Christmas Decor on a Dime

I’ll never forget my first Christmas, married and living on my own. I was SO excited to decorate our tiny 750 sq. ft. apartment. I had dreams of a real tree, decked to the hilt and twinkle lights and garland dripping from every surface.

One conversation with my ever finances-consious husband curtailed those dreams rather quickly. It was one of those ‘first year of marriage’ scuffles.

I ended up getting a 3 ft. fake tree from Michael’s with my 40% off coupon and hanging our 3 ‘our first Christmas’ ornaments on it. A strand or two of christmas lights to go around our one window and that was the extent of my Christmas decor that first year.

In the seven years that have passed (has it really been that long!?) I have accumulated, little by little, a few more decorations, but when Christmas gifts take up all of your extra cash, it’s hard to justify spending a ton on decorations.

If you find yourself wanting a little more to deck the halls with, but not a huge budget to do it – here are my favorite inexpensive, but still fabulous, Christmas decorations.

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1) Winter Wonderland and Chalk Printables

I already had the glass apothecary jar, and to be honest, it is one of the best investments I’ve made. I have used it for countless events, and it can be adapted to any season, and any decor. You can do this with Mason jars, but I love the extra room and size of the apothecary jar. The trees and snow are from the Dollar Store and to make this vignette work, you have to keep it simple. My goal with ALL of my Christmas decor is peaceful and magical.

The chalk printable is free and the frame is $0.99 from Ikea. This is probably my favorite decor in the house, and it literally cost me $3.

2) Felt Stockings  

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I was not cool with all of the crazy colored, character stockings for my kids. It HAD to match, but back when I only had one, I didn’t want to spend a fortune on stockings that I may or may not use. So, I bought the cheapest felt stockings I could find (I got 5…just in case) and monogramed them with some simple two tone felt letters. My weapon of choice for sticking these letters on is a glue gun.

It may be simple, but it matches and stays WAY under budget.

3) Cinnamon Ornaments

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We made these last year, and I was so surprised to find that when I took them out this year, the cinnamon smell was still so strong! Mixed with the Christmas Tree smell, it is pure heaven. I love the ornaments because they cost virtually nothing to make, but really add a rustic charm to the tree, and the kids can put them on without me worrying about breakage!

To make these work, you really need to get the red and white bakers twine – or some other simple and stylish string/ribbon.

4) Glittered Vases

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I made these a few years ago, and love them SO MUCH they are actually apart of my year round decor. Adding some fake berries I pulled off a $0.50 garage sale wreath really gives them a holiday touch.

To make these work you HAVE to get the Martha Stewart glitter from Michael’s. I just haven’t found any that compares! Make sure the Modge Podge (or whatever adhesive you use) is painted on evenly and lightly. Too heavy on the glue and it will start to drip and look uneven.

One more tip – HAIR SPRAY. Spray a liberal amount of hair spray on the glitter after it has dried so that the glitter doesn’t come off.

5) Simple Tree SkirtIMG_3297

I have this thing where I wrap all my Christmas gifts in the same theme of wrapping and it’s different each year. I don’t want my tree skirt clashing with my wrapping! (I know, I know) I also wasn’t ready to spend $50 on a tree skirt, so I got some cheap white fabric and I just drape it around the bottom of the tree. It kind of looks like snow and I can put any theme of wrapping on it and it still looks awesome!

6) Stovetop Fragrance

This isn’t really a decoration, but it adds SO much to the holiday feel when your house smells amazing. Burning through Christmas candles at the rate I do can get pricy! This simple stovetop fragrance recipe costs pennies and really fills the house.

– 1 stick of cinnamon
– Whole cloves
– Vanilla extract
– Orange peel

Put these ingredients into a small pot with water and put on the stovetop on low. Keep an eye on it, so the water doesn’t completely evaporate. You can keep adding water and enjoy this potpori for a week or more. IMG_3311

I hope this gives you some ideas on how to add holiday cheer without breaking the bank. May your days be merry and BRIGHT!

On Trying New Things and Blowing Up Comfort Zones

“A comfort zone is a lovely place, but nothing ever grows there.”

I’m not sure who this quote is from, but it’s one of my favorites.

