Christmas in Review: Recipes, Homemade Ornaments & Toddler Toys

I don’t remember the last time we didn’t have a white Christmas in Wisconsin–years upon years ago. But, this year… you guessed it… no snow. In fact, I unloaded our strategically packed vehicle of over-sized toddler toys (most of which featured wheels) without a coat on and had this moment where I almost convinced myself that it was Spring. I’m not complaining.

Our Christmas Picture--missing Mylo, sadly. Ollie is now 15 months.

Our Christmas Picture–missing Mylo, sadly. Ollie is now 15 months.

Without the snow, we may not have had our typical Christmas ambiance outdoors, but with all of the domesticity I completed and the post holiday mess of toys on my living room floor … indeed, it was Christmas! So let’s recap all of the super crafty, yummy and headache happenings of the 2014 Christmas Season at the Lewis House.

Christmas Recipes

I completed my very first Christmas cookie exchange–and that is going to be an every year must from here on out. For the exchange, I made a few Pinterest finds that were not only fun, but also very festive, easy and way delicious.

  • Pistachio Kisses–My hubs can eat a whole bag of pistachios in one sitting. It’s bananas. So I found this recipe and knew that I had to whip these up. The biggest bonus of these: so simple (with using a Betty Crocker cookie mix) and a nice twist on an old classic.
  • Red Velvet Cutouts + Royal Almond Icing–I used this recipe and adjusted the icing on my own to get the effect and flavor that I was looking for. The recipe was so simple as I was able to make it with most of the ingredients that I already had on hand. I found a star-shaped cutout  and a candy cane for my cookies. The royal cookie icing was the perfect touch, which I mostly eye-balled to the right consistency and added a few drops of almond flavoring that I ordered offline last year. I applied the icing by simply putting it into a plastic bag and snipping the tiniest hole into the corner of the bag. This allowed me to stream the icing into stripes on the candy canes (making a perfect replica of actual candy canes) and drizzling it in “not so perfect” lines on to the stars. These were a huge hit! Not too sweet either–a nice mix up in your cookie assortment.
  • Yule Log with Coffee Buttercream & Chocolate Ganache–I have decided to create a yearly Christmas tradition in that I will make a Yule Log cake. This was my very first year, and I have to say that I knocked it out of the park with this one. You can snag the recipe here.
christmas - yule - log - recipe

Here’s the Yule Log!! Homemade meringue figurines and all.

Our Homemade Tree

This was our very first full-sized tree! So, I really wanted to make it special, yet minimalist. I didn’t have a strong collection of ornaments, and I despise seeing the prices stores charge for the darn things. Instead, I went to Pinterest and found three designs that allowed me to make a tree full of ornaments for a fraction of the price. Check out my pictures to see the close up of our tree. I also added a gold painted “L” to monogram the tree for a nice person touch.

rustic - chic - charming - christmas - tree - ornaments christmas - tree - ornaments - homemadeThe ornaments:

There were a few modifications that I made, of course. I was able to find all of the materials that I needed at Micheals. All of my ornaments complemented my shabby, minimalist, charming tree look–which was also adorned with a cream and gold ribbon alternated up the tree and three strands of white mini tree lights. It gave the perfect amount of glow, without being overdone.

Toddler Toys

I just can’t believe the toys these days–I wish I were a kid again! Ollie got some really great stuff from family and friends. There was one gift in particular that I wanted to dicuss. Grandma Kara was very excited to get Ollie the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe–so on Christmas morning, she unveiled to him the new set of wheels, which of course needed to be assembled. I had the Yule Log to make, and after assembling my fair share of toys, I left this one to grandma. After a few hours and much frustration, Grandma accidentally forgot to put the hubcaps on the front wheels, causing there to be a significant gap that allowed the tire to move excessively on the tubing it was placed on.

