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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Old Fashioned Stuffed Peppers

My parents and I have birthdays in the same month. One year for our birthdays, my grandma invited us over for dinner. She served the most comforting, delicious dinner. That was always the case, but I remember this particular meal being so good! This is the recipe from that dinner. Old Fashioned Stuffed Peppers are my favorite. I love the fresh flavors of green peppers and tomatoes with Italian seasonings.  I also think it is easily one of the easiest dinners to make.

You will need:
5 medium green peppers
2 cups cooked rice (2/3 cup raw)
1/2 tea. black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 lb. ground beef
1 can petite diced tomatoes
1 8 oz. cans tomato sauce

Cut tops of peppers off, remove seeds and wash. 

Combine brown ground beef, cooked rice, onion, salt, pepper, seasonings, tomatoes. Pile into peppers in a baking dish. Pour tomato sauce over peppers and cover tightly. Bake at 350 for 60-75 minutes, basting occasionally. Once cooked, allow to cool a bit before serving. Serve with cheese,

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Bakery Quality Chocolate Cake.

There is a VERY distinct difference between a cake made from a box and one purchased at a bakery. You know it and I know it. If given the choice between the two, most of us would choose the bakery cake every time. What if I told you that with a few small tweaks, your cake mix could taste as good or BETTER than a bakery cake? Well, friend, I have the recipe for you! 

This is my go-to recipe for birthdays, church functions, and every time cake is appropriate (and sometimes even when it's not).  I think my favorite part is that the cake mix is added with real, quality ingredients, which makes all the difference in my opinion. I also love the versatility of this recipe. Stick with me through the end of the recipe and I will share a few ways to change it up!

To make this cake you will need:
a box of chocolate cake mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup water
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup butter, room temperature.
1 small box INSTANT chocolate pudding mix

Preheat your oven to 350. Dump the cake mix in my mixer along with the pudding, sour cream, eggs, water, veggie oil, and butter. Pulse it until everything is moist then increase the speed until everything is whipped together--usually about 5 minutes on medium high. Pour batter into a greased and floured baking dished and bake according to cake mix box. Cake is done baking when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Homemade frosting
1 stick butter
1 package powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

cream together butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add milk until frosting reaches the right consistency. 

Have fun with this recipe!
Keep all ingredients the same except the cake mix and pudding!
Red Velvet with Red Velvet pudding mix
Yellow Cake with Vanilla pudding mix
White Cake with White Chocolate pudding mix (with some crushed peppermint sticks! yum!)
Lemon cake with Lemon pudding mix and poppy seeds

Let me know what you come up with!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Cinnamon Caramel Popcorn

Every year my angel of a Mother-in-law makes caramel popcorn balls for the family Christmas Eve Party. They are the soft, gooey, melt in your mouth caramel balls that we devour quickly while they're available and then crave for the rest of the year. I am feeling sad we won't be eating caramel balls with everyone else this year. But that won't stop me from eating them alone. Ha!

This recipe is close to hers, but I added a little twist. While living in Heber, Utah, we would frequently visit the Mrs. Calls candy factory that was nestled there in our beautiful town. We'd sample all the decadent caramels and chocolates before settling on a few to purchase and take home. My favorite is their Cinnamon Sugar caramel. Guys. It is the stuff dreams are made of. There are a few things you can't buy in The South that we totally took for granted living in Utah... and Mrs. Calls Cinnamon Sugar Caramels is one of them. 

So, Today when I whipped up this little batch of chewy caramel balls, I decided to put my love of traditional Christmas Eve caramel balls and Mrs. Calls Cinnamon Sugar Caramels together. It's a winner, friends. The smooth sweetness of caramel swirled with the warmth of cinnamon added to the crunch of freshly popped popcorn--You need this perfection in your life!

