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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Christmas Book Advent Tradition Plus Kid-Favorite Holiday Book Picks!

My kids always look forward to our Christmas Book Advent holiday tradition that we start in December to add to the magic.  So today I wanted to tell you all about it and share the titles of our favorite books so you can add them to your collection or start this fun tradition, if you'd like to.
We don't do Elf on a Shelf like so many others, so I wanted to have something special for the kids to look forward to each day throughout the month of December.

We always begin the month by reading the story of the first Christmas in the Bible.  It's important for me to instill in my kids the reason for the season, and that is the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  It really sets the tone for the festivities and things that happen the rest of the month.

Then, for the days that follow, we read fun children's books with simple, sweet holiday messages of love, joy and giving.  I add a few new books to our collection each year.  We start the advent on December 1st, but since we don't have quite enough books yet for 25 days, we end a little early before Christmas.  

I wrap the books before-hand, write a number on each with permanent marker (nothing fancy) and set them under the tree.  The kids then get to rotate opening a package each evening and we snuggle up and read by the light of the Christmas tree all cozy in our pajamas.  
It's a special way to bring the wonder of the holidays into the home.  And, possibly my favorite part about this tradition is that the kids get super excited for bedtime because they know what we get to do right before. :)

The following books are best for young children, I would say, ages 2-8.  Some of them are more catered to the lesser part of that bracket.

Here's a few of our all-time favorite holiday reads in no particular order:

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter
Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O'Connor
Once Upon a Northpole Christmas by Noel Manning
Olivia Claus by Simon Spotlight
Madeline's Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans
The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
Penny's Christmas Jar Miracle by Jason F. Wright
Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen
The Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving by Jan Berenstain
The Biggest Christmas Tree Ever by Steven Kroll
The Little Christmas Elf (Little Golden Book) by Nikki Shannon Smith
The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet by Deborah Hautzig

This is such a fun way to count down to Christmas! So now I'm wondering which amazing holiday books I'm missing and need to add to my collection!  Do you and your kids have a favorite that's not on this list?  Please, do share!


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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What's Your Wish this Season?

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of UPS. All opinions are 100% mine.

'Tis the season for cherishing the wonderful relationships that we have with friends and family. I am blessed with so many amazing people in my life, and though I try to express my appreciation and love for them often, it's always nice to have an extra excuse to do so.  :)
There's not much better than witnessing a child's eyes light up in response to a new, magical experience they were a part of or in anticipation of receiving something special.
Ups_2color_shield

Kind of like those times (you might be able to relate) when the kids are expecting a delivery and they impatiently "wait" for 1:00 PM to roll around when they'll hear the UPS truck pull up in front of the house.  They bolt to the door and open it before the bell even rings.

And then they can't open that package fast enough to reveal the contents.  Hands are flying and squeals of delight ensue.  As a mother, I live for those sweet moments when I see the gleam of excitement and joy in their eyes.
I mean, how could you not just want to smile when looking at the sweet face above?  Now times that by three and you'll know why I simply can't tell them no.  :)

Every year at this time, I place a special emphasis on teaching my children about gifts of love and kindness.  Naturally, kids associate gifts with a pretty package all tied up in a bow.  But to me a gift can also be in the form of a wish, a dream, or a simple hope that's fulfilled.  Even that heavy brown box at the doorstep that the kids have been anxiously awaiting, started with a wish.  But the love part comes when we hope for that good thing to happen to someone else.  And if there's ever an occasion to have such a hope, it's now.

This holiday season, UPS has initiated the #WishesDelivered program where you can submit your wish and donate to charity at the same time!  UPS will be donating $1 to one of their charity partners for every wish that is submitted! The more meaningful and selfless those wishes are, the better! Because, isn't that the essence of this most wonderful time of the year, anyway?
So what's your wish?  Do you have a special desire in mind for a very special person, as I do?  You can submit it by visiting http://ups.com/wishes or by posting it on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #WishesDelivered, where it will automatically be submitted. Shout it out on all your social media channels so your friends can join in too!

