S&L Tutorials: Orange Dreamsicle Cake Pops
Cake pops are a hit at our house. Red velvet for Christmas, strawberry and lemon in the summertime, carrot cake at Thanksgiving... the list goes on. The beauty of these little bite-sized cake snacks is there are limitless flavors and ways to decorate them! To celebrate summertime and my daughter's upcoming birthday, I'm going to show you how to make vanilla-dipped orange dreamsicle cake pops with drizzle.  You need to know that I have tried just about every option out there, from the cake pop pans that bake the cake in preformed balls to rolling them myself as well as trying a wide range of dipping variations.  This tutorial shows the simplest way I have found to make cake pops without sacrificing flavor.

What you'll need:

1 sheet cake, baked Cream Cheese Icing Cake pop sticks Mixer 2 packages of Vanilla Almond Bark (found in the baking aisle) Step 1: Bake your cake. At Christmas, I make red velvet from scratch, but for Ashlyn's birthday, I used a Betty Crocker orange cake. Both are delicious. Set it out to cool. Step 2: Step-1 In a mixing bowl, combine 1/2 tub of cream cheese icing with the baked cake. Mix with a beater until your cake holds together when formed into a ball. You can absolutely make your own icing as well. I make a buttercream for the red velvet that's delicious. It's totally up to you and your preference of flavors. For this, I used Betty Crocker pre-made cream cheese icing. Step 3: Step-2 Roll the mixture into 1" cake balls and place on a cookie sheet.  Place your cookie sheet in the freezer for five minutes. You can leave these in the freezer as long as you need. I left these in overnight because I wasn't going to dip them until right before her party. They will retain their moisture. Don't worry. Step 4: Heat up your almond bark in the microwave for 30 seconds. Many brands come in a tray that is microwave safe, so you can just pop it in the microwave. If the brand you purchase doesn't, just break up the bark into smaller pieces and put them in a glass measuring cup (or mason jar, in my case). Stir after 30 seconds then heat for another 30 seconds. You want the bark to be a smooth liquid that will drip off a spoon, so keep reheating for 10 seconds at a time until you reach the desired consistency. If you heated yours up in the provided tray, pour the liquid into a mug or glass measuring cup for dipping. A friend recently told me that if you can't find that right consistency, try adding some vegetable oil. It worked!!! Thanks to Creations by Lennie for that tidbit! Step 5: Step-4 Remove your rolled cake balls from the freezer. Dip the end of a cake pop stick in the heated almond bark, then place it in one side of the cake ball going in about halfway. After all of your cake balls have sticks, replace in the freezer for 5 minutes. Step 6: Step-6 Remove your cake pops from the freezer, and dip each one into your almond bark. When dipping, turn the cake pop upside down, fully immerse it in the almond bark then remove it. I hold it just above the measuring cup to allow any excess to drip off before placing it in my drying rack. I strongly suggest you don't twist the cake pop or tap it on the edge or dip it more than once as this increases the likelihood that the cake pop will fall off the stick. (I may or may not have plenty of experience with this one...) Once you've dipped all of your cake pops, put them in the freezer for another 5 minutes to allow the almond bark to harden. Step-7 Step 7: This is where you can get creative! Decorate your cake pops however you want. You can put sprinkles on before the almond bark cools, decorate your cake pops like animals or characters, use fondant ... the possibilities are endless.  For a simple drizzle, I heat candy melts (available anywhere cake supplies are sold: Michael's, Hobby Lobby, Walmart, etc.) in my chosen color in the microwave using the same process as the almond bark. Again, you want the consistency to be a smooth liquid, though, slightly thinner and more runny than your almond bark. To achieve this consistency, I typically heat the candy melts 10-20 seconds longer than I did the almond bark. I find it's best to heat these in a glass measuring cup, though a mug will work as well. Again, add some vegetable oil. It helps! Step-8 Once heated, dip a spoon in the melts, let most of it run off then drizzle it over the tops of your cake pops in a zig-zag motion. After all of your pops have drizzle, place in the freezer for another 5 minutes to let harden fully. Finished-3 Finished-2 Finished Don't say I didn't warn you when everyone you know wants you to make these for the next friend or family gathering. They are delicious and an easy alternative to regular cake and icing.  We'd love to hear how yours turn out, so leave us a comment below and enjoy! Jess Signature
Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies
Coffee and cookies... they just go together, right? Or is that cookies and milk... Well, this mama likes coffee with her cookies. Imagine if you will, it's after dinner, the kiddos are asleep, the cafe lights are on outside, and you and your love are sitting at the patio farm table with warm cups of coffee and some chewy, melt-in-your-mouth cookies... Sounds peaceful, right? Who's hungry? Seriously, that's one of my favorite places to rest, and I think it's because it reminds me of the days when I was a kid and my mom would take us to Great Harvest Bread Company. They had these giant (like, as big as your face) cookies chock full of oatmeal, chocolate chips and raisins. They were delicious. You seriously couldn't eat just one... Okay, you could because Mom only allowed us one, but if I'd had it my way, I'm pretty sure I could've pounded three or four of those. This past week, we had a really fun photo shoot with the kids where we baked cookies together and just let the kids go nuts. There was flour and sugar everywhere and so much laughter! We'll have those up to show you soon, but in the meantime, the cookies really were delicious and we promised we'd share the recipe, so here it is! I hope it brings you laughter and fun and precious memories!

Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies



  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks salted butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 2 cups quick oats
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins
  • (Optional pecans or other nut)
Ingredients Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Mix together your dry ingredients (flour, soda and salt) in a bowl and set aside. Using an electric mixer, blend together brown sugar, granulated sugar and butter until creamy. Add vanilla and milk then beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the dry ingredients and mix well. Finally, hand-stir in the oats, chocolate chips and raisins (and nuts if you prefer). Drop spoonfuls of the cookie batter onto a greased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes (12 for crispier cookies), let cool for 5 minutes and enjoy! Jess Signature
Potty Training Made Simple
Potty Training Made Simple
My tendency is usually to over complicate things. Potty training not excluded. I wanted so badly to have my 18 month old in a big girl bed, potty trained, and broken of the paci habit by the time baby brother arrived. Lofty goals for sure! Well one out of three ain't bad, right? We managed to transition her to a big girl bed without a hitch. The potty training, she wanted nothing to do with. Let's not even talk about the paci. Does this sound familiar? She did potty train just a few months later, but it was after she turned two and when she was ready. I'm going to let you in on a few tips I learned along the way that seemed to work well for us. I plan to do the same with my next one. Potty training really doesn't have to be complicated. This is potty training made simple for those of you, like myself, who tend to make things harder than they really are until someone shows us a better way (or until we learn the hard way, whatever!). Potty Training Made Simple

5 Tips to Make Potty Training Easy Peasy

Tip #1: Wait until they are good and ready. This is gonna save you a ton of time. If you try to force your child to potty train before they are ready, you will run into all sorts of problems. You'll be frustrated, they'll be frustrated, accidents and messes abound, defiance exhibited by refusing to go may happen, creating potential health problems for your child. Not good! So how do you know they're ready?

Signs of Potty Training Readiness

  • Can clearly tell you when they need to or already have gone pee/poo in their diaper.
  • They have predictable times of relieving themselves.
  • Show interest in the potty
  • Seem uncomfortable in a dirty diaper
  • Can go diaperless for a period of time without making a mess on the floor
  • They can understand the concept and connection between a reward for doing something well. (Not absolutely necessary, but helpful if you want to try to use a sticker chart)
[caption id="attachment_1706" align="aligncenter" width="501"]PT-3 I let P decorate her potty with stickers too. S is loving them![/caption] Tip #2: Familiarize You Child with All things "Potty". Such as, let them watch you on the toilet. Talk about what you're doing (yes this sounds weird, and you never would've imagined you'd be giving some one a play by play of your toileting experience, but...welcome to parenthood! There's a lot more you never thought you would do/say coming.) Buy a SIMPLE potty chair for them to get familiar with. Nothing super fancy with any bells and whistles. It may be too distracting and become more like a toy than an actual throne for them to learn to sit and "go" on. We purchased a very simple one from IKEA for 4.99. You can also find a similar one from Summer Infant (at Walmart or Amazon) for 9.99. Keep it in various rooms of the house. Let them sit on it while you go. [caption id="attachment_1707" align="aligncenter" width="503"]PT-4 How my kids feel about "nakey time".[/caption] Tip #3: Nakey Time! The easiest way to potty train is to stay home as much as possible and when you do, to let your child be naked. At least from the waist down. If your kid is like mine, they're gonna love it! If you can't bring yourself to let them be completely nude, try just from the waist down OR even loose fitting pants should do the trick. Basically they need to feel the difference, that there is no diaper there. This also saves time when they do need to go; you don't have to struggle with pulling pants down, etc. In those first few days/weeks, every second counts! If you can't stay at home all the time (maybe both parents work outside the home or you have older children to chauffeur around), just try it whenever you are home. Evenings, weekends, etc should help the process along. What if your child is in daycare? Most daycares will partner with you in your potty training efforts. You can always try the loose fitting pants or this fantastic tip from an experienced teacher I once worked with: put them in underwear, with a pull up on over it! The pull up will catch the mess, but they will feel the wet cotton against them rather than the absorbent diaper/pull up. It may be worth a try! [caption id="attachment_1708" align="aligncenter" width="505"]PT-5 The kids "helping" me set up the photo with the monkey. Yes, my son is eating a used potty chair. Those immune systems sure are strong around here![/caption] Tip #4: Remain Calm & Patient. Accidents are going to happen. There will be pee and sometimes other - er - let's call them "presents" on the floor. But just keep being consistent, calmly reminding your child that "pee goes in the potty" as you carry them to it. Even if all the "going" has happened on the floor, you can still go through the motions of putting them on the toilet, just to get the message across. You staying calm, rather than getting angry/frustrated/exasperated, will be a HUGE contributor to their confidence in using the toilet. Sometimes children may be more comfortable going #1 on the potty, but #2 is a little more challenging. For the longest time, my child would only do that on her tiny potty. She did great on the big potty any other time, but if she had to go #2, only her little potty would do. Plus it was portable! Who wouldn't want to go on the potty while continuing to watch Curious George? After a few weeks, at her own pace, she got more comfortable with the grown up potty and at 2.5 was totally toilet trained. But again, age doesn't matter so much as readiness. PT-2 Tip #5: Rip off the "band aid". Or in other words, don't keep using pull ups sometimes, then underwear and back and forth, back and forth. You will have to be consistent. It's helpful to use some kind of diaper during naps and nighttime sleep at first. We also typically used one when we went out. But once they seem to have the hang of it and especially if they are waking up dry, it's time to chance it. Give them the opportunity to show you what they can do! And if they wet the bed, remain calm. It happens. Refer back to tip #4. Our daughter surprised us by easily holding it while sleeping. We came to realize she simply filled her diaper as soon as she woke up, but had most likely been holding it for a while without us knowing. So unless you try it out, you may not know if they can do it!

