Friday, November 29, 2013

God's Smuggler

My mom introduced me to an amazing book, God's Smuggler, on our drive to Bismarck, ND (learn more about our trip here). The 14 hour round trip in the car flew by because we were both so entranced with this book. The first third of the book explains the early life of Andrew, a young poor boy from Holland during WWII. The remaining part of the story tells about his incredible decision to continually follow Christ in a way that may leave you speechless. There were countless times that my mom and I were shaking our heads in shock and awe. It is a deep story but very easy to read! It may even help you take a step back and make you think about what's important in this life...


As a boy, he dreamed of being a spy undercover behind enemy lines. As a man, he found himself undercover for God. Brother Andrew was his name and for decades his life story, recounted in God's Smuggler, has awed and inspired millions. The bestseller tells of the young Dutch factory worker's incredible efforts to transport Bibles across closed borders of communist countries and the miraculous ways in which God provided for him every step of the way. Brother Andrew's story remains as inspiring today as it was thirty-five years ago, and motivates a whole new generation to risk everything to follow God's call.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving sides from our Tables

Lisa and I both wanted to share a dish that has appeared on each of our tables at Thanksgiving. Maybe you'll try it next year or fit it into one of your upcoming holiday meals.

Refrigerator Mashed Potatoes
(Marie's family)
These potatoes have been served on our table once on Thanksgiving and for occasional holiday family meals. These potatoes taste good, like baked potatoes served with sour cream.  This recipe comes from an old cook book my mother had discovered at the library years ago and has been enjoyed many times since.

5lbs potatoes (9 large)
2 (3oz.) packages cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
2 tsp onion salt (or garlic salt)
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp butter or margarine

1) Cook peeled potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Drain.
2) Mash until smooth (no lumps). Add remaining ingredients and beat until light and fluffy. Cool.
3) Cover and place in refrigerator. May be used any time within two weeks.
4) To use, place desired amount in greased casserole, dot with butter and bake in moderate oven (350 degrees) until heated through, about 30 minutes.

Makes 8 cups or 12 servings
*Use 1 qt dish

Cranberry Salsa (Lisa's Family)

Stuffing has always been my favorite Thanksgiving Day food. But the last few years, I have begun to especially look forward to one other dish/topping making its way to our table. Cranberry Salsa. This fresh, tasty salsa is delicious on top of turkey, with chips or even plain. The salsa is sweet but tart and each bite leaves you wanting more. It also adds a festive and beautiful pop of color to your table.

Fall is one of the only times to get ripe, non-frozen cranberries. I highly recommend using fresh cranberries as it will make your salsa more flavorful. My mom's scrumptious cranberry salsa recipe is as follows.

- 1 bag (12 oz) of fresh cranberries
- 1/4 cup chopped green onion
- Chopped jalapeno to taste (we use one whole jalapeno)
- 3/4 cup sugar (we usually cut the sugar to 1/2 cup)
- 1 bunch chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 lime, juiced, to taste (lemon juice works as well)
- Dash of salt to taste

1. Pulse cranberries in a food processor or hand chop until shredded into chunks.
2. Combine cranberries, green onion, jalapeno and sugar. Let sit for at least 15 minutes.
3. Add cilantro, lime juice and salt to taste.
Note: We have found the salsa is more flavorful if it sits overnight to let the ingredients soak in.

Happy eating and Happy Thanksgiving to you all!!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Turkey Napkin Fold

Dress up your Thanksgiving table by turning your napkins into part of the table decoration by making turkeys.

Make a simple turkey to place on the plates and impress your guests with your creativity.  Here's the finished product on the left.  You're impressed right?  It's no origami masterpiece, but this is sure to give your guests a great conversation topic.  It's a quick decoration once you get the gist of it.  And it's a great way to change up your table without taking up space, instead of just folding the napkins, or using napkin rings as the decoration.  

Fold your own Turkey Napkins, here's how: 

                                                         Start with a pretty napkin

 1. Fold your napkin in half to make a long rectangle
2. Next fold your napkin accordion-style from the shorter edge. Leave 3 inches at the end unfolded.
         Note: If you want to go the extra mile, use an heated iron to press each fold.