For every wish submitted with the hashtag #WishesDelivered, UPS will donate $1 to one of their charity partners (Salvation Army, Boys & Girls Club, or Toys for Tots) up to $100K!  So by doing one good deed, you'll be vicariously doing another! High five!

I hope you get caught up in the true spirit of the season and that the Web will flood with your beautiful, thoughtful, and well-meaning wishes on behalf of others.
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Monday, November 24, 2014

My New Blogging Station!

I've been so excited to share with you my new blogging space!  It's been a long time coming, but I couldn't love the setup more now that it's complete.


For the longest time I've been sharing (and competing for) a computer with my husband.  So he got tired of it and went and bought me my very own a few weekends ago.  Brownie points for him!  And then we got to go furniture shopping to find a desk for it to live!  

I knew I wanted to put the desk in the family room so I could be out where the kids are, but space was very limited there.  So, after much searching, we found the perfect piece of furniture that was tall and narrow, just like we needed...with lots of shelves for storage and organization too!  Bonus!

I love that the keyboard and mouse can hide away in the small front drawer so the desktop can stay looking uncluttered, and so little dirty fingers don't have easy access.  :)
I was concerned at first that the wood color would clash with the wood of our coffee table and entertainment center, but, much to my pleasant surprise, it matches almost perfectly! 

A jar from the Target Dollar Spot was a perfect vessel for colorful pom poms.  Then, I purchased a galvanized metal organizer on a half off promotion at Hobby Lobby and used it to store my baker's twine and washi tape.  I just love the color they add!  Pint-sized Mason jars, that I filled with buttons, clothespins, and other small items, fit perfectly in the slots.
Recognize the tin can supply organizer?  I'm thrilled to actually have a place for it now! 

The top shelf was a perfect home for my Silhouette Cameo, along with an antique-looking mustard yellow metal storage bin (also from Hobby Lobby) for random loose items that I rarely use but don't want to clutter up the space.

I made a simple layered burlap and fabric bunting with happy yellow fabric and sewed some rick rack along the top. The bar it's hanging from isn't intrinsically useful to us because this desk was part of a larger piece that was a full-on library with a ladder to slide along and reach those high-up books.  If the bar couldn't be functional, it had to at least contribute to the cuteness.  :)

I absolutely love that I have my own space now. But my favorite part is that I can be close to the kids while I blog during the "down time" of the day when they're wanting to veg and watch a movie. 

It's horizontally compact, but it fits my needs perfectly!

So what do you think?  Would you use this very versatile piece for the same purpose, or do you have another in mind? Please share in the comments below!  I'd love to hear!

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Simple Thanksgiving Tablescape

Now that Halloween's over, Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and that means lots of dinner guests and family gatherings centered around yummy food!  So I put together a very simple, yet pretty Thanksgiving tablescape using items I already had around my house.
We had some friends over last year for Thanksgiving dinner and this was our setup.  I love it, because it's proof that hosting company doesn't have to be a huge stress or a big expense.  It's simple, yet very practical, which is totally my style.

I used a large white tablecloth on our dining room table and then ran some brown craft paper down the center.  Then I added a fun fall garland, some faux pumpkins, pinecones and glass hurricanes filled with fall picks.

I grabbed some mini bags and tossed in a few candy corns, then set them at each place.  After the guests arrived and were seated, and before any food was served, we went around the table and for each candy corn, we said one thing we were thankful for.  It was a nice little ice breaker and a perfect way to remember why we were celebrating.
I added my white plates and some glass cups, along with some cute napkins from the Target Dollar Spot, and that was it!  It took about five minutes to throw together, and it looks like I fussed over it for a long while.  I love fooling my guests.  :)

See...a beautiful Thanksgiving tablescape can be a cinch and so inexpensive to create!

Will you be hosting Thanksgiving in your home this year or heading some place else?

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Save Power this Holiday Season with No-Bake Refrigerator Chocolate Mousse Cookies

No-Bake Refrigerator Chocolate Mint Mousse Cookies are a simple and decadent holiday dessert! You don't have to even turn on the oven to enjoy these festive, creamy treats!
Would you believe me if I told you you're just 20 minutes away from biting into one of these beauties?  It's true.  