To make this treat you will need

3 bags plain popped popcorn
1/2 cup butter (I use salted)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup light Karo syrup
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Pop popcorn, removing any unpopped kernels. Set aside. Melt together butter, brown sugar, Karo syrup. Stir constantly & Bring to a boil. Next, add the sweetened condensed milk and cinnamon. Continue stirring. Gently bring to a gradual boil and continue cooking until caramel reaches "soft ball" stage (235 degrees). Pour caramel over popcorn and mix until well coated. Spread popcorn on a sheet of parchment paper to cool. Form into popcorn balls and wrap in plastic wrap or in baggies. 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Gift ideas for kids ages 0-18

I have searched the wide expanses of the internet and found a unique childrens gift for each age, This is the list I wish I'd had earlier this season when I was buying stuff for all the cousins.  If you're still looking for the perfect gift for your niece or nephew... maybe your still shopping for your own kiddos (I don't judge) This list is for you! Everything is $20 or less, too!

 Newborn to 6 months:

This Wee Gallery Cloth Book

"Little hands will love to explore Wee Gallery Cloth Books, a lovable collection of animals with crinkly ears that heighten babies' senses. The result of a fantastic partnership between Wee Gallery and words & pictures, the beautiful illustrations, bold lines, whimsical animals, and repeating patterns are designed to stimulate visual development in young infants, making this soft cloth book an ideal first gift."

Babies 6 months to 1 year

Tummy Time Mat
  • ENCOURAGE BABY DEVELOPMENT: Tummy time is essential for developing a strong head, neck, and shoulder muscles as well as defining certain motor skills. The Fill ‘N Fun Water Play Mat is the perfect tummy time activity with water and brightly colored friends to entice babies.
  • TAKE THE OCEAN ANYWHERE: With the Fill ‘N Fun Water Play Mat, young ones can experience water fun without even getting wet! Rain or shine, youngsters can have fun in the sun with this brightly colored inflatable play mat that has delightful underwater scenes, fun fish, and a smiley sun painted around the edge.
  • EASY TO USE: Simply fill the inflatable edge of the mat with tap water and kids can have hours of tactile and visual fun! The play mat is made from heavy gauge plastic which resists leaks and tears. It folds flat when the water and air are let out which makes it a great take-along toy that easily fits into a diaper or toy bag.
  • A WORLD OF WONDER: Earlyears, an Epoch Everlasting Play brand, is designed for developing young minds. They boast safe, award-winning, high-quality baby toys that stimulate and develop sensory, motor, cognitive, and social skills. They make toys for any baby from newborns to 12 months and older.
  • PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS: Package contains (1) Earlyears Fill ‘N Fun Water Play Mat for Tummy Time. The play mat includes 6 fun friends starfish, octopus, sea horse, turtle and 2 fish. The play mat is made from heavy gauge plastic which resists leaks and tears. Measures 20" x 17". For ages 3-18 months."

Toddlers 1-2 years

  • 【Soft and Safe Baby Piano】Baby piano are made of soft non-woven fabric, tasteless and non-toxic. Adjust volume protect to baby hearing.
  • 【Multiple Music Modes】Music mat has 5 music mode(monosyllabic, animal voice, melody, animal sing, bit by bit)5 animal (duck, bird, dog, cat, frog)sound.8 song can melody, animal sing and bit by bit mode of your baby playing.
  • 【Educational Musical Instruments Toys】Multiple music modes and rich color, Improving the ability of baby's sounds discrimination and color discrimination, designed in favor of exercise language communication skills, drawing skills. Hand touch and feet kick up to bring to music sound, inspire the toddler crawling, exercise hands and feet coordination skills.
  • 【Music Dancing Games】Enjoy fun practice solo dancing skills or dancing with friends and family during holidays, party and family Together Activity.
  • 【Best Gift Toy for Kids】Dancing mat is an educational musical instruments toys for toddler, best gift choice for 1-4 years old.30-Day Money Back Guarantee, quick response, and friendly customer service.

