Christmas decor (and sneak peek house tour!)

I’m excited to be participating in The Nester’s Christmas Tour of Homes!  I haven’t really shown any pictures of our new house yet because I wanted to get some decorations up.  Well, I still don’t have curtains in most rooms, pictures on the wall, or even all the furniture I want, so still no full house tour yet, but I do have our Christmas decorations up and I want to show you those.

(P.S. If you want to see my home apartment tour from last year, check it out here)

So, step into our home.  Enjoy the Christmas music and this cup of hot chocolate I made you…I mean, turn on Pandora to a Christmas station and make yourself a cup of hot chocolate, and take a virtual peek into our home :).

living roomAs you walk in the front door you’ll see our living room.  This is the main area that I decorate for Christmas.

tulle and lightsI used the all-inspiring Pinterest for many of my Christmas decorations this year…including my tulle and lights.  I just cut strips of tulle and tied them in between the lights on a strand of white lights.  This would be beautiful on a mantle but we don’t have a mantle so…the sofa table it is.

Christmas treeI already showed you all the details of our Christmas tree, but here it is again.

garland 1This garland I made it probably my favorite Christmas decoration this year.  It was super easy to do (another Pinterest find), I cut circles of various sizes out of Christmas-y scrapbook paper, and sewed them together into a long strand.  An easy and cheap way to add some Christmas pretties!  It can be done in any color combination too…so I’m definitely going to be using this for other holidays and events!

pie safeI used some of the extra branches from our Christmas tree and my Merry Christmas blocks to decorate the top of the pie safe.

stockingsThe stockings were hung on the barstools with care…

Christmas cardsI used a similar method to last year and hung the Christmas cards with clothespins.  I’d love to make a cute Christmas card display thing that I can use year to year, but so far that hasn’t happened so twine and clothespins are working for us right now.

Christmas countdownWe have this funny little alcove in the living room next to the bathroom, and this bookcase fits just perfectly.  I’m using it to hold Michael’s Christmas Countdown bags.

Willow Tree nativityMy Willow Tree nativity is on top.

tablescapeIn the dining room we have a centerpiece (see more about how I made it here) on the table.

china cabinetAnd the china cabinet hold Michael’s collection of Santa’s that he had from when he was little.

Michael's tree

And then finally in our bedroom, we have Michael’s little Christmas tree.

A few simple decorations this year, nothing huge since we just moved in, but still beautiful and festive and very us.

Merry Christmas!

simple Christmas table decorations

Since we still don’t even have the “normal” (aka year round) decorations up in our new house, I haven’t been super concerned about elaborate Christmas decorations.  On the other hand, since we finally have space to actually decorate, I have been wanting to do a bit more than I’ve done in the past.  I’m trying not to go crazy and buy a ton of stuff just yet, so instead I’ve been trying to shop the house and decorate with things we already have and/or make homemade decorations.

This weekend I pulled together a little centerpiece for our dining room table.

I used all items that I had around the house to make this red and white, burlap and twine tablescape.  I also think this would be a beautiful mantle decoration….we just don’t have a mantle so I had to settle for putting it on the table.

I gathered several mason jars in blue and clear and filled them with the extra branches that Michael cut off our Christmas tree.  I also gathered all the white and red candles I could find in our house.

I wrapped burlap, “regular” brown twine, and red and white baker’s twine around some of the candles and jars.

(Psst…did you know baker’s twine is all the rage this year?  Well it is and if you haven’t jumped on that bandwagon, you might want to grab you some.  I got mine from Pick Your Plum – I love how the red and white looks like candy canes!)

I had a ton of little red votive candles so I used some small mason jars and some other glass candle holders, filled them with Epsom salt to look like snow, and nestled the candles in them.

items used: mason jars (already had around the house), tree branches (cut off the bottom of our tree), red and white candles of various sizes (already had), Epsom salt (already had) burlap (left over from another project), twine (also leftover craft supplies), and baker’s twine (more general purpose craft items

Total cost: $0.00 since I didn’t buy anything especially for this centerpiece.

