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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Awesome Ways to Eat Peaches

Millions of peaches!  Peaches for me!


Ahem.  Part of my goal to eat real food is eating seasonally.  Summer is the best, because just about everything is in season!  One of my favorites, though, is peaches.  Peaches are delicious just by themselves, and goodness knows I eat enough of them just straight as they come.  But I also love making things with them, and I buy them in big baskets from the Farmer's Market, so I have tons to work with.  Here are some of my favorite peach recipes, perfect for summer!

Peach Salsa

I looked for peach salsa recipes on Pinterest, and I couldn't find any that required ingredients I already had, so I figured out what the basics are and then made my own.  This is really awesome for me, because I am not what you would call an "adventurous" cook at all.  I follow recipes to the letter, measuring 1/8 teaspoon of salt if that's what it calls for.

So I was really proud of myself for coming up with this recipe, and best of all:  it's fantastic!  Bonus points for using the basil and sweet peppers from my garden, too!

I served it over salmon that I marinated in molasses, garlic, cranberry juice, and soy sauce for a while and then cooked in a skillet with another drizzle of molasses and some of the marinade.  It was awesome, but the salsa was also really good just with tortilla chips!

Peach Salsa
How to Be Awesome At Everything

3 Peaches
1 Tomato
1/2 Red Onion
1 Stalk Basil
2 Small Sweet Peppers
1 Tbs. Lime Juice
1/2 tsp. (1 clove) Minced Garlic
1 tsp. Parsley
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
2 Tbs. Honey
Dash Cayenne Pepper
Dash Thyme

Chop all fruits and veggies.  Mix together with the rest of the ingredients.  Serve chilled.  This does not keep terribly well, so you are free to eat it all in one sitting.

Peach Muffins

This is another recipe that I have made my own.  The original recipe is here, but I have modified it to (mostly) fit our real food lifestyle.  (I say 'mostly' because it does have some brown sugar in it.  You could substitute honey for the brown sugar, but since I'd already done that for the white sugar, I didn't.  That much honey would also make this a very expensive muffin recipe.)  I also threw in some blueberries last time since we had just gone to the you-pick farm, and they were great, too!  Make sure they cool completely before you put them in a ziplock.  Trust me.

Peach Muffins
How to Be Awesome at Everything

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup homemade brown sugar*
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 peaches peeled and chopped (you can use more or less)
A few handfuls of blueberries if you want

*To make brown sugar:  Mix 1/2 cup white sugar with 1 Tablespoon of molasses to make 1/2 cup brown sugar.  (Use less molasses for lighter brown sugar.)

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease muffin tins or greased/floured 9" x5" bread loaf pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, sugar, and cinnamon. Add the eggs, applesauce, honey, and vanilla and stir just until moistened.

Stir in the chopped peaches and blueberries if you have them.

Fill muffin tins.  This doesn't rise a ton, so they can be pretty full.  Just leave a little room at the top. Makes 12 muffins.  Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick tests done.

If baking in the loaf pan, bake at 350 for 1 hour or until done.

Peach Yogurt

This is the easiest, healthiest, best dessert I can find.  Use plain Greek yogurt, top with fresh chopped peaches, and drizzle with some local honey.  Repeat as needed!

Peach Frozen Yogurt

I use an ice cream maker kind of like this one here.

It's really easy to make frozen yogurt with it.  You just put chopped peaches, Greek yogurt, and honey in a blender until it's all smooth.  Then pour it into your ice cream maker, turn it on, and wait until it's frozen!

Delicious, and guilt-free!

Peach Pancakes

Brian is our resident pancake expert, and a few weeks ago, he made us these!

Well, they aren't quite done in that pic, but you get the idea.  The recipe we used was for "spiced" peach pancakes, but honestly, you couldn't taste any spices.  It's basically just pancakes with sliced peaches set on top before you flip them.  They were delicious!

Peach and Blueberry Oatmeal

I love to puree fruit and freeze it in ice cubes to use in our oatmeal later.  Cricket eats oatmeal almost every morning, so she loves doing that.  It's also delicious just chopped up and put on top with some sliced almonds!  Yum!

