Holiday Decorating: Christmas Mantel

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Happy Holidays!!  I could not wait to start my holiday decorating this year.  Immediately after Thanksgiving I was ready to break out the Christmas boxes and get to decorating, starting with our Christmas mantel.  I don’t know if it is just the fact that I love Christmas or being in our home for the first year, but I was so happy to be decorating for the season.

Holiday mantel stockings

With the freshly painted walls and mantel (more on that here and here), I kept the mantel pretty simple.  First thing I did was dig through the box to see what we were working with.  I had the ornament swag that I made last year for our faux bookshelf mantel.  It was a bit short for the new mantel, but by placing it in the middle and adding a candle to each end, it actually looks pretty good.  And at no cost I gotta love that!  Maybe in a future year I will buy more ornaments and make a longer, dramatic swag.

Snowflake wreath holiday mantel

We still had the stockings from Target last year (Wez & Augie are going to share), but I had two stocking hangers from dollar tree that are hideous.  So after browsing the aisle of Target, we settled on getting 3 unique stocking hangers, the star, the tree and my favorite, the silver deer.  At $10 each, they make the mantel a lot more sophisticated.

Silver reindeer stocking holder

Next up, I did a quick DIY project and made a snowflake wreath for above the mantel.  I will share the tutorial soon.  It only took about 45 minutes to whip up and I love the contrast of stark white on the deep navy walls.

Holiday festive mantel

So there you have it!  Our first real Christmas mantel.  Now to finish decorating the tree, getting up a few more outside lights and enjoying the season :)  After that is is back to finishing the house, like maybe adding curtains to those poor bare windows around the fireplace.

Holiday decorating and festive mantel

Check out more awesome holiday mantels at the Holiday Cheer Link party with Our Fifth House & Ten June and the Holiday Party at Thrifty Decor Chick.

Holiday Tablescape: Holly & Candlelight

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Thanksgiving it officially in the rear view mirror and it is time to think about Christmas! Alex hates when Christmas encroaches on Thanksgiving, so I make a point to wait as patiently as I can to start the decorating, and with Thanksgiving being so late this year it was a challenge.  So, I have not done my decorating yet, but I had a tablescape for holiday entertaining from last year that I never got around sharing so I figured better late than never! After making this holly wreath for our door last year and having it fall off the door 15 times, I started thinking about what we could do with it indoors instead.  That is when I realized it was the perfect size to fit around our large candle to dress up the table.

Holly Wreath Table Centerpiece

It almost looks like I planned it right?  Amazing when it all comes together and works out. With the few extra sprigs, I continued the holly theme along the length of the table as well.  I also used my beautiful new gold and silver place mats from Cost Plus World Market and did a quick project of making chalkboard holiday wine glasses.

DIY Christmas Chalkboard Glass Tutorial

Simple, easy and festive!

Holiday tablescape with a holly wreath

And it looked great with the overhead light turned off so we could dine by candle light only.

Holly Wreath as a Table Centerpiece

Now to decide on this year’s decorations and get started sprucing up our new home for the holidays!  I can’t wait to start sharing a few fun and simple holiday decorations over he next few weeks.  Plus a few more posts of the rooms changing colors as we finish up painting our house too!

Holiday Tablescape

Looking for some affordable holiday decor items?  I tend to have good luck at Work Market. And if you are shopping around on Cyber Monday, you could get a great deal…20% OFF EVERYTHING!  Use the link below :)

I am linked up to the Dare to DIY link party.


Holiday Traditions: Dill Dip Recipe

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Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! There are some things in life that will always make me giddy with excitement, and one of those is our family’s dill dip recipe.  It is so simple, but one of those things that we only make around the holidays for some reason.  Imagine me doing the food dance in the kitchen while eating an entire bowl of this to myself.  That is probably what I am doing right now as you are reading this, because this dill dip recipe is seriously that good.

Dill Dip Holiday Recipe

Not only delicious, but ridiculously easy too.


