October 1, 2014

It's THAT Time of Year Again! ($150 Minted.com Giveaway)

Time to start thinking about our Christmas cards! Choosing, ordering and mailing out our family Christmas card is one of my favorite things each year. I might be a little premature in trying to decide on our card for this year, but as soon as I saw that Minted had debuted their Holiday and Christmas designs I couldn't help but begin to day dream about which one I would chose.

Here's what we've picked in year's past...

 2010

 2012

 2013

Although the design we chose is totally dependent on the style of our family photos, which we won't be taking for another month, I am hoping to pick something bright and cheerful this year. Something like one of these...

Vintage Holiday Wishes - I love the vintage look of the graphic on this card as well as the bright cheerful red they used for the letters.

Brilliant Holiday - Simple, yet still bright and fun!

So Festive - Classic, but still fun. Not sure that I like having out names so large, front center -- I would prefer for it to say a greeting there instead, but I'm sure the designers at Minted would be willing to work with us on that.

Bold Merry -Possibly the brightest and merriest of them all! Definitely high on my list with all the bright and bold colors!

Have I gotten you in the mood for Christmas cards? Or at least encouraged you to think about your own? Well, if so you're in luck, because Minted has so kindly offered to giveaway a $150 credit to their site to one of you! All you have to do is enter using the widget below!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

September 30, 2014

DIY Pumpkin Spice Play Dough

Playing with play dough is an activity that I don't think ever gets old. I'm not sure O will ever tire of playing with it, and frankly, I don't think Keith or I will either. There are so many fun variations of things you can do with play dough -- there are the obvious things like, sculpt animals or objects, roll it with rolling pins or even cut it with cookie cutters, and then there's scented doughs! I thought with it being Fall and all O might enjoy some pumpkin scented play dough!

Not only is play dough fun, but it also has many benefits! It encourages fine motor skills and helps strengthen all the small muscles in their little hands. It encourages creativity and can be used to create pretend food, little scenes with animals (zoo, ocean, forest), jewelry -- the list is as endless as a child’s imagination!


recipe source: small friendly

Ingredients:
1 cup flour
1 cup water
1/4 cup of salt
1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or a mix of cinnamon/nutmeg/cloves)
optional: food coloring or natural food based dyes (such as beet juice and turmeric)

Instructions:
  • Combine all ingredients, omitting the food coloring, in a large pot.
  • Stir over medium heat until a big ball forms. It should be smooth and no longer sticky.
  • Remove from pot and allow to cool until the dough can be worked by hand.
  • Divide the dough into however many different colors you want.
  • Work the colors into the dough by adding a few drops at a time and then kneading until the color is evenly incorporated.
 

I made red (about 5-6 drops of red food coloring), orange (about 5 drops of red and 10 drops of yellow food coloring), yellow (about 5-6 drops of yellow food coloring) and brown (left as is) dough since they're fall colors. 

 

We've been having so much fun with our scented play dough! When we're done playing with it I simply roll the colors into balls (hopefully without too many of the colors mixed together) and store them together in a small plastic air-tight container.





September 29, 2014

This, That and Motivational Monday

-The One Year & Beyond Series kicks off again this week starting on Thursday when we'll be sharing our Toddler Diaper Bag Essentials. So, if you'd like to share what you keep in your toddler bag, write a post, and then please come back on Thursday and link up with us!

-After going back and forth for a few days O and I finally settled on a Halloween costume for him. First he said he wanted to be a dinosaur, then expressed some interest in being a Jedi, but eventually came back around to dinosaur, a Tex Rex Sharp Tooth to be specific. I showed him a few different dino costumes on a few different occasions and he always preferred this orange Raptor one from Amazon.


-Have I told you yet that my (younger, cooler, more stylish) sister started her own health, beauty and lifestyle blog, The Pretend Cookie? I've been telling her to do it for a long time now and I'm so excited she finally did! I always look to her when I want to know what's cool. 


-I've finally found another book worth reading. When I read that Erin had just finished reading Big Little Lies and proclaimed it the "bestest book ever" I knew it was worth a shot (she has a history of having great taste in books in my opinion). And people, so far it is really good, check it out: Big Little Lies.


