**This post is written in partnership with NuMe Hair Styling Tools. I love partnering with brands that I use in my day-to-day life and sharing them with you! Thank you for supporting the brands that I love — it makes running this website possible.

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Hey, hey, girls! ‘Tis the season for the PERFECT BEACHY HAIR!!

You may know that I have a *slight* addiction to curling wands. I’ve actually spent the past year growing out my hair from my pixie cut (and taking Biotin every day!) JUST so I could start curling it again!

And finally (FINALLY!) I have found the PERFECT CURLING WAND for getting those beachy waves I wish for every Summer.

Nu Me Classic Pearl Wand Picture The NuMe Classic Pearl Wand!! It’s kind of funny looking, but it TOTALLY achieves the perfect messy-wave look that I LOVE. I’d actually NEVER tried a Pearl Wand before and wasn’t sure how they worked (or if it would work on my shoulder-length hair), but it’s SO EASY!!

Normally retailing for $139, NuMe is offering Confessions of a Cookbook Queen readers the CRAZY LOW price of $39 + FREE SHIPPING + A FREE BOTTLE OF ARGAN OIL!!! Just add ANY NuMe Classic Wand to your cart and use the code  39COOKBOOK at checkout.

It’s worth it to even stock up on a few for Christmas gifts. As a hair-tool junkie, I can tell you that this is absolutely my ALL-TIME FAVORITE CURLING WAND!!

NuMeCollage Look at those perfectly messy waves!! I love how much volume the Pearl Wand gives my hair!! It’s a fun, casual look for the Summer. I’ve gotten tons of compliments when I’ve run errands after using it, and the WAVES LAST A SECOND DAY! I just spray in some dry shampoo, give a quick fluff, and go on about my day.

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Using the NuMe Classic Bubble Wand is easy — just separate your hair into 1 inch(ish) pieces and curl away from your face, wrapping the hair around the barrel in between the “pearls”.

I usually like to separate my hair into “top” and “bottom” sections, putting the “top” section in a clip. I then work the curler around my head, starting on the front left, and going around the back and ending with the front right. I then let the top section down and repeat.

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It is important to LET THE CURLS COMPLETELY COOL BEFORE STYLING! Warm hair doesn’t hold it’s shape when brushed or combed through.

I like to rub a few drops of ARGAN OIL through my fingertips, then run it through the BOTTOM FEW INCHES of my hair. I then run a brush through my hair, fluffing and spraying with hairspray as I go. I love the casual look that I get from brushing the waves out, but for a more “piecey” look, just use a wide-toothed comb or brush with your fingers.

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NOW ABOUT THAT ARGAN OIL…

Filled with generous amounts of vitamin E and other beneficial fatty acids, Argan Oil can be used as a hair and scalp treatment, leave-in conditioner, or a pre-styling product. Use it as a shine serum to calm frizz, soften cuticles, or even nourish skin. A well-known attribute of Argan Oil is prolonged hair color, shortened styling time, healthy hair growth and lasting shine. This high-grade oil repairs and prevents damage on hair, skin, and nails.

This bottle normally retails for $49, but you get the bottle FREE when you PURCHASE ANY NuMe CLASSIC STYLING WAND FOR $39! Just use the code 39COOKBOOK at checkout!! Don’t worry about adding the Argan Oil to your cart — When you add a Classic Wand in the shopping cart, the argan oil will automatically be added!! Easy peasy!

This is a special Fourth of July offer, so snag one FAST! The discount for my readers is available for just a few days!

I really hope that you guys love NuMe curling wands as much as I do!!

**Offer is good until July 4, 2016. This post does contain affiliate links.

Why should you cruise? The Carnival Vista is why! I’m sharing photos from my recent trip on Carnival’s newest and biggest ship, as well as sharing why cruises are the best way to vacation!

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I am so excited to share this post with you today!! I have been so busy with the kiddos this Summer that I’ve had to wait until I had a quiet afternoon to sit down and share every details of my recent cruise with you. Also, what are quiet afternoons? If I hear “I’m bored” one more time…

Quite a few of you who follow me on Instagram have messaged me with questions about my trip to Italy, Turkey, and Greece last month. I shared a ton of fun photos while I was traveling and I’ve been DYING to tell you all about it!

If you read the post I wrote last Fall about cruising with a toddler, you know that I always swore I would NEVER go on a cruise. And then Carnival invited me to cruise on the newly renovated Carnival Sunshine. After that trip, I decided that I was an idiot. Cruises are the best trips EVER!! Honestly, I don’t know what I was so scared or hesitant about. I never felt trapped or sick or bored. It was the most wonderful experience ever and our favorite family vacation by far.