I love baking, but sometimes the oven needs a rest, especially during the holidays when it's overworked and underpaid.  :)  I'm always looking for ways to save energy, because that in turn means conserving power, which in turn translates into more cash in my pocket to spend on other fun things...like gifts for loved ones!

An added bonus for not cranking the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit is that I can enjoy a tasty confection in a jiff, which is extremely important when that sweet tooth craving hits without notice, and, trust me, it happens quite often.  :)

So today's recipe is a triple whammy of goodness as it saves energy, precious money and is, I'd venture to say, even more phenomenal-tasting than any dessert you could bake in your oven.  That's a very bold statement to make, but I don't hold back when it comes to sweets.  I trust you'll agree with me, too, after you sink your teeth into one of these delightful things. :)
I'm a chocolate lover through and through, as you probably know, but, combine it with the texture of mousse, and watch out world!  And speaking of looking out, I'm one of those moms who is serious about energy efficiency.  My kids just roll their eyes when I flip the light out in the room they're playing or unplug their gaming system while it's still charging.  What can I say?  I'm doing my part to make the world a better place, even if it means leaving my kids in the dark or without their beloved entertainment.  Ha!

But seriously...there are some great benefits that result from efforts such as mine, including putting less strain on the grid (i.e. reducing outages) and on other natural resources (like water), along with reducing emissions that can harm the environment...all really good things!

Go HERE and HERE for more great energy-saving tips kindly provided by PG&E.
My husband refuses to call these "cookies" because they're not cooked, but I think they look the part of one, so I'm standing by the title.  You can call them whatever you wish...Chocolate Delights, Magical Mousse Mounds, Treasure Fluffs...and the list could go on.

{CHOCOLATE MOUSSE COOKIES}

1 giant Hershey almond chocolate bar
1/2 pkg. (6 oz.) Andes Mint Chips
1/2 cup chopped almonds, optional
1 c. crushed Vanilla Wafers or graham crackers
1 tub (8 oz.) Cool Whip

Melt chocolate bar and mint chips together in the microwave, in 30 second increments, stirring between.  Let mixture cool and then fold in Cool Whip.  Get a large spoonful of the mousse mixture, shape with your hands to look like a cookie or ball, and roll in crushed vanilla wafers, or sprinkle them on.  Drizzle with extra melted mint chips, if desired.  Place on waxed paper on a cookie sheet and let set for about 10-15 minutes in the fridge.  Place in an air-tight container and store in the refrigerator until ready to eat.
These "cookies" of sorts are my gift to the universe this holiday season.  I hope you enjoy this fantastically yummy method of saving on power, and that you'll implement other energy-conserving strategies in your home as well.

PG&E is hosting a #PGEhome Instagram Photo Challenge Contest from November 17-23rd where participants have a shot at winning one of seven Home Depot Gift Cards!  I hope you'll submit your awesome photo!

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Soft & Chewy Gingerbread Oatmeal Sandwich Cookie Recipe

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and Quaker.  All opinions are mine alone. #QuakerUp #MyOatsCreation #CollectiveBias. Quaker has asked me to talk to you about my favorite holiday memories and recipes, and I couldn't be happier to share today's yummy creation with you.

Soft and Chewy Gingerbread Sandwich Cookies made with whole grain oats and filled with Marshmallow Buttercream Frosting just scream, "It's the holidays"!  Can you hear them? :)
I keep very busy in the kitchen this time of year, baking up a storm!  Are you the same way?  I enjoy making goodies and giving them to neighbors and friends.  Nothing says, "We care about you", like a festive, heaping plate of fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies!

One of my favorite holiday treats to make are gingerbread cookies.  I really love the bold flavor the ginger adds to the end result.  Sometimes the kids and I cut them into little men and women and decorate the tops with white icing and mini candies.  

In fact, last December we took it a step further and read the favorite childhood book "The Gingerbread Man" before making the cookies.  The kids have not forgotten that fun day.  We love making memories in the kitchen, and it just wouldn't be the holidays if we didn't bake together!

