Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Counting Down the Days

I'm ready for Christmas by October 1st every year. There are a lot of things that I force myself to postpone until later, like listening to Christmas music and breaking out the decorations. Thankfully our Christmas advent is not one of those things. After all if you start opening the advent the first of December you actually need to start getting things together in November. 
To make ours I used leftover wedding favor bags, number stamps and some twine. If you don't have mini canvas bags on hand you could use envelopes, baggies, little boxes, etc. One day we'll have a cute little house with a fireplace-- or more than four walls-- and maybe we'll string our advent across it then. For now the back of our front door does the trick!

In each bag is a slip of paper with that day's activity and a piece or two of candy. Another good thing about making this ahead of time is that you quickly forget what activities you've assigned and it becomes a daily surprise! 


Here's how we'll be celebrating this year:


Day 1: Write letters to the troops 

Day 2: Watch "A Christmas Story" *
Day 3: Make peppermint hot chocolate
Day 4: Go to the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage 
 Day 5: Make popcorn + cranberry garland (Gilmore Girls, anyone?)
Day 6: Go to the Alexandria Boat Parade and festivities 
Day 7: Watch "It's a Wonderful Life" *

Day 8: Decorate gingerbread houses

Day 9: Read favorite children's Christmas stories 
Day 10: Make and serve dinner at an ACS Hope Lodge 
Day 11: Have a Family Game Night 
Day 12: Drive around and look at Christmas lights
Day 13: Go ice skating
Day 14: Decorate the Christmas tree 


Day 15:  Do some shopping for Santa
Day 16: Have a treat-making party 
Day 17: Go see the Festival of Lights
Day 18: Deliver treats to friends + neighbors 
Day 19: Make a special Christmas dinner 
Day 20: Watch "Elf" *
Day 21: Write a letter to grandparents 

Day 22: Go out for appetizers (and leave a big tip) 

Day 23: Make dog/reindeer treats
Day 24: Read the Christmas story
*How can I choose just a few Christmas movies?! Other contenders were Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, The Grinch, A Christmas Carol, and Charlie Brown Christmas. And a couple others. 

Last year I made a note to myself to schedule more of the bigger events at the beginning of the month because they become harder to fit in later in the month. That being said I try to keep everything relatively simple and easy, with the exception of a few bigger activities, so that we can follow through each day. And I keep a list separate of the advent in case I need to check back on details.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

8 {cheap} Fall Dates

If there is one thing I know about Fall it's that it's a great time to get out and about! Here are eight free (or almost free) dates that I want to try this season. 



1) Get hooked on a podcast

A couple of months ago we happened upon this great murder mystery program on the radio. It was corny and quirky but ended up being a lot of fun. Normally we love binge watching Netflix so this was a fun and different way to enjoy a story (definitely didn't realize how not accustomed I am to listening- and not also watching- something). So find a fun program or podcast and download it to your phone. I HIGHLY recommend Serial. Make dinner, get comfy, use candles instead of lights, and listen up!


2) Play Tennis

Luke loves tennis and while I'm fiiiine for your average never-plays-tennis-player, I'm a truly rotten student. So our tennis dates always start out as lessons and end in me making completely correctable mistakes because I won't pay attention for more than a few minutes. That being said it's always fun to get out and move a little... plus a fenced in, flat area + a ball = doggie heaven so we let Mabel third wheel it. 


3) Steal an idea from Pinterest

I would guess that just about everyone has a couple of house/ apartment projects in the back of their minds at all times. Dedicate one night to checking one thing off your list! It might be printing and framing a picture that you love or making a birdhouse. You can also give yourselves five minutes on Pinterest and pick one fun and easy craft to tackle together. Whatever the project, set a time limit, go shopping, and hunker down. I know that we'll be working on holiday decor and Christmas gifts this Fall! 


4) Go Camping

Some people make camping out to be a really intense, outdoorsy, big adventure, which we think is funny because our time camping consists primarily of eating and sitting with a little walking and hiking on the side. We splurge on some favorite snacks, make a few meals in advance (like these tin foil dinners) and head out. There's nothing better than waking up outdoors on a crisp fall morning, making a fire and eating leftover s'mores for breakfast. If you don't have camping gear check local list serves or craigslist for loaners. (Alternative: camp out in the living room! Make a fort and cook s'mores over the stove).   