Toddlers 2-3

  • A wooden magnetic fishing game that builds confidence while it entertains
  • Catch the fish with the magnetic "hook"!
  • Includes working wind-up rod and reel
  • Use as a 2-player game or solo activity
  • Great for hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills

Preschooler age 3-4 

  • A new animal-themed family game
  • Up to eight players can play at a time
  • 30 unique cards with a multitude of symbols to look for
  • Multiple mini-games allow for endless playability
  • Incredibly easy to learn and quick to teach

Kids 4-5 

  • Improve Operational and Creative Ability: The colorful marble run toy set of blocks can improve children’s operation ability, and also helps your children improve creative thinking and problem-solving ability.
  • Interactive Game: Assemble these blocks with your children at home or outdoor playing, it’s wonderful parent-child game, adults, and children together to participate in the most interesting.
  • 130 Pieces Marble Run Set: Includes 52 pipeline connectors, 48 various of shapes run railway and 30 colorful 7/16 inch glass marbles.
  • High Quality: This child building blocks toys set adopts high-quality plastic material, which is durable, sturdy, safe and easy to assemble.
  • Ideal Marble Building Set Gift: Build various tracks and see marbles go up, down, all around, and fast. Perfect marble game toy choice for a birthday gift, children party favor, after-school fun, Christmas presents and all other holidays.

Kids 5-6

Pop Up Play Tunnel
  • Perfect for muscle development, stimulate the imagination for creative playtime
  • Consist of blue, yellow & red is the most popular multi-color tunnel
  • Fast and easy setup and fold by pop-up design, Lightweight and portable with a carry bag
  • Tube Tent Dimension: 19” (Diameter) x 71” (L)
  • POCO DIVO is a registered trademark.

Kids 6-7

Grow and Glow Terrarium
  • GROW YOUR OWN HABITAT: Experience the wonder of nature with the Grow N' Glow Terrarium! This kit allows you to craft, plant, water and grows your own terrarium tabletop garden.
  • COMPLETE KIT: Comes with everything you need for two full plant life cycles! Kit includes plastic mason-style jar, decorative lid, potting mix, organic chia and wheat grass seeds, garden figurines, decorative sand, river stones and a plant mister to keep your terrarium watered.
  • DECORATE YOUR TERRARIUM: Watch your terrarium glow! Add dimension to your terrarium with translucent glow-in-the-dark stickers that light up your terrarium at night!
  • EDUCATIONAL KIT: The perfect STEAM activity that mixes science and art. Create your own eco-system and learn about botany and the life cycle of plants. Your habitat will begin to grow in as little as 3-4 days
  • KID TESTED AND SAFE: Since 1976 Creativity for Kids has proudly created safe, innovative products that meet or exceed U.S. safety standards as determined by independent laboratory testing. Recommended for ages 6 to 96

 Kids 7-8 

  • FUN FAMILY GUESSING GAME: Hedbanz is the fun, fast-paced, easy to play question game of “What am I?” Ask yes or no questions to figure out if the cartoon on your head is an animal, food or man-made object. Be the first player to guess what you are & win!
  • KID-FRIENDLY BOARD GAME: The categories are simple, allowing everyone, even young children, to get in on the family fun. Since you're be racing against the one-minute sand-clock timer, each round moves quickly, ramping up your energy & challenging your wit
  • EDUCATIONAL PLAY FOR KIDS: Kids will flex their deductive reasoning skills with the game's simple question-&-answer premise. By making connections & coming up with questions that will lead to answers, kids also practice creative critical thinking skills.
  • SPIN MASTER GAMES: We offer a wide array of fun & stimulating board games for children, from question games like HedBanz to drawing games like The Cat Game to action games like Croc 'N' Roll, as well as board games for adults like Would You Rather...?