3. Turn the napkin over so the accordion portion faces downwards.
 4. Fold in half, top to bottom (accordion folds should now be on the outside)

5. Fold the square (4 layers) one way and tuck into the accordion fold to make a triangle.

6. Now place it on your dinner plate with the triangle in the center and the folds fanning out to keep the turkey upright.

Voila!! You are finished.... well at least with 1. 

Good luck and hope you impress your guests with your food and napkin folding expertise.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Keeping Fit During the Holiday Season

It's that time of year... When the cold nips at your nose but the warmth of the holidays begins. Instead of being active outside (unless you live down south!), most spend their days in the cozy, comfortableness of the home. With the holidays also comes food. Thanksgiving is a time to eat and watch football and the whole month of December is about candy canes, cookies, gourmet appetizers and cheese balls. While you should enjoy every minute possible with family and friends, it's also important to consider how you're caring for your body during this holiday season.

I find it humorous that after two months of eating and drinking, New Years resolutions roll in. Most of the time, there is one word on everyone's list that no one likes to say aloud.... the GYM. On cue, the gyms are packed at the start of the year. People trying to knock off holiday pounds or attempting to turn over a new leaf. For some, working out may seem hard to stick by, especially throughout the holiday season of hustle and bustle.

Here are a few tips to keep yourself feeling well through this season. And to help you stay motivated to feel great when you slip on that sparkly New Years dress you've been saving.

1. Moderation

While you shouldn't completely withhold from the holiday goodies, work hard to not overindulge. Be careful not to nit pick at the trays of food. Instead, fill your plate with veggies, salad or fruit before going for anything else. This way, you'll fill up on the good stuff but leave a little room for a treat or two. Also, drink one glass of water for each alcoholic beverage you consume. This will fill you up faster so that you aren't consuming unnecessary calories.

2. Get to the Gym

Even if it is once or twice a week, keeping up your routine will help maintain it enough that it won't be shot after the holidays. Find a workout buddy or write your gym days on a calendar to hold yourself accountable. Getting in some gym time will help you feel great and will help you to be more conscious about eating well at each of your Thanksgiving or Christmas parties.

3. Shorten your Cardio

It may be tempting to ditch your workout but you can still get great results, even if you don't have ample amounts of time. Here's some good news: women who work out at high-intensity interval training three days a week for 20 minutes lose more weight than those who exercise for 40 minutes at lower intensity. Another benefit? Small doses of regular exercise helps reduce stress.

Women's Health is continually a beacon for great workout routines. Read more to learn some at home or at the gym workouts for the holiday season!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Timeflies Concert

I had bought concert tickets for Joe to celebrate our 6 year anniversary (yes, wow, it's been that long!). Concert tickets make such wonderful gifts as they provide something to look forward to and a memory that won't soon be forgotten. This particular concert was featuring Timeflies. 

Timeflies is not incredibly well known but they have picked up traction the last few years. Joe loves their older music, more hip hop in genre, but also enjoys their current sound, which he calls "pop hop." Their recent songs include Believe and I Choose U, which are both upbeat and perfect pump-it-full-blast in your car type songs. 

While I can't say that I loved their openers, Timeflies sounded great and put on an entertaining show. It was a mixture of their older and newer music. At two points, they did some free style rapping about Minnesota and used different words the audience suggested (when they asked for suggestions, the whole crowd started chanting "USA"). They played a couple acoustic songs but otherwise, the concert was full of cool beats and bumping music. They included a few of their "Timeflies Tuesdays" songs in which they remix a pop song: Little Mermaid's Under the Sea, Katy Perry's Roar, Darius Rutcker's Wagon Wheel and Miley Cyrus' Own the Night

Check out our favorite song, I Choose U, and see what you think for yourself! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cirque Du Soleil

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the traveling Cirque Du Soleil show, Amaluna, when it was stopped in Minneapolis this fall.  

Cirque has been on my bucket list for some time. I've always known that I would be fascinated by the costumes, music and crazy acrobatics that the company is famous for. I was not disappointed! Amaluna is roughly based around Shakespear's The TempestOne the finest acts featured the Moon Goddess, who did aerial tricks only using a large ring. She was incredibly graceful and made every movement look effortless. The other act that I loved was the Goddess of Balance. She picked up an entire pile sticks and balanced them one by one in her hands, making a sort of bone-like structure. At one point, she balanced the entire structure, which was at least 15 feet long, on her head. In the final moments, she balanced the structure on the largest stick and finally pulled out one small stick to make the whole thing collapse. You could have heard a pin drop in the audience as no wanted to breathe for fear of distracting the performer and making her drop a stick!

The costumes, masks and makeup were all dazzling. I am a big sucker for glitter and makeup so I was fascinated by the work that went into each character. I learned that each performer is trained on how to apply their own makeup by a professional before going on tour and most spend an average of two hours on their makeup before each performance. The show had a subtle peacock theme which was absolutely not lost on me. The lights and backdrop had peacock coloring and there was even a peacock character with a large fan-able tail. The production really seemed to be a well-oiled machine of beauty and mystery.

The show had me hooked at every moment and I am already counting down until my next Big Top Tent Cirque event! If you have the chance to see a Cirque show either a traveling or Vegas flagship show, I highly recommend it!


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Chipotle Chicken Chili

This recipe is from Ree Drummond, also referred to as the Pioneer Woman. I check out her blog frequently since I love her food and cooking show on Foodnetwork. Her recipes are simple to make, and tasty, two very good things.

After making this last week with Dave, I can tell this recipe is already going to be a favorite, especially considering how the leftovers didn't last long.  Not a big fan of chili (probably because I've tried many on him), Dave LOVED this chili too! I think what makes her chili recipes unique is the use of masa or corn flour, it's a great addition to the flavor and consistency.

It definitely has some heat to it, which you can easily alter, but once you start in on the bowl it's nearly impossible to stop. We made the original recipe with 3 chipotle peppers since it's the main flavor, but if you're wary of heat start with 1 and work your way up. I'm a wuss when it comes to heat and I think 2 would be perfect for me. Hope you work this recipe into your meal schedule, it's sure to please the family and great seasonal meal.

Preparation: 10 min (20 if you cut slow like I do)
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 12

2 tbsp olive oil
1 whole onion diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, dice into chunks
1 bottle (12oz good beer)
1 can (14oz) diced tomatoes
3 whole chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced (less if desire)
1 (14oz) Pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14oz) Black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14oz) Kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt, more to taste
1/4 cup masa or corn flour
1 lime (2 tbsp), juiced
Optional Extras: sour cream, cheddar cheese, cilantro

1) Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic. Cook til onions soften.
2) Add diced chicken and cook til lightly browned.
3) Add 3/4 of beer, reserve the rest, cook a couple minutes.
4) Add tomatoes, chipotles, beans, chili powder, cumin, and salt. Stir, then cover and cook 1 hour.
5) Combine masa (corn flour) with 1/4 cup beer, OR chicken stock if you drank the beer, to make a paste.
6) Add paste to the chili and lime juice. Stir and cook an additional 10 minutes.
7) Serve in bowls and can add toppings of sour cream, cheese, and cilantro.

Serving Options:
*With Tostitos (LOVE THIS)
*In baked potatoes
*With cornbread
*Over Fritos
*In tacos - add lettuce, tomato and cheese

See step by step instructions and photos on Ree's website!

Click and see the other recipes that have become staples in our home from Ree:
Frito Chili
Grilled Veggie Burritos
Mini Meatball Sandwiches 
Crash Hot Potatoes
Buffalo Chicken Salad
Pioneer Pasta Salad
Frozen Fruit Cups

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Suicide Roll

The suicide roll... an intriguing name for a hairstyle.

The first time this look caught my eye was on the singer/rapper from Karmin. This star has made the hairdo into her signature look and even does YouTube tutorials on how to achieve it. Since this isn't an everyday hairstyle that I could pull off, I was excited to try it on my sister for her oldies dance.

This look can be as tame and subtle or as crazy and out-there are you want it to be. But don't be anxious, I thought it was quite easy to do! Start with clean, straight hair. Make a fairly drastic part on one side and then rat up the hair in the front to give it volume. Smooth out the top and begin to twist the hair to position it to swoop across the forehead and to the side. Then, take the middle and end of the hair and continue to twist it into a large curl. Pin it with bobby pins and ta-da! Suicide roll complete.

In the end, it was an easy to complete and a unique hairstyle to sport. My beautiful sister (completely unplanned on her part) ended up looking like the original Barbie doll!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Traditional Diaper Cake

The new fad at baby showers, diaper cakes!  Instead of just giving the mommy-to-be diapers in a package, this is a fun way to dress it up, make it unique, and serve as part of the shower decor while still giving them a gift all new parents appreciate.  A diaper gift is a great gift idea to pair with something else, or depending on how over the top you get it could be your entire gift.

For my best friend, who was my college roommate and maid of honor, I had to try out this new trend!  She was expecting a baby girl, so I wanted to go with a soft pinks and white to keep it simple and girly.  With a touch of pink roses to add elegance, I thought it was perfect for a girl baby shower.  If you know the theme/colors ahead of time you can plan your diaper cake accordingly. I stuck with a traditional diaper cake gift, but there are a ton of options you can experiment with.

-Diapers (For 3 tiers, infant sized diapers I used 1 package)
-Cardboard for base
-Wrapping Paper/Tissue Paper (for base)
-Ribbon (thick and thin)
-Fake Flowers (we used 2 bunches from Dollar Store)
-Full paper towel roll
-Double stick tape

1. After purchasing or gathering supplies you're ready to start.
2. Cover the cardboard base in tissue or wrapping paper. I chose tissue paper because it had a softer look.
3. Place full paper towel roll in the middle of board.
4. By spacing the diapers around the paper towel create the bottom tier. Tilt diapers on their sides.  Using more diapers and larger spacing means a bigger base, so I stuck with keeping diapers closely overlapping to create a solid firm base.  Secure the tier using 2 thin ribbons around center of diapers. (helps to have someone else - thanks mom!)
5.  Continue to build diaper tiers, like step 4.
6.  Once you have your tiers all set and diapers evenly spaced and tied with the thin ribbon, you can add a thicker decorative ribbon.  I used double stick tape to secure larger ribbon.  Then using the scissors I curled the 2 thin ribbon strands around each tier and positioned them on either side of the decoration that came on the diapers.
7.  Finally I cute the stems off the fake flowers shorter and stuck them in the paper towel roll to serve as a cake topper.  Using 3 extra rose buds, I wedged them into the diaper tiers for a little pizzazz!

This is definitely a project worth trying, and any mom you make it for is sure to appreciate the thought!

My Traditional Diaper Cake

Tricycle Diaper Cake - Made by Melanie's sister

Friday, November 15, 2013

Delectable Desserts

Whether savoring or baking dessert, it is my kryptonite. I know that my sweet tooth comes from my Grandpa Wolney and it's a hungry monster that is never satisfied. The silver lining? My love of sugar translates into the exploration of some scrumptious desserts. Below are two of my discoveries, one is quick and simple and the other is easy but a bit more time consuming. Enjoy!

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

This recipe is not only easy but it is fast with a yummy result. These strawberries are a great way to prepare a dessert without the hassle of prepping and baking for hours. They are also a perfect tidbit for a potluck or girls night treat since they are light and natural. Highly recommend serving them straight out of the refrigerator! 

-1 lb large strawberries
-8 oz. cream cheese, softened 
-3-4 tbsp powdered sugar (4 tbsp for a sweeter filling)
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-Graham cracker crumbs

1. Rinse strawberries and cut around the top of the strawberry. Remove the top and clean out with a paring knife, if necessary (some may already be hollow inside). Prep all strawberries and set aside.
2. In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla until creamy. Add cream cheese mix to a piping bag or Ziploc with the corner snipped off. Fill strawberries with cheesecake mixture. Once strawberries are filled, dip the top in graham cracker crumbs. If not serving immediately, refrigerate until serving.

Frozen Smores

These are great anytime of year.. especially if you want the taste of summer without the summer heat. I made these for a birthday and my family of 10 scarfed them up in a matter of minutes! You won't be disappointed when you taste the mixture of gooey marshmallow, mouthwatering chocolate and crunchy graham cracker. Best of all, no smelly bonfire needed!

-18 graham crackers (9 sheets or 1 1/2 cups)
-1/3 c. butter
-1/2 c. milk chocolate chips
-1/4 c. whipping cream
-2 c. mini marshmallows (or large marshmallows cut up)
-1 1/2 c. cold milk
-1 box instant chocolate pudding
-1 container of Cool Whip 
(Or small carton of whipping cream, whipped with powder sugar to sweeten)
-1/4 c. mini chocolate chips

1. Put graham crackers in a baggie and crush into fine crumbs.
2. Melt butter and add graham crackers, mixing well to make the crust.
3. Prepare a muffin pan by spraying non-stick spray.
4. Evenly divide crust mixture into cups, saving just a small bit for the topping later. I used a spoon to firmly press down the crust.
5. Place chocolate chips and whipping cream in a small bowl and microwave for 30 second increments until melted and smooth.
6. Spoon chocolate into a Ziploc bag and cut a corner tip off to evenly pipe the chocolate mixture into the center of each cup, on top of the crust.
7. Divide marshmallows among the cups. 
8. Mix the cold milk with pudding on medium speed for 2 minutes. Fold in half of Whip Cream. I found that I needed a bit more than half since I used homemade whipping cream and it was not as dense. 
9. Spoon filling into a large Ziploc and clip the corner to pipe into each cup, around the marshmallows. Pipe until the cup is about full. If you have any left overs, have some taste testers handy, it is quite delicious straight from the bag!
10. Freeze for at least two hours.
11. Allow dessert at least 10-15 minutes outside of the freezer before serving. Use a knife to loosen around the edges.
12. Use any leftover whip cream, the mini chocolate chips and the leftover graham cracker for the topping.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"She's Hooked!" Bridal Shower

Being an event planner, I have relished the privilege of being able to throw many, many showers over the last few years. I have had two brothers get married and countless friends get married and begin to have babies. It is a blast thinking of new theme ideas. A shower theme that fits the guest of honor's personality not only celebrates them, but also encourages the guests join in the fun.

One of the more recent showers that I put on was for my to-be sister-in-law. My brother loves to fish and I thought it brought a different spin on the whole "hitched" language. I themed it "Mary's Hooked!"

- I sent out an Evite that was categorized for a birthday party but that I edited for my theme. It had a large whale on the front and I had the title read: "She's Hooked!" If you're ok with being a little cheesy, you can throw in some words like "splashing" and "bubbly."

- Since the wedding colors included orange, navy blue and teal, I decided to have an orange and blue theme. The napkins, plates and invite were all themed with these colors.

- Large vases with either orange goldfish or sand/shells
- Reese's pieces (just the orange) and goldfish crackers
- Large "Hooked" framed sign

- Blue silk cloth draped on the table
- Blue balloons of different sizes, arranged to look like bubbles
- Orange paper fish and blue glass beads scattered on tables

- Crispy Shrimp and shrimp cocktail
- Veggie and fruit platter
- Cupcakes: I made vanilla (dyed blue) and chocolate cupcakes with white and blue frosting. To bring in the orange, I topped with a Reeses piece or gold fish.

Tasty blue "fish bowl" drink recipe:

- Sprint
- Pineapple juice
- Vodka (Skip this step to make kid-friendly)
- Blue Caraco (Skip this step to make kid-friendly)
- Sweet and Sour mix
- Put some nerds at the bottom of the glass to look like pebbles
- Place Swedish fish in the cup to make the fishbowl complete!
- Make it more fishy by using fish shaped ice cubes

Click on our other bridal shower themes: (more games, food & decor ideas)

Throwing the bride a bachelorette party? Here are our ideas: 
"Wedding Day" Theme
Western Hoedown Theme 
Beauty and the Beast Theme

Gifts for Bridal Shower/Bachelorette:
Bridal Memory Book  
Family Recipe Binder 
I love you because...message frame

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Percy Jackson and the Olympians

Author: Rick Riordan

1. The Lightning Thief
2. The Sea of Monsters
3. The Titans Curse
4. The Battle of the Labyrinth
5. The Last Olympian

Since I get to work with middle school students frequently I like to know what books they're into, and once movies are made due to popularity, I figure I should take a look myself.  And boy was I pleased.  First off, if you LOVE mythology like I do, you H-A-V-E to read this series. They're quick reads, but well written adventures.  Great for middle school levels and high school too, especially if in a mythology class. The ties to mythology are great learning opportunities.

For me it was fun to recall all the mythological creatures and stories, retold in a style for juvenile audiences.  It's full of action and adventure, combined with the typical adolescent hurdles.  Even though juvenile audiences are the target I enjoyed all 5 books and had a hard time putting them down.  It's a challenge to yourself to recall your studies of mythology.  And if you've never studied the subject this is an effective and engaging way to start.

The first two books, Lightning Thief and Sea of Monsters have been made into movies. This series is a great option to get kids to read and then enjoy the accompanying movies too.  Pass it on!

Summary: (The Lightning Thief)
Percy Jackson is middle school age when he discovers that all the myths he's been learning about, Gods, Goddesses, and monsters, is all true.  Targeted by monsters he escapes with his friend Grover (who revealed himself as a satyr) to Camp Half Blood.  The camp is dedicated to protecting those who are half human and half God.  Except Percy is different, he's a demigod, the son of one of the big three Gods and this causes problems of its own.  Percy sets out on a quest with Grover and Annabeth, a daughter of Athena, to prevent a catastrophic war between the Gods.  They must find something the Gods can't and save everyone in the process, both humans and mythological creatures.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thor : The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World (2013) Poster
On Friday, November 8, the best superhero of all time made his return to the big screen. That's right folks, Thor is back!

For those of you who are superhero junkies, like myself, you will LOVE this movie. For those who are not, you'll enjoy it nearly as much. The basic plot is as follows:

Thousands of years ago, a race known as the Dark Elves, lead by Malekith, tried to send the universe into darkness by using a weapon called the Aether. They were defeated by the warriors of Asgard and the weapon was hide. Present day, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) awaits for Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to return and when she discovers an anomaly similar to the one that originally brought Thor to Earth, she is sucked into a wormhole. 

Thor learns of Jane's disappearance and returns to Earth. Jane returns and suddenly has a strange energy emitting from her. They discover that Jane had the Aether inside of her, a product of her disappearance. Thor works to protect Jane against Malekith and enlists the help of his brother, Loki. They must work together to save Jane, Asgard, the human race and the entire nine realms.

The movie is a mixture of action, suspense, romance and superhero glory!! You'll find yourself laughing one minute, teary eyed the next and gasping of fright the next. I was ready to press "play" again as soon as the credits began to roll. Definitely worth seeing if you are looking for a date night or movie night idea this weekend!

On another note, I was able to spend the weekend in Bismark. Besides seeing Thor, below are a few highlights, if you ever find yourself in Bismark, ND!

  • Shopping at Kirkwood Mall
  • Dinner at HuHot (select your own meat, noodles and veggies and watch the cooks fry
    it up on a massive hibachi grill!)
  • Manicure at Classy Nails
  • Grand Movie Theater (Egyptian themed theater!)
  • Dinner at Texas Roadhouse (line dancing waitresses!)

Beautiful view from the University of Mary campus

Friday, November 8, 2013

Going undercover - It isn't just for hunters anymore!

This weekend is Deer Hunting Opener in Minnesota! For myself, my mom and my sister that means it's girls weekend. In other In the spirit of traditional hunting attire, I'd like to take a few lines to highlight two prints that not only have been prominent in fashion this fall but also seem to be ever trending in one way or another: camouflage and military. 