5) Supersize Your Game Night

Game night normally means board games at our house so I really like the idea of switching it up and incorporating a few other games. Pick one board game, one computer game and one video game.   Keep a running total throughout the night and get competitive! (Or don't if your husband is like mine and wins 95% of the games that you play).  Sporcle isn't your typical computer game but we could play for hours on end. 


6) Take a Scenic Drive

The one Fall essential that trumps the rest is enjoying the leaves as they change colors. I'm excited to make a batch of crock-pot cider (good recipes are welcome!), throw it in a thermos, and take a scenic drive this season. Virginia isn't known for its mountains but it IS known for all the foliage so it's easy to enjoy the color change in just about any direction. 


7) Visit the Animals

As my wise mother points out, the zoo is better when you don't go in the summer. We live close to the National Zoo and love visiting in the Fall when the animals are more active and we don't have to push past as many tourists to see the panda cubs up close. Some zoos even have events like "Boo at the Zoo". Pack a picnic and make an afternoon of it!


8) Document Memories

I'm terrible at keeping a diary or journal. Every now and then I start it up and it lasts... one night. About a year ago I decided to start a google doc to record important family memories. I have a section for the year, bullets for each month and then include a picture for each event. Ours is very general; we only record big events to keep it manageable.  We love being able to look back at the google doc every couple of months (mostly to see how little Mabel was when we got her). You can do something more formal, like create a shutterfly book, or just keep it to a word document with a photo, a date and a few details. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Gift Giving Guide // part one



Happy Labor Day! I'm sad to say goodbye to summer but look forward to the beginning of Fall, and with it, the kickoff of "birthday season" around these parts. With half of my family celebrating a birthday or anniversary soon I have a lot of gift shopping to do. Here are some things that will be at the top of my list this Fall:





1. For the photo lover

I would like to give this to just about everyone on my list. Think: budding photographer, new college student, or parent who misses hard copies of photos. Plug your phone in and print away!


{find it here}







2. For the budding reader


There are few things better than enjoying pictures of (baby) animals, and getting mail just might be one of them. Give the little one something to look forward to every month!

{find it here}




3. For the foodie


My favorite gifts are experiences, which is why I love this cheese kit. It's a fun gift to receive because it gives you the chance to try something new and different.
 Plus I don't hate the idea of delicious fresh cheese as a byproduct.

{find it here}






4. For the nail biter



I think I might give myself a non-birthday gift of this nail polish (OPI's "I only drink champagne.") Personally I tend to stick with calmer, more pastel nail colors so I think this would be a fun way to switch it up.


{find it here}







5. For the newlyweds 


I might be biased, since this is a gift I made my sister and her husband earlier this year, but I love this box of dates. It takes a little more time to put together but it's cheaper, lasts for a full year and can be personalized depending on who it's being sent to!

{find the tutorial here}











6. For the urban adventurer

I have to admit, even as a lover of summer above all other seasons, that fall is a great time to get out and enjoy the weather. I love this all purpose blanket because it works on any surface, stays dry, and is easy to transport. I'm looking forward to using ours for camping trips, picnics, orchard visits and concerts this Fall.  

{find it here}









Tuesday, July 22, 2014

July twenty first

Happy {belated} birthday, cootie bug! 

My little sister turned 22 yesterday. She's sweet, fun, thoughtful, encouraging, smart, hardworking and beautiful. The world is a better place because she's in it. 
Love you, D! 

Monday, June 30, 2014

8 {cheap} summer dates

If it were up to me the world would take the month of July off. Kids get to enjoy the freedom of summer break every single year... who decided that should stop once you graduate?? Whoever you are, I'm not your biggest fan.

The good part is that longer days means more time to get out and enjoy whether you're working or not. Here are eight easy, cheap dates that will make your summer a little more enjoyable. Luke and I will be taking a date a week starting this weekend... should be fun! And, believe it or not, that will just about get us through the summer. Tear. 


