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!