Should You Use Rewards?

Should you reward your child for using the potty? Absolutely! Now whether that reward comes in the form of a crazy happy dance and applause, a sticker on a potty chart, or a grape or m&m, that is totally up to you. I personally didn't love the idea of rewarding with food, so we chose to use a sticker chart! Potty Training Made Simple - Sticker Chart

It was lots of fun for my daughter and gave her something visual to chart her progress. Having said that we did occasionally use her favorite thing, chocolate, as an incentive to go #2. Which then led to her referring to her candy as "poop chocolate" (She may hate me one day for writing this!).

Potty Training is Simple...But...

Potty training really is pretty simple. Not always easy! But definitely simple. Of course, there will always be children who do their own thing regardless of what you read in parenting books and blogs on the internet. Hopefully these tips will be helpful to most! I'm no expert, and our process took more like two months rather than that awesome sounding"potty training in 3 days" program. But once it was done, it was done. No going back. Talk to me again next year when I'm potty training a boy for the first time. I may be starting back at square one. And I guarantee there will be more mess for me to clean up. *ugh* Let me know in the comments below whether you've used any of these techniques or if you found some other ways that were helpful in potty training your child! Amanda Signature
How to Repurpose an Old Window
Using old, beat up, chippy (read: distressed) windows to decorate first showed up on my radar when I saw, you guessed it, Episode 1 of Fixer Upper on HGTV. I'm still trying to figure out how it is that folks decided it'd be a great idea to hang up architectural salvage pieces like art, but whoever came up with that idea is a genius. Old windows can be used for tons of different things, but some of our favorites are: WindowTable6 Source [caption id="attachment_1684" align="aligncenter" width="492"]Chalkboard Window Source[/caption]
  • Even as room dividers like this one on Indulgy!
[caption id="attachment_1685" align="aligncenter" width="324"]Room Dividers Source[/caption] Of course, they can also be used as wall art, which is what I'm going to show you today. One of my favorite spots to frequent for antiques/vintage finds or junk, as my husband calls it, is The Peddler's Mall. I started seeing all of these paned windows for sale there a few years ago and finally bought one for a whopping $15. I brought it home, wasn't sure what to do with it, let it sit in my garage while I pondered and moved about 30 projects up in front of it. Then I had my daughter and, well, frankly forgot about the window. As I was decorating my living-room-turned-home-office, though, I needed a cool piece to go over the sofa and a light bulb went off! Amanda recently posted some vignettes we adored on our Instagram page, and this was one of them. I pulled inspiration from it and voila! The perfect piece to hang on the wall. Title-Sldie

Here's how I made it happen:

