A Few Inspirations and Their Looks for Less

I got the Pottery Barn catalog in the mail a while back, and began perusing it.  For some reason, I have been on a "hosting" kick lately--kind of loving all things related to tablescapes, dinner parties, linens, and kitchen.  I kinda started crushing on this ridiculously expensive set of salt and pepper shakers I found in the Pottery Barn catalog (let's be honest, I would have a hard time spending $40 on a small set of dishes, so a set of salt and pepper shakers is out of the question for this thrifty girl!).  But I also remembered seeing this adorable set at Target, for a mere $2.99...now that I can work with!  And if owls aren't your thing, I also really liked these other little creature sets from Target (here and here).

I also fell in love with Naomi's pom pom Anthropologie table runner she used at her Thanksgiving dinner (I couldn't find the image on their website, they must be sold out, however I have a sneaking suspicion that it is out of my budget), but it comes from the Nomades Table Linen collection.  I found this knock-off tutorial on the blog "At Home on the Bay", and plan on trying it!  I don't think it would be very hard to replicate, and would go with a lot of tablescapes.

I also needed to make stockings for our little family this year.  Our old ones were not looking so great, Landon still didn't have one and I know that we will for sure have a fourth member of the family by next Christmas :) Pottery Barn also had some beautiful faux fur stockings, and I was also inspired by some that I found on Pinterest.  So for less than the cost of 1 Pottery Barn stocking, I whipped up 4 new ones for my fireplace.  I borrowed a stocking pattern from a friend, because I loved the size of hers.  What really makes these different than any standard stocking, is the heavier and textured upholstery fabric and faux fur cuff.  They are made the same way you'd do any other one!  I used pom-pom trim for my loops, so much simpler than trying to make my own faux fur pom pom, but you still get the same look.  If you are in need of some new stockings, maybe this will inspire you!  They are a project you can whip up in an evening or two.

Have you found anything lately that you can replicate or find elsewhere for less?  I want to hear!  It's always fun to find or make an affordable alternative!


JOY to the World: Holiday Letters for $5

I always find such inspiring (often intimidating and/or expensive) projects all over Pinterest.  This is definitely not one of them!  This project comes together in a matter of minutes, and adds a lot of pizzazz to your holiday decor.

I was inspired to do this project by this pin, but sadly it did not have a tutorial linked to it.  But I knew I could probably replicate it fairly easily, and I was very pleased with the results.

My supplies cost me right around $5 (assuming you already have mod podge and basic supplies).  I bought 3 paper mache letters and some gold glitter paper from Hobby Lobby (don't forget to use a coupon on one of the items you purchase, if they aren't already on sale!).

I did have my husband spray paint the back and sides with gold paint we already had, but I don't think it is necessary.  Especially if you choose to do a gold glitter paper.  If you opt for a silver glitter paper, you might want to paint the back and sides a silver or gray for a more cohesive look.
Trace the letter backwards onto the back of the glitter paper.  Cut out the letter.  Apply a thin layer of mod podge onto the front of the letter and lay down the cut out paper that matches the letter.  Firmly press down on the paper (rest a heavy book on top of it for a few minutes, if desired), let set and dry.  Then use as decor wherever your heart desires!  Obviously, the possibilities are endless.  Any word can be used!  NOEL would also be one I would love!   (Keep in mind the cost will go up some if you use a lot of letters, but it is still very affordable decor!).  And any color of glitter paper would also be very beautiful.  Silver or red would be very festive.  I have it set on top of my piano.  It would look gorgeous on a mantel, bookshelf, end table, etc.  
I hope you give this project a try.  It really comes together quickly and inexpensively (my favorite kind of projects), and really adds to the existing decor in my house.  Happy Holiday Crafting!


Happy Holidays!

Well, I went missing a tad longer than I anticipated...for no good reason other than the routines and responsibilities of regular life get in the way.  And with the holiday season now in full-swing, schedules are just getting busier and jam-packed.  It's the down-side of being an adult during the holidays--you have church and community things that you might be in charge of, shopping lists to purchase (meaning wallets are empty!), and the logistics of lugging out the decoration totes with a big pregnant belly!  And if you are anything like my family, you have about a million birthdays squeezed in between Thanksgiving and Christmas!

But there is still magic in the air, right?!  I love this time of year! I can hardly soak it all in before it's time to anticipate the next holiday season.  There are so many amazing festivities (many free or inexpensive) to spend time with your family, sentimental traditions, service rendered to loved ones and strangers, and of course--reflecting on our blessings and on the birth of Jesus Christ.

Landon is starting to walk (finally, yay!), and had his first napless day on Thanksgiving (not fun!).  Brett has been busy working overtime as his fourth quarter of the year is winding down, and I've been keeping him plenty busy with house projects and helping me with decorations when he is home (bless his heart).  I've been helping baby girl grow bigger and longer, trying to keep up with my day-to-day duties and I burned my neck with the curling iron for the first time in years (so now it looks like I'm sporting a hickey and it's a bit embarrassing).  You're pretty much caught up on what we've been doing while I haven't been blogging, ha!

These are the best photos we could get at Thanksgiving.  It was a long day with this little dude...I'm already a little nervous about what I'll do next year with two little ones!

