31. December 2013 · 2 comments · Categories: NSBR

Man, it’s been awhile since I posted here! As I’m sure you can imagine, the holidays kept me pretty busy! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas (or Hanukkah or whatever holiday you may celebrate)! Every Christmas, I make a delicious honey ham and there are always lots of leftovers. My favorite thing to make with the leftovers is this creamy, extremely delicious ham & potato soup. It’s my favorite soup ever (and I’m not generally a big soup lover, but this is so darn good). For real. Paired with these amazing homemade rolls, it makes an incredible “comfort food” meal. It’s satisfying, flavorful, and creamy – without being too heavy. I realize I’m not typically one to blog about my favorite recipes, but this is just too good not to share! I started off with a base recipe about 3 years ago and it has been heavily modified over the years to create what is below! Enjoy!

Creamy White Cheddar, Ham, and Potato Soup

Creamy White Cheddar, Ham, & Potato Soup

2 tbs. vegetable oil
1 sweet onion, diced
3 ribs celery, sliced
4-5 carrots, peeled and sliced
5 cups *less sodium* chicken broth
4 cups potatoes, peeled and cut into bite size cubes
2 cups diced, cooked ham
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste (1/2 tsp. is about how much I use)
5 tbs. butter
5 tbs. flour
2 cups whole milk
3 cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese

 

In a stockpot, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat and add the onion, celery, and carrots. Sauté until veggies start to soften. Stir in the chicken broth, potatoes, ham, and salt & pepper. Simmer over medium heat until potatoes are tender (about 10-15 minutes).

In a separate saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and whisk constantly until thick, about 1 minute. Slowly stir in the milk (don’t add it all at once to avoid clumps). Continue stirring over medium-low heat until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the cheese and stir until melted and smooth.

Stir the cheese mixture into the stockpot.

Serve and garnish with cheese, green onion, etc. as desired.

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27. November 2013 · 4 comments · Categories: NSBR

It’s no secret that Christmas is my favorite holiday. I love the excitement, the magic and wonder that I get to experience through my kids, the hot cocoa and treats, the reminder of my blessings, and the constant reminder of our Savior’s birth. I love doing an advent activity calendar so we can celebrate Christmas every day in December.

Back in September, I made it out to Hobby Lobby. Imagine my GLEE when I saw that their Christmas stuff was already out. I have NO problem with seeing Christmas stuff put out well before Christmas. The nearest Hobby Lobby is over 2 hours from my house, so I used that as an excuse to pick some stuff up without guilt since I might not make it back before Christmas. I saw this cute little gold sleigh and snagged it for 40% off. I had no idea what I was going to do with it. At first I thought maybe I’d fill it with ornaments… but then I thought how cute it would be filled with mini gift boxes?!

Christmas Advent Calendar in a Sleigh

I found some inexpensive kraft jewelry boxes on Etsy. They are pretty close to the size of a mini box of matches. They came in a set of 25 for $7.50 (plus shipping). I purchased some glitter card stock and used my trusty Silhouette Cameo to cut out my numbers and glued them to the tops of the boxes. I added some embellishments to some of them, printed out our activities and placed them inside, then piled them into the sleigh!

Advent Calendar Assembly

Advent Calendar mini boxes

Advent Calendar

I thought I’d share our activities in case you are looking for some ideas. Some of these have photos from years past. I have all these activities typed into my iCal so if I need to shuffle things around later, I know which boxes to check.

1. Write letters to Santa

2. Prophets Foretold the Coming of Christ Family Home Evening (free lesson plan on A Year of FHE)

3. Pick out a toy at the store to donate

4. Unwrap a new Christmas book and read it together (I’ll be picking up The Polar Express this year)

5. Pick out a Christmas tree and decorate

Silver and gold Christmas tree

6. Clean out toy bins, organize, and donate unused toys

7. Go to the church Christmas party and meet Santa

santa

8. Take silly photo booth photos (we’re using these cute, free printables from Catching Fireflies)

9. Come Let Us Adore Him Family Home Evening (from the Family Home Evening Resource Manual, which you can view for free here)

10. Make a Christmas craft (I haven’t decided what yet, but we might make ornaments or just do something simple like cut out paper snowflakes)

11. Donate food to a food drive

12. Make snowman pancakes

Snowman pancakes

13. Decorate a gingerbread house

gingerbreadhouse

14. Unwrap a new Christmas movie, pop popcorn, and watch it (We’re buying Elf… I can’t believe we haven’t added this to our collection yet!)