I chucked as Grandma (my mother) attempted for about a hour to get the tubing cap (which was hammered on) off, so that she would be able to then put on the missing hubcaps. After watching her struggle, I started to help. We didn’t have any luck. We then took to the internet–maybe there would be some good tips on how to remedy this situation? Grandma found this blog post. We weren’t the only ones with the struggle.

Long story short, the wheels were fixed thanks to some hand family members later on Christmas evening that had proper tools to be able to hold the tires steady as they forcefully pulled off the tubing caps. Just to share, Ollie LOVES his finished coupe.

A few thoughts of mine after this experience and many other assembly experiences:

  1.  Keep in mind that assembling toys is always arduous, and best to be done while the child is not around, as they can become impatient waiting for the finished toy. They can often become involved in the assembly process and could possibly hurt themselves, play with parts, and possibly even lose very important parts.
  2. Do your research and prep on the toy assembly process. Which toys are easy to assemble? What “failures” have other people experienced during assembly? Read the directions completely before you start, so that you can make sense of the process from beginning to end.
  3. Have a glass of wine in hand… trust me.
  4. If you are not one to be patient, nor to adhere to instructions, consider getting your toys at garage sales. (wink)
  5. Lastly, to toy makers–We beg of you… Please consider the mental and physical draining you are placing on families when you require them to assemble toys that are unreasonably difficult and task oriented. You alone have a great deal of control of our sanity in putting together your toys for our children. Thank you!

Thank you for checking into my blog post. I look forward to writing my next blog which will cover my 90 day muffin top stopping challenge. Let the weight lose and getting fit efforts begin!

 

Happy Thanksgiving–Apple Cider Sangria

Happiest and Healthest Thanksgiving Wishes to You!

Today is my very first Thanksgiving of preparing and cooking a meal for my family–my husband, 14 month old son and long-haired dachshund. My first domestic Thanksgiving has always even more significance because it is our first family holiday in our first home that we purchased during the summer. Needless to say, I have been busy “decking the halls” and tackling a few personal touches around the home–which has taken a lot of hands-on effort; including: painting my kitchen cabinets, making homemade ornaments, planning handmade Christmas gifts and concocting signature cocktails & recipes.

I have the fullest intentions of sharing my progress on all of the mentioned undertakings above, and to kick that off, I wanted to share the recipe for the Apple Cider Sangria that I whipped up this morning.

Apple Cider Sangria

grand marnier - cognac - raspberry - peachThis recipe has been adopted from Sally’s Baking Addiction. I have followed the skeleton of this recipe, but more so eye-balled the quantities for the ingredients and substituted the brandy for Grand Marnier‘s limited release of Raspberry Peach Cognac, which I think will give the sangria a pleasantly light, fruity, festive flavor. I am sorry if you cannot find this cognac easily at your liquor store–my husband works with a liquor distributor, and this was a sample that they received. (It’s also delicious with some club soda and a lemon twist.) I would guess that you could infuse typical Grand Marnier to your desired flavor–which could be really fun (and perhaps time consuming).

Here are the ingredients:

  • FullSizeRender (1)2 cups Apple Cider
  • 1.5 cups Orange Juice
  • 8 oz Grand Marnier flavored Cognac
  • 1 bottle Low/Mid-Shelve Red Blend Wine
  • 1 Honey Crisp Apple, cut into cubes (save some for garnish)
  • 1 Orange, cut into cubes (save some for garnish)
  • Club Soda & Ginger Ale, as much as desired to give it the ‘fizz’ you like
  • Lemon Zest
  • 4 Cinnamon Sticks, plus extras for garnish

To prepare…

Combine all of the ingredients, except the club soda, ginger ale and garnishes. I mixed this up hours before dinner, so that the flavors could sit together and intensify.

When you are ready to get your sangria on, grab your favorite holidays glassware, fill them with ice cubes and a few of the garnishes for nice little detail. Pour the sangria into your glass, and top with some of the club soda and/or ginger ale–then voila! Enjoy! If you really want to be fancy, rim your glass with a combination of raw sugar and ground cinnamon (rub an orange around the rim to help the sugar/cinnamon to stick). And remember to always drink responsibly! 

applie cider - sangria - holiday - cocktail

May you all have a fabulous Thanksgiving with those you love!!