Landon looking adorable in some of his winter gear.  He is the cutest giraffe I ever did see...

Stay tuned, because I have a couple simple tutorials I am getting ready to share for this week!  We are talking Christmas decor you can do for around $5, and in a matter of minutes!  What could be better?!  I'm also working on maybe a few simple gift guides and an idea board for a frugal New Year's Eve Party (that I plan on actually throwing myself).  Oh, and a few fun date night or family fun ideas to share!  All these ideas are swirling around in my head, but I am working on getting them written up now!  So come back and visit soon and often!


The Best "Fakeout Takeout" Orange Chicken

I have tried several orange chicken recipes, and been quite disappointed.  The sauce is too tart and tangy, or it's gritty and runny.  It just never compared to what I was used to when I ordered takeout.

I decided to give this recipe a try.  It didn't have any hard-to-find ingredients, and it seemed like it might be simple enough to taste good.  I was right!  We will definitely be making this again!  I even had leftover sauce, that I think would be yummy with sauteed chicken in some carrots, bell peppers, pineapple chunks, and water chestnuts--like an orange chicken stir fry!  Maybe some night for a date night-in, I'll serve it up in some take-out boxes.  Easy clean up and fun to eat on the floor watching a movie :)

Orange Chicken

3-4 boneless chicken breasts, cut into chicken tender size
3 1/2 cups cornflakes, gently crushed
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 egg whites
2 tsp. water
2 tsp. soy sauce

2 cups orange juice
2 T. cornstarch
2/3 cup white sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
6 Tb. butter

Line a cookie sheet with foil.  Place in oven.  Heat oven to 450 degrees.

In pie pan, combine cornflakes, ginger, and pepper.  Mix well.

In small bowl, beat egg whites, soy sauce and water until frothy.

Dip chicken in egg white mixture and roll in cornflakes.  Place on hot cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 min.

To make sauce, combine ingredients in small sauce pan.  Bring to a boil.  Stir until sauce clears up (about 10 minutes or so).

Serve chicken on rice topped with orange sauce.


Leftover Candy Corns...

It's not a problem I normally have, to have a slew of leftover candy corns.  But if your stash isn't dwindling, as quickly as mine did, I thought some of these ideas were adorable ways to use them up, that aren't all "Halloween-y".

These candy corn penguin cup cakes are from Naomi's instagram (of the fun blog, Love Taza).  From what I can tell, they are oreos, candy corn, and mini chocolate chips.  They look easy and fun, for any time of year!

These are adorable little pretzel turkeys, that look simple and easy!  They would be a fun place setting for the kid's table at Thanksgiving!  For some more "turkey" inspiration using candy corns, I can't get over how cute these nutter butter turkeys are, or try out variations of the Reese's peanut butter cup turkey, here or here!

And if your candy corns are stale, or you are all sugared-out, you and your kids can make a sweet little card, inspired by this handprint turkey, or this Thanksgiving card.

Have fun using up that leftover candy corn!  Now I wish I had some left...I will have to plan better for next year!


Thanksgiving Tradition

We started a new thanksgiving tradition this year...
...a leaf garland in our kitchen, that we write our thankful thoughts on each evening.

It is a simple enough tradition, and not too late to start, if this sounds like something you and your family might enjoy!  I did use my silhouette machine to cut the leaves out, but you could go to a local scrapbook store and use the die cut machine, cut out your own simple leaf shape (have the kids help!), or I'm sure you can find pre-packaged leaves to use.

I like that it helps us narrow in on the true meaning of the holidays, and gives our kitchen some autumn colors.  Have you ever wondered why most of us are all crazy-excited about the holidays?  I honestly think it's all the little traditions that are embedded in this time of year.  Some of the traditions, large groups of people have in common, while other traditions are super specific to our own individual families.  That's why I am so excited to continue the ones that I love, and begin new ones for my own little family.  I also love, that it is never too late to start.  In a few years, I can continue adding traditions that seem to fit my family's wants and needs!

A similar concept to the leaf garland, is writing gratitude thoughts on leaves for a tree, or on feathers for a turkey.  I also really liked this Thanksgiving garland with meaningful words, it would be beautiful to have strewn across your tablescape or draped in the dining area during your Thanksgiving dinner. Or this amazing idea to write on the tablecloth with permanent markers every year, and able to reflect on blessings present and past.

What are your autumn and Thanksgiving traditions?  Do you have a special "gratitude" tradition, a dish you love to make, or a special activity?  Do you eat a special appetizer every year before your turkey feast or participate in a run or walk prior to the meal?  I want to hear!


Family Fun: Firepit

Last year, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law gifted us a firepit for our Christmas gift exchange.  Now that the weather is cooling down, we have been loving putting it to use!

If you don't already have one, it would be a fun Christmas gift for your family to enjoy, whether you buy one or build one (it might seem early to already be thinking of Christmas gifts...but trust me, it'll sneak up on you!).

Here is a simple tutorial on how to build one for a family on a budget that wants a permanent place for their firepit.