  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 3 tablespoons minced onion flakes
  • 3 teaspoons dried dill weed
  • 3 teaspoons beau monde

Dill Dip Holiday Recipe Ingredients

Mix all the ingredient together in a large bowl.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Trust me, the dip is better once chilled so that the dried herbs are not crunchy.  Serve with your choice of veggies, cracker or bread.  I prefer carrots, celery and bell pepper as my dipping weapons of choice.  I am so excited for the Holidays can can’t wait to be gorging on all the amazing food.  Wishing you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving :)

Pre Black Friday Old Navy

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I just had to share my experience of going to Old Navy 2 days ago.  This is not a sponsored post, I just was so excited about all my loot that I wanted to let everyone know.  I had been eyeballing the light grey peacoat for a while and decided I would swing by after work and finally get it, so that I could wear it on our upcoming trip to SF.  Little did I know the deals they were offering….

Old Navy Black Friday

Leggings / Tank Tops (all 3 colors) / Boyfriend Cardi (both colors) / Light Grey PeacoatColor Block Dress / Scarf / V-neck Sweater Dress / Coral Blouse / Dark Grey Coat

I was able to get all of the items above for under $170!! Crazy right?!?!  Old Navy is having their Pre Black Friday sale going on until 4pm tomorrow (Thanksgiving day), offering up to 40% off everything.  So with the 40% discount and opening a card for another 15% discount I was able to walk away with multiple outfits for the holiday season for a steal, including two great jackets.  Amazing!  And I already wore one of the new outfits to work yesterday, pairing the leggings with the coral tank top and beige cardigan.  Add to that the cute scarf and my favorite black boots and it was a great winter outfit!  Thanks for the great deals Old Navy!

Smoked Fontina & Chive Challah Bread Recipe

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Who here does not love homemade bread?  I mean, come on, fresh warm bread from the oven!! There are not many things in the world that can compare.  This will be the first year in a while that I will not be making my cheese and chive Challah bread for Thanksgiving, so I want to remember years past by sharing this delightful recipe from Cooking Light.

Homemade Challah Bread Recipe


  • 1 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 4 large eggs (1 reserved for later)
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded smoked fontina cheese (or you can use Gruyère)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh chives
  • 2 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Fontina & Chive Challah Bread Recipe

Warm milk to 100-110 degrees.  I used my digital thermometer to make sure the temperature was just right.

Tips for making challah bread

In a small bowl, combine the warm milk, sugar and yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes.  The mixture should get nice and bubbly (as seen in the second pic).

Yeast for making bread

Add to this mixture your melted butter, salt, 5 egg yolks, and 3 eggs.  Stir.  Next add your fontina cheese and chives, stirring again to combine.

Homemade Challah Bread

Next, measure in 2 1/4 cups bread flour and 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour.  Stir until it becomes a sticky dough.

Cheese & Chive Challah Bread Recipe

Place dough on a lightly floured surface (I used by pastry sheet). Knead until smooth and elastic, while adding remaining 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. This helps to prevent dough from sticking to your hands while you knead it out.

Making braided bread from scratch

Placed dough into a bowl coated with cooking spray.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (approximately 85 degrees and free from drafts) for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

Making Challah Bread

Punch down dough; cover and let rise another 50 minutes or until doubled in size again. I ended up having to switch out bowls because my red bowl was too small to allow the dough to double again.

How to make Challah Bread

You can check if the dough has risen enough by gently pressing two fingers into it. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.

How to make challah bread from scratch

Divide dough into 6 equal portions.

Fontina & Chive Challah Bread

Roll each portion into a rope of about 15 inches in length.

How to make braided breads

Lay three ropes side by side.   Pinch one end together and braid ropes. Pinch the other end together, and tuck both ends under the loaf.

Making braided challah bread

Repeat with the remaining 3 ropes so that you have two loaves of bread dough.  Next, place loaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper; coat each with cooking spray. Cover and let rise 30 minutes or until doubled in size as seen below.

Making Cheese & Chive Challah Bread

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 egg and 2 tablespoons water. Brush loaves with egg mixture and sprinkle evenly with grated Parmesan cheese.

Making braided bread

Homemade Yummy Challah Bread

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Fontina & Chive Homemade Challah Bread Recipe

Remove from baking sheet, cool on a wire rack, slice and enjoy!  Writing this makes me sad that it is probably not happening this year.  Maybe I can try to squeeze in some Wednesday night baking in time?  I am so looking forward to Thanksgiving, and thankful for this amazing Challah bread recipe!!

Yummy Cheese & Chive Challah Bread Recipe

Making a Vacation Memory Christmas Ornament

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Being that I bought a few boxes of clear ornaments on sale last year, I decided to get crafty and make a DIY memory Christmas ornament. I love the idea of memorializing a trip we took and incorporating it into the holiday season.