I hate getting out of my comfort zone. I hate the potential of failure and have a fear of the unknown. I get super excited about all things new, up until the point where I have to commit and actually do it. Then all my fears and doubts and reasons why this won’t be GREAT, start to flood in. I love the planning and dreaming and figuring out how to do something, but the ACTUAL doing it, that has always been my downfall.
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Last week my husband, two oldest kids and I went camping. I have been camping all of two times in my entire life, and here I was camping WITH KIDS. It was definitely outside of my comfort zone and I absolutely had thoughts of backing out.
I’m so glad I didn’t.

It was a perfectly cool three days in central florida. Daytime temps in the low 70’s and nights in the low 50’s – just right for a nice fire in which to roast LOTS of marshmallows. We took several long walks on incredibly beautiful trails, and I learned just how much of ‘city kids’ mine are when my daughter told me she wanted to go back because she was scared of the big trees. I also learned just how much of a ‘city girl’ I am when I demanded to go back because a rather large bug flew down my shirt.
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I LOVED having no TV, no computer, no cell phone reception or wifi. It stressed me out a little (sometimes a lot) but to be FULLY present for every moment of the day  – not curious what that notification ‘ding’ I just heard meant, or telling my kids to hold on a second, while I respond to a text – priceless.

It was like a technology cleanse, and felt similar to the 3 Day Refresh food cleanse I did earlier this month. Felt strange, but good.
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Did everything go perfectly? Nope.
Will we do it again? ABSOLUTELY.

Every time I push past my comfort zone, whether it’s something small, like going camping (with like a million friends, and a wal*mart and hotel right down the road) or something big like start my own fitness business and lead a team of women, it makes the next time just a little bit easier. I know that whether it goes great, or everything goes wrong, there is value in every new experience!

I challenge each and every one of you to do something this month you’ve never done before – even if it’s something small like trying a new dish at your favorite restaurant (or maybe even a new restaurant!!) or signing up for a class, just to better yourself, or even something huge, like pursuing a dream of yours and starting a business or ministry.

Blow up your comfort zone!! – be prepared to grow and live this life to the fullest. Processed with VSCOcam with p5 preset

Here are some of my tips for camping with kids:

Mine are 4yrs. and almost 3yrs. old, and here are my *expert* tips from ONE trip (hahaha)

SLEEP:
We put them both on a twin air mattress and got them individual sleeping bags which they LOVED. My kids move around a lot when they sleep, and it was COLD at night (lowest got to 49 degrees), so knowing I could zip them into the warmth of their bag was comforting.

Because we were out all day walking, and doing stuff and no one got naps, the kids went down easy and slept ALL night! They were up early (with the sun) but that’s pretty normal.

FOOD:
We have a portable Webber Q grill, and so that’s what we brought to cook all our meals. in order to have a way to cook eggs and bacon, we got a cast iron skillet and put it on the grill to get hot.  An electric griddle would have been faster and easier, but it was nice to have the option to grill AND saute, and we didn’t have to buy any additional equipment because we already had the grill and skillet. If this is something we do again though, we will probably invest in the electric griddle because it’s smaller to pack and quicker to heat up. Also, boiling water on a grill for our coffee each morning (we have a french press we brought with us) took FOREVER. I think we will also be investing in an electric kettle that boils water in a minute!

I made ‘pizzas’ with english muffins, sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese the first night, because we got in late and needed something quick. The second night was hot dogs (of course) and veggies in aluminum foil packets. The veggies were PERFECT! Definitely something that if you prep ahead of time is super easy (and also more nutritious) and delicious!)

Breakfast was bacon, eggs, and english muffins – toasted on the grill.

For lunch we did grilled cheese with turkey one day and leftovers the next.  I brought apples and also those fruit pouches for the kids. We also did a lot of trail mix and some spiced pecans.

I decided to bring one set of light, plastic plates (not the disposable kind, they came in a ‘picnic’ set that we got as a gift a long time ago – something like this) and regular silverware instead of paper and plastic. It really wasn’t much work to wash everything after each meal, and we didn’t have to worry about all the garbage or running out of anything.

ACTIVITIES:
Between building fires, roasting marshmallows, chatting with friends, taking hikes, cooking and eating food, I felt like we really didn’t need to bring much. We had a frisbee, Uno cards and a book but only ended up throwing the frisbee around for like 5 minutes at the end of the trip. Our kids loved exploring, and we used our imagination to create adventures for ourselves.

When the kids get older, we might bring bikes for longer treks on the trails. If we had more time, we probably would have used the cards and read a little in the book – especially if we were just going as a family, but this particular trip we were with a HUGE group from our church – so there were always people around to chat and share food with.