One Friday night, we decided to do an old-school hot dog roast for dinner, topped off with s'mores.  We had our friends, the Whitings, over and enjoyed good conversation, nostalgic food, and great weather.  Not to mention, this is a really inexpensive family get-together or date night.  I love slow-paced and laid-back evenings like this, I really need to try to plan for more of them.  They are so good for the soul!

I keep a package of hot dogs and buns in my freezer, so we can do this last minute without a trip to the grocery store!  Unfortunately, when I keep a "stash" of chocolate bars to make s'mores, it disappears rather quickly...!  It would also be fun to cook some tin foil dinners for a different type of meal, if you wanted to change things up.

The babes got to take a bubble bath after crawling around and getting smoky, while exploring the "great outdoors".

What do you and your family love doing together?  Do share, I love new ideas!

Our favorite way to do s'mores, is using a Reese's peanut butter cup instead of a regular chocolate bar--it is amazing!  Thomas said he probably won't ever make a s'more another way again.


Some Fun Links...

We had a really jam-packed and fun weekend.  Between scout campouts and Halloween festivities, we stayed busy but had a good time!  My intention was to post this list two weeks ago, but ya know, I forgot.  So here are a few fun links to kick off your week!

the little family at Apple Annie's Orchard and Pumpkin Patch a couple weeks ago

I've been dying to try this hot chocolate recipe for years, and I am determined to this year!

how adorable are these little ghost donut holes?

next time Brett and I are going out to dinner for a date night, I am dying to try this tip to keep sparks flying!

this book is next on my "to-read" list

I made this delicious apple dip last week, and it is sooo yummy and easy, I am planning on making it again for Halloween evening


Stuffed Pumpkin: Bacon Jalapeno Dip

On Monday night for family home evening, we had our good friends, the Mertz's over.  James and Jenessa  recently moved here from Tucson.  Brett and James have been very good friends for years, they grew up in Willcox together.  We like that they live close now!

Jenessa offered to bring tomato soup and bread bowls (you can buy the bread bowls here, they are so worth it!).  I gave my first attempt at baking something in a pumpkin, and whipped up some apple crisp.  It was a fun and relaxing evening.  The stuffed pumpkin was a hit!  I'll probably make it again...this week!    

And can I tell you how much I love eating on the back patio!  We eat out there nearly every single night, and I can't get enough of it!  I'll be disappointed when the evenings are too biting to enjoy the patio, but then we can make s'mores around the firepit and Christmas will be here--so I won't be that disappointed :)

Landon was in a goofy and happy mood, so we had fun interacting and engaging with him a lot.  He was so smiley and corny the whole night long.

So, in case you want to test the waters, and try baking "something" in a pumpkin--give this easy appetizer a try!

Bacon Jalapeno Dip baked in a Pumpkin
original recipe found here

2-3 pound pumpkin, cleaned out
16 oz. cream cheese
2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
2 T. finely chopped jalapeno
2 T. finely chopped onion
1/2 cup cooked and crumbled bacon
3/4 cup salsa verde

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Place cream cheese in large, microwave-safe bowl and soften

Stir in the remaining ingredients

Place the dip in cleaned pumpkin and place it in a baking dish with 1 inch of water.  Lightly cover the pumpkin with foil.  Place the pumpkin and baking dish in oven and bake for about one hour, or until the dip is hot and bubbling around the edges.  Put the top of the pumpkin in the last 20 minutes, so it looks "baked". 

We served it with the "insides" of our bread bowls and tortilla chips--both were delicious!



The Yummiest (and easiest) White Chili Recipe

Chili is one of those dishes you think of being a staple during this time of year.  And while I love the traditional chili with cornbread just like the next girl, this is a fun twist on the traditional dish!  Plus, it is even easier to throw together than the regular chili, in my opinion.

This is one recipe that I get asked for a lot, it is a crowd pleaser!  I typically make mine in the crockpot, just so it can simmer/warm through for a while, but it isn't necessary.  It can be done on the stove just as easily!  

White Chili

1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (4 oz.) can of green chilies
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. oregano
4 chicken breasts, boiled and shredded (I often use leftover rotisserie chicken or canned chicken too!)
5 cups chicken broth
3 (16 oz.) cans of white beans, undrained
3 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

Saute onions, green chilies, and garlic in olive oil and spices.

Combine beans, broth, and chicken with onion mixture in crockpot or in soup pot.

Let heat through entirely.  About 30 minutes before serving, slowly add cheese and stir every few minutes until cheese is melted and evenly distributed.

Enjoy!  We eat it plain, but more shredded cheese, sour cream, and cilantro on top would be delicious toppings and add some garnish--especially for a get-together!


Decorating with Paper

I decided to jump on the "batty" trend and make a statement on my wall this year for Halloween.  Paper is a really inexpensive product and can make such a statement!  All of the decorations here are made of paper (the bats and banner).  I made the banner years ago at the scrapbook store using their die-cut machine.  So I really didn't need any special equipment.  Paper is an easy thing to use to add a lot of drama for your upcoming Halloween get-together!

Here are some fun links using paper to decorate for Halloween...

And if you are wanting to give a bat collage a try, here are a few of my inspirations...

and a template if you want to cut out some of your own bats!

The perfect project to do while watching a suspenseful movie!