Using sand from a vacation for a Christmas ornament

All that you will need for this project is a glass ball ornament, paint (I had both glass paint and puffy paint, but ended up only using the puffy paint on this one) and your memory item that you plan on putting inside the ornament.

diy christmas ornament

For me, the memory item was sand and shells collected from the beach in Maui just outside our condo during our Honeymoon.  I even found that great 1/2 a coconut on the beach and used it to keep the sand in on the way home inside a Ziploc bag.  Someday I will find a used for the coconut too.

Using sand for a Christmas ornament

To start off with this project I needed a funnel.  Unfortunately I do not have one so I grabbed some tin foil and made a quick and dirty version to help get the sand into the ornament.

Vacation Christmas Ornament

Once the majority of the sand was funneled in, I grabbed a few of the larger shells that could still fit and topped it off.

diy christmas ornaments

The last steps were to put the ornament topper back on and use my paint to write “Maui” and “2011” onto the ornament.

Using sand from a vacation for Christmas ornament

Once dry I simply tied on a ribbon for a festive look and hung the ornament on my tree.  I did this at the end of Christmas season last year, but never got around to sharing the tutorial. Alex & I wait until after Thanksgiving each year to decorate for Christmas, so no this is not our tree this year yet.  There you have it, a simple and unique way to take a walk down memory lane and decorate for the holidays.

how to make a memory Christmas ornament

Decorating for Halloween

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I am excited for our first Halloween in our new house and for decorating for Halloween!  I did not get to do all the decorations I had in mind, but the few I got done still look pretty good.

Halloween decorations

Spooky webs, spiders and purple lights!

our Halloween decor

The webs we got this year are great because they are made to glow under black lights.  I figured we could change our our porch lights with black light bulbs, but unfortunately they were too weak to glow much :( So we ended up just changing out one for the purple glow and left the main one over the door normal so that the porch is still lit enough.

Halloween decorations for the front porch

Here is a distance shot from the sidewalk including the Trick or Treat sign I made this year (more on that here).

front porch halloween decorations

And one more close up of the sign:

DIY trick or treat sign

Now for my favorite part, the creepy large spider!  I love how the lights on the tree make the webs glow.  I have a huge fear of spiders, so I love the creepiness this guy brings to our yard!

Creepy spider halloween decoration

Unfortunately our pumpkins molded too fast so we already had to throw them away and used un-carved pumpkins to decorate our porch. But, you can see all three of our carved pumpkin designs or check out how to make the best pumpkin seeds in my other posts from last week.  Enjoy all the ghouls and goblins in your life and have a safe Halloween everyone!

Halloween carved pumpkins

Halloween Decorations from Halloween Express

Drunk Pumpkin Seeds

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I found this idea on Pinterest from Copy Cake Cook for drunken pumpkin seeds and had to give them a try!  I love pumpkin seeds and have tried a few different recipes over the years, but never one with Whiskey involved!  Since my hubby’s drink of choice lately has been Old Fashions, I knew we had plenty of Whiskey on hand to give this a try.

pumpkin seeds

To make these all you need is:

  • 1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup whiskey
  • 2 Tablespoon bacon drippings
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • Salt

To start out I washed and dried my pumpkin seeds.  The easiest way to wash the seeds I have found is to flood the bowl they are in and swish them around.  Next use a slotted spoon to sift out the seeds from the pulp.

making roasted pumpkin seeds

I then place the seeds on a paper towel covered cutting board to soak up the excess water.  You can then pat dry to the best of your ability or simply let them sit out for a few hours in a thin layer to air dry.

Making pumpkin seeds

Now on to the drunken-ness!  In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the seeds, whiskey, bacon drippings and brown sugar.  (I was able to get some bacon drippings by planning on Jalapeno Popper Chicken for dinner so that I needed to make bacon.) Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the seeds turn a bit grey from soaking in the liquid. Be careful when breathing in over the pan, because the Whiskey vapors burn!

Whiskey Drunk pumpkin seeds

Drain out any excess cooking liquid and spread the seeds out on a foil lined baking sheet.

Sweet Whiskey Pumpkin Seeds

Sprinkle with salt to taste.  Bake at 275 for about 75-90 minutes crisp and brown.

Roasting delicious pumpkin seeds

They come out a bit sticky and candied from the brown sugar, but harden as they cool.  They have a great flavor and are not really boozing once cooked. Enjoy!