I think I might also like to put the centerpiece on a tray or a table runner to anchor it a bit.  I though a green piece of fabric or a pretty silver tray might be beautiful, but I didn’t have any on hand and didn’t want to make a special trip or purchase, so this is what we’ve got (for now, at least).

I just love the smell of the branches and the glow of the candles!

favorite holiday recipes

Along with the upcoming holidays comes lots and lots of eating.  If you’re like me, every time you turn around you are taking food somewhere for a party.  To try to help you get ready, here are some of my favorite (and most are very simple) recipes to make at the holidays.

Better than Cinnabon cinnamon rolls

Once you have these babies you won’t ever want to go back to the store-bought cinnamon rolls in a can.  These take a little bit of prep work, but I promise they are so worth it!  We just had some Sunday morning for Michael’s birthday and they were divine.  These cinnamon rolls would be the perfect Christmas morning breakfast, too.

amazing pumpkin bread

This pumpkin bread is so ridiculously easy to make – just mix up the ingredient, pour in a pan (or muffin tin) and bake.  No kneading or waiting for it to rise.  The recipe makes two big loaves, too, so you get a lot of food for a little work.  Perfect to give as presents, hostess gifts, or to whip up for a brunch.

buffalo chicken dip

This is a definite crowd pleaser.  I get tons of compliments and requests for the recipe when I make this.  It’s yet another easy dish to make and takes just a few minutes to mix together.  One full recipe makes a bunch so you can feed a crowd (I recommend cutting the recipe in half unless you have a huge group coming).

Mexican rice

During the busy holidays it can be hard to find time to cook nutritious meals for your family.  Mexican rice is a great, quick meal that can be whipped up in seconds (although you have to let it cook for 30-45 minutes) and is delicious.

parmesan lemon basil broccoli

If you need to bring a side dish to a holiday dinner, I highly recommend this broccoli.  It is the best broccoli I’ve ever eaten.  Michael and I will polish off one big bunch of broccoli (usually 3 large heads) in one meal when we cook it like that, and will often still want more. It’s that good.

chocolate chip cheesecake dip

This is by far one of the easiest desserts to make (especially if you have a stand mixer) – just throw all the ingredients in a bowl, mix them up, and you’re ready to go.  Then try not to eat this by the spoonfuls out of the bowl…it’s difficult, I know.

eclair cake

Another crowd pleaser, and by far my most loved dessert  (that picture isn’t the best ever…but just trust me that it’s ah-mazing).  I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like this dessert.  This is also another super easy one (that seems to be my type of recipe!) – I made this Sunday morning before church to have for Thanksgiving Sunday lunch and it took all of ten minutes to assemble.

pecan pie brownies

I make these for the first time last Christmas and they were amazing.  I’m not even a pecan pie fan, and I still loved these.  They aren’t quite as quick and easy as some of the other recipes I’ve posted, but they are way good and you should definitely give them a try.

pretzel Rolo turtles

These are all over Pinterest so this probably isn’t anything new for you, but I have to mention them anyway.  I discovered these last Christmas and have made them several times since.  They are super easy (the most time consuming thing is unwrapping the Rolos) and everyone loves them.  All you do is melt Rolos on pretzels and top with a pecan.  I’ve also seen them made with Hershey’s kisses instead of Rolos and M&Ms instead of pecans.  With all the fun Hershey’s kiss flavors out there, you could make all kinds of cool combinations.

This is just a sample of some of my favorite holiday recipes.  To see all the other recipes I love, check out my recipe index.

Linking up to Works for Me Wednesday

Christmas and NYE in Mayfield

We headed to Mayfield this weekend to celebrate one more Christmas – this time with my mom’s side of the family.

Friday night Michael, Riley, and I decorated Christmas cookies

sprinkles galore

beautiful cookies – one of my 2012 “bucket list” items is to learn how to make these cookies.  I’ve helped Mom decorate them for years but I’ve never made the dough, rolled it out, cut out the shapes, or baked them.  These cookies are a big deal in my family so I want to learn how to make them too!

