Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Thoughts...

Today, we close the books on 2011.

And what a wonderful year it has been!

A challenging, difficult, but FULL of laughter, lessons learned and lots of love.

We started 2011 with a almost 4-month old.
I was still breastfeeding round the clock and loving every minute of it.

Unlike previous year, I didn't really make any goals or resolutions for 2011 - my primary goal for that year was to try and breastfeed Annie Louise for a full year,
and I'm proud to report that we made it 13 months!

In 2011, I mainly wanted to focus on being the best mother that I could be.

I hope I accomplished that goal.

We worked hard this year, harder than we have ever worked before.

I made the hard decision to go back to work full-time.

We celebrated each passing month with our doodlebug and tried our very best to make a note of her major milestones...
in 2011, we celebrated sitting up on our own, crawling and walking - what a busy year!

We decided we were tired of the way our house looked and made the decision to change things around - pictures of our progress will be coming soon!

And then something BIG happened...our doodlebug turned ONE! (and I have YET to write a post on her 6 months too long ago?)

This year has honestly been the best year of my life -
I have loved watching this little one that B and I created grow into a busy toddler.

When I look back on this year, I don't regret a single thing. There are some things that I want to work on and improve, but for the most part, 2011 was a great year.

We won't be ringing in the New Year any special way tonight, in fact, we'll probably be asleep when that big ball drops.

But you know what?

I wouldn't have it any other way!


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A few favorites from Christmas...

Last Christmas post - I PROMISE!

Here are a few pictures from our Christmas weekend...
these are some of my favorite things we got to do this year with Annie Louise!

We decorated the Candy Cottage!

I bought this for us to decorate on Christmas Eve -
my cousins, Tessa and Tye (9 and 7 years old) ended up
helping me do most of the work!
Can't wait to pull this out for Annie Louise when she gets bigger!

We wore some very cute Christmas outfits!

Annie Louise looked so cute in her Mattie Mae Designs Christmas onesie
with her name on it...
side note - I can't believe how long her hair looks in this picture!

We opened one early present from Santa!

AL got to open a gift from Santa on Christmas Eve at my grandparents' house, and she was so excited! She got this cat that looks so real - it even meows and purrrrs!
We named her "Noel", and she is one of AL's favorite gifts!

We opened our Christmas pajamas on Christmas Eve while
we watched "The Polar Express"!

We sang lots of Christmas carols with mama on Christmas Eve...

We got one last visit from Santa on Christmas morning before
he went back to the North Pole....and did NOT enjoy any of it!

We opened present after present on Christmas morning!

But most of all, we enjoyed spending time together as a family,
remembering the TRUE reason for the season...
a Savior born in a manger to save the souls of mankind!

And what a blessing this Christmas was to our sweet family,
and we can't wait for many more!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A cowgirl & a stroller....2011 Christmas!

Christmas is finished...just like that, it's time to put away all the decorations
and get ready for a NEW year!

This Christmas was the most random holiday for us...but honestly, it was the BEST Christmas I have ever had, too!

Random how, you ask?

Well, let's just say that instead of preparing all the food we had purchased for our Christmas lunch, we all piled into the car and went to IHop!

So completely out of the ordinary for us...but you know what? It was awesome...
no cooking, no cleaning, no dirty dishes.

Just lots of pancakes and syrup.

Annie Louise received waaaaaaaaay too many gifts, and now I'm trying to decide where in the devil I'm going to put all of this stuff.

Thankfully, I have an extra long holiday weekend THIS weekend,
and I have LOTS on my list...including sorting and organizing toys!

Anyways, Annie Louise received a couple of gifts I'm super excited about....

a Bitty Baby and a stroller!
And yes, I only knew it was a matter of time before she tried to get in the stroller!
Needless to say, I have had so much fun watching her push her baby around the house!

And a cowgirl dress up costume...complete with cowgirl boots!!!!!
She was too.stinkin'.adorable when we put this on her.
Then, when she saw herself in the mirror...she just got too excited!
It may have been the highlight of this Christmas!
I know there are going to be lots and lots and lots of dress-up costumes in this girl's future!

I hope you all had a blessed Christmas...whether you spent it going place to place or being lazy at home, I hope it was all you wished for and MORE!

Best wishes for a beautiful NEW YEAR!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Tent.