Peach Cobbler

I have a great recipe for cobbler, but it uses Bisquick, so I hadn't made any in a while.  Then recently, I found a recipe to make your own Bisquick substitute one cup at a time!  Perfect!

Peach Cobbler
How to Be Awesome at Everything

2 tbsp. butter
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
3 or 4 peaches, sliced (try to save any juice)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Put 2 tablespoons butter in 8 x 8 inch baking dish and put it in the oven while it's preheating. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.  Cut in coconut oil using a pastry blender.  Add sugar and milk. Pour over melted butter. Spoon fruit on top. Pour any juice you saved on top.

Bake at 375°F for 30 minutes. (Can double the recipe. Bake in 9 x 13 inch pan.)

I know there are still tons more peach recipes, but so far, I feel pretty sure that I have successfully enjoyed peach season this year.  Got any others I should try?

Monday, July 29, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Making Tutus

I do not consider myself an overly girly girl.  I mean, I like to be feminine and whatever, but I don't really like the color pink or super high heels or gender stereotyping in general.  Cricket's nursery colors are yellow and blue, and most of her toys are gender neutral.


I cannot resist the fluff and puff of a tutu on a baby.  I just cannot resist it.

I spent a lot of time drooling over tutus at the baby stores, but I never bought one because they were so expensive!  I mean, it's just tulle and elastic, and it's tiny!  Why does it have to cost $20?

So I decided to make one.

I got a pattern from the fabric store, because I'm type-A.

You don't really need a pattern, though, unless you just really want one.  You're basically just cutting rectangles of tulle.  A bunch of them.  I think for the 6 month size, you need about 75 or so strips.  I prefer using the tulle that you buy from the bolts, even though it means a little more work, because it's a little heavier to me, and it makes a fuller tutu.  I've done it with the tulle on the spools though, and it was fine.  Definitely easier.

The first one I made was for Halloween.

Cricket wore it to the pumpkin patch last year, and it turned out exactly like I wanted it to.  I was thrilled!

I made that one using a circle of elastic that I sewed together.  I used black and orange tulle, and alternated, two of each color at a time.  I folded the strips of tulle in half, slid the loop under the elastic, and then pulled the "tails" of tulle through the loop.  Over and over and over and over.  You can make one tutu in about the time it takes to watch a movie.  So easy and so cute!

The next one I made was for Christmas.

I made this one a little differently.  I used a white crocheted baby headband, but you could use any color.

For this one, I just pulled the strips of tulle through the holes of the headband (which was actually the waistband) and tied them.  I didn't like this style as well, because it wasn't as full, and the colors were harder to see.  I did like that you could tie ribbons on the band as well, though.  That was really cute, and it still turned out fine.  I just prefer the other style better.

So for her birthday, I went back to the first style.

Photography by Hannah Taylor

Isn't it awesome?!  I just loved all the bright colors.  In fact, you might remember that I used that same tulle for a lot of the decorations for her birthday party.

I'm not sure what kind of tutu I'll do next.  Now that she's older and more aware of her surroundings, she isn't always as open to wearing a big, fluffy, tickly skirt.  Still, there's just something about seeing a baby floating in a sea of tulle that just screams adorable to me.  

Friday, July 26, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Road Trips on a Budget

My husband and I love to travel.  We have family all over the country, so we have lots of reasons to travel.  Now that I'm not working, doing these trips on a budget is very important, and we've gotten pretty good at it.  We drove to a wedding in Maryland a few years ago when I was pregnant, and managed to only spend $100 per day, including gas, hotel, and food!

We also have a tradition: we visit a new state every year for our anniversary.  It doesn't have to be fancy, and a lot of times it is combined with other events or visits, but we have to at least spend one night in a new state every year.

We just got back from our anniversary trip this year, again averaging about $100 per day, and it made me think about some of the tips and strategies we have been using the last few years for our road trips to help save money.