So naturally, I was INCREDIBLY excited when Carnival emailed me earlier this year inviting me on the inaugural cruise of their newest, BIGGEST ship, the Carnival Vista. The ship would be departing from Barcelona on May 14 and cruise for 10 days, ending in Athens, Greece. As it turned out though, my stepdaughter was graduating high school the night before the ship departed from Spain, so I asked if I could board a few days late in Rome. And they said YES!

After looking at flights, my husband and I decided that bringing the whole family wasn’t an option. So we decided that I’d bring Jon David — he’s OBSESSED with Greece (he reads a lot of Rick Riordan books) — so that at least one member of my family could share this incredible opportunity with me. When people want to know how my husband feels about my job or about me traveling…this is a really good example. He was happy to stay home with Lucy for 9 days while Jon David and I traveled out of the country, to places he’s always wanted to see. He’s that kind of guy. And when you find one of these kind of guys…YOU KEEP HIM.

To say that this trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity would be an understatement. I never in a million years imagined I’d get to visit Italy or Turkey or Greece…it’s always seemed so out of reach. When I returned home, friends kept asking me what it was like, and I kept saying, “I’m still processing it.” That probably sounds silly, but it’s so true. I saw so many amazing things that it took weeks to really let it all sink in. From the scenery (those hills piled high with apartment buildings! And that blue water!!) to cities that go back to when Jesus was alive…it was unreal.

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I’ll start by showing you some photos from our ports — we docked in Naples, Crete, Rhodes (both in Greece), Kusadasi (Turkey), and ended in Athens.

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Our first port was in Naples, where we headed out to see the ruins of Pompeii. Pompeii was a Roman town that was buried under ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. It was a really huge town, all built with stone and marble, and it was really incredible to see. When you look at the buildings and streets, it’s hard not to become overwhelmed by the fact that people actually built these things by hand without any modern technology.

When the excursion was over, Jon David and I stopped for pizza (when in Naples!) before heading back to the ship. The pizza was probably the best I’ve ever had, but it wasn’t Jon David’s favorite. Napoleon pizza is thin, with a crisp outer crust and soggy middle. The ingredients are fresh — melty blobs of fresh mozzerella and basil, and it really has to be folded in half or eaten with a fork. SO GOOD.

Our next port was in Crete, Greece. Jon David and I did not have an excursion booked that day, so we headed on our own adventure with Lindsay and Taylor.

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On the way into town, we passed the most adorable little marina filled with fishing boats. It was so fun to see men headed out to catch fish for dinner.

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We wandered on the cobblestone streets into a marketplace, where stalls were lined up everywhere. There was fruit, fresh fish, hand-made sandals and bags, donkey-milk soap (yes, really), and all kinds of trinkets and souvenirs.

After doing a bit of wandering and browsing, we all sat down to lunch in a cute little cafe. Fresh squeezed orange juice is a specialty in Greece — they squeeze GIANT oranges on the spot and bring you a big glass of the brightest juice. It’s like nothing I’ve ever tasted!

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We ordered a huge variety of food — salad, thinly sliced fried zucchini, Tzatziki and pitas, even french fries.

Once we were stuffed, the friendly owner brought us a strange little bottle of clear liquid with 3 small shot glasses. It turns out that it was Raki, an exceptionally strong Greek liquor that is made from grapes. Lindsay wasn’t much of a fan but Taylor and I toasted to a fun day of Rhodes and gladly downed our portions. And Lindsay’s portion, too. ;)

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The next day we were in Rhodes, a charming Greek island surrounded by walls. It’s pretty impossible to get lost, due to the proximity to the port, so we had a great time wandering the cobblestone alleys and exploring.

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It’s a really different and charming town — lots of cats and flower boxes and adorable restaurants. We saw several children playing the accordion for money — definitely not something I see here at home.

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We found a spot that was good for people watching and ordered food — I had to sample a Greek beer, OBVIOUSLY. It was a fun, easy day enjoying the Greek people we interacted with and sampling good food and ice cream.

 

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The next day we docked in Kusadasi, Turkey, where we toured Ephesus. Ephesus was built in the 10th century BC (can you even believe it??) and is home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was also once home to apostle Paul and Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Gospel of John is believed to have been written there as well.

When we arrived at Ephesus by bus, rain began to POUR — we were given the option of staying on the bus, but we all opted to don ponchos and deal with being wet. There was NO way I was going to miss out on seeing such an incredible piece of history.

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After a couple hours, we headed back into Kusadasi, where we watched Turkish rugs being woven — an incredibly intricate process — and then headed into town on our own for lunch. The rain left, the sun came out, and it was a beautiful afternoon.

My afternoon in Turkey was incredible. Fellow bloggers Lindsay, Gina, and Jennifer (and their families) joined Jon David and I. As we headed into town, a Muslim call to prayer echoed through the streets. We watched as men hurried to the mosque, slipping off their shoes and heading in to pray.