My sister, or Aunt K, called me a couple of weeks back and told me that she had gotten a Christmas present for Annie Louise.

"Another one?" I asked her...I was already beginning to dread all these Christmas presents.

Where in the devil was I going to put something else?

And then she dropped the ball on me.

"I got her one of those cute pop-up tents that looks like a dollhouse."

Even better.

But let me tell you, this tent has been the BEST $30 Aunt K has ever spent.

After we finished opening presents at my parents' house, we put the tent up, and Annie Louise and my nephew, Grant, just played and played and played in the tent.

They went in and out. And looked out the window. And screamed with pure joy.

Would you please look at their sweet little faces and how much FUN they are having?!

So, long story short, the tent hasn't been so bad.

I guess that's what happens when you have a sacrifice what little square footage you have to fit an indoor tent that supplies hours upon hours of pure joy. You take time out of your busy evening to play "house" even when you have loads of laundry to be done. You give all of yourself, and you don't look back.

To end this post, I guess I should give a thank you to Aunt K for being so fun and loving our sweet girl so much! We love you, Aunt K!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I went way overboard...

With our Christmas wrapping this year, that is!

B and I stayed up super late last Friday night wrapping all of our gifts...I had this grand idea to wrap everything in brown kraft paper, then we would accent all the packages with yarn and ribbon, and I would also cut out the recipient's initial to go on the package in lieu of doing gift tags.

Well, they turned out cute, but DANG, they were tedious.

I think B and I wrapped, ribboned, yarned and labeled for 3+ hours.

Anyways, let the fruits of our labor speak for themselves...

And to show you how they all looked under the tree...

I don't know why we try so hard sometimes......

In other news...I'm working on a post from this past weekend - we had Christmas with all the grandparents and my was SO much fun, but we ended the weekend with a nasty case of hand-foot-mouth disease, and I just haven't had the time or energy to here's hoping it will be up tomorrow! Praying for all the sick babies this week (what is it about the week before Christmas?)...I know there are a lot of tired mamas and daddies out there!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Decorating for Christmas! Come tour our house...

Let me just say that I LOOOOOOOVE to decorate for Christmas.
l-o-v-e, LOVE it!

When I was a little girl, I can remember decorating for Christmas with my mama -
now, she is the master decorator of the season, and she had a method to her madness.
We weren't allowed to just throw the ornaments up anywhere we pleased.
She taught us how to fill in holes, make it look full and more than anything,
how to make a tree look magical.

Just the other day, we were laughing about how she would let us put
ornaments on the tree, and then she would move them to the right spot.

Oh my gosh, I'm my mother.

Anyways, I tend to go crazy at Christmas.
If I could have a tree in every room, I think I would do it.
My poor husband has had to make extra room in our attic...not for baby stuff, but for more Christmas decorations!

And with the so addicting pinterest,
it's so easy to find ideas and make them for your own home!
So many things that I did this year, I found on pinterest!
If you're not on there, you are seriously missing out!

So, I'll give you my tips and advice as we go room by room...

First up, Miss Annie Louise's tiny pink tree!
I bought this tree for $8 at Wal-Mart.
And it already had the lights on it....SCORE!
I put all of her ornaments that she received last year that said
"2010" or "Baby's First Christmas".
Then, I bought a box of little pink ornaments and filled the tree up with them!
I seriously love this tree and all it's specialness!!!

Sweet little porcelin shoes with AL's birth date and measurements.
To this day, I still can't believe I had a 9 pound baby!

I love this adorable ornament from Coton Colors
that my Granny gave AL last precious!

Now, we'll head to the office/playroom!
This is a NEW tree for us, as we totally re-did this room this summer.
I wanted something fun and festive - I mean, hello, it's an orange playroom...
so we went with an all WHITE tree for this room,
and I used all of our decorations that we had previously used in the den!

When people see this tree, they seriously ask me how many ornaments I have on there.
I have NO idea - I know it's a bunch, but that's why it looks so good.
Really, if you want your tree to look full, buy tons and tons of regular balls - in all sorts of colors.

Put all of your nice ornaments on first, then fill in all the holes
(and stick some inside, towards the center of the tree).
This will make it look full and fun!

I love pulling out all of these ornaments and remembering when I bought them,
who gave them to me, sentimental!