-I drew the giveaway winner for the Thirty-One Bag giveaway, and believe it or not my MOM won! Yay, mom :) I think she's pretty darn deserving, (and there was no rigging here -- see screen shot from the giveaway widget above) if I do say so myself -- she's probably the first person who ever read my blog!


-I'm pretty sure I'll be buying Seriously Delish any day now. I've been holding back since I've been trying to not add more cookbooks to my collections, but I just love Jessica's blog and all the recipes I've tried of her's are fantastic, so I'm sure it would be a good choice to buy it, right?!

Now some motivation....

Goal: Make healthy choices for me and my family, including making conscious (healthy) food choices and staying active.

Progress to date: No loss this week -- 4 lbs lost since starting.
 
Highlight of last week: Finding some jeans! This is a huge accomplishment for me since I usually have a hard time finding something that fits my hip to waist ratio-- and I want jeans that I can spend all day in, which is hard to find. I need to be able to put them on in the morning and not want to change into something else when we're playing cars on the floor. I've found the Julie pants and the Curvy denim from Ann Taylor Loft are consistently a good fit for me.

Challenge of last week: My gym was closed most of last week because of Rosh Hashanah and after my workout on Sunday I developed a bit of sciatica, which was a pain -- literally. 
 
Workouts: Only one. Ek!
 
Lessons I learned this week: When I'm active (i.e. going to the gym) I am more likely to make good choices nutritionally. 

Here's the plan this week: 
 
Monday - Lettuce Wrap Turkey Burgers with sweet potatoes
Tuesday - Grilled Salmon, Roasted Cauliflower and green beans
Wednesday - Turkey Chili
Thursday - Lightened-up Taco Pasta
Friday - Out

Have a nice week!!

September 26, 2014

10 Steps for Writing a Sincere & Simple Thank You Note

When someone takes the time to think of you, in form of a special visit, gift or favor, you should take the time to show your appreciation and how thankful you are for them by penning a handwritten thank you note. Even if you say thank you in person upon receiving the gift,  it is also nice to show your true gratitude and that you have not forgotten their good deed!

I know most people who don't write thank you notes aren't ungrateful or forgetful, they just know how to express their thanks in words, or feel silly and forced in writing them. My best advice is to read the steps below and then write the note as though you were talking directly to the person you want to thank. A simple note, and the gratitude expressed within, can truly make someone's day.

Little Houses personalized address book from Minted.

1. Start with the necessities: 
  • beautiful paper. I have a gorgeous set of white monogrammed thank you notes that I've had since our wedding, but I'm quickly running low, so I've been looking for a new set that will be just as versatile. I love these and these notes from Minted!
  • address book. I like keeping an old-fashioned paper address book. It makes writing notes to loved ones easier and lots more fun! I'm using this one Little Houses from Minted.
  • stamps. unless you plan to hand deliver them, which is a nice touch too.
  • return address stamp. I have this one and have loved it -- I have never gotten ink on my hands when using it.
  • blue or black pens.  Keeping your notes simple with classic colors will help get your point across while not taking the focus off your gratitude.
2. Always hand write thank you notes. Even in a professional setting. A hand written note send the message that you really appreciate what you are thanking the person for, and took the time to write a note to express it. Of course, if you only have the person's email address, a nicely written email is better than no thank you at all.


3. Address the recipient. Start with "Dear" and follow with however you would address that person if you ran into them on the street and needed to introduce them to someone else. If it is a professional relationship, then keep the thank you note professional by referring to them as "Mrs. Jones / Dr. Jones / Mr. Jones", and if you know them (a friend, friend's parent, an acquaintance) well feel free to address them by their first name.

4. Start with a sincere thank you. Thank the person for anything material they may have given you, a favor or even their presence. "Thank you so much for the beautiful flowers, and for coming to our housewarming party", "Thank you so much for the fun new toy for Owen and for stopping by to visit with us", "Thank you so much for taking the time to rake the leaves from our front yard".