How to Make Time for Blogging

10 months since my last blog post… 10 MONTHS? Motherhood. Work life. Adulthood. All of them took over my day to day existence… and my blog has been left completely alone. I would like to start off by saying… I’m sorry, Blog! Please forgive me. And rest assured that I have come up with a few ways of how I will make more time for you. And perhaps give all other bloggers out there a few tips on how they can make time for blogging. 

10 Ways to Make Time for Blogging

Now I must admit that these 10 tips are not ground-breaking… and there’s a chance that all of these brilliant bloggers out there will roll their eyes at me and be like “duh, Kalyn!” But, I had to find some tactics that would work for me–a full-time marketing mother, who commutes an hour to work everyday, cooks dinner at least 4 nights a week, makes darn sure to not miss her late-night television shows, travels way too much on the weekends, who strives to live an active lifestyle, who would rather sit down with her tablet and mess around on Pinterest with a glass of wine (or three) instead of getting on my computer…… I think you get the gist. So here are your 10 points.

1. Document your topics. I’m sure you are working to keep that running list of topics in your mind, but trust me, write all of your genius blog post ideas down. Now, I know you have a smartphone. And pretty much all of these boogers have voice commands these days. In the very least, tell your phone to make a note of the topic or blog title that you’d like to explore writing. Better yet…

2. Record a verbal outline of your blog posts. This is amazing for those work week commutes. When you are deep in thought considering your next blog post, start recording your thoughts and writing points. You’ll find that this will save you a lot of time when you are ready to sit down and bring your post to life. No more scratching your head wondering where you were going with that thought. Now… I am in no way condoning for you to be on your phone while driving–that is bad! Be smart and safe with this one, folks!

3. Blog in bulk. When you finally do have the extra spare time… write write write. Write a week or even a month’s worth of blogs all in one day. Yes, it is tough to dedicate a few hours to this; however, use tips 1 and 2 to assist you and you will find that these blog posts can take shape much faster–allowing you more time to write an extra blog or two.

4. Make blogging a treat. I’m all about treats. I love nothing more than to take a quiet afternoon and go to a coffee shop to treat myself to a chai and an “oh so good for you” pastry. Why not take your laptop with you and knock out a couple of posts? This is something that you can even do during your work lunch.

5. Organize your sources. You may have blog posts that require a little bit of research from time to time. That’s awesome! There’s no better way to learn and reinforce your voice than with some quality content and facts to back up your topics. However, you are best to keep your sources in a nice and clean spreadsheet, so that when you are ready for it, you know exactly where to find it.

6. Blog on the go. Another tip for when you are in the car. Charge up that laptop and take it on those longer car rides. You will be able to get so much accomplished. If you have wireless capabilities, even better! If not, you’ll want to be prepared with your sources and information ahead of time (see point #5). Of course, you’ll want someone else to be driving… (Sorry, I had to poke fun at the obvious.) I am sure that some of you travel for work. Take advantage of that boring plane ride with this one.

7. Keep it short. I have always practiced having short blog posts (less than 800 words); however, I have come across more and more blogging experts that are pushing for the blogs to hit the 1500 word count mark (like whoa?!). For example this blog from Kevan Lee at Buffer App states that 1500 words is the sweet spot. As the blog manager for my employer’s relatively active blog, I have people asking me all the time, “How long should the blog post be?” And I have a super annoying response for that question… “How ever long it needs to be for you to complete your thought or story.” Hubspot features some posts that are only a few paragraphs long, and I personally appreciate those blogs and feel more inclined to give them my fullest attention. Maybe you prefer to feature more images than text. Ultimately, find YOUR sweet spot.