1. Dinner and a movie: throwback

Who doesn't love re-living some part of their childhood every now and then? One of my favorite date nights was when Luke and I bought lunchables and ate them while watching favorite kids' movies. Drag extra pillows and blankets to the tv room to get comfortable. Rent an old favorite (Little Rascals) or a current favorite (Despicable Me anyone?) and relax in your extra comfy space. Don't forget sugary cereal or indulgent ice cream sundaes!

2Screen on the green

I'd venture to say that most cities have outdoor movie festivals/events each summer. Check your local area for the schedule at the beginning of the summer and find the date and movie that work best. Pack a picnic, blanket and enjoy! (This post is meant for making food for other people but several of the dishes are pack-able and picnic ready). 


3. BBQ taste test

'Tis the season of cookouts. Find three  bbq sauce recipes that look good and make a small batch of each. Have a taste- test for dinner and decide on your favorite. Once you've found 'the one' make another batch or two and store for future summer cookouts or gifts


4. Create and update your bucket list

Tape a few pieces of paper together to make a long scroll (or cut out strips of card-stock or use a journal) and write out your bucket lists. Talk about all the things that you're excited to do in life and make plans! Pick three from each list and set a goal to accomplish them by the end of the year. 


5. Getaway for a Day

Take a day trip to the beach... Or lake or river or other body of water. Is there a better way to spend a warm summer day?? Make sandwiches, a mix CD and pack some snacks. Bring your towels, sunscreen, cooler and book. Enjoy an early morning drive so you can beat traffic-- opt for sunrise if you're feeling especially adventurous. 


6. DIY/ Yard Sale Adventures

We live in a small apartment in a well- to- do area with lots of big houses. This means great finds at both yard sales and thrift stores :) Scour a couple of local garage/ yard sales and each find one piece that you like.  Swing by the hardware store on the way home, grab whatever other supplies you want, and see who can create the best home decor. Bonus: now you have two more pieces of decor! 


7. Play Ball

All you need for this date is a soccer ball and some glow in the dark bracelets. Find a local elementary school or park and venture out around sunset. Use the bracelets on your wrists and on the soccer goals. Get competitive! Create a point system (points for headers, shots on goal, saves in goal, etc.) and see who earns the most points in half an hour. Loser buys slurpees! 


8. Enjoy a (free) concert

Local town squares and outdoor shopping areas often host free summer events. We love to go to the outdoor venues in the area and... you guessed it, bring a picnic. Big name concerts can get pricey but I'm of the opinion that experiences are always worth it so make tickets a birthday gift! (Plus outdoor venues generally sell lawn tickets that are cheaper and more fun). 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Taking people food {part two}

As promised in my post on ideas for taking people dinner, here are some of my favorite recipes to take people (and to eat myself)! 

I can't stress enough how nice it is to include side dishes and alternatives to the standard dinner meal. Everyone loves a casserole and will be eternally grateful, don't get me wrong. But if you're lucky enough to receive multiple dinners and/or not in a position to shop, non- dinner food becomes scarce. As mentioned in part one, opt for alternatives like grocery runs or breakfast foods. 
  • Main dishes
    • Potato soup
    • Chili and cornbread waffles
      • Make cornbread batter and instead of baking it, put it in a waffle maker for a couple of minutes. Eat your chili on top! Take a couple warm and a couple in freezer bags for breakfast. 
    • Pasta salad 
      • Add bell peppers to this recipe and you're set
    • Meatballs and potatoes
    • Pizza
      • Try barbecue chicken pizza (sweet baby rays bbq sauce, onions, chicken and cheese)
    • Enchiladas
    • Chicken salad
    • Couscous salad (I'm obsessed) and sausage
  • Sides
    • Sweet potato fries 
      • Chop and deliver in a bag with instructions to add oil, salt, pepper and bake at 450 for 15-20 minutes
    • Chopped bell peppers 
      • These can be eaten fresh alongside dinner or frozen and used in another main dish (mandarin chicken from trader joes, anyone?)
    • Bag with smoothie ingredients
      • Collect all the ingredients needed to make a serving or two of a fruit smoothie in a bag. I like to use frozen mango chunks, a scoop or two of yogurt, orange juice and spinach. They can add ice, blend and enjoy. Easy!
    • Granola bars
      • Here's my recipe. Wouldn't it be great to have a stock of bars for snacks, breakfast, kids, etc?
    • Banana muffins
      • Another great item they can eat for dessert or snacks or breakfast. Selfishly I also like that you can easily split the recipe and keep some for yourself! (One of the worst things about baking a cake for someone is never knowing how it tastes!)
  • Desserts