Spooky Banner and Wreath Tutorials

Remember my post on simple ways to decorate your mantle for the spooky holiday?

Well here are two simple tutorials to help you.  Both of these cost $10 or less.  You might even be able to make both of them for $10 total, depending on what you have on hand!

First tutorial, for the simple feather wreath.  You'll die at how easy it will be to make this.  It will take you less than 5 minutes!

All you need is a feather boa, a wire wreath form, a dollar store skeleton, and a few scraps of ribbon or lace.  Simply wrap the feather boa around the wire.  Use hot glue if you need it, but I found that I could secure it by putting a section through the wire pieces that stick out along the circumference.  Simply attach the dollar store skeleton using some yarn or ribbon, and then run a wide piece of ribbon around the wreath to hang it wherever you need to add some festivity!  

The second tutorial is for the simple burlap banner.  

If you carefully cut out the triangles and maximize your fabric, you really don't need much. 

I used my silhouette machine to cut out the shapes, but don't worry if you don't have that!  You can go to your local scrapbook store and use their die-cut machine, if they have one (they do here, if you are a local AZ resident).  Or, print off your desired shapes and use scissors or an x-acto knife to cut out the shape leaving a stencil to use.  I think this method would also work super well (it's also really inexpensive) and be fun for kids to help!  Maybe next year I can do this method with Landon.  

I didn't have a foam brush, so I just used a wadded up paper towel to dab on the paint, and it worked just splendidly!

After they thoroughly dry, secure them to yarn, ribbon, or twine and drape around wherever you please!

I hope these simple tutorials inspire you to add a little "umph" to your decorations without breaking the bank.  Our homes, however big or small, decked out or minimal, they are ours!  And I love that having a few decorations out can lift our spirits and keep us excited about things, even if it is just the small things!


Halloween Decor: Dollar Store and Thrifting

I can't even begin to explain how excited I was for the weather to start changing and for the autumn activities to begin in full-swing!  However, I pulled out the tote full of my autumn and Halloween decor, and was sadly disappointed in the very little bit I had tucked away.  Thankfully, real pumpkins and gourds can really add a lot without hitting your wallet too hard (and last all season if left uncut/carved too).  However, I wanted to have some more festive Halloween and spooky decorations.  But having just moved and spent a nice chunk of change on that, the spending had to be minimal.

So, I decided to peruse a couple of my local Dollar Trees, and was pleasantly surprised at the loot I found!  Between that and a few thrifted items and things I already had on hand, I was able to pull together a pretty festive and spooky mantle above my fireplace!

I was thrilled that I scored the creepy crows and adorable glittery jack-o-lanterns for $1/piece!  Once Halloween is over, I plan on turning the jack-o-lanterns around so you can just see the pumpkin.  The skeletons, skull, and spiders were other fabulous dollar store finds.  I was so impressed with this decor being only $1/piece, because I noticed nearly the exact same items in other craft stores for at least quadruple the price!  I also picked up a package of cobwebs to have strewn across the final product.  I was impressed with how realistic they look, and one package has proven to be more than enough!

The books are thrifted, and I pick them up over time.  If you can't find a vintage/beat up book, even just different sizes of books in neutral colors will give you the same type of look.  I'm sure you can also rip at the book spine and take some sandpaper to rough up the edges on a book that looks too "new".  The books work great to give different height and dimension across this huge mantle!  Plus, I use the books year-round for decor, not just during the holidays, so to me, they are worth picking up when I see them!

The banner and wreath are both homemade and super simple and inexpensive!  I will have tutorials up on both of them in the next couple days...so stay tuned!

If you don't have a fireplace or mantle, don't worry!  I used to decorate the top of my piano similar to a mantle-top.  You can also do the top of a bookcase, small entertainment center, or shelf.  I'm sure there is a spot in your home to glam up if you are dying to decorate!


I'm Back...!

Well, I took a much longer hiatus than planned!  So sorry, I really have missed blogging and updating.  I have to be honest...I felt really crummy, I moved to a new house, and I have a toddler that enjoys making messes galore.  Not to mention it took us nearly a month to get internet at our new house.  Some days I was grateful to get through and blogging was not at the forefront of my mind.  But I missed it and want to start back up!

And then, I started wondering what my first post back should look like... something interesting or so riveting to keep you coming back.  But alas, I will give you a few updates on some changes from our little family, and then I will start the regular posts back up this week too!  So exciting and hope to get back into the swing of things!

I chopped my hair off!  It's funny though, for being such a dramatic change for me, not many people have noticed.  I met my mom, aunts, and grandma for lunch immediately after my hair cut (for my grandma's birthday celebration), and everyone was oohhing-and-ahhhing over Landon's new hair cut, and didn't even notice mine until I mentioned it, haha!

I worked up the courage and bought a 32 pound box of Utah peaches and decided to try canning some and making some Mexican vanilla peach jam.  Since it was successful, I ended up buying a 24 pound box of tomatoes and making some roasted salsa.  I get super nervous whenever I try preserving something new, and these instances were no exception.  But it usually turns out way better than the disaster I envision in my head.  Jam/jelly is actually super easy, if you are hesitant about preserving--give that a go!  Fruit doesn't require a pressure canner, but if you are interested in beans, vegetables, or meat, you can check out my pressure canning post with some tips for beginners.