So I wanted to turn the tables a bit and make a different version of a family-favorite holiday treat, this time with two oatmeal-infused, spiced cookies sandwiching the most delicious, fluffy Marshmallow Creme Frosting.  Yummmmm....!  I love me a good oatmeal cookie, and these ones surely did not disappoint. 
 How about the Quaker Oats winter packaging?  I think it's beautiful!  It makes me want to put on a pair of skis, hit the slopes, and get a first-hand view of the snow-dusted pine trees.  But that will have to wait 'til our annual week-long trip in January.

These limited edition Quaker Oats Old Fashioned and Quick Oats (42 oz.) are available at Target, & exclusively at Target, for a limited time only, so be sure to grab yours before they go away!  Here's a great coupon to use on your purchase.
I recommend doubling the recipe below if you'll be serving these at a holiday gathering or party.

{SOFT & CHEWY GINGERBREAD OATMEAL SANDWICH COOKIES}
Adapted from Taste of Home
Yield: 2-1/2 dozen

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Quaker Old Fashioned Oats
Extra sugar for rolling (optional)
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. 
Beat in egg and molasses.
In a separate bowl, add the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, salt and oats.  Stir to combine.
Gradually add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and mix well.  Chill dough for 1/2 hour to one hour to allow it to firm a bit.
Roll into 1-1/2-in. balls, then roll in sugar, if desired.  Place 2 in. apart on ungreased baking sheets. 
Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes (I did 10) or until puffy and lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.

You can stop at this step if you'd like and ditch the frosting, because these babies are good without it!  But, I must admit, the frosting does add an extra creamy, yummy factor.  And who can resist a double dose of soft cookie with icing in between?  They're so impressive-looking! 

If you choose to go the Marshmallow Creme Frosting route (hooray for you!) here's how to do it.

Marshmallow Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 jar (7 oz.) marshmallow creme
1 c. powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until fluffy.  Add marshmallow creme and mix until fluffy.  Add powdered sugar and vanilla and mix until fluffy.  Place a big spoonful of frosting on the bottom of one cookie, spread with a knife, then gently push another cookie on top.  The frosting will push out to the edges even more.  If you want the clean-frosted look, run your finger along the edges to remove excess frosting.
I've never been a fan of crispy cookies, especially the gingersnap variety, so I wanted to make sure the final product here was chewy and absolutely soft, which these totally are.  
These just beg to be stacked in a cellophane bag and tied up with a beautiful bow!  What a perfect gift idea!
The Quaker Oats lend a wonderful texture and dimension to the cookies.  Common, take a bite!  But first you'll have to make some.  Race you to the kitchen! :)

Follow Quaker on Pinterest and Facebook for more fabulous recipe ideas!

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Fabulous Thanksgiving Entertaining Ideas with Turkey Gelato Bars and Parmesan Mac & Cheese

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone.  #Feast4All #CollectiveBias

Hosting family and loved ones this Thanksgiving will be a cinch with some Haagen-Dazs Gelato Bars decorated with adorable candy turkeys and a welcoming dish of warm Stouffer's Macaroni & Cheese with parmesan bread crumbs.  It doesn't get easier than this, my friends!
Will you be hosting guests in your home for Thanksgiving?  We're actually spending Turkey Day with my husband's family, but I've got a few ideas up my sleeve to contribute to the mix while we're there, like these Turkey Gelato Bars!  My mother-in-law always makes her melt-in-your-mouth rolls while my father-in-law takes charge of preparing and cooking the bird.  I always help out with side dishes and of course the desserts.
These inviting packages hold the key to Thanksgiving made simple!

I found everything I needed at Walmart to entertain Thanksgiving.  Haagen-Dazs Gelato Vanilla Caramel Pizzelle Bars are absolutely phenomenal!  They are meant to be spruced up with candy turkeys and devoured on feast day.
Kids get really excited about things that are made just for them.  So I like to take it upon myself to find fun things for them to do and eat while the adults are enjoying, as a result, some peaceful conversation.