First, I painted the window. It was an old, crusty, yellow color. As with most other things in my house, I wanted white. So I broke out trim paint (Behr Semi-Gloss Bright White) because it was the only thing I had available, taped off the panes and brushed on two thick coats. This window probably weighs 25 or 30 pounds, so I needed something really solid to hang it with. Our headboard weighs a little over 50 pounds, and I was able to hang it on the wall with a large Hang Man interlocking bracket, so I thought I'd try out the smaller one they offer at Lowes for this window. There is a great YouTube demonstration on how to use one, but basically you attach one side to the wall and one side to the window, and the window slides right in behind the wall bracket to mount it flush. As an added bonus, it comes with a level so you know you're hanging it absolutely straight. Window-Before I'm not sure why, but I just had this vision of black hooks to contrast with the stark white paint. I really can't explain where that idea came from, but I found these hooks at Lowes for around $3 each and I absolutely love the way they look on the window. Hooks These screwed right in from the front, and I bought one to sit in the middle of each pane (mainly because math and I aren't really friends... I know. How do I ever build anything?) Window-With-Hooks Window-Without-Wreath If you look closely towards the top of the window, you can see the metal bracket I used to hang this. That didn't really worry me because I knew I was putting a magnolia wreath on the window, but if you're leaving yours open, I'd suggest just painting the bracket the same color as the wall to hide it. You can even paint the screw heads! All that was left was fluffing my magnolia wreath (I found this one at Hobby Lobby) and hanging it. To keep things simple, I used a clear 3M adhesive hook that I bought at Walmart for $2. It stuck beautifully to the fresh paint and finished off the window art perfectly! Finished-Window-3 Finished-Window-2 Closeup-Finished Finished-Window-1 I love the way this repurposed window turned out! The entire project cost less than $55, including the wreath (which typically runs for $90 plus on its own) and took 20 minutes to complete not including paint drying time. Of course, you can't put a price tag on how happy it makes me to look over at it while I'm working, and there really is nothing quite like hanging up something you made! Now I just need to paint the office walls... Hope y'all have a Happy Monday! Jess Signature
DIY Storage Ladder
It's no secret that I love antiques -- not the really pretty ones that have been kept in great shape with beautifully lacquered cherry wood, but the rustic, beat up kind that have tons of character (and sometimes cobwebs ... ew). I posted this gorgeous (and rusted) vintage scale I found on my most recent flea market trip to Versailles on our Instagram and Facebook feeds recently, and let me just tell you that finding it made. my. day. Scale My husband would probably say I love junk, but hey, one man's trash is another man's treasure! I've been crushing lately on using unusual items as home decor, like ladders, for instance. When I saw this post from Liz Marie Blog, I was floored because I had never thought of putting a ladder in my home on display except as a blanket ladder. Liz Marie Ladder


So I started hunting around on Pinterest, of course, and found some awesome inspirational photos like this one:

Ladder Inspiration


Except this is in the bathroom, and ours are T.I.N.Y. I do recall seeing one photo on Instagram (and of course I can't find it now) that had this pretty ladder in the corner of a dining room with hanging baskets, and I thought, "Yes! That's perfect!" You can absolutely buy these, and they are stunning. Some of my favorites can be found here, here and here, but have you seen those prices!?! If you can afford it, great! If you're like me and can't, I have a solution! You can make your own! No power tools required. And, if that wasn't awesome enough, you can customize it to your liking. I really wanted white, not stained and definitely not black. So break out the spray paint! When we moved into our house over 11 years ago, the previous owners left a bunch of random items (some awesome, like an old wooden extension ladder and a map of the city; some not so awesome, like a disco ball and crutches), and I finally figured out what to do with the extension ladder! It was a bit rickety, so I wouldn't exactly put my life in its hands, but it makes a beautiful storage ladder for our dining room! Finished

DIY Storage Ladder

The first step is acquiring the materials, mainly a ladder. We got lucky having ours in the basement already, but I have seen plenty of these at antique shops, salvage yards, on the side of the road, thrift stores, etc. Any ladder will do.  Mine had round rungs, but you can use flat ones as well! The beauty of these are they're all different, and a lot of the antique ones are connected with metal pieces you can incorporate into the finished look. Mine was an extension ladder, and these metal hooks held the two sides of the ladder in place. I loved the way they looked, so I left them on. Ladder Hooks Once you have your ladder, give it a light sanding, wipe it down with a wet cloth and let it dry. Ladder-Closeup Ladder-Laid-Out Then paint or stain it to your liking. I used Rustoleum semi-gloss bright white enamel. Spray-Paint Ladder-witih-Paint Next, add your baskets. I found these hanging baskets at Big Lots, but I've seen them at Walmart and various other places, usually in the kitchen section. Basket No-decorations Before I go on, let me tell you a funny story. These baskets have a built in edge to them that hooked just perfectly around the back of my ladder. Yay! So I thought, Great, I won't have to screw these in or anything! I got all the baskets set on the rungs, filled them with goodies and took some photos. Not two minutes later, I hear a crash and come in the dining room to find everything -- I mean, EVERYTHING -- on the floor thanks to a toddler who tried to climb the ladder and the "stuff was in [her] way". So note to self, if you have a toddler or a cat or anything/one else who might try to climb said ladder, I would strongly urge you to anchor those baskets down. Empty-2 I bought some old iron S-hooks from an antique shop in Versailles that I had originally intended to use. However, they were too large for my rungs, so I ended up using twine to tie the baskets down on the bottom and both sides. It worked like a charm. I am proud to say the ladder has been up for a few days now with no further, um, incidents. Once your baskets are all set, gather some plants, old books, chalkboard signs and anything else you might want to put in your baskets and decorate away! Bottom-Shelf Decorated  Finished-2 This project took just under 30 minutes including dry time for the paint, and is one of my favorite pieces in the dining room now! If you make your own, we'd love to see your photo on Instagram! Just use #sharingallthelovelythings. Happy Tuesday! Jess Signature
S&L Devos: Beauty for Ashes
Have you heard that worship song "Ever Be"? It's a Bethel tune, which probably explains why I loved it from the first time I heard it. If you haven't heard it (or even if you have, but you love it as much as I do) take a listen. There's this one part that just gets me -- every time. It seems that no matter where I am in life, what season or struggle, the words apply; in the best of things and in the worst.

Now you are making me like you Clothing me in white Bringing beauty from ashes For you will have your bride Free of all her guilt and rid of all her shame And known by her true name

I'm a generally insecure person. If you don't know me really well, you probably wouldn't guess that, but it's true.  Even though I'm something of an extrovert, I struggle with insecurity and with unworthiness. It's not just in the epic things either. I am insecure about my voice, my body, my talents, my role as a mother and as a wife and especially as an instrument for God. In Isaiah 61:3, it is promised that "He will give a crown of beauty for ashes" and ashes are certainly more what I identify with than beauty.  I am a grace-covered sinner. That's just all there is to it.

God has this awesome way of showering me with grace just when I need it, putting people in my life to encourage me at just the right moment and reinforcing His ability to use me regardless of how confident I am in myself.  I feel like Gideon a lot going, "God, are you sure?" "Do I really need to say no to this awesome opportunity?" "Can you make it clear, like lights flashing in the sky clear?" "You'd stop me if it wasn't the right path, right?" "Remind me again, God," always asking for just one more thing to prove that He's really forgiven me or that He really can use me or that this is really the direction He wants me to go in. Inevitably, it will be in those moments of uncertainty that someone -- generally a complete stranger -- will tell me how that song I sang or that devo I wrote was just what they needed to hear and they could see the Spirit working through me.

It's in those moments that I realize that didn't do any of those things. God used the voice He gave me and the thoughts He impressed upon me to convey His message to someone. I truly am a vessel for His work, for His glory. I am forgiven. I am His child. I am free, and I am covered with grace and love.

I don't know exactly where you find yourself today, but my prayer is simply this: that you allow God to exchange beauty for your ashes. We can offer nothing to God but ourselves, but praise Him! We are all He wants, and we don't have to be perfect or confident or always making the right decision in order for Him to love us. He just calls us to return to Him and to let Him change our hearts -- and lives -- for the better.

He is clothing us in white, friends. We have no guilt and no shame thanks to His love and sacrifice. So lift up your eyes and seek Him, and know that He will use you regardless of your past, your hurts, your struggle or your insecurity. As long as you have faith in Him, He will take care of the rest.

Beauty for Ashes

Styling a Vignette
If you don't know what a vignette is, you're in good company. I had no clue up until a few months ago. Now that I know, I'm obsessed with this creative outlet. A vignette is defined as any small endearing scene. Styling a vignette can be challenging  at first, but practice makes perfect! I'm still not great, but I think I'm getting better. Today, I'm going to share with you a recent vignette I put together as a centerpiece for my dining room table. I'm also going to share some of my favorite vignettes for inspiration. Besides a little trial and error, seeing the creativity of others can give you a clear vision for how to style your own vignette. Recently, I took a fun trip to a little flea market with my infant and toddler in tow. It went surprisingly well and I found out my daughter shares my love of a good treasure hunt. She had a blast looking at all the interesting pieces of furniture, accessories and old toys. It wasn't a planned trip, so I wasn't prepared to spend much (even though I could've easily dropped a couple of hundred dollars, based on what I found!). When I saw this cute metal tray for $2.99, I was SOLD! A good coat of white spray paint and it was the perfect tray to hold my little vignette. image I took my white tray, a vase with something green, a mason jar of ground coffee, a couple of candles, a small dollar store jar filled with corks, and a tiny pine cone from one of our morning walks, and voila! My ordinary table now has a bit more class. image My favorite elements of a vignette are varied heights, neutral colors, and touches of nature. image I love this next example of a vignette using a tiered tray, by Beth at Home Stories, A to Z. She gives some great tips on her blog for styling a vignette. Her technique of "zig zagging" the color scheme in the below example gives the vignette a lot of dimension, while also tying everything together. [caption id="attachment_1570" align="aligncenter" width="351"]styled-tiered-tray-587x886 Home Stories A to Z[/caption] I love the use of trays in a vignette. They aren't actually necessary, but they are a nice "cheat". Especially when you're a newbie, like me, they help to set the scene. Christy at Confessions of a Serial DIY-er shows what a difference a tray makes. She also gives a lot more examples on her blog. [caption id="attachment_1572" align="aligncenter" width="350"]Decorating-with-Trays-1 Confessions of a Serial Do-It-Yourselfer[/caption] Trays aren't the only tool for pulling a vignette together. You can also use a cute basket, box or crate like in this example from Little Vintage Nest. I love the way she's used this old scale to add height and some vintage flair. The old books tied together and the chunky candlestick aren't even inside the crate, but they still add a nice frame to this little scene. [caption id="attachment_1575" align="aligncenter" width="351"]5-Ways-to-Style-a-Wooden-Crate-Farmhouse-Vignette-4 Little Vintage Nest[/caption] I really like vignettes in kitchens. This kitchen redo has lots of pleasant little vignettes throughout it. This one is a favorite of mine because of the little pops of color from the robin's egg blue jar and the tiny strainer full of limes. I love to see citrus fruit in a kitchen vignette! It's so fresh and clean, while still bringing a bright splash of color. Plus, the pitcher full of hydrangeas exudes elegance in a pretty, yet simple and understated way. [caption id="attachment_1577" align="aligncenter" width="350"]Kitchen-Reveal-Hexagon-Tray-453x680 Just a Girl and Her Blog[/caption] I found so many great inspiring spaces while designing my own. I have plans for nearly every flat space in my home! If there's a shelf or a table top, it's getting a "small endearing scene" added to it. It's amazing the difference it can make in your home. It really is the details that pull a space together. If you find yourself inspired, or realize you already have some vignette-worthy spaces in your home, post a photo to Instagram with the hashtag #vivalavignettetuesday and follow @angelascozyhome. She hosts a fun vignette contest each week! You'll see a lot of other people's creative work as well as get yours noticed and maybe even featured. Viva La Vignette! Amanda Signature
Shabby Chic Ruffle Duvet Cover
Let me start this tutorial with a little backstory so you know how this particular endeavor came about.  A friend of mine sent me this photo of a beautiful duvet cover that she wanted to go with an antique bed frame she purchased. [caption id="attachment_1547" align="alignnone" width="601"]Inspiration Source[/caption]

I know, right!?!  Can you say swoon?  The only problem was she wanted a taupe color to match her bedroom decor which this particular duvet wasn't available in, and she needed a full size, not queen.  So, because I don't already have eight million projects going on and am a total glutton for having no free time I said, I can totally make that for you, because it's how I roll.  In actuality, I think I said something more along the lines of, I can try to make that for you, because I have never undertaken anything quite this elaborate before with the exception of some knockoff Anthropologie curtains that I made for my sister-in-law a few Christmases ago.  Take it from me. This is a whole other ballgame.

Anyway, my friend graciously agreed to let me try it, and since the version we came up with ended up costing  a whopping total of $50.00 in supplies, as compared to the $225.00 price tag of the white one she found, it was a given that we had to at least see what we could DIY. In the interest of full disclosure, there are LOTS. OF. RUFFLES.  You need to know that up front. This bad boy took me a solid 8 hours to complete, so you'll have to work that into your time/cost comparison to see if it's actually worth it to undertake or if you'd rather just fork over the money for an already made one. I'll be honest: if I were asked if I wanted to make myself one right now, I'd totally say, No, I'll just buy one, thanks.  However, I'm still in that I-just-finished-this-project-and-really-don't-want-to-see-a-sewing-machine-for-at-least-a-week phase, so you might want to ask me again in a few weeks once that has worn off.  Sometimes these projects are like childbirth--you get this weird sort of amnesia and you want to do it all over again. There is something incredibly gratifying about finishing up a big project like this, though, knowing that this one is the only one in the world of its kind and, yeah, you could have handed over a bunch of money for one, but you didn't.  You made it. Ta-da!  So whichever side of the make it or buy it coin you end up on, you'll get loads of understanding from me.  If you do decide to go the DIY route, here's the tutorial for how I made this one for my friend, and I have to say, despite the time commitment, I absolutely love the final result!

Shabby Chic Ruffle Duvet Cover

Full Bed Edit

What You'll Need:

  • Solid duvet cover in your color of choice ($25.00)
  • King size sheet set in matching color ($25.00)
  • Two spools of thread (on hand)
  • Sewing machine
  • Scissors
  • LOTS of pins
  • Iron
  • Something flat that you can iron over (I used a ruler)
Strips First thing's first.  Lay out your flat sheet, ironed flat, and cut as many 5" strips out of it as you can. I wanted the ruffle layers to go 12" up the sides and bottom of the duvet, and used four layers of ruffles on all sides.  Hem all of your 5" strips in a 1/2" seam along the top and bottom.  Your strips will now be 4" wide. Hemmed I honestly lost count of how many strips I ended up cutting, but I used one full flat sheet and two strips from the fitted sheet on this project for a full/queen sized duvet. Once all your strips are hemmed, it's time to start pinning.  If you decide to do yours on a comforter, you're golden because you can just pin the ruffles on while holding underneath.  For a duvet, however, I had to make sure I didn't pin the bottom and top of the duvet together; otherwise, the insert wouldn't fit.  The best way that I found to avoid this was to open up the duvet and slide it over my table to pin.  It's a little awkward at first, but it works and you get the hang of it really quickly. Ruffle pins So this is the tedious part.  Pin on the first layer of ruffles, starting with the lowest layer.  There are a few ways to get the ruffled look, but because I wanted a neat line on the top layer, I chose to do a pleat of sorts.  To do this, pin the edge of the strip to the duvet.  Working left to right, fold the hemmed strip over on itself then fold again to create a pleat.  Pin the pleat, then repeat. First Layer You'll notice my lines are not perfect.  That's okay.  The nature of ruffles give you a little grace so only the top layer has to be really perfect, and we'll measure when we get to that one.  Once the entire bottom layer is pinned, run it through your sewing machine. Sewed Then do it all over again for layers two and three.  My best suggestion?  Find a really good show to binge-watch on Netflix while you're doing this.  You'll seriously make it through, like, four episodes. Two and Three Once all three layers are sewn, take your ruler or yardstick and measure 12" from the bottom seam of the duvet (not the bottom of the ruffle).  Place tick marks along the duvet at 12" on all three sides you'll be adding ruffles to.  These tick marks will give you a guide to place your top layer of ruffles.  Pin on the final layer, and sew in place (and breathe a sigh of relief because you're done)!!! Closeup Ruffles Ruffles 2 Ruffles 3 Ruffles 4 Ruffles Full Bed Edit Done    
Baby Led Weaning
Baby led weaning! Or, in layman's terms, "the lazy way to feed your baby." (Haha!)This is one of the main reasons I chose this approach for introducing solids to both of my children. Is that okay to say? That I'm just a tad lazy? I spent a lot of years in childcare before I ever had children of my own. Sitting there, spoon feeding a baby, when there were a million other things to get done...there had to be another way! Besides my own laziness, I also wanted to raise capable, independent children. This approach also encourages those qualities. Not to mention, it will save you time and money since you will not have to purchase or make your own baby food. Are you interested yet? Let's get started on how to do baby led weaning with your baby! What is baby led weaning? Baby led weaning is just that: baby led. It puts feeding time completely in your child's hands and boy, does it take the pressure off. There is no worrying about how much they eat or what food groups they are getting or when. During the first year of a child's life, milk is their primary source of nutrition. Solid food can remain a "just for fun" thing alongside their milk intake. Because of this, there is no need to stress if your child at first doesn't actually get much food in their mouth. And believe me, they will get more than you think those first couple of months. We waited until just before 6 months old to start introducing any solids. When they were sitting up independently and reaching/grasping for things, looking interested in our food, those were clear signs they were ready. Foods that are great to starts with are naturally soft, mushy foods: bananas, avocados, cooked sweet potato, mango. The key is to cut the food into strips, sometimes with the skin still on part of the food, to allow your baby to easily grasp it and chew on it. [caption id="attachment_1537" align="aligncenter" width="489"]Grid Both of our kids started with banana. We cut back the peel so that they had something less slippery to hold on to.[/caption] Won't babies choke if you don't puree their food??? This is perhaps one of the best things about doing the baby led weaning approach to solids. No. They don't choke. Here's why: when a baby eats pureed food, they simply swallow it, just like their milk. No chewing required (thank goodness, since they have no teeth, right?). When a baby starts with soft solid foods, they learn to maneuver food in their mouth "chewing" it, even without teeth, before swallowing it. They learn that what goes in their mouth must be made ready to swallow by working it around their mouth. Gumming their food, along with the digestive properties of their saliva, enables them to eat a lot more than you might think they are capable of with none or only a few teeth. This carries over into putting non edible objects in their mouths. When my babies put something hard in their mouth that isn't digestible, (something like a piece of plastic or a small bead, or whatever else they might find on the floor) they will just keep it in their mouth, sucking on it, waiting for it to be ready to swallow. Which it won't be. That doesn't mean I'm not still vigilant about making sure my little ones don't put things in their mouths. But it does mean that I don't panic over it. I'm confident that they will hold it in their mouth, rather than try to swallow it. One aspect of baby led weaning that you will need to prepare yourself for (especially if you are afraid of them choking) is the gag reflex. This is an important tool your baby uses while learning what to do with the food in their mouth. It is natural and normal and it does NOT mean your baby is choking. Occasionally, a piece of food may make it to the back of their throat before it's ready to be swallowed. They gag, and it coughs right up. I have been impressed by the forcefulness with which my kids have coughed up a piece of apple or some other food. So if your child starts gagging while eating, STAY CALM. See if they can handle it. If they can't cough it up, then you should by all means intervene. But you will likely be surprised at how well they will do on their own. Once they are handling those first foods well, move on to others. We tried broccoli (they really only eat the tops of the florets at first), scrambled eggs, crackers, beans and rice, pasta etc. Eventually, they can eat pretty much whatever is on your own plate. My kids favorites by 8 or 9 months old were chili and spaghetti. They also love strawberries and whole apples. That's right. Whole apples, with the skin on. I take a bite out of the apple to get them started and then they go to town!  It's adorable and keeps them busy for quite a while. Great for when I'm grocery shopping! [caption id="attachment_1536" align="aligncenter" width="659"]Collage This is my daughter from 6 months through 13 months, eating banana, avocado, a chicken leg, broccoli & sweet potato, chili, and a whole apple. This is just an example of the progression of solid foods she was able to handle.[/caption] My 10 month old loves using utensils and can spoon feed himself cereal, oatmeal or yogurt. He loves using a small fork (plastic baby fork) to spear other foods too. He might alternate between using his utensil and his hands but we are laying the groundwork for later. There is some mess involved with this approach. But I would imagine that's always the case when feeding a baby. Just be prepared to wipe up some floors, change some clothes and maybe run an extra bath now and then. It's all been worth it to me. I have two great eaters and I would recommend this approach to anyone. You may have questions or be wondering about baby cereal, introducing fruits or veggies first, possible allergens. I basically threw the "rule book" out the window. That may sound reckless, but let me explain. That rice cereal, contains no real nutritional value for your baby. It's mainly meant for practice, to get your baby used to taking food from a spoon that is thicker than the milk they are used to. That seemed a little pointless to me. Or at least something that could be substituted by a banana or other soft food. Introducing your baby to a lot of different foods and textures is really great for their palate and for ensuring no issues with food textures or aversions. As far as allergens go, feel free to move as slowly as you want and watch your baby for any reactions. We have no family history of any allergens and so I was a little less cautious in that area. Both my kids have had peanut butter before age 1 as well as cow's milk (in cereals or oatmeal, not in place of breastmilk), almond milk, eggs, etc. with no problems. I've never been the type to ask my pediatrician what I should feed my baby or how long I should breastfeed or how long they should be sleeping. If you are, then of course, by all means, ask away! That's what they are there for. I have just always been independent myself and enjoyed doing things my own way. I've been called a control freak, but I don't know if that's entirely accurate. I LOVE handing over the control to my babies when it comes to solid foods. It has taken a load off of me and my already full pun intended ;-). So whichever category you fall into: wanting guidance or wanting independence, this can work for you. Make it your own! Just remember to relax and enjoy the ride. That's great advice for any aspect of parenting, am I right?? Now, I'm off to take my own advice and apply that to the many messes that await me from leaving my children to their own devices while writing this. Cheers! Amanda Signature ***Disclaimer: This is my personal opinion and experience, not intended to be taken as medical advice. I am not a licensed medical professional and have received all of my information from other people's experience and testimony, as well as my own.***
Staying Organized
Don't let the title deceive you. I try to stay organized.  Despite my creative side, few things compare to checking something off my to do list. Coming home to a clean house and really relaxing in it, well, it's an amazing feeling. But let's face it. I'm a mom with a building habit, a blog and two day jobs.  It's hard enough to find time for Coffee with Jesus or the gym, much less to spring clean. [caption id="attachment_1517" align="alignnone" width="600"]Linen Closet We're pretty much swooning over this beautifully organized linen closet by Dear Lillie. She is the inspiration for my own linen closet makeover (post coming soon)![/caption]