I iced the cookies

Riley and Michael decorated

Saturday morning the whole family came over for a big brunch.  After brunch we visited and played – the kids had this cardboard fort thing to color and play in.

Brendan, Jordan, and Tim played Brendan’s board game

something that really amazed me was how technologically-saavy my little cousins are

they are rockstars with the iPods and iPhones

later that afternoon we opened presents – a wild and crazy event!

as we waited to countdown to New Year’s Eve we played games…

danced…

and did “real magic”

as we neared midnight (or in our case with small children…9 pm) we poured our “midnight drink” (Jackson’s term for sparkling cider)

pretty bubbles

then we counted down to the new year

Sunday after church we ate lunch and visited before heading off to our respective homes.  It was a great weekend spent with lots of family.

Christmas 2011

Grab some hot chocolate and settle in for a recap of our Christmas weekend; complete with only a fraction of the 500 pictures I took with my new camera.

Unfortunately we were both a little sickly this Christmas.  I started getting sick right before we went to Knoxville to celebrate Christmas last Saturday and spent most of the week in bed with a runny nose, killer headache, some nausea, and fatigue.  I finally started feeling better Thursday night.  Then Friday Michael started feeling crummy with an extremely sore throat and runny nose that lasted through Christmas weekend.  However, we were still able to enjoy lots of time with our family and friends.

We kicked off the Christmas festivities on Christmas Eve morning when we did our little Christmas.  We slept late (well sort of, 8ish which is late for us) and then had strawberry muffins for breakfast (and then I had several Reeses trees…).  After breakfast we opened our presents and stockings from each other.

Michael woke up before me so he turned on the lights and set out our presents

getting the very last bag from the Christmas countdown

yep, t-shirt, capris, and fuzzy socks – these are the weird styling outfits I don’t show you on WIWW…at least my socks were Christmasy

That gift I was opening turned out to be…

a new camera!  Michael, my parents, and his parents went in together to buy it for me.

It came with a camera bag that is similar to the cool camera bag that Amanda has

After we opened our presents we got packed up and headed toward Springfield

Michael drove (as usual – what a champ)

and I played with my new toy…

When we got to Springfield Michael went to his dad’s shop to finish up a Christmas present and I went to hang out with Anne and Liz

we took a little walk and enjoyed the mild weather, scenery, and each other’s company

Christmas Eve night we always celebrate Christmas at Michael’s Grandmama’s (his dad’s mom) with his aunt, uncle, and cousins so we headed over there for dinner and presents.

Funny story: After we left Grandmama’s we stopped back by the shop to pick up the present Michael had been working on.  As we were leaving a police car pulled in and blocked us in.  Apparently we looked suspicious but after the officer found out who Michael was and checked his ID he let us go.  Of course the officer that stopped us was the same one who gave me a speeding ticket a few months ago.  I mean, does my old Camry just shout “troublemaker”??  I know, it’s actually really good that they are keeping an eye on things around town but I just get this feeling this guy is out to get me…

Christmas morning we got up early so we could do our presents before church – here are the boys waiting in the kitchen while Mom and Daddy finish breakfast

opening stockings – one of the things in my stocking (which I’m holding in this picture) is a pair of gloves with special tips on the thumb and pointer finger so I can wear gloves and still use my iPhone.  Sweet.

Like I’ve mentioned before, my family likes puzzles.  Brendan gave us a code that we had to solve that would lead us to our presents.  Riley solved it while I was distracted eating biscuits and gravy so I’m not exactly sure what the clue was…

Then Riley gave me a cool puzzle that used cookie cutters to tell a story that told me I was getting…

vouchers for tickets to see the Hunger Games movie in March!

(Brendan looks very interested, doesn’t he?)