And eating cheerios has gotten a whole lot more interesting around here!

We also found out, that Baby #2 is a GIRL!  We are so excited and February will be here before we know it!

Stay tuned...this next week or so I plan on posting about several ways to decorate for Halloween that are inexpensive options and have a few fun recipes to share as well!  Welcome Autumn!


Dining out on a Dime: Joe's BBQ and a Quick Update

So sorry that I have been MIA for the last while.  If you didn't catch it, here is why.  It is probably why I was craving this, and wearing these all summer long.  It's all starting to make sense now!

Today I am actually feeling quite great (meaning I didn't spend the whole morning wrapped up in a ball on the couch while Landon caused mischief, and I threw in a load of laundry!).  Our house is in a current state of sadness, as all of the decor and most other things are packed up in boxes, ready for our move.  We close on our house this Thursday, and then the madness will begin!  We need to take down wallpaper, paint, and refinish the kitchen cabinets--just to name a few things on our "to-do" list.  But don't worry, I will try to take before and after pictures, because they are the greatest.  And I will definitely post on what we learned about refinishing cabinets, it's a big experiment for us. 

If you are needing a yummy place to eat out this weekend (I'm sure we won't have a very functional kitchen for a bit), then Joe's Real BBQ is a good place to try!  Now, it isn't the cheapest place, but Brett and I got out of there for less than $25, which included lots of good meat, sides, and the biggest rootbeer float I ever did see (with homemade rootbeer, no less).  It is a fun, family-friendly place that has a great atmosphere and seriously good food.  It is a "seat yourself" cafeteria-style set-up that is laid back and fun.

Brett and I each ordered a sandwich this time.  Mine was a bit smaller and had one meat on it.  Brett's was a larger one with two choices of meat on it.  Both of them came with 2 sides.  We love the macaroni and cheese, and the baked beans!  I also really like their main course baked potatoes, cause they come with a heaping bit of meat on it, and it is oh-so-good.  When Brett wants to splurge, he goes with the sampler plate, which has a lot of meat on it!  Writing this post has my mouth watering...I might need to plan this for a date night soon.  

Another great thing about Joe's BBQ, is it is the best place to go for your birthday.  They give you $10 towards a free meal, just show your ID.  You can easily get a full meal on less than $10, or splurge and pay a couple dollars difference.  Now that is frugal!
Landon sporting his Joe's hat

This is the size of the rootbeer float!  Plus, you get unlimited free refills on rootbeer--if you can manage it!

Trust me, this kid eats like a king when he goes out to dinner with us.  He grunts for the pulled pork smothered in BBQ sauce, the mac-n-cheese, and the baked beans!

He just happened to be wearing his John Deere onesie, so we couldn't pass up the photo-op with their fun decor!
This place is in the heart of downtown Gilbert, so if you go when there is nice weather, then walk around and enjoy the fun area too!  BBQ is one of my favorite kinds of foods to order out at a restaurant!


2 Big Changes...

Whew!  It has been a crazy past few weeks here at the Allred house.  And thankfully, it's because we have some crazy, exciting new changes right around the corner!

First off, we will be moving in a few weeks.  Super cool and a huge step for our little family!  Although a little bittersweet, since Brett and I have lived in this cute, tiny, old home since we've been married.  So many memories are here, and it really feels like ours.  This is where we started our marriage, where we lived when Landon was born, where we have experienced everything up to this point in our marriage.  But, we are excited for our new adventure, and we will happily be moving not too far away--into an equally old home (built in the 50's!), but just much more space!  

The even more exciting news is that our family will be growing (you'd know this already if you followed me on instagram, @tia_allred)!

Yep, we are expecting another little peanut, due in February.  We are beyond thrilled!  And yes, yes, in case you were about to ask (as so many others have), my first 2 kids will be very close together.  Just less than 18 months apart.  But, I know it will be a blast!  A lot of work, I know that too, but a heck-of-a-lot-of-fun!

But in case the pregnancy thing is foreign to you, or you have been blessed with perfect ones, this first little bit is not real fun (so throw moving in the mix, and it should be a real treat!).  I mean, we are talking total exhaustion and nausea that may or may not be kept under control by force feeding myself whatever I can choke down.  Oh, and another very sad part, I am having terrible food aversions to pesto, one of my most favorite foods!  Hopefully that will pass.  But in the meantime, I will prepare dinner in phases over a couple hours (Shred the cheese, then go lay down.  Take a drink of water, boil some water on the stove for steamed veggies, then go lay down.  You get the point.).  But, I look at Landon and know how worth it they are!  I'd do it 100 times over to have my babies (I love having babies, it turns out) here with me.  But, I'm so grateful I don't have to do it 100 times!

So really, what I am saying is, to please be patient with me the next month or two.  With all this coming at once, blogging might get scooched to the back burner for a few weeks.  But never fear, with these big changes, come some DIY projects I am sure (new-to-us house built in the 50's), and how to budget in for a baby (round 2, for us!).  So exciting!


