Searching for "christmas"

Frugal Family Fun in DFW: Visiting the Dallas Zoo in the Winter {$5 Admission}

We love the Dallas Zoo all year round, but my favorite time to visit is during Penguin Days in January and February.  We are blessed with some gorgeous sunny days during the winter months here in DFW, and our family loves to be outside.  The Dallas Zoo offers discounted $5 admission during January and February, and kids 2 and under are always free.  The Zoo is open from 9-4 daily except on Christmas Day.  Parking is $8 per car, or you can ride the DART Red Line train to the Zoo stop.

My Goals in Action for 2014 + a Free Printable Goal Outline

One of my favorite New Year’s Day activities is planning, praying, and dreaming through my goals for the next year.  Jed and I each write down our individual goals as well as those for our family as a unit.  I created the goal outline above to use for myself, but am sharing it with you just in case you need a handy dandy outline to help your brainstorming efforts.  Click here to download the sky & bokeh clouds version above or click here to download the white background outline below.  I’ve divided the outline in to 6 categories with room for three goals each as well as a section for action steps.  I’ve found the action steps to be the most important step.  Without them, my goals don’t happen and are relegated to the land of day dreams.  Action must be taken to achieve a goal.  
I’m excited to share a few of my goals with y’all, but I’m saving the big brainstorming for tomorrow because it’s our little tradition.  One of my personal goals is to lose 35 pounds by the time I turn 35 in June.  Actions steps for this goal include exercising 210 minutes per week and dropping processed sugar from my diet.  One spiritual goal is to complete my BSF Bible study every week in full.  An action step towards this goal is to get up before my kids to have quiet time with Jesus.  One of my physical goals is tied to my personal goal of losing weight.  I want to participate in one workout class per week.  Jed bought me Zumba classes for Christmas so I’m well on my way towards this goal.  One of our family goals this year is to become a fit family.  We will work towards this goal by doing something active together as a family every week.  One of our financial goals is to rebuild our emergency fund after it took a big hit with the great plumbing disaster of 2013.  We will work towards this goal by continuing to budget every month and by me going back to work for Young Life part time from January to June. 

What goals are you putting into action this coming year? 

Meal Plan: Tortilla Soup for a Crowd and Bonus Holiday Entertaining Ideas

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Carton Smart for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

There is nothing like a hot bowl of soup to warm you up on a cold day, and this tortilla soup recipe is sure to be a crowd pleaser.  It would be the perfect easy dinner for a crowd on Christmas Eve, or great for freezing portions for meal planning.  It can be made ahead with the crockpot or created on the spot.  It has just enough kick for the spicy food lovers, but is still kid friendly.  Bonus – I made it with Pacific Foods Organic Chicken Stock from a #CartonSmart container that is responsibly sourced, reclosable,  and 100% recyclable.  Learn more about how to Become Carton Smart with your grocery choices.  

 photo 1898ca76-3272-4baf-a8df-07abf60e15e3_zps1bf425e9.jpg

Now for the recipe…

 photo 795e421d-1ec8-414e-b1b8-dde8f5f23ded_zps62983f0a.jpg

Easy Tortilla Soup for a Crowd (Serves 14-16)


8 oz Pacific Foods Organic Chicken Stock

3.5 cups or 2 cans pinto beans

3.5 cups or 2 cans kidney beans

3.5 cups or 2 cans corn

3 cups or 2 cans diced tomatoes with green chiles

3.5 cups or 2 cans plain chopped tomatoes

2 cups water

3.5 cups or 2 cans black beans

1 cup or 2 small cans diced green chiles

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts

2 packets dry ranch dressing mix

2 packets taco seasoning


1. Boil your chicken breasts until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.  Then shred the chicken with a knife or use your stand mixer paddle attachement.  By the way, shredding chicken with a stand mixer is the single most useful thing I’ve ever learned on Pinterest.  It will change your life.

2. Open all ingredients and add them to your crockpot or pot, stirring to mix well.  Do not drain or rinse any of the ingredients.  You can use Tetra Pak, canned, or frozen items.  If using frozen, please add additional chicken broth as needed.  Always recycled your containers – Tetra Pak and cans.  

3. Add the cooked chicken and bring to a boil (pot) or cook on low for at least 2 hours (crockpot).  After it reaches a boil, let simmer on low for 45 minutes or until ready to serve.  Done!

Serve with diced avocado and crushed tortilla chips.

A few other #CartonSmart food ideas: 

Our Pearl Girl is loving the Pacific Foods Pumpkin Puree.  It is a perfect ready made organic baby food or addition to any pumpkin recipe or substitute for oil in any baking recipe.  The possibilities are endless.

 photo d1d52bb8-c150-4f19-9a7c-b8c9ab3c8df3_zpsac6b75dd.jpg

Need a delicious cranberry sauce to add to your table?  Try Pacific Foods Organic Cranberry Sauce ready made for dining.  You can also put it on top of an 8 oz block of cream cheese and serve with crackers for a simple and tasty appetizer, or bake it on top of a wedge of brie cheese wrapped in crescent roll dough.  I love options.

 photo 62adf36b-e1dc-4d93-98c1-aa80d97a468d_zps600d562e.jpg

For more recipe ideas Follow #CartonSmart on Pinterest.  And check out their Twitter feed here: Tweet @CartonSmart.   If you like this recipe, be sure to pin it on Pinterest or share on other social media.  

Visit Sponsor's Site

Pamper Your Lips with Three Perfect Gifts {Stocking Stuffer Ideas}

This amazing phenomenon happens often in our house where Santa (me) fills all the stockings but no one remembers to fill mine.  If Santa (Mommy) gets left out at your house, too, it’s not too late to remedy the situation.  Shop Rodan + Fields Dermatologists now to grab a few stocking stuffers to pamper the lips of a loved one or your own.  With two day shipping available you can order up until the 22nd for Christmas delivery.  Here’s the top three stocking stuffers for your lips from the doctors of R + F, personally recommended by my sister (a R+F consultant) and me:

1) Essentials Lip Shield Broad Spectrum SPF 25
Take your lip care to a whole new level of moisture and protection with this 2 pack of lip shield for $16.  Use it throughout the day for smooth, supple, protected lips.  When asked to describe this product one word always comes up: “Fantastic.”

2) Enhancements Lip Micro-Dermabrasion
Winter is hell on lips, as we all know.  Combat the dry dead skin with micro-dermabrasion technology created specifically for your lips.  They will be instantly smoother and healthier and you will notice a difference almost immediately.  The Enhancements Lip Micro-Dermabrasion stick retails for $16.

3) Redefine Lip Renewing Serum
If your lips are starting to show your age, this serum is for you.  Use it after the micro-dermabrasion at night for silky smooth lips and you will quickly notice a change in the texture of your lips as well as a reduction of wrinkles.  Start with a package of 60 capsules for $53. One capsule lasts me 3 nights, making it a six month supply of capsules unless you are Angelina Jolie.

Become a Preferred Customer before December 31st and receive a free copy of the national bestseller Write Your Skin a Prescription for Change.  Preferred Customers also get at least 10% off all orders and free shipping.

Our 2013: A Year in Review

This past year was a great one for our family.  To help me reflect on it as a whole, I’m joining the lovely Nicole from Three 31 (who is due to have a sweet baby any day now) for a year in review link up.  After you’ve read about our year, click through the link up at the bottom of this post to read from a ton of fun folks and get inspired. 

What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?
I gave birth to my sweet daughter, our second child, and had a healthy normal birth after a prior c-section.  This VBAC was a HUGE victory and we are so thankful for the entire journey and for our beautiful, healthy baby girl.  

Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
It was a mixed bag, as always.  I always create a list of personal goals and we create a list of family goals together.  Without goals and dreams, I end up wandering aimlessly and watching reruns of the Real Housewives.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Did anyone close to you give birth?
So many of our friends had babies this year.  My sister gave birth to her 2nd son 6 weeks after I had Ellie.  We are thrilled to have cousins so close together.  
What countries did you visit?
We stayed in the US, but were traveling  six weeks of the year.  I love to be on the go, especially

What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
A full night of sleep… With two kiddos 2 and under I’ll just keep on dreaming.
What date from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory?
April 22 – My husband’s birthday and now my precious daughter’s as well.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Having a healthy baby girl

What was your biggest failure?

Not losing the baby weight.  This was a big goal that just didn’t happen. Yet.

Did you suffer illness or injury?

I sprained my ankle tripping in my house.  I’m a klutz for life, y’all.

What was the best thing you bought?

A new computer!!!  I love this thing.

Where did most of your money go?

We budget every dime, and that budget is tight.  We are debt free, so after our expenses we save for retirement, vacation, kids’ college funds, and big purchases.  Oh yeah, we also had to have the plumbing completely rebuilt on one side of our house.  Big fun. {sarcasm font}

What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Again, our new addition.  Sweet Eleanor is such a joy and a delight.

What song will always remind you of 2013?

The Avett Brothers – Father’s First Spring

Compared to this time last year, are you:

Happier or sadder?Thinner or fatter?Richer or poorer?
Happier, fatter (but not pregnant), and richer in everything that matters

What do you wish you’d done more of?

hiking & camping

What do you wish you’d done less of?

watching tv – We’ve dropped a bunch of shows and are only watching the ones we care about.  Sorry, Toddlers and Tiaras, ain’t nobody got time for that.

How will you be spending Christmas?
With my parents and brothers in Little Rock, after an early mini celebration with just us in Dallas.

Did you fall in love in 2013?
More every day with my husband and kids

Who were your best friends?

I have a wonderful group of girlfriends here in Dallas, as well as a handful of besties from my home town.

What thing did you do that was meaningful to others?

I started volunteering with Young Life again, in their outreach ministry to teen moms called YoungLives.

What were your favorite TV programs?
Nashville – because Connie Britton’s hair {among other reasons}
Scandal, Modern Family, The Bachelor (don’t judge), The Black List, The Mindy Project, New Girl, Bones

Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
I try really hard not to hate anyone.

What was the best book you read in 2013?

Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth – It changed my life and helped me get my VBAC.  It made me believe my body was made to birth.  If you are pregnant, I urge you to check it out of the library or order it from Amazon.

What was your greatest musical discovery?
I’ll call it a rediscovery.  I remembered my childhood love of classical music.  Nerd alert.

What did you want and get?
a healthy baby, a normal birth, a beach vacation, time with my family

What did you want but did NOT get?

my bathrooms painted – This is happening soon.

What was your favorite film of this year?
Hmmm… Well, I’ve seen one movie in a theater since the Bear was born, in 2011.  Yikes.  I really loved the new season of Arrested Development.  Does that count?

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I went on a date with my husband, and it was fabulous.  I’m 34.

What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
If I had lost the dang baby weight.  I’m really sick of being overweight.  Now if I could just quit eating these cookies…

What kept you sane?

My faith. I try to spend time with Jesus daily, and He is my rock.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I don’t really have any celebrity crushes, though I am more excited than I care to admit about Juan Pablo being the new Bachelor.  Judge me if you will.  Captain Hook on Once Upon a Time is a bit delicious.  I love Mindy Kaling with all my heart.  Michelle Obama is a rock star to me.

What political issue stirred you the most?
Gun control.  I’m from the south and grew up with guns around, but I just don’t understand why we can have computer chips in our pets but can’t pass a universal background check system for firearms.

Who did you miss?
My grandparents.  I think about them a lot as I watch my parents in their new role with my kids.  My maternal grandparents were really special and I still miss them so much.  I also missed my friends and family that live far away.  If I could have one wish it would be for my sister and her family to live in the same town with us.

Who was the best new person you met this year?
Eleanor Pearl, of course

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.

I will mess up as a parent and I have to be able to live with that.  It doesn’t make me a bad mom or a bad person.  I have to depend on the Lord to guide me and pray to be the mama my kids need each day.

Quote that sums up your year:
Be content where you are. 

What sums up your 2013?

An InLinkz Link-up

Our Texas Ranchsgiving & My 2013 Thankful List

We spent Thanksgiving at our sister-in-law’s family’s ranch near Huntsville, Texas.  It was cold but sunny and we had a great time.  The MJD Ranch and the Goertz family is always so welcoming to us and we love being there and with them.  Most of Jed’s family joined us there and we had a huge dinner complete with lots of football watching and outdoor playing.  The Bear had the time of his life.  Barns, cows, horses, and tractors are his favorites.  The Pearl girl decided she did not approve of pack-n-play sleeping and let everyone know it throughout the night.  This left us a little sleep deprived, but we still had fun.  Sweet Bear slept through the uproar, but I when I asked if he’d heard her the next day he said, “Baby Ellie was crying all night.”  Sorry buddy.  It was bizarre, because she was waking up so angry and nothing appeased her.  I tried every trick in the mama book.  It stopped as soon as we got home. Babies be crazy. 

Oh hay little Bear.  
This precious boy is definitely on my Thankful list for 2013.
Here’s the rest.  I’m 34, so I listed 34 things. There are many more, but I like the tradition of doing one for every year of life, taught to me by my sweet friend Betsy.  I had all my YoungLives girls start this tradition at campaigners, and it was amazing to hear their lists.  What are you thankful for this year?
1. Jed 2. Fisher 3. Eleanor 4. My parents 5. my siblings 6. YoungLives 7. being debt free 8. our house 9. staying home with my kids 10. this blog & the opportunities it provides 11. Grace 12. fall leaves 13. My grandmother moving to Dallas 14. blue mason jars 15. cupcakes 16. our new church 17. my salvation 18. Being a team with my husband 19. beach vacation 20. Jackson, my wonder wiener dog 21. fresh gulf shrimp 22. 3 playgrounds near our house 23. our neighborhood pools 24. MOPS 25. BSF 26. my new part time job with YoungLives Camp starting in January  27. new tires on our cars 28. a successful VBAC 29. the health of our family 30. the ability to breastfeed Ellie 31. cloth diapers 32. our budget 33. our emergency fund 34. God’s provision for our family.  

Christmas card pic, obviously.
What’s weird about all the attempts at Christmas card pics is that the Pearl girl looks super mad.  She is the happiest baby in the world 99% of the time.  That 1% was during the night of our Thanksgiving trip and any family photo shoots.  Ergh…

I’ve come to love a Texas sunset.

We tried to get a photo with all of the Eby cousins and their Paw Paw, but made the mistake of facing the sun.  The sun is like kryptonite for my blue eyed people.  This is the only one with most of the eyes open.  The Bear loves his big cousins.  We are so thankful for our family.

Fun and Funky Gifts for Everyone on Your List: An Uncommon Goods Review

If you are one who likes to give the unexpected, the creative, the responsibly sourced, or the incredibly unique, Uncommon Goods is the place to shop.  When they contacted me about doing a review, I was quickly sucked in to the rabbit hole of shopping on their site.  A few of my favorite items are shown above: a men’s belt made from recycled bike parts, blocks with braille and sign language, sleeping bear and pig slippers, and a gorgeous rough stone ring.  Click here to find the perfect holiday gift for everyone on your list from Uncommon Goods.  Besides featuring a plethora of recycled, upcycled, eco-friendly, and handmade goods, Uncommon Goods uses sustainable environmental and fair wage practices. I’m giving away a $25 gift card from the generous folks at Uncommon Goods as well, so click here to enter.  
I chose to review gifts for the Bear and Jed – Kinetic Sand and a Pick Punch. 
For review purpose I gave the gifts early, and they were both a big hit.
We all agreed the Kinetic Sand is one of our favorite review items EVER.  
If you have a curious kid on your list, this stuff is ridiculously amazing.
We received the small package weighing 2.2 pounds (1 kg) that retails at $15.  It pretty much saved us during the crazy ice storm we had this weekend. We got it out 4 times the first day and 5 times the second day, playing for 20-30 minutes each time.  That is an eternity in toddler years, people.   

I was worried about the mess so I put it on a cookie tray on a sheet.  Turns out I didn’t need to worry.  The stuff is pretty much magic.  It sticks together and if some gets away you can pick it up with a chunk of the sand.  Crazy and awesome.  It feels like a fun science experiment mixed and we all seriously loved it.  I was skeptical at first, but I played almost as much as Bear. 

I’ve missed my calling as a sculptor, obviously.
You can mold it, shape it, cut it, let it drift through your fingers, and then roll it up and do it over again.
The Bear’s favorite game was to build a castle and then promptly bash it.  

I don’t know what kind of wizardry is used to keep it together, but I’m dying to find out.
The girl who spent a summer at science camp and was the historian of her high school science club came out to play for sure.  Nerd alert.  Jed was fascinated as well.  He starting teaching Bear how to use a butter knife to play with the sand.  Then we got out the cookie cutters.  The possibilities are endless.  

If you have a kid or kid-at-heart on your list, this is the perfect gift.  
We could not recommend it any more.  We truly love it. 

My husband, Jed, loves to play the guitar.  I gave him the Pick Punch to review, and he thinks it is really fun.  He used an old Starbucks gift card to test it out, and was able to create three picks from one gift card.  They are the same size as the picks he purchased, and work perfectly.  

If you have a musician in your life, the Pick Punch would make a great gift.  It retails for $25.  Teenagers who’ve taken up the guitar would be prime recipients, as would rock start dads like my husband.  In my experience, men and teenagers are the most difficult to buy for.  My husband is picky, and he loves this little machine.  If you need more gift ideas for men, click here.  

Uncommon Goods is also budget friendly.  Click here to find a great selection of gifts under $50.

Check out Uncommon Goods and come back and tell me your favorite item.  
Be sure to enter my giveaway for a $25 gift card here (ends 12/16).

Make a Twenty Minute Tutu for Your Favorite Little Girl {For Less Than $10}

I was a dancer growing up, taking lessons in ballet, tap, and jazz from age 2 til college.  Because of this influence, I have an affinity for tutus in my blood.  I’ve made them before but finally figured out a super fast way to make an adjustable waist tutu for under $10 in about twenty minutes.  Seriously.  This is not a Rachel Ray twenty minutes either, with some assistant cutting strips during the commercial.  You can make one, even if you aren’t crafty.  These tutus can grow with your favorite little girl and make a great Christmas or birthday gift.  You can see we styled it for Christmas with our red and green necklace onesie from Unique Annick.   
Materials Needed:
35-50 yards of tulle (depending on the size of your child)
I use the rolls found in the notions section of the fabric store because they are already cut to the perfect width.  You can find them for $3-4.99 (depending on color) for 25 yards, and use a coupon to get them 40% off.
1 1/2 yards of grosgrain ribbon in a coordinating color 
(at least one inch thick)
piece of scrap cardboard to use as a guide and mat
1. Measure your child’s waist or estimate it.  Cut the ribbon to have about twenty extra inches for a bow.  
2. Find the middle of your ribbon and measure for the waist from that point, tying a knot at each end of the waist portion.  
3. Cut your cardboard in to a rectangle to create a guide mat.  For children 0-12 months you’ll want an 8 inch skirt, so make your cardboard 9 inches across to accommodate the knots.  Make a toddler skirt 9-10 inches long, and a child’s skirt 12-14 inches long.  Just add an extra inch to the cardboard for whatever size skirt you need.
4. Wrap your tulle around the cardboard guide until it is almost too thick to cut.  Cut across one side creating 17 inch strips (using the 0-12 month size as an example).

5. Tie your ribbon around the cardboard to make your life easier.  
6. Take three pieces of tulle at a time and loop over the ribbon, then bring the ends through the loop as shown below.  Repeat until your skirt reaches its desired fullness.  Be sure to pull the knots tights and then push them together tightly. 
7. Remove your finished skirt from the guide and fluff it up.  You’re done! 
Hopefully you can knock this out while watching a 30 Rock rerun and have a fabulous tutu gift for under $10.  

If you use this tutorial to make a Twenty Minute Tutu, please share your finished product on my Facebook page.  I’d love to see it.  
I’m always trying to find ways to create in the short amount of free time I have.
What’s your best craft shortcut?

Date Night on a Budget: Create Your Own Instant Coffee Shop #LoveYourCup

This post is part of a sponsored campaign by Collective Bias on behalf of their client.  Have you ever enjoyed a coffee date night at home?  There’s nothing I love more than sipping a hot cup of coffee and munching on a delicious treat while spending quality time with my man.  Pumpkin Spice coffee and quality time are two of my love languages, after all.

Around here we are super busy, but long to slow down.  We have to schedule our date nights and make them fit in to our routine and our budget.  We have several methods for finding time for connection without breaking the bank.  We swap babysitting with friends, sign up for cheap Parents’ Night Out functions, and have date nights at home.

What does a date night at home look like?  Typically we put the kids to bed and then enjoy a quiet dinner together, and then maybe a movie or just time together to catch up and enjoy each other’s company.  We always try to have a little special treat on date night.  One of my favorite treats is sitting on our back porch enjoying a cup of coffee (probably decaf) and a little dessert.  Coffee-mate Pumpkin Spice flavored creamer adds a coffee shop touch to our budget evening for much less than a popular coffee shop chain I won’t name.  I’m excited for the Peppermint Mocha flavor to come out for the season soon as well.

Recently we had the opportunity to try Coffee-mate Pumpkin Spice powdered creamer in our Taster’s Choice coffee.  The flavor is perfect for the cool fall weather, and was such a great little treat snuggled up on the back porch.  What I love about Taster’s Choice is that in about two minutes I can have a cup of delicious coffee without having to brew a whole pot.  Just add hot water and a teaspoon of coffee and stir, then add your Pumpkin Spice creamer.  It was so warm and soothing.

To create your own instant coffee shop, you just need a few minutes of prep time.  Here’s how to set the scene… Pick a quiet spot, maybe a table on your porch.  Set a pretty table cloth and maybe a candle.  Grab two coffee cups and fill with water heated in the microwave or in a tea pot.  Take your Taster’s Choice coffee, Coffee-mate Pumpkin Spice creamer (both found at Walmart), sugar, and spoons out to your spot.  Stir up some delicious coffee and conversation.  Taster’s Choice also is great to have on hand during the holiday season for neighbors and friends who drop by.

Need a conversation starter?  Here are a few ideas:
Tell me a story from your childhood I’ve never heard before.
If you had $100 right now to spend just on yourself, what would you buy?
If you could rename yourself, what name would you pick and why?
What are you thankful for this week?
What was the best Christmas present you ever received as a kid?

How do fit date nights into your busy schedule?

Eleanor Pearl at Five Months

Time is flying, and our girl is already five months old.
She is so bright eyed and delightful.
She laughs at her brother all day long.
She is incredibly curious and always taking in her surroundings.
She is *this close* to crawling.
She pushes up and rocks back and forth.
Sometimes she even launches herself forward.
She can get pretty much wherever she wants by rolling.
Rolling and chewing, that’s how she spend her days.
Judging by the amount of drool and chewing,
I think her first tooth is not far off.
She loves to be worn in the Ergo or pushed in the stroller and is up for any adventure.
Floor time makes her happy, especially when it is outside on a blanket.
She is loving her “baby office”, and exersaucer from a consignment sale.  

Sweet Eleanor is still exclusively breastfed.
She refuses a bottle, so she is mama’s little sidekick wherever I go.
Sometimes I wish she would take a bottle, 
but I wouldn’t trade our precious nursing relationship for the world.  

We didn’t have a check up this month, 
so I’m guessing her weight is around 15-16 pounds.
Judging by her rubber band wrists and chunky little thighs
she is healthy and growing fast.
She wears 6-12 month clothes.
We are using cloth diapers almost exclusively, and it is so much easier now that the Bear is potty trained (except for nap & night).  One in cloth is WAY easier than two.  Captain Obvious, reporting for duty.
Every time she outgrows something, it breaks my heart just a little.

Our Pearl Girl’s eyes are still a bright, clear blue.
Her hair is still an auburn shade and her eyebrows are red.
I’m on the hunt for soft, handmade, red-haired dolls for Christmas.
Her natural mohawk went away this month as we battled cradle cap.

Ellie and Fisher are really starting to play together, 
and nothing is sweeter.
He loves to make her laugh.
I thank God every day for this precious angel baby.
She is sweet and beautiful and brings us such joy 
and we are so blessed to be her parents.