Brendan’s present was the coolest one this year.  A while ago he came up with an idea for a new board game (don’t know the specifics, sorry).  He created a practice board on a piece of poster board and the guys played it at Thanksgiving.  At some point he created a design on the computer of what he wanted it to look like (I think, again I’m not sure of the specifics) but anyway, somehow Daddy got a hold of the design and sent it to a friend of his who made it into a real game board.  Daddy then bought some little army men that matched the roles of the figures in the game.  Michael painted the the pieces and Riley made a box with foam in it to store them.  Brendan was really surprised.  Sorry for the really stinky explanation of the game – the short of it was that we (mostly Daddy) turned Brendan’s game idea into the real thing.  Very neat.

Looks so professional

After breakfast and presents we headed to church

I love this picture

Christmas 2011 – Brendan (22), Michael (26), Caitlin (24), Riley (19)

After a yummy lunch of vegetable soup, Riley taught Michael and me how to play Buzzwords so we played for a while with him and Mom

Then Michael read on his Kindle

while Mom, Riley, and I played Rummikub

After that we took a nice, restful nap

Christmas night we went to Michael’s uncle’s house to celebrate with his dad’s extended family

we visited, ate, and played with another one of the funny dancing monkeys from Walgreens – I love these things!

Uncle Kenneth showed off his UT Snuggie and Aunt Squaty’s new scarf

Monday morning (the day after Christmas) we did Christmas with Michael’s parents and brother (and I acted goofy for the camera while we waited for breakfast to finish cooking)

We ate a yummy breakfast and then did presents

The rest of the day was spent laying around, watching tv, reading, blogging, etc.

Finally Monday evening we packed up and headed back to Bowling Green.  Other than being a little sickly we had a fantastic Christmas!

my new camera

I am so so very excited about my Christmas present!  Michael, my parents, and my in-laws went in together and bought me a Canon EOS Rebel T3i for Christmas.  I am incredibly thrilled!  Michael gave it to me to open when we did our Christmas (Christmas Eve morning) and I’ve hardly put it down since.  I’m having a blast playing with it and learning all the cool things it can do.  Fortunately there are tons of tutorials and helpful posts found all over the blogosphere and Pinterest that are helping me learn a lot.

From the time I got my camera Saturday morning to the time we got home Monday night I took almost 500 pictures.  Many of those were the same shot over and over again as I played around with the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, manual focus, and white balance.  Therefore, many of those pictures were bad, but I had fun playing and I did get some that I really liked.  I’ll spare you the 500 but I wanted to record a few of my favorites.  I hope that someday I look back at these and laugh at how amateur they seem…but for now I’m pretty proud of myself.  (Just in case anyone cares…the lens I have is the stock lens that comes with the T3i: 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.5 IS)

not a particularly impressive picture, but it’s the very first one taken with my camera so it’s special

decorative balls at my parents

Mom’s quilt – made by my Mema – on our bed in the guest room

my beautiful hometown

first time trying out the manual focus feature on my lens

messing around with the shutter speed – totally did not know that was going to happen but thought it was really cool (that’s my parent’s Christmas tree)

then Daddy took this by using a slow shutter speed and zooming in and out while taking the picture – super fun

I was a little bummed when I found out that the stock lens that came with my camera didn’t have a low enough aperture to make bokeh, but then I discovered that I could get some by using the manual focus on my lens so I was really happy (my parent’s Christmas tree again)

playing Buzzwords

playing Rummikub

this is not at all a spectacular picture, but I was so excited that I was able to take a picture through glass without it looking all wonky

pecan pie brownies (recipe here)

Michael’s parent’s Christmas tree

love that you can even see the engraving inside Michael’s wedding band (5-23-09 Matt. 5:16)

I am just so stinkin’ excited about my camera.  Get ready for a bajillion and twelve pictures!

Christmas in Knoxville

This past Saturday we celebrated Christmas with my dad’s family in Knoxville.  There was lots of eating, present-opening, and game-playing.

the hubby and me

Biskie and Brendan

My grandma got the three girl cousins these hats and scarves.  I love mine – expect to see them in a What I Wore Wednesday post sometime soon (as soon as it actually gets cold outside!)  I love this picture of us!