Drunken pumpkin seeds

Looking for a good recipe for classic pumpkin seeds?  Check out how I make easy classic pumpkin seeds here.

Classic Pumpkin Seeds

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There are many different pumpkin seed recipes out there and I have tried quite a few of them myself, from sweet, to savory and even drunken with Whiskey, but my all time favorite is still the simple and classic pumpkin seed.  Each year I look forward to fall and and excuse to carve pumpkins (check out our pumpkins this year), and cooking up their delicious seeds.

To make pumpkin seeds in the oven at home, start with washing and drying your seeds.

making roasted pumpkin seeds

For these classic pumpkin seeds all you need is:

  • 2-3 cups pumpkin seeds
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t Worcestershire sauce
  • Sea Salt

In a microwave safe mug, melt the butter.  Add salt and Worcestershire, stirring to combine.  Pour over the bowl of pumpkin seeds and stir to evenly coat.

Savory simple pumpkin seed recipe

Pour pumpkin seeds into a thin layer on a foil lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle with sea salt to taste.

Basic roasted pumpkin seeds

Bake at 275 for 75-90 minutes or until crisp and browned.  Once cooled, store in an airtight container.  There you have it, the best, classic pumpkin seed recipe.

Simple classic roasted pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin Carving

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I love carving pumpkins!  This year I picked up 3 pumpkins at Safeway for only $3.99 each and got busy working on them.  It was a nice fall day so I had to grab a quick picture of the pre-carved pumpkins in our yard with some nice fall leaves around them.

fall pumpkins

I grabbed a cheap carving kit at the store to have a good scooping spoon and detail knives, along with two bowls from the kitchen; one bowl for pumpkin goop and the for pumpkin seeds.  I LOVE pumpkin seeds and will be sharing a couple recipes later this week.

Carving Pumpkins for Halloween

I opted to open each of my three pumpkins differently to have unique styles on each.  For the first one I opened up, I did a hole through the back of the pumpkin.  This is a great way to maximize carving space on the front.

Cut the back out of the pumpkin instead of the top

For my second pumpkin I opted for the traditional round cut top.

Carving Pumpkins

And for the last one I did a top cut as well, but more decorative and fun with a jagged pattern.

Zig-zag pumpkin top

I was able to get about 3.5-4 cups of pumpkin seeds from the three pumpkins and look forward to baking them up to eat!

pumpkin seeds

Ready for the end results?  Pumpkin number 1, glowing bright at night!  I used a stencil for all three this year to keep it simple.  This one was Alex’s favorite stencil from the batch…the skeleton face pumpkin:

Skull pumpkin

For the number 2 pumpkin I went with a fun twist on the traditional pumpkin face.  I really liked the eyes and little piggy nose.

Spooky face halloween pumpkin

And even cooler glowing at night with the candle shiny through the open mouth.

Spooky face pumpkin

And lastly, for pumpkin number 3 I went with the ghost and boo stencil. This one had a bit more detail and time into it, but it was my favorite of the batch.

Boo Ghost Pumpkin for Halloween

Especially when glowing at night.  I just loved how the candle light shines through and gives depth.

Boo Ghost Pumpkin

The one thing that I hate about carving pumpkins is how quickly they start to deteriorate.  Especially with the weather being pretty warm this year, I knew that there was little to no chance that these bad boys would last until Halloween.

Having fun carving pumpkins

So I decided to try a technique I saw on pinterest to make them last longer.  You can read more about it here, but basically it was dipping the pumpkin in a bath of water and bleach to kill the bacteria.

Preserving cut pumpkins

The remove it from the bath and set upside down to drain out and dry.  Next brush on a coating of vinegar, lemon juice and water to keep it fresh.  Unfortunately I did not find this to work all that great.  Within 2 days they were growing a ton of mold and attracting gnats like crazy, so I had to toss them out.

Saving carved pumpkin

But at least I was able to get a few good pictures before they fell apart. Maybe next year I will opt to carve up a foam pumpkin or two instead and just open up the fresh pumpkins after the holiday for their yummy seeds.

Halloween carved pumpkin

One last shot, and my favorite since you can see the bats on the window behind the pumpkins too.  Now, hopefully tonight I can finish the rest of our porch decorating and share it later this week!

Halloween carved pumpkins