Also, the topper of this tree is usually a topic of discussion -
most of the time, I'll do the topper first (I get lots of long, sparkly, dangly picks)
- just stick them in the top - there's no rhyme or reason!
If you do it first, it's so much easier, and you're not knocking off ornaments!

Add Christmas pieces all through your house...even in the bathroom -
your guests will love seeing things in unexpected places!

I got this sweet bird last year at a local shop, and she is just perfect for
AL's funky bird bathroom!

Now, to our den...
since I took all of ornaments that we've always had and
put them on the white tree in the playroom,
I had to come up with something else for our den.

I'm so into burlap/woodland/woodsy things this year,
so that's what we went with for this room!
It was a perfect accent to our pretty neutral + touches of green decor.

I had a strict budget for this room, and I stuck to it!
Most of the ornaments I found at Wal-Mart and Kohl's, and vI'll be on the lookout after Christmas, too, as I have seen tons of woodland theme ornaments,
just can't justify spending that much right now!

I also wanted to make burlap stockings, but never got around to it,
so those are our gigantic felt stockings I made last year!

And here's a closer picture of the tree...this just doesn't do it justice!
It has a really nice "amber" glow"...I am really pleased with it!

Oh, and I made the no-sew ruffle burlap tree skirt, too (fron pinterest)!
I was going to fill in the whole skirt with ruffles,
but by the time I got to the third row, I was DONE!

A picture of our topper made with wired burlap ribbon!

This was a new purchase, too!
I saw this at our Junior League Hollyday Marketplace,
but by the time I got to her booth (I'm on the committee), she had already sold out of them! Thankfully, she got another order in, and I think it's just perfect for our Christmas cards!

I may end up using this for pictures throughout the year!

Our kitchen!
I always run garland, lights and ribbon at the top of our cabinets...
so easy, and it always looks so cute in there!

Ornaments and wicker balls hanging from the chandelier
I tried to keep the burlap/twine feel into the kitchen since it connects with the den.

A rag wreath my girlfriends and I made a craft night I hosted back in November.
Seriously, look up rag wreaths on wouldn't believe how easy these were!
Tedious, but easy!

Also, add some Christmas ribbon to pieces you already have in your home to
give them a more festive look like we've done with our chicken!

Well, that's it!
I hope you've enjoyed our little "tour" through my house...
and I hope you've picked up a few tips and tricks for your own holiday decorating!

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Starting Christmas traditions!

I always dreamt (pre-baby) that I would have all of these elaborate
traditions when I had kids.

Dreams of perfect pictures, adorable crafts and lots of
Christmas fun always filled my head.

And to be honest, I still have those dreams.

BUT.....Y'all, I have a confession to make...I really don't remember Christmas last year. I had a newborn baby, and I was doing well if I actually got a shower. My days were filled with hour-long nursing sessions, lots of baby coos and kisses and sweet newborn lovin'. I can't believe I actually got my Christmas tree up in the state I was in.

There's no way I could have started any traditions, let alone make a statement that made sense, last year. So, we decided to start with a clean slate this year.

Annie Louise is still a wee too young for many things,
but we have definitely have some ideas...

Like our "Aunts and SheShe" Christmas party - I for sure think that will become a tradition for years to come - my hope is that all my future nieces and nephews will come, too, and we can have a grand ole time!

We made these salt dough ornaments with AL at our party...they were so easy to make, and I am going to try my hardest to make some sort of "handprint" ornament each year.

Salt Dough Ornaments
4 cups of flour
1 cup of salt
Add water slowly until it has a dough-like consistency

Roll out flat with a rolling pin and make into the shape you want for each handprint (we did circles). Press handprint down into dough to make an impression. Use a straw to make a hole for some ribbon. Bake for an hour or so at 150 degrees or leave out to dry for 24+ hours. You can put a coat of paint on them to add a special touch.
Make sure you right the child's name and date on the back!

Another tradition starter...I purchased a pad of artist's paper to make a print for us to frame and hang up each Christmas. I just brushed a little bit of finger paint onto mine, B's and AL's thumbs and made thumbprints scattered around the page. Then I used a black paint pen to "connect" all the thumbprints and outlined each one so that they looked like Christmas bulbs.

Cute, huh?!