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We walked through the alleyways until we came across what looked like a good place for lunch. The owner was excited to see such a large group of us, and whipped us up a bunch of different dishes to share “family style.” It was all SO delicious and it was absolutely my favorite meal of the entire trip. Being with my son and my friends, enjoying a great meal and good conversation in another country…it was such a happy day.

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We were all so grateful to be together and share the experience.

image4(1) Our last day was in Athens. We were way too excited about this day — we were headed to Acropolis!!

Our first stop was the home of the first modern day Olympics. After we took pictures, we hopped back on the bus and headed to Acropolis of Athens — an ancient greek city towering on a hill and home to the famous Parthenon.

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We spent the day touring the ruins — hiking up marble stairs and just feeling awestruck. As you look at the stone temples and pillars, you can see the rest of Athens below. It’s breathtaking and incredibly overwhelming. Definitely one of the highlights of my life.

The next day we headed home, exhausted and happy and incredibly grateful for the experience.

NOW LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE BRAND NEW CARNIVAL VISTA!!

  • This ship is INCREDIBLE. A floating dream vacation! There were SO many things to do on this ship that we didn’t have time to get to it all!
  • The Carnival Vista features:
  • An IMAX movie theater featuring new release movies AND a “Thrill Theater” — an experience theater where seats move and rumble and water sprays
  • A ropes course, water park, and sky-high bike ride
  • A brewery, casino, ice cream shop, and a gorgeous spa with thermal suites
  • FIFTEEN different bars — from upscale to sportsbar –and seven specialty dining spots in addition to the complementary buffet, dinner dining room, Guy’s Burger’s, BlueIguana Cantina, the pizzeria, and free room service menu.
  • Live shows, including comedy and musicals every night

 

NOT A “CRUISER?” HERE IS WHY YOU NEED TO RECONSIDER:

A cruise is the best way to see the world easily and inexpensively — my husband and I contemplated a trip to Italy last year, but were overwhelmed by the planning process. Where to stay? How to get around? There were so many things we wanted to do and the more we tried to plan, the more we realized we were in over our heads. What I LOVE about a cruise is that it allows me to see a bunch of different places in a way that is easy and structured. No worrying about a hotel. No worrying about how to get from place to place. Excursions are offered through Carnival, making it incredibly easy to sight-see.

Tons of free entertainment — we usually get condos when we travel. With two kiddos, it’s the cheapest and easiest way — we can make our own meals and the kids can have their own rooms to watch television or play. The only downside? We all get bored, which inevitably means venturing out, which inevitably means SPENDING MONEY. The great thing about a cruise ship is that there is TONS to do at no additional cost. From comedy shows (there are kid-friendly versions earlier in the evenings) to the water slides, putt putt, ping pong, and even board games in the Library Bar (Jon David and I got in the habit of playing checkers every evening before dinner), there is so much to keep everyone entertained when you’re not exploring on dry land.

No cleaning or cooking — another downside to “condo” vacations is the dirty dishes and cooking and bed making! On Carnival cruises, food is available all day — cooked for you and NO CLEAN UP!! Your room steward takes INCREDIBLE care of you and your family, cleaning your room TWICE a day. TWICE!!! I hate clutter, so this is one of my favorite things about cruising. Our room is always tidied as if by magic.

Individual fun for everyone — want to grab a massage and have a drink with your honey? Camp Carnival is a FREE service for all parents! Not only do the staff at Camp Carnival take the very best care of your children, but you are also equipped with a portable phone so you can rest at ease that you will be reached in an emergency. The kids are fed dinner, diapers are changed if needed (Carnival is the only diaper-changing cruise line) and they stay open LATE. My kids are more than happy to go hang out in the kids area while my husband and I enjoyed a quiet dinner or went to a late comedy show. It’s a really nice option that gives everyone a bit of space.

 

 

**Please know that I was invited on this cruise free of charge, but was not asked or required to share my experience. But of course I am, because it was amazing.

A HUGE thankyouthankyou to Carnival for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime! I’m beyond grateful to have these memories with my son. We will never forget it.

 

If you have any questions about the countries I visited or are contemplating a cruise with Carnival, always feel free leave a comment or shoot me an email! I’m more than happy to honestly answer any questions you have about my experience.

As always, thanks for reading!! Have a happy day :)

This maple bacon cake is perfect for sweet and salty lovers! Enjoy it for dessert, or breakfast — I’m not judging!

Maple Bacon Cake Picture Last week it ended up that I had two work-related phone calls scheduled for the same day.

I had to schedule them back-to-back, because Lucy’s nap time is my only good window of time to talk to a human being in peace. Obviously I’m just sitting at home in my pajamas, but when I talk to brands about doing work for them I try to pretend that I’m a real professional who works in an office and most likely wears pantyhose. And unfortunately, my child screaming, “I got a little bit of poop in my pants!!” is not at all conducive to that whole illusion.