Easiest Soup that is Restaurant Worthy

Right after I had Landon, Brett's Aunt Kaye brought us over some lunch/dinner.  It was so simple, heart-warming, delicious and the ultimate comfort food.  I have been having some mad cravings for it, so I made it last night for dinner.

I'm sure you are wondering what she brought us...she brought us a simple potato soup, bread bowls, caesar salad, and rice krispy treats with chocolate drizzled on top.  And it still brings me comfort just thinking of the meal. 
Sorry for the crappy pictures, one day I'll learn how to take beautiful food pictures...one day.

The soup was rich, flavorful, and filling (even for my husband), and it just hit the spot.  So of course, I asked for the recipe and was floored when she told me her secret to make this delicious soup in a matter of minutes! 

Here is her recipe:
1 package of Bear Creek creamy potato soup mix
8 cups water
1 box augratin potatoes with sauce mix (I use the generic store brand)
chopped celery
chopped carrots

Throw it all in the crockpot on low, and let it simmer away for several hours to let the vegetables become tender.

If you don't have a crockpot, then of course, you can do the simmering in a soup pot as well. 

Sometimes the consistency gets rather thick (especially if eaten as leftovers), so add a splash of milk to thin it out if needed!

Obviously, the added veggies, really are optional, but I like the variety it gives to the soup.  Bear Creek soup isn't super inexpensive, but this tastes like a soup you might get at a restaurant (think a Paradise Bakery or Zupas type of restaurant), and makes a lot!  So really, cost per serving isn't super high compared to eating out.  And it is so easy.  Sometimes I am willing to pay $1 or $2 more for a lot of convenience and something I know I'll love. 

Because of the flavorings, this doesn't taste like a traditional baked potato soup.  But if you are looking for something like that, here is my most favorite, inexpensive, and delicious, baked potato soup recipe.  The reason I love this soup, is you don't have to pre-bake or peel the potatoes for it (as so many other recipes require).  Top it off with sour cream, chives, and leftover bacon or ham.  This is another restaurant quality soup that will blow your socks off with how easy and tasty it is!  I love the loaded baked potato soup I order at a local restaurant called Crackers & Co, and this is just as good!


Summer Movie Fun

I just got back in town from Utah (I hitched along with my family while Brett was at scout camp for the week)!  And despite the fact that they were hitting record-breaking highs there, it was still a nice break from the Arizona summer heat!  Now that is saying something.

So pardon my more sparse posting since I was vacationing.  And please continue to pardon my sparse posting as I try to recover from post-vacation blues (loads of laundry, sweltering heat, etc.) while I catch up on my regular daily-duties and posts!

But, in case you need an idea for something to escape the heat here in AZ, here is one!

I know this isn't a secret, but it was something I decided to do this year.  All of my cousins my age that live around here, do this together, and since I have Landon now I decided to join in on the fun!

It is called, Summer Movie Fun and is put on by Harkin's Theaters.  At the beginning of the summer, I bought a season pass for $7, which meant I could go to 10 movies over the summer for that price, total!  All my tickets came with the $7 purchase, so that is less than $1/movie, for 10 movies!  Now, the movies they show are not in theaters, they are already released movies.  But it is a fun outing and since I coordinate with my cousins, we get to see each other once a week in the summer. 

Since it is mid-summer and you might not be able to get your money's worth for a whole season pass, or if you travel a lot and would miss a lot of days--you can just show up to the theater during one of the movies designated times, and if space allows, purchase a ticket for $2 just for that one day and movie.  It still is a really inexpensive option to escape the heat and get out of the house!

I also "splurged" on a $5 loyalty cup, so I can get cheap refills every week or any other time I go to the movies this whole year.  Those who know me well, know I love a good fountain soda!

Brett and I also love to frequent the Picture Show Theater at Superstition Springs (it is $2 for admission, except for $1 on Tuesdays).  It is a discount theater that shows movies that have already hit regular theaters but not been released on DVD yet.  It is a great alternative for date night, than going to a traditional theater, since tickets can be $10 or more in the regular theaters!  We can afford dinner and a movie on the nights we choose to go there!

What do you do during the summer to escape the heat?  I could always use more ideas!


Guest Post: Trendkin "Frugal Fashion"

Hey!  How is everyone doing?  I'm off trying to escape some of the blistering heat, so Trendkin is guest posting for me today while I'm gone!  I hope you enjoy, they have an amazing blog!

Brittany and Jennifer make up the female half of Trendkin. Brittany writes about style tips and trends for women while Jennifer heads up the DIY posts. Both girls know it’s important to look your best, but it can be even more important to stay inside your budget. Great style doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg.

We love that rewarding feeling when you find clothes for a screaming deal, knowing your adorable addition to your wardrobe didn't break the bank. Even though we love dressing up as much as the next girl, we rarely pay full price for any of our outfits. You don't have to spend a fortune to look your best! Here are a few of our personal tricks and tips to starting a killer wardrobe on a budget.

Thrift it up
Our tips and tricks aren’t anything new, but we swear by them. It's even turned into a hobby for both of us. Our number one go-to place when we are looking for something new (well, new to us) is a thrift store. We love hunting through thrift stores and we never limit ourselves to just one. By hitting up multiple stores, you increase your chance to score a big find, and you might find exactly what you are looking for. Some of our favorite pieces have come from stores like Goodwill, DI and other thrift/consignment stores!
Still not convinced places like Goodwill has awesome stuff? Check this out.