Friday, June 13, 2014

Taking people food {part one}

A couple of months ago, when life was really hard, we were blessed with multiple hand delivered meals. Now that baby season has begun it's time to pay it forward! Whether you're bringing dinner to a new mom or someone who needs a pick-me-up, here are four things to remember:

1) Opt for groceries
Instead of making a meal, bring a couple bags of kitchen essentials. Two of my friends brought us groceries (they were somehow perfectly spaced apart) and it was perfect to balance out the meals. They stocked us up on microwaveable lunches, easy snacks and some treats.  

2) Include fresh food

It might feel silly to pack half a bag of apples but it is so appreciated. Without frequent (or any) store trips it's hard to keep your diet fresh.  Replenishing milk, fruit and veggies can be a lifesaver!

3) Make breakfast

Pre-made dinners + no shopping = only dinner food. Help your new mom by packing a bag of chocolate chip muffins, banana bread, or even pancakes that she can throw in the fridge for a quick breakfast (or snack). 

4) Pack plastic

When one friend brought us dinner she included plastic plates, forks and paper towels. We didn't have to worry about shopping, cooking OR cleaning and that was a relief. 

Part two here!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Raita // Yogurt Dipping Sauce

I like sauce. 

Really, really like it. 

So if there's a sauce that you can add to kabobs and makhini and curry, it's pretty much a guaranteed Ruth family staple. I introduce you to raita (yogurt dipping sauce):
Here's what you need:
  • 1 cup of plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp cucumber
  • 1 tsp dill weed
  • 1 tsp lemon juice 
  • 1-3 tsp water 
  • salt to taste 
Measure out your yogurt (I like Greek) and set aside in a bowl. Use a grater to finely shred the cucumber. You'll want to grate directly over the bowl to get cucumber juice, too. Add dill and lemon.  The amount of water is really dependent on the texture you like. Luke is on the thin/ watery side so I tend to add a bit more water. Next add salt to taste. 

Now make these samosas and dunk them in the raita. Yumm.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Samosas


These samosas are one of my favorite go- to meals. They work as a main dish for the two of us or as an appetizer when we have people over for dinner. I learned this round, thanks to my sister, that they can easily be made smaller if you're cooking for a bigger group. 
Here's everything that you need (plus milk and garlic and butter... oops!)
First, make mashed potatoes.







Melt butter over medium heat in a large frying pan. Add chopped onions and garlic and saute. Add all the spices your heart desires. Once the onions are soft, add peas and carrots. Keep over medium heat until the carrots are no longer crunchy.

 Now add the potatoes. Mix everything together and let it sit over heat for 2-4 minutes. 

Put the potato mix in the fridge for at least a half hour and up to three days. It's easier to scoop when cold and this way it doesn't melt the dough under it. 

Lay out your dough. (I buy crescent rolls but if you want to get fancy you can make them). Use your finger to flatten the middle of the triangle. 
Plop the potatoes onto the dough. Bring the three corners up to the top and fold along the edges. Warning: this gets messy. If you want the samosas to look pretty you will likely need to trim the dough. 

 To make smaller samosas cut the rolls in half and do the same thing. They cook for the same time either way so don't worry about uniformity in size. This is a great alternative if you're cooking for a big crowd.


Bake until your house smells amazing and the rolls are golden brown. 
Enjoy with mango chutney and raita

You will need... 