15. Make Christmas cards for grandparents

16. Gifts for the Savior Family Home Evening (free lesson plan on A Year of FHE)

17. Make homemade hot chocolate

18. Make a gift for school teacher

19. Perform a random act of kindness (like pay for someone’s lunch or leave a little cash for someone)

20. Campout in front of the Christmas tree – this is one of our favorite parts of December! We pull out mom and dad’s mattress, watch movies, eat treats, and sleep in front of the tree! This tradition is never complete without some jumping on the bed the following morning!

Camp in front of the Christmas tree

21. Make treats for friends – baking day

22. Drive around and look at Christmas lights and bring some hot chocolate and snacks for the ride

23. Symbols of Christmas Family Home Evening (we’ll be merging this free lesson plan with the story at the end of this post)

24. Make cookies for Santa

christmascookies

So fun! I love December! Feel free to share your favorite December traditions in the comments. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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Large Photo Gallery Wall

When choosing frames for a statement wall, I strongly believe that bigger is better. Imagine how sad my gallery wall would look if I printed these all up as 8×10′s. It would be very sad indeed. With this wall, I decided to go BIG! So big, in fact, that my largest frame is actually taller than my 5.5 year old (who happens to be tall for her age).

Large frame

These are all Poppy Tree Frames and I ADORE them!! I’m sure you’ve seen similar ornate cut frames like these before, but I went with Poppy Tree Frames because theirs were a little more unique. I liked their shape offerings and I LOVE how the openings in the frames are also cut into pretty shapes. This was not something I saw in any of the other shops. Obviously, with a large wall like this, I was going to be dropping a bit of cash, but their prices are extremely reasonable. I don’t know if you’ve ever priced getting custom frames done somewhere like JoAnn… but geez, even after you use one of the JoAnn 50% off coupons, they are pricey! Poppy Tree Frames are priced just right, especially considering the custom nature of the frames (you pick the size, color, can add a print, and can request special designs as well). You can also follow their Facebook page to stay up-to-date with their weekly specials!

I planned out this wall a looong time ago. Before we even moved into this house. Basically, I started dreaming up this wall as soon as we picked a floor plan. I went to town in Photoshop, like I always do for stuff like this, and planned it all out. I emailed Poppy Tree and asked the outside dimensions for each frame I was looking at and then created a layout in PS to scale.

Photo Wall Planning

This was a really important step for me so I could visualize how well the sizes and colors would work together. I ordered my prints and then I saved and saved until I could order my frames. I ordered an 8×12″ Oval in Gray Shower, a 10×15″ Faint in Simply White, a 16×24″ Harmony in Timber Wolfe, a 12×24″ Sovereign Strata in Timber Wolfe and Simply White, a 10×15″ August in North Sea, a 10×15″ August in Simply White, and a 20×30″ Brazen on Faint Strata in Simply White and North Sea. They have a lot of fun colors to choose from, but I decided to keep my frames neutral.

The frames take about 4 weeks until they’re shipped out, but they are worth the wait. They all came very well packaged and I was impressed when I opened them up and felt the weight of them. They are thick and the craftsmanship was perfect.

Close-up of frame

Hanging them was quite a task. We had to anchor all of them into the drywall… I think only one hanger on my whole wall hit a stud. We bought anchors rated to hold 20 lbs and they all worked perfectly. I took the time to trace each frame onto butcher paper and poster boards so I could tape them to the wall and marked each hanger onto the papers to make hanging a little easier. It took quite a while, but it was completely worth it to take this step.

Hanging the Frames

Poppy Tree Frames

Poppy Tree Frames 2

I’m seriously in LOVE with my wall. I smile when I come out from my room each morning and I come out into the family room because my favorite family photos are right in front of me!

Large Photo Gallery Wall

 

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Is anyone else as addicted to Amazon as I am? Their Prime membership has ruined me for life. I LOVE the 2-day shipping. I place multiple orders every month and that membership has more than paid for itself – several times over. I’m always super annoyed when I place orders with other shops online and I have to wait a week to get my order. Blah. I’m RUINED, I tell ya! Ruined! hehe!

If you are a college student or a parent/caretaker, you can sign up for FREE trials of their Amazon Student and Amazon Mom memberships. These free trials give you access to FREE 2-Day shipping Prime benefits.
amazon-student

When you sign up for Amazon Student, you will get (.edu email required for verification):

  • 6 months FREE 2-Day shipping on items shipped by Amazon
  • Once your free trial expires, you can subscribe to Amazon Student for $40 OFF the regular Prime subscription price. You’ll get a full year of 2-Day Prime shipping for just $39 instead of the regular $79 fee. Plus, once you pay for a subscription, you will have access to the free Prime streaming instant videos.

 amazon-mom_landing_995x473._V167268694_

When you sign up for Amazon Mom, you will get:

  • 3 months FREE 2-Day shipping on items shipped by Amazon
  • 20% off diapers and wipes subscriptions with Subscribe & Save

(you don’t have to be a mom to enroll in Amazon Mom… you can be a dad or a grandparent or other person who cares for young children)

I’ve been subscribed to both Amazon Student and Amazon Mom. I used to order Pampers diapers for my baby boy and it was quite a bit cheaper than purchasing the diapers at Walmart when I took advantage of the Amazon Mom discount with Subscribe & Save. Subscribe & Save is terrific for items that you need to keep stocked around the house on a regular basis. You select a frequency (every month, every 3 months, every 6 months, etc.) and they will automatically send out your subscriptions so you never run out!

I live in a rural area and we do not have much shopping around here, so I always shop Amazon first. Amazon’s prices are so competitive that it almost always has the best price and combined with free 2-Day shipping, I end up putting in A LOT of orders with Amazon every month! Many of the items I buy are even cheaper than my local Walmart. Plus, I like shopping in my jammies. :) They have such a large amount of stock… you can find nearly everything. Some of the grocery items I’ve ordered from Amazon include diapers, makeup, razor blade refills, replacement heads for my Oral-B electric toothbrush (with Subscribe & Save these are significantly cheaper than Walmart), Finish Powerball dish detergent (my FAVE ever), and organic extra virgin coconut oil.

Of course, I like to buy fun stuff a lot as well. We do lots of gift shopping and I’ve bought myself a few toys on Amazon. With nearly always the best price and the free 2-Day shipping, I like to treat myself to fun stuff. I bought my Canon Pixma wide format printer, my Silhouette Cameo, and an external hard drive to help me in my work and hobbies. I regularly order new, fun tools and gadgets for my kitchen because I LOVE to bake and cook! If you haven’t heard of OXO, then you need to get yourself some of their tools. They are my FAVE kitchen gadgets EVER! I have loads of their fun stuff.

canonpixma

silhouettecameo

We buy a lot of Christmas and birthday gifts on Amazon as well. A couple years back I placed a few last minute orders for Christmas just 3 days before Christmas and that Prime shipping SAVED me! It all came on Christmas Eve and I didn’t stress about whether I’d get my stuff in time. I’ve always had wonderful customer service from Amazon and I always feel confident ordering from them. Third party vendors do sell some stuff on there, but the vast majority of my orders are directly from Amazon (they always note who is selling the item on the page).

Come get addicted, too! ;) Those free trials linked up above are a great way to give Amazon Prime a try if you haven’t already!

This post contains my Amazon affiliate links.