Kids 8-9

  • A fun and easy way to draw
  • Creative Child Magazine, Parents' Choice Approved, and Dr. Toy's Best New Products Awards winner
  • Requires 3 AA batteries (not included)
  • Set includes a projector, 124 slides, 6 markers, 10 sheets of paper and a flip book
  • Recommended for children 6 years of age and older

Kids 9-10 

  • Updated Lite-Brite Ultimate Classic is now brighter than ever with a bigger screen and more pegs! The screen measures 8.125” W x 6.875” H. Includes more than 200 colorful, round, 1" long pegs.
  • Inspires creativity and helps develop fine motor skills & hand-eye coordination!
  • Battery-powered LED bulbs light up the screen 4 different ways for a fun light show of your artwork!
  • Includes 6 design templates designed specifically to fit this screen. If you would like more template choices, please go to Basicfun.com to download more options.
  • Design templates from other Basic Fun Lite-Brite items may not fit ideally with this newly designed screen.

Kids 10-11 

  • BUILD WORKING CIRCUITS Build over 100 different electronic circuit projects with 30+ electronic components
  • SUPPORTS a vigorous STEM / STEAM curriculum
  • NO SOLDERING - NO TOOLS - IT'S A SNAP ~ Snap Modules require no tools and click together to ensure solid electrical connections
  • LEARN BY DOING Build working models of a photosensor, a flashing light, and an adjustable-volume siren. More than 100 exciting projects in all with included 30+ snap together parts
  • DESIGN electrical circuits using the knowledge gained from building over 100 circuits found in the illustrated instruction manual
  • AWARDS ~ Snap Circuits brand kits have received the following awards: The National Parenting Center-Seal of Approval, Dr. Toy 100 Best Children's Products, Dr. Toy Best Educational Products, STEM Approved
  • SNAP CIRCUITS provide students ages 8+ with hands-on experience building models of working electrical circuits
  • CIRCUITSAFE TECHNOLOGY Is only found in Snap Circuits brand electronics education kits. ~ SNAP CIRCUITS, ELECTRONICS EXPLORATION KIT, CIRCUITSAFE, LEARN BY DOING, and ELENCO are trademarks of and copyrighted by Elenco Electronics, Inc.

Kids 11-12 

  • OVER 2 MILLION GAMES SOLD! Challenge your noggin with this best-selling, award-winning, brain-twisting, solo game.
  • OVER 200 NEW PUZZLES! Place the pieces shown—the challenge is deciding where the rest of the pieces go to complete the puzzle.
  • LOGICAL THINKING PUZZLES: From basic to deviously difficult, there are hundreds of possible combinations, but only one correct answer. Perfect for developing problem-solving and strategic thinking skills.
  • INCLUDES 12 puzzle pieces, 200 puzzle challenges in a 48-page illustrated puzzle book, and a carrying case. Perfect for travel.
  • PERFECT FOR EVERYONE from puzzle-loving children to puzzle-master adults. Perfect for developing problem-solving and strategic thinking skills.

