Welcome to December!

Hi friends! My Christmas tree is up, the weather has gotten colder, and we have fun plans with family and friends over the month. It must be Christmas time!

I so enjoyed having an advent calendar as a kid (remember the candy behind each little door?), that I keep the tradition going even as an adult. Instead of candy, now I fill the calendar with fun little activities to enjoy each night of the Christmas month.

To kick off the Christmas season, I thought I’d share the grown up advent calendar activities I’ll be partaking in this year. 00001

Download the printable here

Did you notice there are more than 24 things to do? You didn’t miscount – I included more activities than needed so everyone could pick the things that sound like fun to them. Some of the things to do are little traditions Dan and I have (like making latkes or listening to the Italian Christmas Carol, Dominick the Donkey ), so I thought that by making more than needed, everyone would be able to find enough holiday activities to last the season.

I tried changing up some of the activities from what we’ve done before (see  2014 and 2015) by including a movie I haven’t seen (It’s a Wonderful Life) and some Christmas poems I haven’t read, but kept the activity of listening to the Cinnamon Bear radio show. Hopefully, this is the year we finally get through the whole program.

I’m looking forward to starting our advent calendar tonight!

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Ladies’ Luau Brunch

Hi strangers. As always, my apologies for the lack of posts. I’ve been on three trips away from home in the last couple months, and have greatly enjoyed my time exploring different cities while up and away from my computer. This made my blogging take a hit – I haven’t posted since my anniversary in early June. Yikes.

While I did miss blogging, I have been making the most of my summer. I love all the things that warm weather brings – beaches, swimming, outdoor parties, patio dinners, and my annual ladies’ luau!

If you’ve been a reader of mine for a while, you know I’ve been having a luau with my dearest friends for years – since we all graduated college to be exact. I really have fun with planning this party since it’s always a laid back affair. I always enjoy trying out new food recipes, different decorations, and fun summer-y drinks!

This year, I focused on a pineapple theme in both the decor and the food. And yes, I went crazy. I’m not a designer, so I can’t create custom made printables for my party. But, I’m a really good Pinterester.

I found this printable banner and used it to make the garland above my drink table, using dowels and twine to secure it. I found those pineapple cocktail napkins at Homegoods, and the 3D straws were a surprise find at the Dollar Tree.

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The same designer of the banner made matching ice cream cone wrappers, which I used to wrap the plastic silverware and placed them on a mix of yellow and green plates (from Dollar Tree) on top of a pineapple tablecloth I found at Homegoods on the same shopping trip as when I found the cocktail napkins.Last year, a friend gave me the pineapple tumblers you can see just peeking in at the top of the photo as a hostess gift for that luau – so glad to be able to put them to good use this year!

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I decked out the food table too with some Hawaiian looking blooms from Trader Joe’s in vases with this pineapple watercolor printable to dress them up, and the same banner as from my drink cart to add some color to the wall behind the food.

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I had fun planning the food this year since I went with a brunch instead of an early dinner, as I usually do. To keep the atmosphere feeling casual, I tried to stick to more bite sized options, so guests wouldn’t be tied to the table with their plates. And yes, pretty much everything I made had pineapple in it – Hawaiian meatballs, Ham and pineapple flatbread, yogurt brulee with pineapple compote, a pineapple bundt cake, and donuts.

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OK, there was no pineapple in the donuts, but the toppers made them appear pineapple-like.

Finally, I handed out mini pineapple favors to each guest as she left. I always like to give out a little something at the end of a party – it’s such a fun touch. I wanted to stay with the luau/tropical theme, so I bought Starburst movie boxes and wrapped them up to look like pineapples, using bright yellow paper as wrapping paper and green paper to create the top, leafy part of the pineapple. Unfortunately, I never snapped a photo of them before they left with my guests.

This may have been the best luau yet!

Thanks for sticking with me guys. I’m hoping that I’m back to regular posting again.

Fancy Scallop and Risotto Dinner

We’ve been on a kick lately of making ourselves fancy dinners at home. Cooking together used to be something Dan and I both looked forward to as singletons, but with the hustle and bustle of our work/life balance, cooking for fun sort of went by the wayside. In the new year, we’re trying to make a few fancy dinners a month. You know, the ones that may take a bit of time and effort but more than pay off in the end. This brown butter scallop and Parmesan risotto dish absolutely fit the bill, and didn’t crush our wallets in the process.

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I’ll admit – I love scallops.* Yes, there’s an asterisk. I love scallops, but *only when they are cooked correctly. Cooked too long, they get rubbery and gross. It’s a fine line.

We used this recipe as our starting point because the ingredients seemed pretty basic, and we had most of them in our fridge and cupboard already. Of course, we made a few changes.