Needless to say, these phone calls loomed over me all day. Honestly, I never understand why people need to talk with real voices when email is a perfectly acceptable form of communication. I mean, this isn’t a break-up or a death in the family. It’s cupcakes. Please just let me type my words.

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The worst thing about phone calls is that the people who request them do so with such nonchalance. “Let’s hop on a call,” they say.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS HOPPING ON A CALL. What there IS such a thing as is me dying a slow and painful death while I treat my red-hot burning ear (why do phones make my ear so hot?) and cringe while I replay every inappropriate thing I accidentally blurted out during our call.

“I’d LOVE to make cookies using your product!! In fact, I make cookies using your product ALL THE TIME!! I should be paying YOU, if we are being honest! I mean, here — just give me your address. I’m popping a check in the mail now.” <—insert awkward silences, forced laughter, and references to wine, tequila, or some inappropriate combination of the two.

I’m so sorry, world.

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I have learned to just stick with what I am good at — baking in my house, with walls that separate me from the rest of the world. I have been loving the maple bacon combo I’ve been seeing everywhere, and I decided that it definitely needed to be a layer cake.

Layers of dense, velvety maple cake, maple buttercream, crispy bacon, and a sweet maple glaze — it’s giving me life and I’m not sorry.

Maple bacon layer cake, anyone? I saved you a slice!

Maple Bacon Cake

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Yield: 20 slices

Ingredients

  • Maple Cake:
  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 teaspoons maple extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • Maple Buttercream:
  • 3 sticks salted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons maple extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • 12 slices of bacon, cooked, cooled, and blotted of grease
  • Maple Glaze:
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons hot water
  • 1 teaspoon maple extract
  • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour 3 (8 inch) cake pans.
  2. In the bowl of your mixer, combine the cake mix, flour, sugar, and salt. Pour in the water, sour cream, vegetable oil, maple extract, and eggs, and beat with your electric mixer on low until all the ingredients are mixed and moistened but some lumps still remain, 4 minutes.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and bake until tops are light golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Allow to cool completely.
  4. Prepare buttercream: In the bowl of your mixer, beat butter, cream, and maple extract on medium speed until smooth. With the mixer on low, slowly add powdered sugar until combined. Add maple syrup. Increase mixer speed to high and beat for one minute. Using a serrated knife, level cooled cake layers, then stack and fill and frost the outside.
  5. Cut bacon slices in half and press into the outside of the cake, reserving two halves for the top. Chill cake for one hour.
  6. Prepare glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, water, extract, and syrup until smooth. Pour over the top of the cake, spreading to the edges so that it drips down the cake.

Notes

**cake batter heavily adapted from Allrecipes almond wedding cake

Enjoy, friends! Have a great day!

My weekly meal plan has lots of simple weeknight dinner ideas for picky eaters!

Happy Saturday, friends!

Oh my gosh, what a week. I’ve been trying to do a bit of reading on the whole #Brexit situation — am I the only one who wishes that someone would write a Brexit for Dummies book? Because I’m still slightly confused.

Also, why does Brexit sounds like a powdered drink mix? Just me?

My best friend (who also does my collage images and grocery lists for my meal plans) had her baby boy 4 weeks prematurely this week. He hadn’t been growing in the womb for a couple of weeks, so they had to take him via C-section. He’s a tiny little thing — 4 lbs 7 oz, and is still on oxygen and trying to learn how to eat. But he’s beautiful and healthy and hopefully will be out of NICU in a week or two. In the meantime, I will not have grocery lists for my meal plans — I’m not even going to try to figure that out.

I know that Anna and baby Theo would appreciate any good thoughts or prayers that you have to spare, so please keep them in mind as you go through your week.

Here’s what I’ve got on our meal plan for this week:

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 Monday: Grilled Marinated Flank Steak

This recipe is great for so many things!! Slice it thinly and serve with tortillas and guac, or just some roasted veggies or even on top of a salad!

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Orange_Chicken_Recipe Tuesday: 30 Minute Orange Chicken

We love this recipe — it’s easy and the kiddos gobble it right up. I do cut down on the orange concentrate just a bit, as we all find it to be a bit too strong.

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Fajita-Chicken-Kebab-Recipe.-A-fast-healthy-dinner

Wednesday: Fajita Chicken Kebabs

How genius are these? My husband loves fajitas, so these are a must-try.

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Garlicky-Baked-Shrimp-Recipe-1-1 Thursday: Garlicky Baked Shrimp

This quick and easy shrimp bakes in about 7 minutes and goes perfectly with almost any side dishes.

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wrap Friday: California Club Chicken Wraps

A store-bought rotisserie chicken makes these come together in no time!

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That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend!