Monday, November 24, 2014

6 Signs Of A Great Fake Christmas Tree

I'm excited to be partnering with King Of Christmas for this review. All opinions are mine alone.

So I’ll just admit it now. I am a self-professed Christmas tree snob. Until recently, my tree always had to be real, a Douglas Fir was a must, and I would make my poor husband spend all day searching for those perfect shaped branches. Basically, when it comes to Christmas trees, I'm about as picky as they come. I never even considered buying an artificial tree until a few years ago. But then I started changing my thinking a little. We bought a new house, and now we actually have space for setting up a second (or third) Christmas tree like I've always wanted to do. We also have two kids now, and free time is about as rare as snow in July. So as much as I love having a fresh tree in the house, I just don’t have the time to go out, find, and set up more than one.  

We always have a real Christmas tree in our living room, but this year I decided that I wanted a tree in our Master bedroom as well. I also knew that if we were going to have more than one tree in the house, one of them was going to need to be fake. I was lucky enough to get a five foot tree from King Of Christmas and I have to say that, for an artificial tree, I'm extremely impressed with the quality and happy with my decision. Here's what I like about it....

1. Easy To Assemble

I'm not sure how other artificial trees compare, but this tree was extremely easy to set up. I was able to put it together in less than 10 minutes, without using the instructions, and at the end my floor wasn't covered in a million pine needles! I also happened to get a pre-lit tree so there was no fussing with lights, trying to get them evenly distributed around the tree. 

2. Sturdy Base

The base is really sturdy and it holds the tree so that it doesn't wobble around. Olivia has already played several rounds of "Ring Around The Christmas Tree," and luckily, I don't have to worry about this one falling over on top of her.

3. Ideal Fullness

Sometimes real trees are so bushy that you can't even fit ornaments on the branches. My new artificial tree from King Of Christmas has the perfect amount of fullness. 

4. Perfect Shape

I love that this tree has a perfect shape. The branches are evenly placed all the way around and there are no weird empty spots. It was nice not having to spend five minutes rotating the tree around and around trying to find the best spot to show off. 

5. Perfect Top

I hate when I think I've found that perfect tree and then find that top branch is chopped off or completely crooked and there's no good place to put a topper. Not an issue with my new artificial. The little sprig at the top is perfect for a star...or in our case, Mickey Mouse.

6. Holds Heavy Ornaments

Matt has a collection of Disney ornaments from when he was a kid and they have always been too heavy for me to hang on our Christmas tree. However, my new artificial tree from King Of Christmas has nice strong branches, and I'm finally gonna have a chance to use some of those decorations!

To be honest, the best part about having an artificial tree is that I can put it up as far in advance as I want, without having to worry about it drying out and looking dead by the time Christmas gets here. If you are considering a new artificial tree this year, King Of Christmas is definitely worth a look. They have a big selection of both pre-lit and unlit trees as well as some really pretty decorations and ornaments. 

You can follow King Of Christmas on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.  You can also check out their blog, where they share useful information like how to choose the right size tree for your space and tips for storing holiday decorations.  

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

5 Ways To Save Energy During The Holidays

A few months ago we had our highest energy bill to date. I'll admit I'm not good about turning the light out every time I leave the room and we do leave our coffee machine plugged in all the time. Ooops! 

Luckily, my husband is understanding, and rarely gets on my case about it. But this holiday season, in order to not see our bill get any higher, I am trying to do a few small things to save energy, and hopefully in turn, money.

Use LED lights for decorating

This is an easy one. If you've purchased Christmas lights in the past few years, chances are you're already using LEDs. It's actually difficult to find anything other than LEDs in the stores these days. However, I am guilty of still using a few strands of lights from about 15 years ago. They still work so I figured, why go out and buy new ones. But this year I'm replacing every last strand of those energy sucking light bulbs with brand new energy efficient ones. 

Set Lights On A Timer

I don't know about you, but I have definitely been know to forget to turn our Christmas lights off and leave them on all night long. Or even worse, forget to turn them off before leaving the house in the morning, and have them on all day. Sometimes, we get so busy that we forget to turn them on in the first place! This year I bought several timers that we can use indoors or out. We can set them so that we don't have to worry about turning our Christmas lights on or off. I found this one in the Christmas section at Target for about $5. They had a huge variety of timers and when I saw the selection, I couldn't believe we had never considered using a timer before. With everything else going on in our busy lives, leaving lights on all day isn't something I'll have to feel guilty about this year.

Embrace Candlelight

I love candlelight on any day, but the holidays just seem like the perfect time to turn the lights down and enjoy an evening lit by candles. In my opinion, nothing feels more cozy than all lights out, a few burning candles, and the Christmas tree. Also, according to PG&E, using a dimmer switch is a lot more cost effective than having your lights on at full force. So, we plan on having several romantic nights with dimmed lighting and candles this season. Who could complain about that!

Turn the TV off and listen to Christmas music

I didn't realize that HDTVs are huge energy suckers? In fact, our TVs probably take more energy than lights and small appliances combined.  This season we plan on saving a little energy by turning the TV off for a few hours every night and listening to Christmas music instead. A good quality, battery operated speaker will fill your house with music and requires a lot less energy than a television. I know it will keep us in the holiday spirit too!

Be mindful of how to save energy in the kitchen

I do the majority of cooking for our family during the holiday season and there are a lot of ways to save energy in the kitchen that I had never even thought of before. I remember my mom telling me not to stand in front of the open refrigerator as a kid. I can hear her now, scolding me for wasting the cold air. But when you're paying your own energy bill, it really has a whole new meaning. Besides keeping that refrigerator door shut, I'm going to try not to keep my oven door open more than necessary. According to PG&E, every time you open the door, the temperature drops 25-30 degrees, requiring more energy to heat back up. Also, glass retains heat better than other materials, so using glass baking dishes will allow you to reduce your oven temperature by about 25 degrees. 

I found a bunch of energy saving tips on the PG&E website, and if you're looking for new ways to save energy at home it's a great resource. Also, if you're interested in a little competition, the #PGEhome Instagram photo challenge is happening November 17th - 23rd. Follow PG&E on Instagram and share your photo for a chance to win one of seven $100 Home Depot gift cards.

So now I am curious. What do you do to save energy at home? And, do you do anything differently during the holidays?

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Stay-At-Home Movie Night For Less + A Sweet N' Salty Popcorn Trio

I made this Sweet N' Salty Popcorn Trio for our stay-at-home movie night as part of a sponsored post. This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias and it's advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #MovieNight4Less #CollectiveBias

Life has been extremely busy this month. Matt has been working like a mad man lately.  He was out of town for five days recently, leaving me to pull double duty with the kids. On top of that, Jake has decided that waking up at 5 am is the cool thing to do, and Olivia has thrown at least one "terrible-two" tantrum everyday for the past week. Needless to say, we've both been working overtime, and finding a chance to hang out together hasn't been easy.

Last week, on my way out of Walmart, I found a display that had Warner Bros. DVDs, Orville Redenbacher's popcorn, and M&M's®  all in one convenient (and totally impulse buy worthy) spot. Imagine that! The prices were reasonable and I was actually surprised that they had some good movie titles like, Goodfellas, Forest Gump, and Shawshank Redemption. Since Matt and I were both due for a little bit of fun, and I don't have time to plan anything elaborate, I figured an impromptu stay-at-home movie night would be the perfect way to relax together. I picked out The Blind Side on Blue Ray for $7.88, a couple boxes of popcorn, and a few boxes of M&M's®. Then I headed home to get creative.

Of course the first thing I had to do was invite my husband. I made a little invitation and set it out where I knew he would see it.  The next thing I did was go play with the kids. Sounds unproductive, I know, but I had a plan. Play with the kids, wear them out, let them skip nap-time, and then put them down to sleep early, so we could have the evening to relax. After playing several rounds of "toss the bean bags," making cupcakes out of play dough, and building one awesome princess castle, the kids were exhausted and I was able to escape to the kitchen to start poppin'! 

I've noticed a definite trend while eating at fancy restaurants lately. The dessert trio. A few weeks ago while Matt and I were on a short Las Vegas getaway, we had an amazing trio of desserts, all made with pumpkin. It was delicious, the presentation was beautiful, and it got me thinking it would be fun to put together my own little trio using the popcorn and M&M's®. A sweet and salty popcorn trio! 

I didn't have a lot of ingredients on hand, and another trip to the store was out of the question, so I went to my pantry and just started pulling out anything I thought might mix well with popcorn. For my first concoction I grabbed a half used bag of shaved coconut and about a cup of cherry M&M's®. I had purchased both Kettle corn and regular butter popcorn while I was at the store, so I started by popping one bowl of kettle corn. I mixed it with the coconut and M&M's®, and yum! 

Next I wanted something cheesy and zesty. I popped a bag of butter popcorn and in a separate little dish I mixed 3 tablespoons of cheese powder, 1 teaspoon of paprika, and 1 teaspoon of salt. I sprinkled it over the popcorn little by little until it was well coated. Then, in went some peanut butter M&M's®.

Finally, I made one last bowl of butter popcorn and mixed it with about a cup of mint M&M's®  and about a cup of chocolate sprinkles. Simple and delicious!

Of course, I needed an artistic presentation so I used three of my stemless martini glasses to hold the popcorn. I also finally got a chance to use the cute polka dot platter I picked up on my last trip to Ikea.

I wanted a proper label for each of my creations, and luckily, I had a few chalkboard clips left over from my Thanksgiving tree project. They worked out perfectly for this too!

At last the kids were in bed, the snacks were ready and our stay-at-home movie night was underway. And I have to say, the quiet house, the comfy couch and the Sweet N' Salty popcorn trio had us both wondering why we ever went out to the movies in the first place.

If you want to create your own stay-at-home movie night for less, you can shop this great combo until November 24th at select Walmart locations.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Thanksgiving Tree: All In One Activity, Centerpiece & Place Card Holders

I've been on a bit of a Christmas planning frenzy lately, and hadn't thought a whole lot about Thanksgiving until this past weekend. Now that I have kids, I understand more than ever why Thanksgiving is known as "The Forgotten Holiday." Once Thanksgiving is over, the weeks up until Christmas just seem to fly by! If I don't want to be up until midnight every night decorating, shopping, wrapping or cooking, then I have to start preparing for Christmas before Thanksgiving even gets here. 

I've decided that planning for Christmas early is something I simply can't avoid. Not if I want to actually enjoy the holiday season. However, I am determined not to let Thanksgiving get completely lost in the process. So this past weekend I took a little break from some of the Christmas crafts I have going on to put together our first family Thanksgiving tree.

I love some of the Thanksgiving trees I've seen on Pinterest lately and I've been wanting to try one in our house. I host Thanksgiving for our family each year and I thought it would be fun to make the tree the centerpiece of our table, and turn it into a little activity that can be done as everyone is taking their seats for dinner. 

I started with a bunch of branches in a simple vase that will be set in the center of the table. 

Next, I made a little packet for each guest that will be placed at their seat. To keep it simple (and inexpensive) I used  3 x 5 brown paper bags. Each bag includes three leaf cut-outs, a mini pencil, three mini clothespins, and printed instructions on what to do.

I used one of the close pins to hold the leaves and the instructions together and then put everything into the bag.

For decoration, I used gold leaf stickers that I found in the Martha Stewart Collection at Michaels. When I ventured over to the Christmas aisles, I also found chalkboard label clothespins that came in packs of seven. I knew they would be perfect for clipping the bags shut and for displaying each guests name. I'm guessing they were intended to be Christmas tree ornaments because they had tiny holes drilled at the top. I strung some twine through the hole and finished it off with a little bow. On each one I wrote a guests name using a chalkboard paint pen.

The idea is that these little packets will first serve as place card holders at our Thanksgiving table. 

When everyone is ready to sit down to eat, they will find their name and open the packet. The instructions, which I simply made on the computer and printed out at home, tell the guests to write one thing on each leaf that they are thankful for. 

Then they will use the clothespins to pin each of their leaves to the branches in the center of the table.

When I asked Olivia what she was thankful for this year she looked at me with a blank face. Then, once I explained what it meant to be thankful for something, she responded with, "Chocolate ice-cream and Mickey Mouse." Yup, that's my kid! I had to convince her that Mom and Dad deserved at least a little recognition. 

By the time each guest pins their leaves to the tree, we will have a nice full centerpiece. I couldn't wait until Thanksgiving to see what it was going to look like, so I pinned several leaves on just to get an idea.

I made my leaf cut-outs three different colors and it looks pretty to see the variation on the tree. Now I'm feeling super excited for Thanksgiving. And who knows, maybe our tree will become a new family tradition!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Tis' The Season For Holiday Cards & Photo Calendars

I am excited to be partnering with Minted to share their collection of designer holiday stationary.
All opinions are mine alone.

I don't know what's going on at your house, but we've gone into full holiday mode over here. I've almost finished my Christmas shopping, my craft table is covered in tinsel, and our garage looks like Santa's workshop exploded. I didn't always start doing things this early. In fact, up until a few years ago, I pretty much waited until the last minute to do everything. Now that I have two kids and life is crazier than ever, it's really important to me to take care of all the "business" of the season early. That way, when the actual holidays get closer, I can just enjoy spending time with family.

Last night I was up late (thanks to the three-month-old in my life) and decided to get going on ordering some Christmas cards. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that this will actually be the first year I'm sending out a family holiday card. It's one of those things I always want to do, but then I find myself two days before Christmas with nothing planned. Anyone else been there?

Recently, I was introduced to Minted, a super chic stationary shop that features original designs from independent artists. They have tons of options in their 2014 holiday card collection and I quickly got sucked into spending the better part of my evening playing around with different possibilities for a custom photo card.
Spirited Holiday Photo Card by The Social Type

 Amazing Comic Book Holiday Photo Card by Gakemi Art + Design

As I was personalizing the cards, I realized that I need to get some professional photos of this family taken ASAP! If you're in the same boat, they also have some really cute non-photo holiday cards. Here are a few of my favorites.

Festive Glow Holiday Card by Carrie Oneal

Love + Laughter Holiday Card by June Letters Studio

I know it's a little cliche, but I was also planning on ordering a custom photo calendar for the grandparent's stockings this Christmas, and Minted has the best designs I've seen so far. I have my eye on this one.

Cafe Grand Calendar by Carolyn Maclaren

Besides cards, calendars and invitations, Minted offers gifts, party decor, and home decor items. As an art lover and creator, I appreciate that Minted holds design competitions, and works with artists and the public (read more about that here) to bring the most unique stationary designs to the table. If you want to learn more about Minted, and check out their new collection of holiday cards, you can visit their website and follow their updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. They also have an awesome blog full of great ideas and inspiration. 

So which card would you go with? I'm sort of leaning towards the comic book card because it's so different. I haven't made my final decision yet though, so I can be easily persuaded!

Thanks for reading!
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