8. Ask for help. I am really bad at this. And I don’t just mean that you should ask your loved one to do the dishes tonight so you can sit down and write. This means you can even ask others to kick off your writing. Do you have family or friends that can help you think of topics or outlines for your upcoming posts? Ask them to help you! There’s no shame in featuring guest bloggers and guest ideas. In fact, this is a huge trend and it is earning novice writers their chance to possibly find their blogging spark.

9. Have a standard format. Michael Hyatt, a blogging and influencing extraordinaire, mentions this idea within his tips for blogging, as well. You have to have a format or a template to help you standardize your posts, you will find that your posts will flow much easier once you have your ideal format. No need to reinvent the wheel with each blog post. Plus, your readers will appreciate your consistency.

10. Acknowledge the fact that you enjoy blogging enough to care about reading this whole blog post. Well, you finished all ten of these points. That means that you really are looking for ways to make time for blogging. You like blogging. You have a purpose for your blogging, and you want to do more of it! Recognize this and owe it to yourself to make that time for something that you enjoy. The power is in your hands to really give yourself the gift of time to blog.

I’m sure there are things in your life that you have to work to make time for–whether that be blogging, watching Real Housewives, mowing your lawn, going to the local fair, cleaning your car, or even spending time with friends and family. We all need a break to do things that we enjoy.

What do you work to make time for? And how do you do it? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Best Meatloaf… On The Planet!

meatloaf - recipe - simplyImage credit to Simply Recipes website.

So I have achieved the goal of implementing meal preparation and planning on the weekends. I can’t lie to you–It took some dedication. But now that I have it going, I live for my time in the kitchen on Saturday and Sunday. I prop Ollie up in his bouncy, throw on some Pandora tunes, and we go to town on our favorite and/or new recipes! Before making the “weekend homemaker” a reality, I thought there was no way I could effectively meal plan to make the week easier. The last thing I want to do after a day at work is make a well-rounded, healthy meal. I would rather sit on my tush and watch some Real Housewives (Bravo Shoutout!). But I have found a system that works for me, and I will be sharing that plan with you. Keep your eyes out for an upcoming blog on “Becoming a Weekend Homemaker.”

One of the recipes that I came across during my meal planning craze and recipe search is this Classic Meatloaf by SimplyRecipes. Not only is it super tasty, but it’s chalk full of veggies… making this meatloaf delicious and HEALTHY! Which is really helping me with my mission to get fit post pregnancy. Continue reading

Getting Fit Post Pregnancy

baby - mommy - new years eve - post pregnancy

Ollie and Me — New Year’s Eve 2013 — Ollie 14 Weeks

Oliver (Ollie) is such a joy! Now 15 weeks old, he is becoming so much stronger and interactive. We keep joking that he is going to have his mommy’s talkative personality–rather than his dad’s patient and quiet demeanor. He is already carrying conversations (in babble, of course), and he loves to tell you about his day. We are so proud–And blessed!

One thing that has taken a back seat the past 3.5 months is my fitness…

The Baby Weight

39 weeks - pregnant - baby bump - weight

At 39 weeks pregnant. Taken about 3 hours before I went into labor.

I gained a whopping 75 lbs with Ollie, and I didn’t even know how that would have been possible at the beginning of my pregnancy. But it happened. With an excessive amount of water weight (my feet were HUGE), I topped off at right around 200 lbs when I entered the hospital to deliver Ollie. Even at my fairly short height of 5’3″, many would say that I didn’t even look like I weighed that much–and I’d have to agree. It was hidden well… but once Ollie arrived and the water weight melted off, I was still left with about 35 lbs to lose. Ugh!! Continue reading

And so it begins…

I have been telling myself for the longest time… “I want to start a blog.”  “I need to start a blog.”  “I have to find time to start my blog.”
And my friends… she’s finally here…
I look forward to sharing my experiences and insights. From the lighthearted post to the thoughtful inner workings of “just being” Kalyn, I hope you find joy and inspiration through what I have to share. I hope to keep things fresh and fun for you. And I welcome ideas, comments and criticisms (just be kind … I can be a Sensitive Sally sometimes).
All the best… and remember… Just be You!