  • Bag of potatoes (6ish)
  • 2 tbsp. of butter
  • 1 cup of milk (or cream or half and half)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
  • 3 tsp. curry powder
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2- 3/4 cup of frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup carrots, chopped
  • Crescent rolls or biscuits



Directions:
  1. Peel and cube potatoes. Boil until they slide off a fork.
  2. Mash the potatoes. Add butter, milk and salt to taste.
  3. Melt butter over medium heat. Add chopped onions and garlic and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add all the spices and keep over heat for another 2 minutes. Once the onions are slightly soft, add peas and carrots. Heat for another 5 minutes or until carrots are no longer crunchy.
  4. Add mashed potatoes and combine. Heat for 2 minutes or until potatoes are warm. 
  5. Refrigerate potato mixture for at least a half hour.
  6. Set out dough and press the middle of the triangle down so that it's nice and thin.
  7. Add 1/2 - 1 cup of potato mixture to each roll. Pull up the longest end of the triangle to the top of the potatoes. Bring up the other two ends and press the dough together at the top.
  8. Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes.  
  9. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

7 Makeup Hacks

Welcome to part two of my-friends-came-over-and-I-forced-them-to-model-for-me. 

I love doing makeup (mostly on other people) and trying out different techniques.  I always prefer makeup that looks clean and natural and it can be a challenge to do that without shelling out for the best products.  Read on for 7 simple makeup tricks that you can use to save time and look better!


1. Mix a little bit of moisturizer into your liquid foundation. This will thin the foundation so that it sits lighter and more naturally on your skin. It also helps avoid makeup lines around your face. 


2. Always start foundation on your cheeks. This is the easiest-- and biggest-- "canvas" on your face. Rub foundation in a circular motion over each of your cheeks and work out to the top, bottom and sides of your face. This will make it easier to blend the foundation with your skin and you'll know right away if any particular makeup has weird consistency or is irritating to your skin. 
3. Line your eyebrows with concealer to make them pop. Use a little concealer along both the top and bottom of your eyebrow. Spread along the length of your eyebrow and blend as needed. This will draw attention to a defined eyebrow shape (and away from any stray hairs)!
 4. Blush is not just for your cheeks. Once you've spread blush on your cheeks (moving outward and upward), dab it lightly on your eye as a first layer of eyeshadow and on your chin. This will balance out the color of the blush and will draw attention to the shape of your face. It really makes a difference!
5. Eyeliner comes first. The toughest part about eyeliner is getting a nice, straight line. When you apply eyeliner after eye shadow you have no buffer; no chance to cover up any mistakes. So apply your eyeliner first... if it's too thick you can tone it down with eye shadow. If the line isn't straight enough (for all you perfectionists out there) you can easily remove it without taking off any other makeup. 
6. Coconut oil is your friend. One of the many fine uses of coconut oil is as makeup remover. It works especially well if you use whipped coconut oil. To make this I buy a jar of oil, like the one below, empty it into a bowl and whip with the hand mixer for a couple minutes. (This makes great lotion, too)!
7. Use your boldest eye shadow sparingly. Start with one layer of a neutral shadow over your entire eyelid and up to your brow. Then use your darkest color to highlight the middle of the eye, right where it creases. Paint a circle (see below) around that area. Use your finger to blend and cover lightly with another layer of a more neutral color. You don't need to cake the eye shadow on for a bold look!

Meet my team (and check out their before and afters)--

Connor: my main model,

 Sara: a first- time lipstick wearer (rocked it),
Melodie: the photographer behind these shots and all of this.
Here are some of my favorite products (sans sponsors):
  • Aveeno Positively Radiant daily moisturizer. Good for your skin and has sunscreen. Win, win!
  • L'Oreal Magic Nude Liquid Powder. I barely mix any moisturizer with this foundation because it's so light and smooth.
  • Maybelline The Colossal Volum'Express. Love the curved brush.
  • L'Oreal Infallible Lacquer Liner. Fits somewhere between liquid eyeliner and pencils. 
  • Covergirl Eye Enhancers. I have at least three sets... the more the merrier!

{Check out part one here}