1)  Drive

Obviously, since I'm talking about road trips, driving is going to be a given, but I put it on here anyway because, even with gas prices so ridiculously high, it's still the cheapest way to travel.  If I had my preference, we would take the train everywhere.  We've done two train trips, and they are definitely the most relaxing and fun way to travel.  Flying is my least favorite because in the last decade or so, they have sucked every bit of joy out of flying.  I only do it when there is no other option.

But driving is cool.  You get to see a lot.  You can stop whenever you want to.  You have lots of entertainment options, and of course, most importantly, it is cheap.  Even factoring in hotels if you have to break up the trip, it's almost always cheaper to drive.

One tip for getting gas a little cheaper:  don't buy it in big cities.   Drive outside the city and usually the price drops by ten cents or more.

2)  Bring Trip Food

This requires a little planning ahead, but it's totally worth it.  One of your biggest travelling expenses besides the hotel is food.  Instead of stopping at gas stations for snacks and fast-food restaurants for meals, try bringing your own food.
  • Bring a few sweet treats like M&M's, gummy bears, or whatever else will make you feel like you're on vacation.  
  • Bring something salty like chips, pretzels, or crackers.
  • Bring a few healthier options that will stick with you, like trail mix, granola bars, muffins, and fruits like apples, peaches, or grapes.
  • For meals, bring supplies to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (don't make them ahead or they're gross).  If you are not a sandwich fan (I am definitely not), you can bring chicken salad and crackers, celery and peanut butter, cold chicken, or other picnic foods.  (Stick cold stuff in a cooler.)
  • If you decide not to bring meals, you can still save money by ordering just a sandwich or burger at a fast food place, and then using your own chips and drinks, or whatever else you want to go with it.  Burger King and Arby's both have decent dollar menus, and you can save quite a bit that way.
  • Bring tons of napkins, paper plates, plastic silverware, Walmart bags for trash, extra empty ziplocks for wet/smelly trash, and wet wipes.
Here's a great blog post by one of my favorite food blogs for ideas on healthy snacks on the go!

Also, last week, One Good Thing by Jillee did a post on saving money on trip foods, too!  Check it out here, for more good ideas!

3)  Drinks

The cheapest way to drink on road trips is to fill reusable bottles like Nalgene bottles with water from home.

That is boring.  No one wants to drink just water on a road trip.

Your next cheapest option is to bring 2-liter bottles of your favorite drinks, along with some ice and plastic cups.  We usually do this one.  You can get 2-liters for less than a dollar, and you better not be able to drink more than one of those in one trip!  Keep the bottles in the cooler if you have space, and you won't even need tons of ice in your cups.  

Your third cheapest option, if you don't want to do that, is to buy fountain drinks at gas stations.  Not bottled drinks.  Fountain drinks.  They are usually like, $.75 for 64 ounces, which is about half the cost of a 12 ounce bottle at the same convenience store.  Bonus points if you get to stop at a QT where they have cherry and vanilla syrups at the fountain!

If you are in an area that has Kangaroo gas station convenience stores, you can also get a "RooCup" for $6.99, and then all summer long, refills on frozen drinks and fountain drinks are only $.25!  That's a pretty good deal if you use them a lot!

As a last resort, you can buy a six-pack of 12 ounce bottles ahead of time and put them in your cooler, but all the above options are cheaper than that.  

4)  Rest Stops

Rest stops are one of the things I love most about America.  I first started to truly appreciate them when we made a road trip with our foster dogs.  Rest stops are awesome.  Most (but not all, shockingly) have restrooms, picnic tables, an air conditioned inside area, and some even have cool stuff like free coffee.  (One time, we even got cider!)  They also usually have vending machines, but you don't need those because you already have all the snacks and drinks you need in your car.

These are great places to get out and have your picnic lunch, stretch your legs, and relax.  If you do all that here, you don't feel like you have to pay for a burger at McDonald's just so you can use their restrooms, and you don't end up eating your PB&J in their parking lot like a creeper.

