How to Make a Mardi Gras Bead Dog

Now that Mardi Gras has come and gone, what are you going to do with all those beads? Since my kids are on break from school (and I am tired of hearing that they are bored), I decided to show my youngest how to make a traditional Mardi Gras Bead Dog. I remember making hundreds of these cute dogs when I was little and even tried to sell them around our neighborhood.

With mounds of throws in my living room, beads are in no short supply and this kept her occupied for hours. She loved it so much that she decided to film a tutorial for you all to enjoy!

Did you make a bead dog? I’d love to hear how it turned out! Want more Mardi Gras fun? Check out the top 5 places you can score a New Orleans King Cake!

Mardi Gras Bead Dog

Do Good, Feel Good (and get free McDonald’s fries, too)

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with McDonald’s. All opinions remain 100% honest.

There are few things I love more on this planet than McDonald’s french fries. Of course, my family and my friends come first and second but the fries come in a very close third. But what’s better than hot, crispy McDonald’s fries? FREE McDonald’s fries and helping charity, too!

McDonald’s 15th annual national fundraiser to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities® kicks off November 7th and runs through November 19th at participating restaurants nationwide. Customers who visit McDonald’s can support families staying at Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Louisiana by donating $1, $3, or $5. Customers who donate will receive a “thank you” coupon for free small fries or hashbrowns (no purchase required, valid through November 30th).

I have been a donor to RMHC myself because I have had a chance to see the effects of their work on families who need it most. The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Louisiana serves an average of 85 families of seriously ill children seeking care in the New Orleans Metro area each month.  In addition, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile offers free immunizations for local children.

You can be a part of the good by participating in the national fundraiser! From 2010-2016, McDonald’s USA has raised more than $260 million for Ronald McDonald House Charities through the national fundraiser, restaurant donation boxes, and penny per Happy Meal donations. Simply stop by your local participating McDonald’s and donate $1, $3 or $5 from November 7-19, 2017 and the smile on your face won’t just be from doing something good. Fries. Don’t forget about the free fries!

Writing with the Faber Castell Op Art Water Lily Fountain Pen

This post was written by guest contributor Maureen of LumenNOLA. The pen reviewed here was provided by the manufacturer.

Hey pen friends! I have long been a fan of Faber Castell writing instruments, but must admit that most of the Faber Castell items in my home are art supplies used by my husband, who is a visual artist. I was therefore excited to be offered the opportunity to try a fountain pen of that brand. I have been a fountain pen fan for many years, and I love to experiment with new writing tools of all kinds.

The pen arrived packaged in a white box with a drawer tray, and accompanied by an instruction booklet. The pen has a descriptive tag attached to the clip. The clip itself is springy, but solid. I would have no concerns about using it to attach the pen to a notebook, or the pocket of a bag or briefcase.

Faber Castell Op Art Water Lily Pen with box
The Op Art fountain pen is thinner than the pens that I usually gravitate to, but guess what? With its interesting grooves and lines, combined with a light well-balanced weight, it felt very comfortable in my hand. The surface texture prevented my fingers from slipping toward the nib as I wrote. I have had that problem with other narrow pens.

Faber Castell Water Lily Pen
Also different from my standard preference was the nib size, medium. I like a fine line, especially with European made pens, which have naturally broader nibs than Asian made pens. Like the pen surface, the Op Art nib was also a pleasant surprise. It is a very smooth-writing, steel nib that lays down a solid line! It is a pleasure to write with. The pink of the barrel paired beautifully with a purple ink (my favorite ink color!).

The silver cap of the pen securely snaps onto the section, or onto the back of the pen to write while posted. I found the pen top heavy with the cap posted, but know that I never write with pens posted. The extra weight might balance very well for someone who prefers a heavier pen.

Faber Castell Pink Fountain Pen
The pen has a steel nib embossed with dots, the Faber Castell logo, and the nib size indicator, M for medium. There is no breather hole, which is consistent with other Faber Castell fountain pens I have written with.

The cap also has the logo and company name embossed.

The more I look at it, the more mesmerizing I find the grooved surface of the pen. The construction was solid. All attachments fit well, with no loose joints. The Faber Castell Op Art Water Lily is a nice pen to treat yourself or someone else too. And what a great way to introduce a pop of color and interesting texture as the darker evenings of winter approach!

Cruising with Tweens on the Carnival Dream

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with Carnival Cruise Lines. All opinions remain 100% my own.

Snapchat. Selfies. Friends. Instagram. Facetime. These are the staples of my tween daughters’ lives. While they loved cruising with Carnival 3 years ago, I was not sure how they would take to being unplugged and disconnected from friends for an entire week.  Last time we sailed on the Carnival Dream, the girls loved participating in Seuss at Sea, hanging with Mom and Dad at the pool, and learning to make towel animals. But this time I knew would be different.  I knew my two tweens would want a little more independence (which is scary for Mom) but I was also excited to experience the new adventures available to us now that the kids were older. While this cruise visited ports we have already explored, I knew it would be a whole new World!

How to Keep Your Tween Entertained while Cruising (and even forget about Snapchat!)