Teens 12-13

  • ✔ AWESOME HANDHELD FIDGET CUBE TOY GIFT FOR FIDGETERS – Fidget like a boss. Playable with one hand. Prime fidgeting toy for little children, teens, and adults. Perfect mind puzzle and teasers for girls, boys, women, and men. Pocket-size, so you can bring it to school or to the office. With its discrete and ergonomic style, it’s cool to play with and do a lot of tricks. UPDATE: The rivets are covered for a classier and professional look.
  • ✔ TOP QUALITY MINI FIDGET MATERIALS WITH A SAFETY CERTIFICATE – Composed of eight (8) tough ABS plastic blocks linked together with strong stainless steel metal rivets. Durable and can withstand constant flipping and folding. It has a smooth surface and curved edges that are easy on the hands and light on the wrist and arms. ✔ It has also met and exceeded the ASTM International Toy Safety Standard which guarantees it can be passed on to siblings and friends.
  • ✔ ANTI-ANXIETY AND STRESS RELIEVER STRESS CUBE – A great way to release stress from school and work. Avoid nail biting, knuckle cracking, leg shaking and other fidgeting habits with the use of this gadget. Also, improve your focus while studying, working or brainstorming, simply flip and fold. Relaxing, noiseless and compact tactile sensory never-ending cubes.
  • ✔ ADDICTIVE AND FUN FIDGET DICE GAME FOR KIDS AND ADULTS– Have fun for hours while practicing and improving finger flexibility. Keep your hands and minds busy during class or work. Lessen phone and other technology-induced stress. It’s a wonderful desk accessory, time killer, conversation starter and an everyday carry device. Great office desk accessory when not used or played with.
  • ✔ BEST NEW GADGET IN 2018 WITH A GUARANTEED WARRANTY– Ultimate small toy for all boys, girls, men, and women, school students and office crowds. Caution: not suitable for a kid 3 years old and below, parental guidance for toddlers age 3-7. Give as gifts for birthdays, Christmas and any other holidays, as well as a, get well soon gift. Get a 1 YEAR WARRANTY with 100% Money Back Guarantee, it’s the best deal. Order now.

Teens 13-14

  • Exciting balance game for 1-4 players that will have everyone "hanging" on the edge of their seats
  • Includes 24 game rods, wooden base, 4 frame rods, colored die, and wooden connector
  • Fun to play with a group or even alone
  • Makes a great gift
  • Develops hand-eye coordination, cognitive skills, and interpersonal skills

Teens 14-15

Unstable Unicorns
  • A strategic card game that will destroy your friendships...but in a good way.
  • One of Kickstarter's top 50 most backed projects of all time!
  • Ages 14+
  • 2-8 players
  • Build a unicorn Army. Betray your friends. Unicorns are your friends now.
  • To see the rules online, check out the TeeTurtle website!

Teens 15-16

  • Never Dries Out
  • These new colors are the most incredible development to ever emerge from Crazy Aaron's basement!
  • Although they look their best in direct sunlight, Illusions are specially designed so that even under office lights, the endless color play keeps your eyes guessing and your mind whirling for HOURS and HOURS.
  • Each tin is packed with 1/5 lb of Thinking Putty, an oversized adult handful!
  • Made in the USA.

Teens 16-17

  • 5mm set of 216+3 pcs building magnets. Build and engineer limitless shapes and structures.
  • Creative and hot puzzle for enhancing assembly ability. Improve intelligence and imagination.
  • Suitable for office use, used for creativity and craft decoration on your desktop.
  • Endless combinations. It is up to your patience and creativeness.
  • WARNING: Keep away from all children. AGE 14+ recommendation. Magnet flux index less than 30.

Teens 17-18

Kindness Saturday

Friday, December 7, 2018

Simplifying Christmas

Sometimes I feel like I go overboard with Christmas. I always start early in the year. Sometimes I buy way too much stuff. I just love finding good deals... but more importantly, I love watching my kids open gifts and seeing the joy in their faces. Often times, though, Christmas Eve, after the kids have gone to bed, we spend a good amount of time sorting the gifts into what we'll actually give them for Christmas and what we'll save to give as Birthday presents. I

Not this year, though.This year we are simplifying Christmas. Under the tree Christmas Morning our kids will find something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read, and something to do (an activity to participate in). We will put a few tiny trinkets and treats in their stockings but that is all.

Earlier this season, I asked my kids to give me a list of five things in each category: Want, Need, Wear, Read, Do. After explaining the plan for this year, we told them that we'd choose one thing from each of the five categories, so to give it a lot of thought before giving the list back. They were so sweet as they considered what they'd like, talking with each other and comparing lists. In the end, everyone turned in a simple notecard with simple wishlist items. It was exactly what I had hoped for and made shopping so much easier.

I am really looking forward to watching them open gifts on Christmas morning. What is your gifting tradition?  Are you an early shopper or do you wait until the last minute? Do you bargain shop or do you splurge on hot ticket items? Are you like me and buy way too much, or are you organized with specific lists, like we did this year?

