Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I saw it on Pinterest - Sesame Street Party

While planning Baby D's second birthday party, Pinterest came in handy with lots of ideas for his Sesame Street party theme. I wanted it cute. I wanted it simple. I wanted it fun. And I wanted it cheap!

I started a party board for him about six months ahead of time to glean ideas. There were so many cute things I'd have liked to do but didn't want to pour too much money into decorations. I did purchase a few packages of pipe cleaners at the dollar store which entertained the kids with twisting and creating for much longer than I expected!

Elmo inspiration (wow, isn't that a fun table!).

One thing I've learned over the years is to put money and/or work into things that guests will actually notice. Why buy cute but pricy tablecloths if you are going to cover them with your lunch spread? Or expensive plates with Elmo's face when they're just going to get ranch dip all over them?!

I bought dollar-store tablecloths and then cut a strip of leftover wrapping paper for a simple and colorful table runner. Cheap...and my guests actually commented on how clever the idea was.

I pumped up about 12 balloons that I had on hand and tied them with curling ribbon to the posts of our patio. At the end of the party we cut them down and gave them to the youngest party guests to take home with them.

Another thing I've learned over the years is to use what you have on hand and from around the house. This dessert table was decorated with a standing Tickle Me Elmo doll that we already had. I used a silver tiered tray from my dining room table for holding cupcakes. And because all I had were glass trays that I didn't want to get knocked off the table, I decided just to spread the Elmo-breadmen directly onto the table.

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And honestly, don't spend a ton of time making elaborate desserts because frankly, kids don't care! Truly, they just want to EAT it! So if you want to make it cute just know your efforts are only for the grown ups who will ooh and ahhh over the sweetness. Seriously, do not mess around with rolling out fondant or taking an hour to painstakingly decorate one sugar cookie that will get devoured in 3.2 seconds. Know your audience; Kids will not appreciate the time or effort you put into the treats, they just want them in their bellies!

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Drooling in anticipation!

I made a simple chocolate cake from a box mix, smeared on leftover cream cheese frosting and tossed some colorful sprinkles on the top. Super easy. If I'd had time I would have made one of these fun banners for the top but alas, I was actually still frosting the cake as my guests were arriving!

Pinterest inspiration

I did spend more time than usual making these Elmo-breadmen cookies because I knew that they kids would adore them.

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I already had the dough premade and frozen so it just took defrosting, rolling out and baking. Royal icing is a bit more work but I'd already had it made (you can keep it for about a month) so I just had to mix the three colors. I made it into flood icing as per Sweet Sugar Belle's instructions and using a squeeze bottle method I had these fuzzy red guys made in no time, with different expressions to boot! If you do make decorated cookies take my advice and break up the work. Make the dough one day. Roll out and bake the cookies another day. Decorate them the day before the party (or even earlier and just freeze them until the day before the event). These cookies are oversized and were taking up a lot of icing which is why I just outlined the bodies and filled in the icing on the head. Nobody complained and the cookies were gone in a flash!

I also knew that Baby D was going to need a coordinating outfit and well, since that is sort of "my thing" I whipped him up an appliqued tee with Elmo! He was totally delighted. If you need your own Elmo tee, I *ahem* sell it in my Etsy shop!

Happy #2 Baby D!

Here are the Cookie Monster Cupcakes that I saw on Pinterest.

Pinterest version

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My version

I was not going to pipe frosting onto these, I didn't have time for that. I simply colored store-bought cream cheese frosting with a few drops of blue gel coloring and then patted the frosting on with an angled mini spatula to make it look fluffy. Mini Chips Ahoy cookies were simply shoved into the mouth position. The tutorial I saw on Pinterest had the baker cutting out a little section from the cupcake to insert the cookie but I didn't have any issues with just pushing the cookie down into the cupcake and none of them popped out. I found the premade sugar eyes here. Ta-da, super cute! I made them with a Blue Velvet Cake mix and with a slight blueberry flavor, they were yummy. The kids and grown ups loved them!

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Finally, I kept goodie bags simple and only for the littlest guests. A simple pack of crayons and Sesame Street stickers from the dollar bin inside red & white striped paper bags (I bought a pack from Pick Your Plum and used the rest for Christmas treats). I wrapped them in a bit of twine and they were just precious.

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There you have it, my Pinterest-inspired Sesame Street party. To reiterate, use what you have, keep your audience in mind when party planning and spend money and time only where it's most noticed. Simple, fun and cheap! But still cute too, of course.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Day at the Shore

We are lucky enough to live in a beautiful place like San Diego, California.