Other than the typical Thanksgiving coloring pages and crayons that scatter their table, I like to provide them with edible adornments and occupations as well.   If your little ones are like mine, they aren't much for pie, so I create other festive, sweet treats for their enjoyment.  These Turkey Gelato Bars will surely do the trick this year!  They'll be "gobbled" right up (pardon my pun)!

All it takes is a few yummy items and less than a minute to make them!
{SUPPLIES}

Haagen-Dazs Gelato Vanilla Caramel Pizzelle Bars
Candy Corns (cut a few to look like beaks)
Candy Eyes
Melted Chocolate
Thin red licorice

Watch the quick video below to see how to easily put them together.  Just be sure to set all your supplies out beforehand and to work quickly, because the warm chocolate will harden ever so fast when it makes contact with the frozen bars.  These come together in just minutes and sure are cute, don't you agree?  The kids (and adults) will flock when you pull these out of the freezer, so be sure to produce them in bulk!
A video posted by Christine_I Dig Pinterest (@christine_idigpinterest) on


 Now since we've gotten dessert out of the way, we can move on to what should come before, but I work backwards when chocolate is involved. :)

Because the main Thanksgiving fixings tend to require lots of time and attention, I like to save myself some stress and time by serving easy side dishes, like this Stouffer's Macaroni & Cheese.  I added an extra yummy touch to it with a parmesan bread crumb topping.  I love that it looks like I put a lot more effort into it than I actually did.

Simply stir together the fine crumbs of two crusts of bread and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.  Then remove the Macaroni & Cheese from the oven 10 minutes before it's finished warming, top with bread crumbs, and return to the oven for the remaining time.

The topping gives the dish a yummy boost that it definitely doesn't need, but sure is a welcome surprise when it reaches those taste buds.
Ahhh...there's not much better than a bowl of comfort food when the temps are plummeting outside.  Stouffer's® Mac & Cheese really hits the spot and is a perfectly simple and tasty dish to serve at Thanksgiving dinner!

I hope you found these simple ideas helpful when you're entertaining soon!

Check out this Pinterest board for more Fall inspiration!


So, I must know...how many guests are you expecting at Thanksgiving dinner?  I remember one year with my side of the family we counted over 50!

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Friday, November 14, 2014

DIY Easy Fall Wreath

I just love wreaths, and as of a week ago, I didn't have a single fall or autumn themed wreath for my front door, so I whipped one up in a hurry!  This burlap and berry pumpkin wreath is seriously no sweat and is much easier on the budget than a store-bought version!
Isn't she a beauty?  I'd been wreath shopping for DIY inspiration at a few places (Pottery Barn and Hobby Lobby) and this one ended up being a cross between some of the ones seen there.  The best part about it is that I made it for a fraction of the cost! 

It's a money-saving decor piece that doesn't take much time to do it yourself, i.e. I was all over this project.

I really love the fall berries, pumpkins, and leaf picks.  They add some fun little pops of color and elements of interest.
You'll need a bunch of fall picks (I used about 8), a straw wreath form, some burlap ribbon,  some floral cutters, and a glue gun.  I found all of my supplies at Hobby Lobby.  The straw is perfect because it holds the picks in really well.
Start by separating your picks and sticking them into the straw all the way around your wreath in increments.  You'll need to carefully cut the tightly wrapped paper that holds them together.  You'll fill in the gaps with burlap.  I mixed it up with pumpkins, berries, and leaves. Be sure to trim your picks with your floral cutters so they don't stick out the sides of the wreath form.
After you've used all your picks, get your burlap and glue gun ready.
Put a piece of burlap underneath the wreath where the straw is showing and just fold and bunch it as you like in between the picks.  Cut and glue as you go, and be sure that all the straw is covered in the spaces.  It's hard to go wrong here, because it does not need to be perfect.  In fact, it looks better if it's more random.
That's it!  Now display it on your front door for your guests to be greeted with a beautiful sight of fall before they enter your home.  

I love saving money on home decor by making it myself, don't you?

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