**This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and/or make a purchase, I may receive compensation at no additional cost to you, You can find my full disclosure statement HERE**

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Through The Service of Others He Carried Me

Eleven years ago, after the devastating news that our tiny baby boy growing in my womb had passed away, I fell into a deep, dark place inside myself. I cried. A lot. For about solid 5 days I cried. I would wake in the morning, still wrapped in the fogginess of dreams-- Most often dreams of delivering a perfectly healthy baby boy--things were perfect. I would look lovingly down at my sweet tiny child and believe he was real, that he was really in my arms... then, something would snap me back to reality. I would awaken to find my arms empty and the hollow pit of grief still intact. I would again find myself unable to control my tears. I'd lie in bed and cry all day, trying to wish those sweet dreams into reality to no avail.

The grief of losing my child was overwhelming. It nagged at me relentlessly. I withdrew from friends and family... and from myself. I went into a sort of 'auto-pilot" and I hardly remember anything about the first 2 or three months after. I felt as though I had completely lost myself. I questioned whether the principles I'd had been taught my entire life were true. How could Heavenly Father allow such pain to tear his faithful daughter down??? Why would he want me to feel such pain?

I was so wrapped up in the hurt, I almost missed seeing the good that came of my little angel's short life.

Looking back and trying to remember the first few months after Andrew returned to Heaven are hard for me. I honestly cannot remember much. I do, however, remember the outpouring of service and love from dear friends and family. We had so much love and compassion showered upon us, and so much goodness passed our way. I know without a doubt that the Lord saw fit to humble me and allow me to feel the love and genuine caring of others. He wasn't trying to hurt me. He didn't want to see me stumble and fall. Now, it is clear to see that during my darkest hour, I was not alone. He was there with me. Through the service of others, He carried me. I am so grateful for the loving acts of kindness offered by others in my time of need. I feel so blessed to have had so many Christ-like friends who loved and cared about us. I have learned that a lot can be accomplished in a small act of kindness.

I remember one day in particular... I was unable to pull myself together. I heard my phone chime telling me I had a new text message. The message was from a girl I knew, but not really well. "I've been thinking about you. You'll let me know if you need anything. ANYTHING. Big hug." I was so touched by her simple act of kindness. It had made my day that day. It wasn't much... but it was enough. because of that simple text message, we have become lifelong friends.

Today, I am asking that everyone who has been inspired by Andrew's life pay it forward. Call a friend, share a talent, make cookies for your neighbor, send a text message to someone you've been thinking about. Just let the people you care about know what they mean to you. Any act of kindness will do. It doesn't need to be anything big or fancy. I know from experience a little act of service can go a long way and I have also learned that nothing heals a broken heart or grieving spirit better than offering service unto others.

It's been eleven years since we kissed our tiny, sleeping baby Andrew goodbye. It feels like an eternity has passed... but at the same time, I feel like it happened just yesterday. The wounds have begun to heal and the grief and guilt have long since been replaced with hope and joy in things to come and love for others whom I have served and for those who have served me. I still miss my baby. I think about his sweet little face every day. I look forward to seeing him, hugging him, and telling him how much he means to me. However, I am no longer painfully burdened with the loss. He gives me hope and a feeling of being fully invested in Heaven. We gave up precious time with him now, for something better... an eternity of love and family companionship together in the Celestial Kingdom. I am filled with love for my Heavely Father. I am grateful for the knowledge that we forever sealed as an eternal family.

Happy Birthday, Little Andrew. We love you.

There's a Special Angel in Heaven that is a part of me.
It is not where I wanted him, but where God meant for him to be.
He was here but for a moment, like a nighttime shooting star.
And though he is in Heaven, he isn't very far.
So I send this special message, to the Heavens up above.
Please take care of my Angel, and send him all my love