5)  Hotels

Room accommodations are usually the most expensive part of a road trip.  Best-case scenario is getting to stay with friends or family at no cost.  This is not always possible, though.  It takes some work to find good places to stay that are cheap and also not crack dens.  (It's a fine line.)

Discount websites like Travelocity are usually good ways to find deals on decent hotels.  I can usually tell by reading the reviews and the chain name how good or bad a place will be.  Hotels dot com also has good deals, and they have a user-friendly policy on refunds or rebooking if you aren't satisfied when you get there.

State and national parks also have cabins and chalets that you can rent, and some even have hotels!  They are a lot cheaper than commercial rooms, and they usually have great amenities, not to mention the bonus of getting plenty of hiking trails, museums, petting zoos, lakes, and whatever else that park features.

If you're looking for something a little out of the ordinary, browse Groupon Getaways and Living Social Escapes.  That's how we found this last Bed and Breakfast we stayed in, and it was great!  You might have to be a little flexible with dates and even locations, but there are some great deals and some fun stuff!

6)  Entertainment

Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on shows, events, and fine dining, try some cheaper options.  We usually find local history sites like museums, state parks, or battlefields where you can have a fun time without paying lots of money.  If you stay at a Bed and Breakfast, they usually give a tour of the house, which is always interesting, and they can direct you to local attractions.  Aquariums are another great way to get a lot of entertainment for a smaller price.

We also bring books, games, and magazines with us so we can hang out in the hotel in the evenings and just relax.  Of course, watching TV is always fun for us, too, since we don't have cable at home.  We just don't feel like we have to be out "doing" something every second.  Vacations are for relaxing.

Again, planning ahead can help you here.  Google "Fun things to do in city, state" and you will probably find some great ideas.  I have used that technique on several of our trips!

7)  Food While You're There

Of course, you don't want to survive on granola and peanut butter during your entire trip, so save your trip foods for the ride back.  There are lots of cheap ways to eat when you arrive.

We usually pick one night to have a nice dinner, and the other meals, we find local cafes and diners or eat in our rooms.  

If you make sure that the hotel you choose has complementary breakfast, you know one meal is always free.  If you can find one that has a fridge and a microwave, you can stop by a grocery store when you arrive and pick up a few cheap foods to make for yourself in your room.  You can also keep leftovers in the fridge from when you do eat out and use them for lunch the next day.  Sometimes you have to pay a little extra for a room with these amenities, but it ends up saving you money in the long run.

8)  Plan Your Budget

No one likes to think about money and budgets even at normal times, but especially not on vacation.  Still, the best way to ensure that you stay on budget is to keep track of it.

Decide before you go how much you have to spend, how you would like to spend it, and then make sure you have a reserve in case something happens (like a car malfunction, a medical emergency, or just really needing to buy another souvenir).

Monitor your spending.  Keep track of receipts and card usages.  Use cash as much as possible because it makes it so much easier to see what you are spending.  If you have to spend more on something than you planned, adjust accordingly.

For example, when we went to Seattle for our anniversary several years ago, we ended up going to the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, which was one of our favorite destinations of all time.  However, since it ended up costing more than we had planned, we decided not to go up in the Space Needle.  It wasn't nearly as important to us as the awesome time we had in the Science Fiction Museum.

9)  Souvenirs

Everyone loves to buy souvenirs.  I love to buy souvenirs for myself and pretty much everyone I am on speaking terms with.  Sadly, though, that does not work with my current budget.

When we first got married, we decided we needed a "thing" to collect.  We chose magnets.  Wherever we go, we make sure to get a magnet to remind us of our trip.  (We have an awesome refrigerator.)

A lot of times, a magnet may be the only item we buy on a trip.  If we have extra money, we might get something else, but we don't feel like we have to.  We also don't usually get gifts for people from our trips unless we get one as a thank-you for watching Cricket or house sitting or something.  It's just not practical.