My outfit in the pictures above was almost entirely thrifted. I recently nabbed the white Oxford shirt and the green jumper at Goodwill on half price day. I knew I was getting a steal when the cashier told me that the jumper had come in only the day before and was still in a Dillard's bag!

I also love Nordstom Last Chance. Phoenix is one of the only locations, so I feel so lucky to have one close by. I picked up my nude Enzo Angiolini pumps there about a year ago. They go with just about everything and are quite comfortable. The best part? These shoes sell for well over $100 in department stores, but they were less than $20 at Last Chance!

And as for my accessories, I thrifted the purse and got my necklace at Stein Mart using a 40% off coupon. Stein Mart has great sales and coupons are always available online. The store might have a bit of an elderly stigma, but let me tell you, I have gotten some quality pieces for next to nothing at Stein Mart!

The two necklaces I am wearing are the only things in my outfit that aren’t thrifted from Goodwill. I made the blue necklace (you can check out the DIY here) and the tan one is from Charming Charlie’s discounted merchandise. Charming Charlie’s is a fun store any day to run by and find some great accessories on a budget. I love my tan necklace because it goes with just about any outfit and can be layered with practically any other necklace I own. 
My skirt and belt aren’t brand name per se but they are awesome quality and totally fun pieces as the geometric embroidery is really ‘in’ right now and the snake skin belt is a perfect accent to so many looks. And getting a J. Crew shirt and Guess heels for less than $10 isn’t a bad deal either!

***As a side note, you probably won't be successful every time you hit up a thrift store (we for sure aren’t), but don't give up! It's definitely hit and miss and you will get better as you keep going.

Be in the know
Another great way to save on clothing is to sign up for emails from your favorite stores. If you are going to shop there, you might as well be on top of all the sales and promotions. Most stores have at least 35% off on their stock about once a month and some have deals that will surprise you. One of our faves, Banana Republic, sometimes has 40% off one item almost weekly!

If having your inbox inundated with emails from stores every day is not your thing, or if you are afraid that you will be too tempted, make an email solely for your subscriptions and just check it when you are ready and looking for the perfect purchase.

Want to see some of our favorite steals?

Another one of my favorite stores always seems to surprise people. A lot of women ask where I bought the blouse in the pictures below, and when I answer, many are shocked I didn't buy it at Anthropologie. So where did I buy it? JCPenney!

My skirt is part of a Tehari suit that retails for over $500 dollars in regular department stores, but I got it for less than $50 at Stein Mart a few years ago. I love the bright yellow color and that I can wear the suit as a complete ensemble or as separates.

Once again, I got the platform sandals at Last Chance. You really need to take a peek; you might walk out with some fabulous shoe finds.

I adore J. Crew styles, but my wallet doesn’t really let me indulge in their prices. I was ecstatic when I realized that J. Crew has a factory store online that has great deals all the time. I got my ikat top for 30% off for some recent family pictures and it is easily one of my new favorites.

My shorts were an amazing find for me. I am nearly six feet tall and it is extremely hard to find shorts that fit me correctly and with all the cute printed shorts that are too short, it was pretty disheartening to not be able mix things up more. I was beyond excited when I found these shorts on Gap.com that came in talls. All I had to do was wait for a 30% off sale and they were mine!

I got my sandals at Target, a perfect place for great and easy styles on a budget, and my purse was $30 from JCPenney.

Next time you hit the stores, don’t forget the idea behind frugal fashion is taking the time to search for deals and being aware of sales. Also, don’t get stuck in the mindset that a store is out of your price range or won’t have clothes that fit your style. Most of the time, you will be surprised at the sales and inventory some stores have. Being in the know will not only help save time, but will help you achieve the look you love, without emptying your wallet.



Giveaway Winner!

So excited to announce the winner for the flower statement necklace.
And the winner is...
Melodie Porter!  Congrats, girl!  Please email me ASAP with your contact info so we can get you this necklace.  Enjoy looking sassy wearing it this summer, I know I have already worn mine a ton the past week and a half and enjoyed it!

A huge thanks to Kaylee, from Eden's Garden Boutique, for putting this giveaway on.  If you didn't win but are pining over something in her shop, show her some love.  The most expensive things in their are only $10, which isn't too shabby for an occasional "pick-me-up" :)


Pressure Canning Tips for Beginners

Now, I do not, by any means, claim to be an expert at pressure canning.  2 months ago, I had no experience with it.  But since coming so freshly off of no experience to some experience, I feel like I can address a few concerns and give a little advice to those who have not yet tried it.  I remember how it felt to feel completely clueless, so hopefully I can fill some people in on a few things that I have learned.

It really isn't scary and is quite safe.
I'm sure we have all heard those horror stories from back when our grandmothers and great-grandmothers pressure canned and had things exploding and accidents happen.  Now pressure canners are made so much safer, and have many safety precautions in place.  If you follow the instructions for your canner and keep an eye on it during the whole process, then you should be just fine.