There are thousands of books, magazine articles, blog posts (joining the club here) and TV shows on organizing methods and tricks, but of all those resources, one thing stands out and makes it possible for me to keep my house and office organized (most of the time).  Everything has a home.  A put-away, it lives there when you're not using it home.  We're talking everything: magazines, opened and unopened mail, nail clippers, remotes... everything. This sounds simple, I know, but it's not.  The last thing I want to do at the end of the day is go around the house and pick up all the little things lying around.  But I swear, y'all, if left alone, stuff builds up around our house until suddenly you can't find anywhere to sit on the sofa! [caption id="attachment_1519" align="alignnone" width="564"]We don't have a pantry to organize, but if we did, it would look like this! We don't have a pantry to organize, but if we did, it would look like this![/caption]


This is a time investment initially, and it is not fun, but believe me when I tell you once you get past the decluttering and overwhelming "how in the world do I have so much stuff!?!" feeling, you never have to do it again.  Right before the birth of our daughter and again about a year after, I pulled every single thing out of our closets, cabinets and storage bins and separated them all into keep, donate and trash piles.  I even had a goal of only keeping 50 clothing items in my closet (a completely unrealistic goal for me, I might add). Once I had sorted through everything and was only left with my keep piles, I made it my job to find everything a home so nothing extra sat out and you always knew where things were.  It was totally worth the weekend it took to sort through. [caption id="attachment_1521" align="alignnone" width="564"]Organizing doesn't always happen behind closed doors. This coffee bar is a great example of something we would want to keep out on the counter because we'd use it every day. Everything is still in its place, and it's creates a happy little organized vignette as well! Organizing doesn't always happen behind closed doors. This coffee bar is a great example. Everything is in its place, and it's creates a happy little organized vignette![/caption]


There's still upkeep, of course.  You have to commit to picking things up and putting them back.  You have to get the rest of your household on board.  As I write this, half of the contents of our closet are spread out on the bedroom floor because I decided to try and pare down its contents yet again, so I know the struggle is real.  But if you're anything like me and find it hard to be creative in the midst of clutter, it's totally worth it! You will be less stressed and actually have more time for the rest of your life. Give it a shot, and let us know how your declutter goes! Jess Signature