all, thank you for your patience. Even more so, thanks to those who came around to paint, decorate, lift and put together machines.

What did we keep from the original man cave version? The punchbag, and the TV, only we have since connected it up to a speaker system and placed it in a position that might actually be useful if you are on the treadmill or the elliptical (spoiler: we bought an elliptical machine!). Before this, it just sat in front of the old sofa, almost as if my husband just came through here to watch TV and not exercise!!! Hmmm, what you do think?!

Well, anyway, I have already given away the main new purchase – an elliptical machine. We spent a few weeks arguing about whether to get a new treadmill (the old one was seriously done! It felt as safe as running across an old rope bridge!). In the end we couldn’t decide, so instead of buying the absolute best of one of them, we decided to get a new treadmill AND a new elliptical, instead opting for more affordable versions of them. So far they seem well up to the task in hand, so in hindsight I’m glad we didn’t spend too much just on one. Now of course we have both, so my darling husband and I can exercise side by side at the same time! Ha ha that poor man, I don’t know how he puts up with me!

We also installed a chin up bar, bought a yoga mat and ball, and a new weights bench, and added to our collection of free weights. The kids are already super excited about using it all, and you better believe I am going to make sure we all stick at it! The Smoot family are going to get fit and healthy, and we are going to stay that way.

My husband wouldn’t budge on just one thing thought – the old sofa! It’s still there, and still within eyeline of the TV, so I guess when he’s in here, I’ll never be too sure if he’s exercising or just getting some ‘me’ time! Ha ha I wouldn’t blame him either way!

Til next time!
Xx

Great Places for Outdoor Adventures

Outdoor enthusiasts and thrill seekers are constantly looking for their next adventure. They are searching for new and exciting places where they can see or do something unique. If this sounds like you, here are a number of places you should check out for your next outdoor adventure.

If you’re looking for some great whitewater rapids, then head to the Bruneau and Jarbridge Rivers in the southwestern corner of Idaho. There are mountainous walls that surround the river that create a spectacular view while you’re rafting, and at the same time they provide ample opportunities for hiking when you want to take a break from the water. To top it all off, there are otters, bobcats, bighorn sheep, and dozens of bird species throughout the region to enhance your whitewater rafting experience. This is one of my favorite spots for outdoor activities and wildlife viewing. We even got to talk to a hunter named Wesley, and he gave us some awesome out-of-the-way spots to check out.

If surfing is more your speed, check out the remote town of Todos Santos on the Baja peninsula in Mexico. In recent years, this place has become an increasingly popular destination among surfers, and the town is beginning to cater itself to both novice and experienced surfers. It’s far enough from the well-known resort town of Cabo San Lucas to stay clear of traditional tourists, but it also provides some of the best surfing the Pacific Ocean has to offer.

If kayaking is your adventure of choice, head to New England, specifically the Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, a state that has more than 400 miles of coastline, as well as 1,500 miles worth of rivers, which isn’t bad for the smallest state in the union. The kayaking routes in and around Narragansett Bay have recently been mapped out and organized, and now kayakers are starting to flock there to experience waterways that few have previously explored, making it a wonderful and unique experience for your next adventure.

If you want to stay out of the water and do some mountain biking, head to Eastern Europe and the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. You’ve probably never heard of this country, and if you have, the only thing you’ve heard about is warfare, but there’s a little more to this country than you think. For centuries, caravan routes have connected one mountain town to another all throughout the country, and now those routes are being used for mountain biking enthusiasts. The altitude can make it grueling and challenging, even for experienced mountain bikers, but considering how rare it is for westerners to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina, and how remote some of the routes are, there is no mountain biking experience comparable to this one.

Finally, if all you want to do is some good old-fashioned hiking, head up to Newfoundland in Canada. Right on the edge of the North Atlantic, the hiking trails of Newfoundland are adjacent to beautiful ocean views, icebergs, and deep fjords. New pathways are constantly being built for hikers, giving them brand new challenges in one of the most picturesque venues a hiker or adventurer will ever hope to encounter.
Outdoor enthusiasts and thrill seekers are constantly looking for their next adventure. They are searching for new and exciting places where they can see or do something unique. If this sounds like you, here are a number of places you should check out for your next outdoor adventure.

If you’re looking for some great whitewater rapids, then head to the Bruneau and Jarbridge Rivers in the southwestern corner of Idaho. There are mountainous walls that surround the river that create a spectacular view while you’re rafting, and at the same time they provide ample opportunities for hiking when you want to take a break from the water. To top it all off, there are otters, bobcats, bighorn sheep, and dozens of bird species throughout the region to enhance your whitewater rafting experience.

If surfing is more your speed, check out the remote town of Todos Santos on the Baja peninsula in Mexico. In recent years, this place has become an increasingly popular destination among surfers, and the town is beginning to cater itself to both novice and experienced surfers. It’s far enough from the well-known resort town of Cabo San Lucas to stay clear of traditional tourists, but it also provides some of the best surfing the Pacific Ocean has to offer.

If kayaking is your adventure of choice, head to New England, specifically the Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, a state that has more than 400 miles of coastline, as well as 1,500 miles worth of rivers, which isn’t bad for the smallest state in the union. The kayaking routes in and around Narragansett Bay have recently been mapped out and organized, and now kayakers are starting to flock there to experience waterways that few have previously explored, making it a wonderful and unique experience for your next adventure.

If you want to stay out of the water and do some mountain biking, head to Eastern Europe and the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. You’ve probably never heard of this country, and if you have, the only thing you’ve heard about is warfare, but there’s a little more to this country than you think. For centuries, caravan routes have connected one mountain town to another all throughout the country, and now those routes are being used for mountain biking enthusiasts. The altitude can make it grueling and challenging, even for experienced mountain bikers, but considering how rare it is for westerners to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina, and how remote some of the routes are, there is no mountain biking experience comparable to this one.