Gas stoves are preferable, because you can control the heat easier and it goes quicker, but they are NOT necessary.
In fact, when we had our canning weekend, we did most of the canning on glass stovetops.  I personally have a gas stove, and so when I have canned on it, I notice that my canners tends to get up to pressure quicker, and the heat is a little more sensitive, so it is easier to control small changes in temperature to get the pressure at an exact spot.  But we had absolutely no problems when we canned on the glass stovetop.  Just be sure to lift the canner, versus dragging it, when on glass, so that it won't scratch the stove.

To can anything other than fruit (and some tomatoes), you must use a pressure canner.
A hot bath or steam bath method can not be used for beans, meats, vegetables, etc.  The reason is, that the acidity in these is not high enough, so the food can easily spoil unless it is canned under a high pressure.  So don't risk it, use the pressure canner if you are canning low acidity foods!

The raw pack method is so awesome!
Up to this point, the raw pack method is all I have done, and I love it.  I know there are pros and cons to it, but I have some great things to say about it.  In case you don't know what the raw pack method is, it is canning your food uncooked.  For instance, you can chicken totally raw (in this case, you don't even need to add water, it creates it's own juices when cooking).  The chicken will cook while it is being pressure canned. How much easier can you get?  There are other options to can with pre-cooked food as well, if that is what interests you, or you have a lot of leftover food that is already cooked that you want to preserve.

Use the internet and books to research.
As for so many other things, the internet is full of advice, tips, recipes, etc. when it comes to pressure canning.  Of course, make sure that you feel comfortable with what is being said, and the most reliable sources are those that are research based and legally able to give exact advice (so, technically, I do not fall under this category, of course!).  I have also heard really great things about the Ball canning books, and they are quite inexpensive--I plan on investing in one soon!

Watch someone.
I had someone offer to come do a small trial run on some pressure canning, and it made all the difference to me.  It put me at ease since she knew what she was doing, she gave me some tips and tricks that worked for her, and it helped to physically watch someone handle the pressure canner and the other components.  I am sure you all know someone that could help you.  But if you don't, then check out youtube, tons of great videos to give you similar results!

Extension Office.
Every state has a state university that is given money to do research on agriculture and all sorts of other food-based research, including food preservation.  Arizona's university to receive this funding is U of A, however there are many extension offices in each county.  They are a great resource.  You can call in and ask questions, go in and get your pressure gauge checked, and use their website for helpful advice and guidelines. You can visit the Maricopa county website, here.

Canning can be pricey to start out, but will pay itself off quickly. 
I started out by price checking many stores for their canning goods, to see which place sold the jars cheapest.  It was easier to find used quart jars, but very hard to find used pint jars for sale (via craigslist, garage sales, thrift stores, etc.).  I found the cheapest place to buy pint jars, was Costco, running at $5.99/dozen (I do believe they are just carried there "seasonally", but I'm not positive).  WalMart also has some competitive pricing, and they also have their own store brand of canning jars (I used them for half pints to can raspberry jam and they all sealed and worked just fine).  Gathering your jars, lids, rings, can start to feel pricey, but don't forget--you can reuse the jars and rings!  So after getting a large supply together, you will only have to buy new lids when you want to can something.  Also, it is recommended that after jars have sealed and sat for 24 hours, that you remove the ring to prevent it from rusting onto the jar.  If you do that, then you really don't need a ton of rings either, because they can be reused instead of sitting on the jars on the shelf.

My pressure canner.
I own the Presto 23-quart pressure canner, and I have loved using it so far.  You can stack 2 layers of pints (I think I can do 18 or so pints each batch), or one layer of quarts (I believe it is 7 quarts each batch).  It was the most bang for your buck, from what I could tell.  It cost me $70 on Amazon, which I felt was a very reasonable price.  I also like that this has both a weight for the pressure, and a gauge.  Some just have a weight, and so you have to monitor the rocking of the weight to estimate about how many pounds of pressure you are at.  I like having the gauge to take some of the guesswork out of it.  A lot of people really like the All American brand.  My sister in law has one that we used over the canning weekend, and it works great too.  The price point is significantly higher though, and so I opted for the Presto and don't regret it at all.  I know eventually I will have to replace the $5 plastic seal on the lid to maintain pressure (over time they wear out), and on the All American, they don't have one (it is metal-on-metal), but that doesn't really deter me since it is such a small cost to maintain it.  Did you know most Ace Hardware's carry canning supplies?  I had no idea!  Good for replacing small parts like that!  My other sister-in-law had a Presto brand pressure canner, but hers was smaller, so we could only do one layer of quarts or pints each batch, so you had less done each batch.  I would splurge for a few bucks more to have double the capacity.  You won't regret it when you can make twice as much with the same amount of prep time!
Hope these few tips help motivate someone to dive into the world of pressure canning.  I am loving it so far! If you don't want to invest in a canner just yet, see if you know of anyone that has one you can borrow.  Try it out!  See if you like it.  It is fun and a great way to contribute to your family's self reliance.  

Happy Canning!

Today is your LAST CHANCE to enter the GIVEAWAY!!!! It closes tonight at midnight, so hurry up and enter, you know you want that adorable necklace!