10)  GPS

This is not absolutely necessary, but it does actually help.  If you have a GPS, you don't have to stop and buy a map when you get lost.  You don't spend extra gas money wandering around looking for your destination, and you know your time schedule and how far to the stopping place, so you don't end up having to stop at a McDonald's and buy something just so you can use the restroom, only to find out you are two exists away from a rest stop!  You can also quickly find a hospital, car garage, or anything else you might need in a strange city.

11)  Take Care of Your Car

Make sure your car is in good shape before you leave, to avoid costly repairs on the road.  Check tires, oil, and that weird humming noise that just started last week.  Keep a tire pump in the trunk, along with jumper cables, and whatever other tools you are comfortable using.  The more you know about taking care of your car, like how to change a tire, the less you'll have to pay for.

(And I say all that as someone who knows absolutely nothing about cars, but whose husband is awesome at doing that kind of stuff.)

I hope this helps you save some money on your next adventure.  Road trips are tons of fun, and they don't have to cost tons of money.  A little planning and you can have a blast for just a few bucks!

And by the way, that B&B we stayed at was The Inn of the Patriots, and it was awesome.  If you're in the South/North Carolina border area, it's the perfect place to spend a weekend!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

More Awesome Kitchen Staples

I've already done one post about making your own kitchen staples, but I realized that there were a bunch that I left out!  Here are some more basic food items that I make from scratch to save money and/or to cut out preservatives and artificial ingredients.  (The links to the sources are in the titles.)

Brown Sugar

I always laugh to myself when people talk about brown sugar like it's healthier than white sugar.  I think they believe it is raw sugar, which is not at all the same thing (and isn't really "healthier" anyway).  Brown sugar is nothing in the world but regular sugar and molasses.  That's it.  So simple.

As a side benefit, molasses is actually really high in iron, calcium, and potassium, so you are going to get more of those things eating it directly like this instead of the little bit you might get out of the bag of processed brown sugar.

The proportion is about one cup of regular sugar to 2 Tbs. of molasses.  Use more molasses if you want dark brown sugar, and less if you want lighter.  It does have a stronger flavor than the fake stuff, so you might want to start with less and see how you like it.  Just  keep stirring it until you get most of the clumps broken up.  It keeps pretty well in a canister.

*EDIT:  I should have mentioned that the least processed route would be to buy natural organic brown sugar, which is sugar before they take the molasses out in the first place.  It's more expensive, but definitely more natural.

Pizza Dough

I love this recipe for pizza dough, and I have used it to make breadsticks and calzones as well!

It is simple and tastes delicious, and I have started making it with whole-wheat flour, which makes it even better!

Bread Crumbs

I feel like such a dummy for buying bread crumbs for so many years after finding out how easy they are to make.  I always thought there was some secret to making them "taste right" or something.  No.

No no no.

You literally just put chunks of bread (stale works better) in the food processor and whirl away until it is crumbs.

That's all it is.

Somewhere, a Progresso CEO is swimming in a pool of money like Scrooge McDuck because I didn't realize that bread crumbs were literally just crumbs of bread.

Anyway, you can add spices like Italian Seasoning if you want, or just leave it plain.  Store it in a ziplock bag in the freezer so it doesn't go bad.  Ridiculously easy.

Instant Oatmeal

I got this recipe from one of my favorite blogs.  I make oatmeal for Cricket almost every morning, and this makes it so much easier, and without all the sugar and fake chemicals.  You basically just put some of the oatmeal in the food processor and blend it until it's a powder.  That makes it the right consistency.  You can add some powdered milk, salt, and sugar if you want too, although I usually leave most of that out.  I started making it for Brian to take to work, as well, and he loves it.

Salad Dressing

My favorite salad dressing in the world is a honey ginger dressing that you can only get in the refrigerated salad section of Publix.  It's a small bottle, though, and it's pretty pricey, so I went about trying to figure out if I could make it myself.

It was just the ginger dressing, though, and I think it would be better with honey.  It tasted pretty good, but it didn't keep terribly well, which was disappointing.

(And by "didn't keep very well" I mean that after about a week, it looked like something I cleaned out of the garbage disposal I wish I had, and it solidified to the point that it wouldn't come out of the bottle anymore.  It might still have tasted fine, but it wasn't something I was willing to eat, let alone serve to guests.)