I plan on doing a different print each year, and then I hope to have a
whole collage of prints at Christmas!

So, no matter what your traditions - be it opening pajamas, reading the Christmas story or going caroling...make it YOURS! It's those little things that our children will always remember...and hopefully remember with a smile on their little faces!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Made with love...

Handmade and homemade presents are so sweet.
I love getting a gift that someone put a lot of their time and effort and talents into -
it makes the gift all the more special.

And I LOVE to make presents for people.
I wish I had all the time in the world so that I could make all sorts of cute gifts for all the
family members in my family.

But alas, I must take care of our baby girl, work a full-time job and clean and do laundry and the list goes on and on....

But I did decide sometime after Thanksgiving that I was going to make something special for all the kids in Annie Louise's Wee School* class.
*Wee School is a Mother's Day Out program at a local church - AL goes 2 days a week.

There are 7 kiddos in AL's class - 8 if you count AL.
6 girls and 2 boys - wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall!??

So, I wanted something that was gender-neutral for the most part.
And inexpensive.
And cute, of course!

My mom and I had made these precious fleece scarves before, and I thought they would be the cutest gift for all AL's little friends.

They were so easy to make (no sewing - just get some fleece, cut into strips, cut "fringe" on the end, and you're good to go!), and I thought they turned out so cute!

My only regret is that I didn't go with AL to school and take a picture of all those sweet babies with their scarves on!

We got really creative and added initial appliques although you could just make fun scarves in various colors and patterns - have you ever checked out your local fabric store to see the entire selection of fleece? The selection is amazing...especially right now!

An easy way to really add a special handmade touch to your gifts is
to make your own packaging!

Again, another easy and fun project...and you know all those kiddos loved
having their own snowman bag!

For this project, I just used small white gift bags.

We cut black circles for the eyes and mouth and orange triangles for the noses.

Then, we cut a band of fun, festive paper for the scarf.

Next, we cut another smaller band of the same paper and cut it up
on the end to look like fringe.

We glued all the pieces onto the front of the bag and wrote each child's name
on the back with a message from Annie Louise.

Aren't these guys just the cutest?!

Long story short, it doesn't have to take a lot of time or money or energy to make a special gift...besides, it's the thought that counts, right?

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Baking with LeeLee!

What is it about the Christmas season that makes us all want to pull out our hand-mixers, stir up some fun (and chocolate!) and get to baking?

I don't know why, but I am a baking fool during this time of year!

So, if you have been reading Life with LeeLee and B, you know that I just recently had a small get together for my sisters and sister-in-law and my mother.

You can read alllllllllllll about it HERE.

Now that we're caught up, we had some yummy desserts at our little shin-dig. And these desserts weren't just yummy...they were easy, too.

Easy as pie...get it?!

Here's a pic so you can see all the your mouth watering yet?

Anyways, our menu consisted of the following:

Peppermint Chocolate Chunk Cookies
- read HERE for that recipe. And YES, they were amazing.

Chocolate cake with candy cane icing
- super easy...just bake a plain, ole chocolate box cake. Then, add some peppermint extract to your vanilla icing. Put your icing on your cake like normal. Crunch up a bunch of candy canes (I used a meat mallet for this) and cover your entire cake with it. Super easy and looks almost too pretty to eat!

Peanut butter brownie bites
- again, an easy one. Mix up a regular box of brownie mix and pour into a mini muffin pan. I'm not sure how long I let them cook, but you don't want them to get too can put a toothpick in the center, and if some batter is still on it when you pull it out, they're good to go. You want them a little mush-y in the middle. Don't take them out of the pan. Let the centers fall a little bit - I also used the back of a spoon to make a little "hole." Melt 3/4 cup of peanut butter for 45 seconds. Spoon some of the peanut butter in the center and top with peanut butter and chocolate chips. Let them cool in the pan. TO.DIE.FOR. I'm STILL eating these, and they are so good! (I found the recipe HERE for these)

Cake batter truffles
- I made these the night before, and they were perfect the next day! Recipe below...(I found the recipe HERE for these)
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup white sugar
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup yellow cake mix
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
3-4 Tablespoons milk
2 Tablespoons sprinkles

Truffle Coating:
16 ounces (8 squares) almond bark (or white candy melts)

Beat together butter and sugar using an electric mixer until combined. Blend in vanilla. Add cake mix, flour, salt, and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Add 3 Tablespoons of milk or more if needed to make a dough consistency. Mix in sprinkles by hand. Roll dough into one inch balls and place on a parchment or wax paper lined cookie sheet. Chill balls in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm up. 