Finally, if all you want to do is some good old-fashioned hiking, head up to Newfoundland in Canada. Right on the edge of the North Atlantic, the hiking trails of Newfoundland are adjacent to beautiful ocean views, icebergs, and deep fjords. New pathways are constantly being built for hikers, giving them brand new challenges in one of the most picturesque venues a hiker or adventurer will ever hope to encounter.

Our Favorite Family Outdoor Activities

For many of us, although not everyone, there’s nothing better than spending time with our families. For some reason, that quality family time seems to get better when we can get outside and breathe in some fresh air. If this scenario is appealing to you, here are a few outdoor activities that you can incorporate into your next family get together.

First, even if you’re not a sports family, why not head out to a ballgame? No matter where you live, there’s probably a minor league baseball team not too far away, and most minor league ballparks are geared towards families. If you like baseball, then this is obviously a great way to spend time with your family while doing something you love. But even if everyone in your family isn’t a baseball fan, there are plenty of ballpark activities geared toward non-sports fans. In any event, going to a ballpark is a great way to get outdoors and enjoy a relaxing day surrounded by your family.

If your family doesn’t want to watch sports, perhaps they’ll enjoy playing sports. Try going outside and playing a few games with your family, and create a little friendly competition. You can go out into driveway and play a game of “horse” on your basketball hoop, you can go into the backyard and play some bocce ball, or you can take a ride to a nearby park and give the tennis courts some use. Of course, the options don’t stop there, as there are no shortage of easy-to-play sports that can provide fun, and perhaps a little bit of exercise, for the whole family. We absolutely love playing any outdoor sports, but we are kind of an extreme family, so our favorites are paintball , hockey, soccer and basketball.

If sports aren’t your cup of tea, then take your family outside and plant a garden. Even if you don’t have room in your yard, most cities have community gardens that people can utilize. It may feel like a lot of work at first, but gardening can become a regular activity for your family, and sooner or later it can start to pay off in the form of lovely flowers or fresh vegetables. This creates great benefits to gardening that go beyond getting your family together.

If you’re looking for a nighttime activity for your family, then give stargazing a try. If you have a telescope, then take it out of the closet and dust it off next time there’s a clear night so you can take a look at the sky. In fact, you can make a whole evening of it by bringing out a blanket and some food and having a nighttime picnic, which is a great way to bring your family together.

Finally, if you want to spend time with your family, get outside, and exercise your mind all at the same time, then plan a scavenger hunt. Write up some clues and plant them all around your yard, neighborhood, or even a local park. Then you can sit back and watch your family try to figure everything out and find everything. Obviously, there’s some prep work and planning involved, but it’ll keep your family outside, occupied, and engaged all day long, making it the perfect family activity.

How to Keep Pigeons off the Balcony

Whether your balcony is attached to an upper level room in a house or apartment, pigeons on it are an incredible nuisance. Not only do they make distracting noise, but they also lose feathers and relieve themselves wherever they land. Unfortunately, pigeons have taken over our family’s balcony. Is your family having a pigeon problem? If so, read on to find out the solution to eliminating pigeons.

Pigeons carry bird mites on their feathers that easily spread, pose a difficult removal challenge and parasitically feed off of humans and pets. Pigeon droppings make a balcony filthy and detract from a building’s appearance. Worse yet, they can cause damage and pose a health risk. Acid in the droppings can eat away at paint and other surface materials, and create permanent stains on concrete and metal. As with human and other animal feces, pigeon droppings also carry a wide variety of microorganisms that can make you, your family, friends and/or pets sick.

Dealing With Pigeons

If you are considering a lethal option, you should reconsider it. Pigeons help maintain natural ecosystems by killing or scaring other pests and disbursing plant seeds in their droppings. In some states, pigeons are also protected and you could face fines for killing them.

The best way to deal with pigeons is by using multiple humane deterrent methods that make a balcony unattractive and difficult to land on. These methods will not prevent the balcony from being dirtied by droppings from pigeons flying overhead unless it has an awning to cover it, but they will lessen the degree of damage and the number of pigeons that land briefly or roost on railings:

• Cleaning: Pigeons are attracted by food. If you eat meals out on your balcony, always clean up thoroughly afterwards to make certain that there are no crumbs left behind.

• Wires: If there are any large, hanging horizontal electrical, phone or cable wires near your balcony and you own your property, move the wires as pigeons often roost on wires and anything near them.

• Water: Fill a spray bottle, or affix a garden hose that is long enough to reach the balcony to an outdoor spigot, and then use the water on the pigeons whenever they go near the balcony while you are enjoying it. Sometimes using a hose repeatedly on pigeons every time they land, even when you are not using the balcony, will deter some from returning to it.

• Sprays: Several pet, home, hardware and agricultural stores carry various sprays containing non-toxic chemicals and sticky materials that pigeons do not like. Spray anywhere a pigeon might land that is not a spot where you would normally eat. For a more budget-friendly solution, use spices instead of commercials sprays. Pigeons do not like strong spices, such as black pepper and cayenne pepper.

• Spikes: If you need a more permanent alternative, many stores sell anti-roosting strips that features spikes that deter birds from landing. This option would require that you place the spike strips on your balcony railings. The strips look awful and make use of the rails almost impossible. They also pose a risk to small children and pets. On the other hand, they are perfect for keeping pigeons away when you are not using your balcony on a regular basis.

• Enclosure: Enclosing your balcony with a screen or netting can also very effectively keep pigeons off it. Yet, there is a downside: You lose having a clear view from your balcony.

References
http://pestkilled.com/how-to-get-rid-of-pigeons/