5. Follow with how you plan to use the gift, have been using it or how the gesture affected you positively. For example, your neighbor rakes the leaves from your lawn for you, you might want to bake some cookie and write a nice note to thank them for their kind, and neighborly gesture. You might say something like "It was such a nice surprise to return home from our trip to a neat and tidy yard. You lifted a huge weight from our shoulders." Or for a material gift, "The scarf you gave me has received many compliment and has been keeping me warm!"



6. Show interest in the gift giver. Express interest in seeing them again soon or joy from having spent time with them, for example "I enjoyed catching up with you at the reunion and hearing all about your wedding plans. I am so happy for you!" or "I am looking forward to seeing you next week at dinner".

7. Say thank you again! Bring the focus of the note back to the original purpose by ending with one last "Thank you!"

8. Close it up. Wrap it up with a close that expresses your final thought. You can say, Regards, All the Best, Sincerely, Gratefully, or Love, if appropriate.


9. Send it! Address the note properly, add postage and send it along in the mail. I like to keep my paper address book (the Little Houses personalized address book from Minted) in the same drawer as my thank you notes, this way I never have to search around for the address I need when I have a moment to write a quick thank you note.

10. Check it off your to-do list! I don't know about you, but I am always happier when I'm able to check things off my never ending to-do list.

If you're looking for more tips on writing a thank you note here are a few more great exmaples:

How to Write a Charming Thank You Note (Southern Living)
How to Write the Perfect Note (Real Simple)
Thank You Note Etiquette (Good Housekeeping)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. 

September 25, 2014

Crunchy Caramel Apple Pie, Revisited

This recipe was originally posted on August 21st, 2011.  I decided to bring it up out of the archives today to re-share this fantastic apple pie recipe -- seriously, you could make it for a church or school bake sale, or even a holiday dinner-- and because I recently took some better pictures of it!

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I can't believe I have been making this apple pie recipe for almost 10 years! It is my go to recipe for a great dessert--it has always been thoroughly enjoyed by the people I serve it to.

Last night we went to our friends the Points' house. The guys were having their annual Fantasy Draft Party (if you don't know what that is consider yourself lucky). The guys basically get together with their computers and "draft" their players for their Fantasy Football teams and eat and drink. We ladies got smart a few years ago and decided that while our husbands / finances / boyfriends were having their draft we would have an Anti-Draft Party, which is pretty much us talking and eating and having a few drinks (see a pattern here?). It's always a good time and the Points family are such gracious hosts. We love them :)

Back to the point: I made two of these pies to bring to the party.



Crunchy Caramel Apple Pie
For a printer-friendly version click here. 

Ingredients for Pie: 
1 pastry crust for a deep-dish pie 9-inch (I used store-bought)
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
6 cups thinly sliced peeled apples (I use Fuji)
1 recipe crumb topping (see below)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup caramel topping (the kind in the squeeze bottle works best) 

Ingredients for Crumb Topping:
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup quick cooking rolled oats
1/2 cup butter 

Directions for the Crumb Topping:
1. Stir together brown sugar,flour, rolled oats.
2. Cut in 1/2 cup butter until topping is like course crumbs. Set aside. 

Directions for the Pie:

1. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt.
2. Add apple slices and gently toss until coated. (I used my mandoline on its thickest setting)


3. Transfer apple mixture to the pie shell (You can remove the store-bought pie shell from the aluminum pie plate and transfer it to a 9-inch pie plate of your own, but you do not have to.)


4. Sprinkle crumb topping over apple mixture.
5. Place pie on a cookie sheet so the drippings don't drop into your oven.
6. Cover edges of pie with aluminum foil.
7. Bake in a preheated 375 oven for 25 minutes. Then remove foil and put back in for another 25 to 30 minutes without foil.
8. Remove from oven. Sprinkle pie with chopped pecans then drizzle with caramel on top.
9. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy warm or at room temperature. Serve with vanilla ice cream for best results.


After I filled both pies with the apple mixture (and topped them with the crumb topping) I still had a bit leftover. Instead of tossing it I filled two ramekins with the leftovers and re-heated them tonight--best decision I've ever made!


Recipe courtesy of Marsha Brooks, Good Morning America Apple Pie Contest 2001
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