For the past several years my Pappaw has created a game for us grandkids to play.  This year my cousin Kendra was in charge of the game and she did a great job!  Each of us were given a Minute to Win it Challenge to complete and it was hilarious doing the challenge as well as watching the rest of the cousins do theirs.

Michael had to stack 3 golf balls on top of each other

I had to hold a popsicle stick in my mouth and stack 6 dice on top of it

Here’s a video of mine

Brendan had to wear a pedometer on his head and shake it 100 times in a minute

Riley had to shake all the ping pong balls out of the tissue box

Kendra did a cup stacking thing

Carmen had to spin around in a circle and unroll a roll of toilet paper

This one was my favorite – TJ had to pick up each bag with his teeth while leaning over but not touching his hands to the floor.  The bags got progressively shorter.  It’s harder than it sounds but he did it!

I had a great time getting to visit with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins!

Christmas card display {Works for Me Wednesday}

Remember the countdown I made for Michael?

As he took bags off I intended to take down the pieces of twine.  But at the same time, Christmas cards starting coming in the mail and a little lightbulb went off in my head.  Why not display the cards on the top of the countdown?  So I bought some clothespins that that’s what I did.

It’s not fancy and it’s not something I will be able to use from year to year like some of the cute card displays like I’ve seen before, but for our small space it’s perfect.  Plus it was cheap and easy and I’d already done all the “work” when I made the countdown.  Score.  And that works for me.

Speaking of Christmas cards, after my Christmas card fail I ordered some cards from Snapfish when I had a 40% off code and a free shipping code so they weren’t too very expensive.  I’m quite happy with how they turned out although I wish I had ordered more because I didn’t have enough to send to everyone I wanted to send one to.  So if you didn’t get one, I’m sorry; next year I will order more.

Linking up to Works for Me Wednesday at We are THAT Family.

a festive mantle

We don’t have a mantle but this week I got to help my Mema decorate her mantle for Christmas.  I don’t really have much experience with this kind of stuff so I was pretty pleased with how it turned out!

As we were getting all the Christmas stuff out of her basement I kept seeing these old toys and books and I thought it would be really cool to do a mantle of vintage toys and things.  We had fun hunting all over her house for some interesting things to display.  It didn’t turn out Christmasy in the traditional sense, but I really like the toys.

Recognize the blocks?  I made a set for Mema so we used those on the mantle, too.  I changed the fonts that I used for Merry and Christmas and I like them a whole lot better than the ones I used the first time.

This mantle is not Christmasy but I wanted to show it off anyway.  This was her mantle from Thanksgiving.  I can’t take credit for it – Mom did this one. (the blocks were’t there at Thanksgiving, I just set them up there yesterday before we took everything down to see what they would look like so they’re covering some of the stuff that should be visible)

I love the greenery? brownery? (the natural stuff Mom gathered from the field), especially this little vignette on the hearth.  Beautiful.

Linking up to

a fun little photoshoot

Mom took a few snapshots of us a few weeks ago so we could try to get a good picture of us for our Christmas card (aka not one where one of has their arm stretched out taking a picture that inevitably shoots up our noses).  Unfortunately Mom’s camera was was doing something funky and the color was off in most of the pictures.  We finally switched to our camera but by then we were losing light so we didn’t get many.  So there aren’t any that are really frame-worthy, but at least we got one to use on our Christmas card (you can read about my DIY Christmas card fail here).

Here are some of my favorites and some of the silly ones:

What you don’t see in this shot is this:

Girlfriend (Mom’s dog) wanted to be in every picture!  I’ve never seen her be like this before – she would run over and it looked like she was just posing there, waiting for the shot.  Hilarious!

this one we chose for the card

This last picture confirms that I should in fact be an extra on Twilight

I’ve got the paleness down pat (I’m blaming it on Mom’s camera, though), just need some sparkles.