30. May 2013 · 13 comments · Categories: NSBR

Last month we were able to take a trip out to Disneyland.

It. was. awesome.

This was the first time we took our kids and it was such a magical experience. My daughter is five and LOVES all things Disney. She loves the princesses. She loves all the Pixar movies. I completely enjoyed seeing the wonder and joy in my children’s eyes.

We started planning this trip in January. I asked my friends where we could find great hotel deals and Get Away Today was recommended to us. I’ve heard of people getting decent hotels at Walt Disney World for $50/night, but I couldn’t find anything decent in Anaheim under $100. There just aren’t any good hotels that are CLOSE to the resort that are inexpensive. Proximity to Disneyland was a big deciding factor for us. I knew getting up and out in the morning would be hard with kids, especially the morning after a LONG day in the parks. We wanted to be close enough to walk so we wouldn’t have to worry about parking. We ended up booking a room at Carousel Inn & Suites through Get Away Today. We paid for 2 nights and got the 3rd night FREE (our total for 3 nights was still around $310 once all the fees & taxes were added in). We didn’t need any frills because I knew we would really only be sleeping in the hotel room and spending all our waking hours in the parks. I just wanted something close and clean! The hotel was perfect. It is a very quick walk from the parks. It was clean and nice, but nothing fancy. The free breakfast was pretty lame, I must admit (a bagel with cream cheese and a tiny bunch of grapes…. I don’t even like bagels and there wasn’t anything else to choose from when we were there). I ended up eating some of the granola bars we brought from home.

We drove to Disneyland from Eastern Arizona and it was a long drive. I HATE road trips. HATE. I am completely unable to sleep in the car. It’s impossible for me. My daughter did really great on the drive. We filled a new Rapunzel backpack with coloring books, stickers, activity pads, a couple new toys from the dollar store, and a dry erase alphabet book. We also brought along our iPad loaded with her favorite Disney movies. It was harder to entertain our 23 month old boy because coloring/drawing doesn’t really entertain him for more than a couple minutes. We pretty much fed him a constant supply of snacks and drinks and he took a couple naps. ha! I wish I had better advice for entertaining a toddler on a long road trip, but I don’t.

We spent our first day in Disneyland. The park wasn’t too crowded and we never had any long waits for any rides. I think the longest line we had was a 25 minute wait. We took this trip with my in-laws and it was wonderful having some extra hands to help out, especially when our little one had to sit out of some of the rides.

We utilized the FastPass when we could on some of the better rides. If you do not know what a FastPass is, you really must educate yourself before you go to Disney! My husband and I went to Disneyland as newlyweds and we thought FastPasses cost extra. Imagine how annoyed we were when we learned that they were FREE with admission on our LAST DAY in the park. Oh man. And we were there in the summer when all the lines were an hour or more. *facepalm* FastPasses are available for some of the more popular attractions. You take your tickets to the FastPass kiosk and insert them in the machine and it spits out little tickets with your return time. You are given an hour window to bring your FastPass back and basically get to the front of the line, cutting your wait time down significantly and you can go eat or ride something else until it’s time to redeem your FastPass. In addition to utilizing the FastPass system, we also downloaded the FREE Lines app from Touring Plans onto our iPhones. This app is fantastic! It gives you accurate wait times for lines in Disneyland and California Adventure and also tells you what time you’ll get if you get a FastPass. AND it also has all the menus for the restaurants and carts in the parks, along with prices. This app was just as useful for us when deciding where to eat! You can look through individual menus or you can search for a specific food.

We went on a budget, but I decided I wanted to actually eat in the parks instead of packing food in. We did bring a backpack filled with snacks and water bottles, but we bought meals. Excluding a character meal, we only got food at carts and counter service restaurants. We enjoyed a massive turkey leg (only $10 and feeds 2 adults), some churros, a meal at Flo’s V8 Cafe in Cars Land (good prices), some Mickey beignets, and soup in sourdough bread bowls in California Adventure. We were able to enjoy ourselves without spending a fortune. We ate dinner after leaving the park 2 of the days during our trip. We had a really small budget for souvenirs and all we bought were some mouse ears for the kids, an antennae ball for the van, a magnet for the fridge, and a souvenir cup. I believe I brought $350 for our food (including food while driving) and $100 for souvenirs and we ended up having quite a bit of cash left when we got home since we didn’t spend as much as we thought we would.