While dough balls are chilling, melt almond bark in the microwave in 30 second intervals until melted. Stir between intervals. Using a fork, dip truffles into almond bark and shake of excess bark by tapping the bottom of the fork on the side of your bowl. Place truffle back on the cookie sheet and top with sprinkles. Repeat with remaining balls until finished.

Chill cake batter truffles in the refrigerator until serving. Makes around 24-30 truffles.

Everything we had was so yummy! The thing I loved about most of the recipes was that I could do a lot of the prep work the night before - which is super helpful when you are a busy hostess! I even had enough time before this party to take a nice shower and take my time getting ready...that was a FIRST for me!

I hope you have enjoyed reading about our easy AND fun recipes...if you try them, let me know how they turned out for you!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

'Tis the entertain!

Who doesn't LOVE a good party?!

Well, I love being the guest AND the host! I love having people over to my house...especially during the holidays! Everyone's homes feel so warm and cozy, plus I love to get together with those that are truly special to me during this time!

Annie Louise (my 15-month old daughter) and I hosted our first annual (yes, we hope to make this a tradition) "Aunts and SheShe" Christmas party.
Pssst...SheShe is my mom's grandmother name.

Below are some pictures, as well as some of my tips for hosting your own party!

When entertaining, I try to think small. Yes, it's fun to have those great, big ole parties, but when you have kids and it's a generally busy time of the year, you will have more fun and you won't stress out so much if you do something more intimate.
Plus, you can really do it up for a small guest list!

First step is to send out invitations! And who doesn't love a cute invitation?

We always try to purchase things locally and support our neighbors, so we use
The Write Impression for all things paper - invitations, thank you notes, stickers, Christmas cards, everything!

Below is a picture of the invitation we used for our party - we wanted something fun and cute! Remember, your invitation always sets the tone for your party!

Decorating for Christmas parties is so much easier because you already have most of the decorating done! We set up in the kitchen at our house, so I decorated around pieces we already this antique cupboard we have!
Add some Christmas bows and a small wreath, and you're good to go! Hang some ornaments from your chandelier to add another special festive!

Here's the start of the dessert "station - we purchased some inexpensive melamine plates from Target - these will be great to have on hand for future parties!

Here's a wide angle shot, so you can see it all together!

For the menu, we decided to do just desserts, as our party was in the afternoon.
We had peanut brownie bites, sugar cookies with icing and sprinkles, cake batter truffles, peppermint chocolate chunk cookies and chocolate cake with candy cane icing.
When planning your menu, stay with your theme (and your budget) and try to prepare early! The last thing you want to do is get stressed out right before your guests arrive!
We were able to prepare a lot of this the night before, which was a HUGE help!

We also had a hot chocolate bar, which seems to be very popular right now! We bought cute, inexpensive mugs and had all the fixins! We have a Keurig, so I bought hot chocolate, cider and coffee K-cups - we also had little marshamallows, candy canes and whip cream! Everyone enjoyed this, and I'm thinking about keeping it all out for us to
enjoy for the rest of the Christmas season!

We made these cute stackable marshmallow snowmen for decorations (or to eat!)...just take a lollipop stick (can be found in the cake decorating section of any hobby store), stack 3 marshmallows, add a face with gel icing and use pretzel sticks for the arms!
So easy and SO cute!

Besides just enjoying the company of our guests, we also had an activity!
All of my family members always ask for ornaments and paintings with Annie Louise's handprints. Well, anyone with a toddler knows that it's nearly impossible to make those by yourself. Since we had the extra hands, we made all sorts of fun crafts and everyone got to take one home to enjoy!

Here we are making handprint pieces of art...

and ornaments...

and we even made salt dough ornaments!

But more than anything, I'm glad that I got to spend some much needed time with some pretty important women in my life! And that's what the Christmas season is ALL about!

Thanks for visiting my blog...come back this week, and I'll show you how to make the salt dough ornaments and some of the yummy desserts we had!

Merry Christmas!