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.

The Trip of a Lifetime

I love our family vacations. It does not get much better than to take the family somewhere. We love seeing different places. Also love trying different kinds of food. We just love having fun together. I love my family and would not trade them for anything. Our last vacation was amazing. We went out of the country for the first time. We went to Brazil. What a beautiful country to visit. The family and I loved it. The only bad thing about it was the 12 hour flight. We flew to Rio.

We left the airport and it was night. When we woke up it was daytime. We were in Rio. It was a bit of a culture shock at first. We got use to it pretty quick. The first thing we had to do was eat. Having the airplane food just was not enough. We were very hungry. So our taxi driver took us to a place on the beach. We ate some locally caught fish. They told us this fish was just caught. It does not get much better than that! It is always nice eating the local cuisine. It was nice to walk on the beach after such a wonderful meal. I am sure that you have heard of the beaches in Brazil. They are so beautiful.

The hotel rooms were a little different. Honestly, they were a lot different from the United States. It took us about 10 minutes to get the lights on. Our door key had to turn them on. They had a credit card like machine on the wall. To be able to turn the lights on we had to put our door key in to that device. That was just something we were not familiar with. We had a good laugh about it. Use your key to unlock the doors and turn on the lights!

Brazil is such a beautiful place. The beaches were the best I have ever seen. Also the country side was just gorgeous. The one thing that was amazing to see was the Christ the Redeemer statue. We could even see it from the airplane. Almost everywhere we went you could see the statue. So we had to take a tour of it. It took us about an hour to get to. It was so high up. I never would have guessed that it was that high up. Our cab driver took us up to where you buy tickets for the tour. Then you had to take another bus to get to the statue. Once the bus dropped you off you still had about a 10-15 minute walk. Also I had shorts on when we got there. We were so high up I got cold. It was very cold on top of the mountain. Still worth getting a little cold to see it.

It was hard to touch base with people back home though. It was expensive to buy internet for your room. Like twenty dollars a day. The lobby had free Wifi. It was only free for an hour at a time though. My brother uses Broadconnect USA Telecom products for his business. So I was able to contact him very easily. He was really the only person I could get in touch with. Brazil was the best though. Remember to try Acai too!!

Protect your family with this tool

I love my family, and I see it as my duty to make sure nothing bad happens to any of them. It’s my job as a parent to keep my children safe and to be honest, every time I turn on the news or read the newspaper, I worry a little more. There’s so much crazy stuff going on, from school shootings to child abductions. The world really does look like a dangerous place!

Part of me knows I just have to accept that. It’s not like I can move to the middle of nowhere and hide my family away from the dangers. I know that won’t do anyone any good. But on the other hand, I do want to do something. So I started searching the internet and found out that I can do a background check on just anyone, almost instantly. I really think this is a great tool to ensure the safety of my kids.

Take for example their teachers, I could conduct a criminal record search on each and everyone one of them to make sure they aren’t hiding a criminal past. The same applies to the bus driver, the soccer coach and the new neighbors that just moved across from us. It might be a little creepy, and I do feel like I’m stalking and invading their privacy sometimes, but on the other hand, it does make me feel a whole lot safer. So far nothing bad has turned up from these searches, but that’s a good thing.

For those interested in doing some criminal background checks themselves, I’ve looked at some of the tools out there and I’ve reviewed several – some are great, while others don’t look all that legitimate. To save you some time I was going to give you a list of the ones I recommend you use, but after doing a review of Instant Checkmate I decided this is probably the only one I would suggest you use. This service has been around for years, has great customer testimonials and has a really easy to use interface.

I’d really urge you to go and try it out, as it has really given me the feeling I’m more in control of my kids safety. You really never know who your kids are spending time with unless you do some through research on them. Obviously, some people are pre-screened before they are employed, but you’d be surprised to see how many times convicted criminals are hired regardless. I’m a believer in giving everyone a second chance, but I also think we should be made fully aware so we can make a more informed decision on whether we’re ok with it or not. Let me know in the comments whether you agree with this.

So have you ever used a background search to find out some more details about anyone? Let me know, I’m interested in hearing more about it. Also, what service have you tried, what did you think of it? As always, let me know if there’s any comments. Happy to assist!

My thoughts on psychic readings

A few of you will know already that I’m a very spiritual person. I always have been, but my family doesn’t really support me on this spiritual journey. They disapprove of me speaking with psychic advisors and paying for psychic readings. They believe it’s all a scam and that I’m crazy even believing in all of this. But I do it anyway as I feel it really helps me overcome a lot of my problems.

Psychics have been around for a long time, and there are many, including myself who attach great value to them. While I completely agree that some of it is mysticism, entertainment, and just not true, much of it is useful if you understand what psychics are really all about. That’s where the problem lies with my family, they just don’t want to take the time to understand it properly.

Much of the problems with psychics is based on this misunderstanding – psychics can guide you to the right decision, but they cannot make a decision for you and they definitely cannot predict the future. If you find someone who says they can predict what will happen, run as far away and as fast as you can as they are scamming you. I personally use psychics to advice me and guide me to make the best decisions in life, from things ranging from personal finances to relationships to health. Some of the decisions I have made after a psychic reading have really helped us at the Smoot family even though my family would never admit to this!

Another big reason people go to see a psychic is to improve their finances. It’s an incredibly bad idea to get a reading if you want the winning numbers for the lottery or want to find an easy way to “make” it in life. A reading won’t help you with any of this. I have heard however of many people using a talented person to guide them to their perfect job, to help them decide on a suitable career path or even help them get a promotion. Not by any psychic powers, but by helping them understand how they can improve their performance and delving into why they are doing what they are doing. By gaining a better understanding of the customer, a professional reader can advise on the appropriate action steps they should be taken.

I really wanted to write this post to give you some quick tips if you are interested in finding more about psychic medium. I know it’s not something that’s talked about that much. By the way you might want to try out this free accurate online tarot reading I found if you’re new to this.

If you’d like to find out more, I found a great website covering some of the things you should know: http://onlinetarotandpsychics.com. I really encourage you to do some research since there are a lot of scammers out there who are not qualified to help you and are only out to get your money as opposed to helping you with life’s challenges. So do your research, keep an open mind, and go out there and try a reading. Who knows, you might like it!