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I’m REALLY excited about making this a regular thing with our family. I could even see us going to local camp sites (like 45 minutes away) just to get that break of routine and hectic schedule. It’s such an inexpensive getaway, and even though it’s work to get all the supplies together and set everything up – we did it all as a family and that’s what made it special and wonderful.

Caleb Turns 1

IMG_3243Today my baby turns 1.
Sunday we had a party.

I LOVE throwing parties. In fact, for my 30th birthday – my gift to myself is that I get to throw my own party. I love all the details, the menu, the games, the rush you get when it’s an hour until the guest’s arrive and you are racing to get everything just right. I love planning for every contingency and having back up plans – call me crazy, but planning parties is like a sport to me!

Even still, I kept Caleb’s birthday pretty simple – just family and a few simple games. We did a little monster’s theme, because it’s SO CUTE! and Caleb’s birthday is only 2 days before Halloween.

Most of the decor I either made or found at the dollar spot at Target (seriously, what would I do without Target!?). I had fun with this party and the kids LOVED it. From getting to choose their own Monster Balloon (basically just a balloon with a sharpie drawn monster face – seriously simple guys!) to the ‘feed the hungry monster’ game where the kids threw ‘stinky socks’ filled with rice into the monster’s mouth, everything was super simple, but really fun!

Happy Birthday sweet Caleb – you are my little cuddly buddy and I love you more than words – can’t wait to see you grow up and get to know you more and more each day – I think you’re pretty awesome!

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Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

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I was very skeptical to try this incredibly simple, homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte. It couldn’t possibly be this easy and taste this good – I was wrong, and now I just might have to make this every day (or at least a couple times a week!).

Here’s the thing though…it just doesn’t taste the same with any other milk – it HAS to be Vanilla Almond Milk, and you can’t use american coffee – it HAS to be with a shot or two of espresso.

photo 1So, without further ado: Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

1 Cup of Vanilla Almond Milk
1 Tbsp. Pumpkin Puree
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 tsp. Brown Sugar -or- Maple Syrup
1/2 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 or 2 Shots Espresso

Combine all the ingredients (except the espresso) in a pot and heat on medium heat until sufficiently combined and warm. Add espresso – top with whipped cream (optional) and ENJOY!   photo 3 photo 4

Simple Joys

Just a few simple joys I have been savoring lately:

– The way the morning light pours into my home. 

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– Whole wheat toast drizzled with honey.

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– A brand new notebook.

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– The way he lays on me when he’s sleepy.

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My Favorite “21 Day Fix Approved” Dessert

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This is my favorite 21 Day Fix Approved Dessert and it requires NO YELLOWS!

For those of you on the 21 Day Fix, you know how precious the yellows are 🙂

I love, love, love ice cream…especially in the summer, so I was pretty happy when I tried this recipe and didn’t even feel like I was sacrificing one bit!

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Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

1 Purple container of frozen strawberries
.5 container of plain greek yogurt
The juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tsp. honey

Add all these ingredients into a food processor and run until it is a smooth consistency. Enjoy immediately!

If you would like more recipes, tips or meal plans for the 21 Day Fix, visit my website: www.strongertogetherfp.com or follow me on Instagram.

People Watching in Starbucks

– A couple chatting at a table, and by chatting, of course, I mean, she is talking non-stop while he nods and sips his drink.

– A woman reading a newspaper. Reading a newspaper? Yes, I know, but it’s true – the New York Times, and she seems riveted as she eats her multi grain bagel and butter. A cardigan draped over her shoulders – it is a little chilly in here.

– A middle aged man on his laptop, quietly singing along with the music. Every so often he will recognize someone who just walked into the store. He is a friendly man.

As I sit here and enjoy my incredibly sweet salted caramel mocha, I can’t help but think of how wonderful, diverse, and fascinating, people are. Yes, they can be horrible too, but wonderful. They smile, think, talk, read, work, mingle, feel, eat and drink. I just want to take it in, and I think of how many, many people contributed to my experience this morning.

People designed this dark brown leather chair I’m sitting in, and created this delicious drink. People wrote and performed this beautiful music I’m listening to, and someone works hard to keep electricity flowing to this coffee shop.

We all do our little jobs and play our little role and create this amazing world of slightly chilly, Starbucks stores with leather chairs, indie music, and incredibly sweet salted caramel mocha lattes.