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While much of the country is blanketed in snow, we spent the afternoon walking along the coast in La Jolla, with amazingly clear skies and temperatures in the perfect mid-70s. There were no goosebumps on arms nor were there sunburns or sweaty necks. It was just perfect weather. A lucky day for sure.

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Daniel and I are San Diego natives and love our city. However, we just don't get to be tourists in our own city often enough. Baby D has only been to the beach one time in his two years. I have only been to La Jolla a handful of times. There are too many popular attractions in SoCal that need to be checked off my bucket list!

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We were considering Disneyland today but Danny confessed to me that he was just too tired to do an amusement park weekend. I don't blame him, he's been working out of town with a 3 hour commute each day. He decided that he'd like to take the kids to the tide pools today and so that's what we did.

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To be honest, all but one of the times I've ever been to La Jolla it has been overcast and gloomy. Danny and I spent our honeymoon evening there at the La Valencia hotel after a day of pouring rain and it only eased enough for us to take a quick walk the next day.

But today...well, today took the cake. It was just gorgeous and we were able to walk aside the "Children's Pool", where the kids watched the seals laying on the sand for a bit. Baby D stared out into the ocean, just watching the waves crash over and over against the cliffs.

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We wandered past a restaurant with barbeque smoke billowing out and just couldn't resist the smell, we had to have lunch!

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Look at this crazy spread! We actually swapped out the tri-tip for brisquet because the former was a bit too fatty for our liking (the chef actually agreed) and the brisquet was tender enough to cut with a fork.

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There were only a few slices of brisquet left when we were done eating!

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After lunch we wandered back to the water where the older two slipped and slid along the wet rocks to peek at sea creatures that had settled in with the tides. Baby D and I sat safely above the cliffs, watching the kids and listening to the waves.

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Baby D, watching the big kids in the water below

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I looked behind me at the lovely homes with the rocking chairs on the front porches and imagined being able to sit there and watch the sun set over the water each night. What a small blessing. Just to watch the sun set over the ocean. I mean I can watch it set at my house too, I suppose but watching it sink down into the horizon, that is just something special.

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The sun was setting on a lovely day. The kids walked back to the car in their bare feet and we went home, got in our jammies and ate ice cream and watched a family movie. Here's to our small blessings.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I saw in on Pinterest - Artisan Bread

I love Pinterest! Yep, I've been a member for a while and pin every single day. There is just so much to find and do and I love that I no longer have to print out ideas from the internet but can file them virtually for future reference. Isn't Pinterest great?!

In an effort to get myself motivated I'm going to occasionally feature a Pinterest find here on the blog. Perhaps try a new recipe? Make a new craft? Whatever...I need to actually attempt some of these things and not just pin them, know what I mean? I know you do... If you're like most people on Pinterest, you are pin-crazy but not much actually gets produced from them.

First off, this is me on Pinterest and I hope that you'll follow me.

I'm going to start this with a food idea from my board, Practical Food.

Our dinner routine is a bit...routine. My husband is a simple guy and certain foods don't agree with him so we stick to the basics most nights. Spaghetti with ground turkey. Baked chicken tenderloins with brown rice. Salads. Lots of salads. Healthy, yes. But also boring. I need, I want, I crave carbs. Sometimes (not all the time) but yes, sometimes I just need a nice thick slice of warm bread with butter...real butter!

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes.

Well, now we are talking!

A coworker actually owned this book and after I borrowed it for the weekend, I was hooked and bought it for myself. Of course "5 Minutes" isn't exactly accurate because there is some rising time and resting time built in but yes, the process is simplified and the punching and kneading of the dough from past recipes is eliminated here. You can make enough dough to produce several loaves and refrigerate it until you need it.

I did a little search on Pinterest for Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes and came across this pin and was intrigued. The original recipe requires steam be added to the oven while bread is baking by pouring water into a pan inside the hot oven. This was never properly accomplished by me because for fear of scorching my hand on the grates, I never angled my measuring cup well and would end up pouring the water all over inside the stove instead of in the pan.

This "new" method has you making the bread inside a Dutch oven which produces the steam inside the lid. Works perfectly and you get a warm crackling loaf in about 20 minutes. Turkey spaghetti never had a better dinner companion!

Unfortunately the website does not have the recipe, I think you have to purchase the cookbook or borrow at the library, but let me tell you, this book is worth it. It really is the easiest approach to yeast I've even experienced and loaves go together in just a few minutes so it's very little hands-on work.

Artisan bread baked in your Dutch oven

And here is a shot of the pizza that I made using the dough. I just worked a piece flat, stretching it with my hands until it was sort-of circle-shaped, sprinkled the baking stone with cornmeal and topped with sauce & cheese. Wow, it was the most amazing pizza...and I know pizza!

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Monday, January 13, 2014

2013- Year in Review

2013, quite a year!