I strongly recommend that you do your research before booking your trip. If you can avoid going in the summer, do it. It is SO busy. We went between spring break and the end of school. It was a great time to go (April 25-27) because we avoided the crazy crowds and the weather was AWESOME! You can view crowd calendars with Touring Plans (small subscription fee).

Unfortunately, Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain were both closed during our trip. I knew Big Thunder would be closed because I checked their calendar ahead of time, but Space Mountain was an unexpected closure. I was pretty disappointed about that because I think that’s the best ride in Disneyland. Oh well!

Our daughter was able to meet lots of different characters during our trip! And she was in heaven! :)

 

We spent our other two days in California Adventure since it has better rides for the adults (especially since 2 of the good rides in Disneyland were closed) and still PLENTY for the kids. Cars Land was INCREDIBLE! It really blew us away. It looks just like Radiator Springs in the Cars movie and their Radiator Racers ride was really awesome. We loved the whole feel of Cars Land. If you go anytime soon, be prepared to get there before opening and stand in line for a FastPass for Radiator Racers first thing in the morning. During our trip, almost all the rides in California Adventure had lines under 15 minutes and Radiator Racers was an hour wait ALL DAY LONG (just imagine how crazy it would be when the park was actually really crowded). I was aware of this before we left and we did stand in line for the FastPass for the ride before opening. All the FastPasses for it were GONE by 11am each day. We also got FastPasses for World of Color in the morning as well, right after we got our Radiator Racers FPs. You need a FastPass if you want a good spot for viewing the World of Color (night) show.

It was so FUN that Mater and Lightning drove around Radiator Springs. They “posed” for pictures and they actually talk and everything! Our cars loving toddler thought they were pretty cool! :)

I look super fabulous in this next photo… I was sick, had a massive headache, and was really tired! I actually lost my voice completely this day. haha!

We had lunch reservations for myself and my two kids at Ariel’s Grotto (while hubby went and had fun with the grandparents on some adult rides). If you want to dine with princesses, this the place to do it! It was about $30-35 each, but thankfully my toddler was free! The food was pretty good (I had some yummy tri-tip) and the characters were so good at interacting with the kids! Miss A hardly ate her food because she was so excited! Ariel greets you just before you are seated and you have a chance to take photos with her.

After we were seated, they brought out an appetizer tray along with some sourdough bread with pesto, which was all delicious! We ordered lunch and received our food then a page came out and sang and introduced each character as they came out. Ariel’s guests during our lunch included Cinderella (she was the absolute best at interacting with my daughter, as you can see from the photo below), Mulan, Snow White, and Belle. The characters come right to your table and spend a little time chatting, signing autographs, and posing for photos. Lunch was followed by a dessert tray (which was kinda “meh” for me, but the kids loved it). I’m really glad we did the lunch, even though it is a bit pricey. I think it was totally worth it for the experience!

We weren’t in Disneyland during the fireworks, so we made sure and got FastPasses for World of Color in California Adventure. It was amazing! World of Color is a show set to music that includes water, lights, lasers, images projected onto water, and even some fire! We were really happy that we were able to experience it!

We really did have such a fantastic time! I already am missing Disneyland and wishing I could plan another trip. *sigh* Next time, we will do a 5-night stay for 3 day park tickets. We really could have used a day off in there to just be lazy and maybe swim in the pool at the hotel. My kids were really tired on our third day. We drove home after our last day in the park and it was not a very fun drive since we were soooo exhausted (and remember, I can’t sleep in the car… it was torturous). Next time we will be sure to get a full night of rest before driving home!

 

My daughter is still talking about our trip. I’m grateful we were able to make this trip happen!