If you know you're going to eat a lot of it soon, though, it's worth making.  Also, put peanuts on the salad if you use it.  You can write me a thank you note afterwards.

Chicken Stock

This is an awesome recipe.  I had made chicken stock a few times before, but it's such a pain and you have to let it cook for like, an hour or more.  This recipe is way better!  You use the leftovers from a rotisserie chicken:  bones, skin, everything.  Just throw it all in the crock pot with a few veggies, spices, and water at the end of the day and by morning, you have 12-14 cups of chicken stock!  I bag them in 1 and 2 cup portions and freeze them to pull out later.  Works great in a bunch of my favorite recipes!

Dried Herbs

I started drying some of my herbs from the garden, which makes me feel like Laura Ingalls.

I even had to buy a mortar and pestle for it!  How cool is that!?

I keep some of them on the stalk and crush some, since they are fresher before they are crushed.

My mom told me later that apparently you aren't supposed to use a mortar and pestle because it crushes them the wrong way (?!), but I think she is just trying to kill my joy.  Why do you want to kill my mortar and pestle joy, Mom?!


These are really easy to make, and way better for you than most store-bought ones.  I make mine with coconut oil most of the time, and they turn out great.  (Brian doesn't like coconut, so he would tell me if they tasted like it.)  I've also made them with almond oil and sunflower oil, and I think I like coconut oil best.  They are a little harder to work with when you use the thinner oils.  One batch makes twelve.

Speaking of tortillas...


I also started making my own pitas, which are way cheaper to make yourself and taste great with homemade hummus!  It's another very simple recipe, and they freeze well, too, so I normally freeze half the finished pitas for later.

Hope you enjoy these!  Let me know if you try any of them, or if you have any kitchen staples you like to make.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Things That are Awesome: Summer Baby Edition

Cricket is 15 months right now, and she just loves to be outside!  Here is a wrap-up of some of my favorite summer outdoor gear for babies and toddlers.  Any time I find myself thinking, "This thing is worth every cent!" I make a note to add it to this list!

I am an Amazon affiliate, and receive a small percentage of sales made through my site at no cost to you.  I am not otherwise compensated for my opinions.  These are all things I have used personally and enjoyed.

Fisher Price Baby Swing

Cricket loves swinging, so when I saw this swing at Aldi on sale, I snatched it up.

I absolutely love having it in our backyard.  It's hanging from a really high tree branch, which means it's always shady underneath.  Unlike the park, which has no shade whatsoever, now I can push her on the swing without getting a sunburn!

Bubble Gun

This was a purchase for my sake, not hers.  Cricket loves bubbles, like all little babies do, but I do not.  I mean, bubbles in and of themselves are cool, but if you are the one making the bubbles, your hands are all covered in soap, you're hyperventilating, and you have to stand up the whole time.

Not anymore!

Now I can satisfy Cricket's insatiable love for bubbles while still getting my lazy on.  I just squeeze the handle and a never ending stream of perfect bubbles comes out!  I will say that it is a little temperamental and doesn't always work as well as it should, but even still, this has been a sanity saver for me!

Swimways Baby Float

This thing is awesome!  It is perfect for older babies who can sit up just fine, but aren't big enough for floaties and the like.  It's a perfect little seat that they can lean back or forwards in if they want.  There is a mesh ring in the middle so they can splash in the water.  And best of all, there is a shade that clips on to protect them from the sun!  The shade can even attach to the back or the front if you need to move it.  Here's a picture of Cricket enjoying hers.

She loves it!  Totally chillaxin'.

Water Table

My mom got this for Cricket, and it is her favorite outdoor toy now.  It has really helped her strengthen her legs, too.  She has been reluctant to do a lot of walking until now, but she will stand at this table for an hour or more!  It is the perfect height for cruisers, and it comes with some cute toys.  I added some small cups, which she loves to use to dump water all over herself, of course.  At first, I would change her into her swimsuit to play with it, but it actually is less trouble just to let her stay in her play clothes and then change her when we're finished.