  1. Hit the Slides: Not only is Carnival’s WaterWorks a great way to cool off in the summer heat, this activity is one way I was able to give my tweens a little independence. Many lounge chairs within sight of the water play area, so I picked a home base and off they went! Bonus: I brought my favorite book and enjoyed a few hours of relaxation myself!
  2. Laugh it Off:  After dinner, my tweens loved attending the family friendly comedy nights at The Punchliner. There’s nothing like making fun of parents to put a smile on your tween’s face.
    Zero Proof Drinks on Carnival
  3. Head to the Bar: For non-alcoholic drinks, of course! My tweens loved the frozen zero-proof beverages and they are still asking me to make the infamous Nutella Pizza.
    Nutella Pizza
  4. Get Pampered: Being without your iPhone can be stressful. Tweens can chillax at Cloud 9 Spa aboard the Carnival Dream during the one hour Teen Pamper Party (additional fee required).
  5. Go for the Gold: There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition. Take your tween to the onboard arcade, mini golf course, foosball tables or basketball court….and maybe “let them win” once or twice.
  6. Team Up: We all loved cheering on teams consisting of other Carnival passengers as they competed in “Hasbro, The Game Show”
    Monkey Encounter
  7. Go On An Adventure: Because we were traveling with tweens, there was a ton of shore excursions to choose from since their ages did not exclude them from much. We decided on excursions that would take them out of their comfort zones such as braving the zipline, cave swimming and encounters with monkeys. Watching them conquer fears and support each other was worth every penny.
    Canoeing in Mexico
  8. Go On a Hunt: Circle “C”,  a dedicated lounge just for kids ages 12-14, hosts Scavenger Hunts in the evening. It was a great way for my tweens to make new friends and have some parent-free time.
  9. Dive-In to the Big Screen: Catch a movie at night under the stars on the Lido deck while swimming in the pool! Mom and Dad can lounge on the deck and enjoy some popcorn, too!
  10. Eat It: Unlimited ice cream. Enough said.

In the end, my tweens survived an entire week disconnected from their screens and actually enjoyed spending time with family and living life to the fullest. While wifi packages are available on board, we managed to keep that secret hidden well! To learn more about cruising with Carnival, visit

cruising with tweens

Top Five Places to Get King Cake in New Orleans

UPDATED for the 2018 Carnival Season!

If you are not from New Orleans, January 6th might just be an ordinary day, or perhaps you know it as the Epiphany or King’s Day.  But for us New Orleanians, January 6th marks the start of something spectacular….CARNIVAL!  The parades, floats, marching bands, traditions and throws are all great fun, but my favorite part of Carnival is the KING CAKE!

where to get king cake

King’s Day (January 6th) is celebrated as the date the gift-bearing kings visited the baby Jesus. The King Cake is baked in honor of the three kings and the baby (plastic, porcelain or gold) placed inside the cake symbolizes the baby Jesus. Originally, these oval cakes were a simple ring of dough with a small amount of decoration. Today’s King Cakes are much more festive! After the rich Danish dough is braided and baked, the “baby” is inserted. The top of the ring or oval cake is then covered with delicious sugar toppings in the traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple, green and gold.

king cake

In New Orleans, King Cake parties are held throughout the Carnival Season (generally on Friday). The person who receives the slice of cake with the baby inside is asked to continue the festivities by hosting the next King Cake party.

If you are looking to be a part of this NOLA tradition, I thought I would help you find some of the BEST places to buy King Cake (and I should know because over the course of my 42 years, I have tasted a LOT of King Cake!).

5 (tie).  Party Palace: Typically, I have seen these King Cakes in PJ’s Coffee stores, but now you can order these thick, heavy on the icing cakes online, too!

5 (tie). Marguerite Cakes: If chocolate is what you love, Marguerite offers a Brownie Delight cake that is truly spectacular. Their traditional King Cake (in my opinion) has a hint of almond flavoring making this cake different than the rest.

4.  Gambino’s:  While Gambino’s is known for their Doberche Cakes, they make a mean King Cake, too! These King Cakes can be stuffed with cream cheese, pecan praline, raspberry, peach, pineapple, blueberry, strawberry, lemon, apple, cherry or chocolate brownie!  I recommend the cream cheese!  Gambino’s offers some great packages to give out-of-towners a real Carnival experience.

4. (tie) Haydel’s:  In September, Haydel’s created a World’s Record for the largest King Cake ever made… it actually circled the New Orleans SuperDome! This Carnival, they are celebrating by offering the World Record King Cake Care Package which includes one large Traditional or Filled King Cake plus Haydel’s own Mambo Beat Mardi Gras Magazine, a king cake history scroll, one pack of Haydel’s Coffee and Chicory, Haydel’s Specialty Bead Pack, this year’s handcrafted Porcelain Collectible (while supplies last), Mardi Gras CD, Mardi Gras poster and a World Record Edition Mardi Gras cup.  Follow Haydel’s on Twitter so you don’t miss any special deals!

3. Nonna Randazzo’s (Covington):  Not on the Southshore?  No problem!  Try out this Northshore favorite! Closer to Baton Rouge? Try the Zulu King Cake (pictured below) at Ambrosia’s Bakery!

Zulu King Cake

2. Randazzo’s:  Making King Cakes since 1965, Randazzo’s is the favorite of many locals.  The line remains out of the door, through the parking lot and down the street which means they are doing something right! From now through Mardi Gras Eve (known as Lundi Gras), you can have a King Cake shipped just about anywhere!

2.  Sucre:  Even though I was born and raised in New Orleans, I was just introduced to the Sucre King Cake a few years ago for a product review.  This is by far the prettiest King Cake I have ever seen….and one of the tastiest.  For only $20, you can own a slice of heaven! I absolutely cannot wait to get one this year.  In fact, I loved it so much, I shipped a few of these to friends last year so I wouldn’t be the only one to love Sucre!

1. Don Phuong’s Oriental Bakery: My new favorite for 2018! I am a sucker for cream cheese icing and this King Cake does it perfectly. This bakery is located in New Orleans East but I have found a few places in Lakeview (Pizza NOLA) and Metairie (Pho NOLA) that carry the cakes for those who don’t want to travel (even though it’s totally worth the trip).

Check out these related posts:

How to host a Mardi Gras Party

Bake Your Own Traditional New Orleans King Cake

Happy King’s Day!  Where are you going to get your King Cake?