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I am entering 2014 cautious, tip-toeing and not at all confident. I'm sort of a wait-and-see-what-happens and not an alarmist but with so much in the air, I'm having a challenging time letting the stress flow out of me. There is a whole lot going on for us in 2014 and I have many things to be nervous/worried/careful about, let's just put it at that. I'm putting it in God's hands where it should be (I'm not in control anyway!) and working towards waiting and seeing again.

In any case this was my 2013. I've included some of my favorite photos of the year here.

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We bought and moved into our first home! It's a petite 1000 square foot bungalow and though we have quickly decided it's not our forever home, we're making improvements where we can and living our family motto, "Live Simply". This means making-do without because we just don't have the space for it. And spending more time out on the back patio because at least we have the space there for the kids to run around.

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Projects included putting up a fence on the upper section and spreading mulch over the entire yard to tamp down any weeds that might sprout up. Future plans include a garden in the lower section, a fire pit and I intend for us to get a decent patio table so we can eat outside again.

I started entering online contests on a regular basis in early 2013 and discovered that I have a talent for judged Pinterest contests in particular! In 2013, on judged contests alone I won $550 worth of lighting and accessories from Barnlight Electric, a trip to NYC from Armitron watches, $5000 guided travel from Intrepid Travel and Skype, $350 worth of King's Hawaiian products, $150 in clothes from Tea Collection, $250 worth of make-up from Jane Iredale, $500 worth of china from Lenox (my beloved Chirp pattern!), $200 worth of furniture from Dutch Crafters and nail polish from SpaRitual.

In other contests I won a $100 to NFLShop.com from Sabra and jewelry from Swarovski as well as other fun items like movie tickets and water bottles. $2850 combined in Visa and American Express gift cards from Challenge Butter, Organized Closet, Better Homes and Gardens, Tylenol and Kraftmaid allowed us to purchase much-needed new home items like our garage shelving and lawnmower.

I love entering, cross my fingers (mentally!) each time I hit submit and enjoy putting my creative mind to work on the judged contests. My contest goals continue to be the same...win a large sum of money (of course!) and a family vacation (either Disney World or Hawaii would do nicely, thank you very much).

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My husband and I have finalized our travel plans for the Skype win and will be visiting central Europe cities including Munich and Vienna this August. We are over-the-moon with excitement planning the trip! Neither of us have ever been to Europe and finally getting to see Austria, which has been my number one dream destination since I was a teenager, will be amazing.

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At the end of summer we took a few family photos in the yard. I cherish this shot!

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I turned 40 while on a trip to NYC. Decided when we returned that I was ready to take control of my health. I lost 11 lbs in 2013 and have about 15-20 more to go until my goal. It's exciting to be shopping for clothes smaller than I've worn in 20 years!

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We celebrated Halloween at work with some of my coworkers and I dressing up in character. I made some of the costumes and we won first place in the company contest! We did some trick or treating with the kids and Baby D loved every moment, knocking on doors by himself! It wasn't until about halfway through the trip that he realized they were tossing candy in his bag! The Girl dressed as Dorothy and Baby D was her Scarecrow since Oz is his current favorite movie.

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I made The Boy's Ninja costume but he was coming down with a cold and not up for too many photos. Baby D was fine, I promise, just upset because I walked outside the fence to get a better shot!

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We were able to do two amusement park weekends, one to Disneyland and the other Knott's Berry Farm. We still have hold of the Disney tickets I won over the radio and are deciding on a good weekend to use them (along with the overnight stay I won from Motel 6!).

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Baby D turned two in November. We hosted a family party at our house. The Boy turned 10 in December...double digits! Still working on party plans for him. I think it will be a combined party for both him and The Girl, who turns also 10 in March.

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Just before the holidays we took the kids to the mountains in search of snow. There was only some spotted in the tree tops and none on the ground but the cold air was enough to get us in the winter spirit!

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I will admit that I was a Christmas-photo-taking-slacker and didn't even get a shot of the kids dressed up or anything. The light in the house was all wrong and all my shots are washed out. In the morning I made a big spread of french toast, eggs and bacon then the kids opened their gifts. We took a hike then to lunch at my family get-together.

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We rang out 2013 quietly...sleeping! I just couldn't make it up to midnight but some rowdy neighbors took care of that for us and woke us with noisemakers at 12. All in all, a nice year. Lots of good and lots to be thankful for.

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We have our 2014 goals in mind and I intend to clear time and space to make a few things happen this year. Including starting back with my art and watercolors. I would like to be listing custom painting orders on Etsy soon in addition to the appliqued tees. I'll be sure to post here when I have something going. Blessings to all going into 2014!