I highly recommend this for ages 1 yr. and up.  There are also tons of suggestions on Pinterest for other things you can do with water tables besides just put water in it, like using it for finger painting, sand, rice, small world play, etc.

Waterproof Travel Blanket

One of my friends gave me a blanket like this several years ago, and it has been just the best thing to have!  We keep it in the car so we always have it for picnics, zoo trips, Renaissance faires, or any other time we might need to sit on the ground.  It folds up into a compact little purse-like thing with a strap, making it super easy to cary, and it's water proof, so it's easier to clean and you don't have to worry about the ground being wet.  That's especially nice here in Alabama where it rains almost every day of the summer.

Although this one isn't specifically for kids, it sure is awesome to have, especially if you do have kids.  There are so many times we have used ours!

So, what outdoor gear do you just love?  I'd love to hear your recommendations, too!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Awesome Christmas Party Ideas

I love throwing parties.

I absolutely love throwing Christmas parties.

As we end our week of Christmas in July here at How to Be Awesome at Everything, here are some great ideas for Christmas parties, most of which I got from Pinterest.  As usual, links are in the titles.

This was a big hit a few years ago.  I used cookie cutters to cut out pizza crust into Christmas shapes and baked it before hand.  

Then everyone got to put whatever toppings they wanted on their pizzas, and we threw them back in the oven for a few minutes.

The only thing I didn't like about this was that it required more "hands on" participation from me, getting pizzas in and out of the oven, than I generally prefer while hosting a party.  Still, it was super cute and everyone loved it.

Candy Cane Punch and Rimmed Glasses

This punch recipe is fantastic, 

and for one party I used gel writers (they never work on cakes anyway) around the rim of the glasses before dipping them in crushed candy cane.  Not gonna lie, that was a lot of extra effort, but it looked really cool and it was a hit, so I call it a success.  The punch has now become a tradition at my Christmas parties, although I don't usually do the glasses.

I actually had this truffle recipe already, and it super easy.   It's just semi-sweet chocolate mixed with cream cheese for the middle, and then dipped in melted chocolate and sprinkled with crushed candy canes.  Yum!

This was not as big a hit as I had hoped.  You make it using Funfetti cake mix, (I used the Christmas version so it had red and green sprinkles) and you mix it with yogurt, cream cheese, and a few other things.  

I liked it, but it gets old after a while, and people who don't like yogurt won't like it at all.  Plus, you use like, three Tablespoons of Funfetti mix, and then what are you supposed to do with the rest of it?

Yup.  You eat it with a spoon.  That's what I thought.

Last year, our Halloween party theme was "Party at the North Pole," so a lot of the things we did there would work great for a Christmas party, too.  We set up a hot chocolate bar with peppermint marshmallows, candy cane stir sticks, and cool whip.  We also had coffee, tea, and cider.

Plus, I found these adorable snowman marshmallows at Walmart!

These were awesome because who doesn't like powdered doughnuts?  They weren't hard to make (it's just doughnuts, icing, and candy corn) and they looked super cute.

Frito Taco Salads

We labeled the Frito bags as "reindeer feed bags" and let everyone put whatever taco toppings they wanted into the bag.  They could dump the bags onto a plate or just eat straight out of the bag!  

You can see in the picture that we also did a "Christmas tree" stack of sandwich wraps, white cheddar cheese puffs as "snowballs" and some fruit, cheese, and nuts as more "reindeer food."

Cookies and Milk

I've already talked about how awesome Christmas cookies are, and everyone loves them at a party.  We just put a pitcher in a big bowl of ice, filled the pitcher with milk, and had a "cookies and milk" station.   Easy and fun!


We played this game at our last party and it was a lot of fun.  Simple, easy, and hilarious.  People basically follow directions to draw a "Christmas scene" on a paper plate, but the plate is on top of their head.  Points are based on how accurate the pictures are (the stocking can't touch the fire because that's a hazard!).  It's cute and fun.