First of all, we used smaller bay scallops instead of jumbo scallops. The only reason for the swap was a price difference. Bay scallops were $10/lb while jumbo scallops came in around the $20/lb range. By choosing the smaller scallops, we saved ourselves $10.

We also didn’t have grapeseed oil, so we used good old olive oil. It worked fine.

And, if you know me, you already know we chose to wilt spinach instead of kale. No offense kale, but you’re just not my jam.

Finally, the brown butter sauce. I think it was a good addition to the simple dish, but I don’t think the whole 3 tablespoons worth of butter was needed. Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time putting a bunch of butter in anything – baked goods included. So browning up this much butter and pouring it on top of a dish seemed a bit much to me. I think you could get by with 1.5 tablespoons or maybe even omit the butter entirely. The oil in the wilted spinach does a lot for the dish, and the risotto is pretty rich as it is.

We talked about this dish for days after we made it, and we even contemplated making this again for a homemade Valentine’s Day dinner. We ended up trying something new, but this dish will definitely make it into our “fancy dinner” rotation.

 

Upcycled Alley Chair

Does anyone else pick up furniture from the side of the road? It can’t just be me. I’ve already shared our salvaged kitchen table, and I’ve talked about how many of our furniture pieces have come from craigslist, so it shouldn’t be a secret that I enjoy making old and tired furniture pieces come back to life, like this vintage chair that we found in the alley.

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We were coming back from dinner one night, back when we still lived in our apartment, and I saw that gem a few houses down. The cushion fabric was terrible, and the paint was faded, but I loved the craftsmanship in the curved back of the chair, and the carved out fleur-de-lis embellishments.

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Dan thought I was crazy, but he reluctantly carried the chair in and up two floors to our dining room. We were in the process of packing up to move, so the chair didn’t get a full makeover right then.

We did find a bit of time to give the whole chair a fresh coat of white paint. We wanted the carvings to really stand out, so we painted them with gold. The seat was droopy, so we pulled out all of the netting on the bottom of the chair. It was already a vast improvement.

We moved the chair to our new house, but it just kind of sat there for a while. Finally, one afternoon while Dan and my father-in-law were tackling some home improvement, my mother-in-law and I tried our hand at crating a new cushion with some fabric Dan and I picked out for the chair. I can’t give you a tutorial because we didn’t really follow any sort of plan or pattern, and honestly, I’m not sure I could, or would advise, replicating our process.

Woohoo – the chair update was complete! Now the problem was that the chair didn’t really have a place to go. It was in our living room for a while, but the white frame didn’t contrast at all with the white couch, so I moved it. Stop #2 was in our family room. Our couch is dark, so I thought the chair would work well. Color-wise, it did, but style-wise, it just didn’t. The couch was modern, the huge outdated rock wall was giving off a ’60s vibe, and the chair was what – 1940’s? It wasn’t working.

I didn’t want to get rid of my little rescued chair, but I was starting to think we just didn’t have a place for it. I finally moved the chair late last year, to make room for our Christmas tree in the family room. I decided to temporarily keep it in our guest room, thinking I’d make a final decision on what to do with the chair once the Christmas decorations came down.

What a happy surprise it was when I realized how perfect the chair looked in the guest room!

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The fabric is mostly blues, which worked well with the yellows and blues present in the room. The gold accents in the chair brought our the gold tones in the candleholders and desk too. Plus, I had been looking for a versatile furniture piece that would give guests another place to sit, and a place to set down their luggage. I cozied the chair up with the bird pillow I made a while back, and an ivory/gold threaded throw I bought for the guest room ages ago.

With the vintage vibe already coming from the desk, and the whimsical feeling of the iron bed, I think this transient chair has finally found its permanent spot in our home.

DIY Bridal Emergency Kit

Last weekend, I went out of town with a bunch of friends for a bachelorette party. I knew many of the ladies would be giving the bride lingerie as a gift, so I thought I’d go a different route.

For my wedding, my Maid of Honor put together a bridal emergency kit that was really helpful. It contained little items that you might not think you would need, but are really useful if you do. Ever since then, I’ve helped put together little emergency kits for most of my bride friends. I thought this would be a perfect gift to give.

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To start with, I bought a small travel-sized make up bag. I got my hands on one from the Lilly Pulitzer collection from Target in the bride’s favorite color – green. Then, I picked up items for the kit as I would find them/think of them while out shopping. The following made it into the kit: band-aids, alcohol swabs, disinfectant wipes, cough drops, an emergency sewing kit, Eos lotion, gum, Kleenex, deodorant, bobby pins, hair ties, and a piece of white chalk. Yes, chalk. in a pinch, you can use it should anything spill on your dress. Chalk won’t remove the stain, but it will cover it pretty well for photos.