Usually, the normal Christmas decorations are enough for us, but last year when we did our North Pole Halloween party, we cranked it up a little bit.  We were still on a budget, so even though it looks like we went all-out, it was actually very cheap to do.

This was our "photo op" area.  A "North Pole" made out of a piece of PVC pipe and some red duct tape, our Christmas tree, of course, and an igloo made out of a tent frame and some white sheets.  We hung a white sheet behind it and a banner from Walmart.

We hung snowflakes from the ceiling, used some of my school bulletin board cut outs on the walls, and covered everything with white sheets and/or fake snow.

We made the Aurora Borealis in the hallway using cut-up plastic table cloths and colored Christmas tree lights.  Also, we hung coats, scarves, gloves, etc. on hooks down the hall.

Brian made an awesome sign for the kitchen.

Of course, you don't have to decorate quite so extensively for your Christmas party.  Just remember to light a cozy fire in the fireplace and welcome your guests with a smile.

Have a Merry Christmas in July, y'all.

Click here for Part 1:  DIY Christmas Presents

Click here for Part 2:  Awesome Christmas Cookies

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Awesome Christmas Cookies

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It's Christmas in July this week at How to Be Awesome at Everything!  We've already talked about awesome DIY Christmas Gifts.  Today, it's all about cookies.

I love Christmas cookies, and not just because they are delicious.  Cookies have become my go-to present for Christmas.  Everyone loves getting cookies, and they don't cost much to make!  In fact, I'd rather get a box of cookies than a cheap gift that I know I'll never use!  They don't take up room in your house, and you have an excuse to eat treats you might not make for yourself.

I give them to Brian's coworkers, to neighbors, and of course, they are great for parties and as hostess gifts! Traditionally decorated sugar cookies are of course, classic, but they aren't the only ones I make.

This is the platter I sent to work with Brian last year at Christmastime.

The wreath cookie recipe I got from my sister-in-law, Melissa.  They are like Rice Krispies Treats, but you use Corn Flakes instead, mix in some green food coloring, and put Red Hots on top.  The lump of coal cookies are basically Rice Krispies Treats made with Oreos instead, so you know that's gonna be good.  The guys in Brian's office thought they were hilarious, too.

I gave the wreath cookies to our neighbors one year, too, and I used this tip to decorate paper plates with some ribbon to make it extra cute.

Last year I tried Andes Mint Cookies, and they were awesome.  Basically, you just make easy chocolate cookies, and then right when they come out of the oven, you set an Andes Mint on top of each one.  In about five minutes, they melt and you can spread them like icing.  Sounds good, right?  Yup.

You can't talk about Christmas cookies without bringing up gingerbread cookies!  The beauty of gingerbread men is that, while they may take a little more time to roll out and cut into shapes, they are very simple to decorate, and they are always cute!  I even saw this great idea for putting them into clear CD envelopes!

However, last year, I found the best gingerbread cookies you have ever eaten, and they don't need to be cut into shapes.   People will love them just the way they are.  Plus, the icing is amazing.  I think I made ten dozen of these last Christmas.

The thing is, I got this recipe from a book.  Not a cookbook, mind you.  A murder mystery book.

Calm down.  It wasn't death by cookies.

It was from this book:

I had to type out the recipe from the book because I couldn't find it online anywhere, but I'm afraid it's copyrighted, so I am not going to share it here.  You'll just have to go check it out at the library, or you can click on the picture there and it will take you to Amazon where you can order it. Trust me.  It's worth it!  (It's also a fun book to read.)

As you can see in the first picture at the top, I have also made Rice Krispies Treats with some Christmas sprinkles, and dipping a large marshmallow in chocolate and then sticking a peppermint stick in it makes a great "hot chocolate stirrer."

I hope this inspires you to go bake some cookies!  I am always available to taste test, and you don't have to wait for Christmas, either!

Click here for Part 1:  DIY Christmas Presents.

Click here for Part 3:  Awesome Christmas Party Ideas