Some other items you could include would be a nail file, clear nail polish, pain reliever, double sided fabric tape (to keep dresses in place). Really, you could include whatever you think the bride would find helpful on her big day. Include a pack of her favorite candy or her go-to snack. Anything goes.

I couldn’t find a cute bachelorette party bag or card, so I improvised and made my own. I found some cute pink girly stickers at Michael’s and stuck them to a plain black bag. For the card, I found a pack of blank cards with a hot pink stilletto on them at Homegoods.

I highly recommend making this for any bride friend. It’s one less thing she has to worry about for her big day, and she’ll be able to enjoy the make up bag on her honeymoon and all her trips to come.

 

 

Last Minute (No Candy!) Easter Basket Ideas

I thought I’d sneak in a quick Easter post among the Kitchen Remodel series. You know, because it’s timely.

Every year, Dan and I put together Easter baskets for our nieces. I know they’ll be getting baskets from other family members, so I try to keep our baskets small, free from candy/sugar, but filled with fun items. I thought I’d share what I put in them in case you still needed some ideas for last minute basket fillers.

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Let’s start with the basket itself. I know some people buy a nice wooden basket and use that same basket each year. Others buy a new one every Easter. To me, a basket is fine and good, but it’s not really something you (or kids) use on an everyday basis. And whether you use the same basket, or a new one each time, you have to store those baskets somewhere. So, instead of a basket, I try to buy a storage tote, sand pail, or other bucket like item that has a use other than a used-once-a-year Easter basket. This year, I got the girls pails to use in the sandbox, at the beach, or in the pool. I thought it was so cute that a little shovel came with each bucket.

On to the fillers! Here’s what the girls are getting this year (shhhhhh, keep it a surprise!):

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I try to be on the lookout for little items I think the girls will like in their baskets throughout the year, so I’m not searching for (and buying) a bunch of stuff they don’t need a couple weeks before Easter. In fact, the Disney Princess Lip Smackers and bubble baths, and Jelly Belly scented nail polish kits were in the Target Christmas stocking stuffers aisle when I bought on clearance after the holidays. Since they aren’t adorned with wreaths and mistletoe, they don’t look Christmas-y and go great in the baskets.

One type of gift I always love getting the girls are items that let them put their creative imaginations to good use. With this purpose in mind, sidewalk chalk is always a must for my Easter baskets. Maybe I’m just hoping for warmer weather, but once it’s nice out, chalk reigns supreme.

While at Michael’s one afternoon, I discovered an aisle that had some old school games. How cute would that be in an Easter basket? I bought pick up sticks for one niece, a set of kiddie card games, including Old Maid, for the other, and both got a yo-yo.

Finally, as both girls love Frozen, I thought they would each enjoy a 200 pack of Frozen stickers and a pair of Frozen socks. You know, just for fun.

I just tried to place everything into the sand pail as neatly as possible (so everything fit), and attached a printable Easter basket tag (not pictured, but found here) to write each girl’s name.

There’s not a ton of stuff in each basket, just a bunch of little fun gifts I think the girls will really enjoy. I hope they like these!

We’ll be back to regularly scheduled (kitchen remodeling) programming next week.

Happy Easter!

Phoebe’s Corner

As you may have gathered from my blog posts, we have an awesome dog named Phoebe.

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In our apartment, we basically made our sunroom overlooking the backyard into Phoebe’s room. She had a couch, her crate, and that’s where we kept her food and water. Before she was given free reign of the apartment, we put a dog gate in the doorway between the sunroom and the kitchen and she’d just lay on the couch in the sun all day.

In our house, we no longer have a designated Phoebe space. She had a bed in the family room, where we spend most of our time, but she did lose her couch in the move. There just wasn’t anywhere to put it. Even finding a space for her food and water was tough. Our kitchen is hardwood, so I wasn’t too keen on her spilling water on the floor while she drank. If we weren’t home, the water would just sit on the wood until it evaporated or one of us got home to mop it up. The only tile in the house is in the entryway and by the back door, so our options were fairly limited. We decided to keep Phoebe’s things by the back door, so our guests wouldn’t come in to a big bowl of dog water.

If we were putting Phoebe’s food and water (and bone rug, which you can see how I made here) in the corner, I thought I’d really make it Phoebe’s little space.

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We had the green canvas already at the apartment. A friend gave me the little sign that reads “All You Need is Love…And A Dog.” The newest addition was the pixelated photo I made of Phoebe, using this website.

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I just uploaded the photo, chose the size, taped it together, then used washi tape to attach it to the wall.

I’ll probably change up the corner in time, maybe add another item underneath the pixelated photo, but for now, I’m really happy with the way it looks.