Think of camo print the same way that you might think of leather. It can look fantastic and daring if used with the right pieces and in small doses.  A couple ensemble ideas could include the use of camo flats or camo pants. Pair the flats with a neutral colored t-shirt and some gold jewelry to play off the greens. Try pairing the pants with a black top and simple accessories. Since camo can have the risk of appearing masculine, don't be afraid to pair it with heels or some lace to keep the outfit looking girly.

Get the look at Target: $12.99
Beautify camo pants with a sequin clutch

Get this look at ASOS: $95
The military style that I have spotted all over of late is the olive green jacket with black leather sleeves. 

If this doesn't catch your fancy, there are plenty of other military styles that can flatter any body type and look feminine. One style that had continued to grow is blouses with metal brads on the collar or shoulders. These add a touch of edge to the outfit but still look classy. 

One of my personal favorites is the military inspired vest. These can be worn with a simple t-shirt underneath and look great. My own military inspired, bradded vest is pictured below.

For two prints that are designed to help you blend in, these are sure ways to stand out! Whether seeking a deer or a new wardrobe stunner, happy hunting!

Photography by Jim Brickweg

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Chillow

Like anyone I get tired of infomercials; however, sometimes there is a gem amongst them.  Take the slap chop for instance.  Does anyone remember those great commercials? Well not only were the ads comedic, but it was a useful product.  Now Dave deserves credit for coming up with this birthday gift for me out of nowhere since we don't have cable and have not actually seen the TV ads (but the box the Chillow came in says "as seen on TV").  Anyways, this was a product I thought was worth sharing, since I've only had it a week and already am enjoying the benefits.

For those of you who are wondering, what the heck is a Chillow....well it's a pillow (kinda) that's chilled. Yup, pretty self-explanatory.  The genius in this product is its a cooling pad and for people like me that have a hotter body core temperature, this is a product I'm very thankful of.  It's easy to use, and with the help of physics it's no work for me! I get to enjoy a cooler night's sleep, no more night sweats for me!

All you do is fill with water when you first get the product and within a few hours the product works. You''ll have to ask someone else about the science of how it keeps cool. Dave tried to explain, something about air hitting the water in the pillow and it cools the water....but even if I don't get how it works, IT WORKS!

For cool: use the cloth side of the pillow
Cooler: use shiny side in a pillow case
Even Cooler: use the shiny side up
Coolest: Place in the fridge for 15 to 30 minutes and then use.

Any guesses which method I employ? If you guessed that I use the "Even Cooler" or "Coolest" you'd be right.  If you didn't guess that, then you don't know how warm I get. Just ask Dave. I get so warm I heat the bed like an oven. If I could develop a cooling mattress I would.  If you're a genius and have time on your hands, invent one for me. I'd be the first to buy. You can use this on your back, feet, legs, head (nice for headaches), etc. So if you were thinking about buying this product for $12 or just wondering if it was a scam or not, I am very happy with it.  Talk to me in the heat of the summer and we'll see if I'm a changed woman from it. So upgrade your pillow, and get a Chillow insert. All the cool people are!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Market Inspiration for Fall

We've already been enjoying the season of fall for the past month, but as we head into November there is still ample time to delight in those fall dishes.  Not sure what to make? Looking for some inspiration? Take a peek at this list of items I put together that you can find at the market during this fall season and get inspired.  See an item, then search your cookbooks, recipe cards or the internet for something warm, cozy, and maybe a little off the beaten path. So next time plan ahead before your grocery trip or when you see these at the MARKET pick them up and treat yourself to the food of fall. 
apples                     beets
bell peppers            broccoli 
brussel sprouts            carrots
cauliflower                chiles
figs                         kale
pears                       potatoes
sweet potatoes           spinach
swiss chard              walnuts 

This is the time to start thinking about soups and stews that nourish you through the cooling season.  Cook hearty meat and roasts and comforting pasta dishes that will fill you up.  It's an opportunity to simmer and braise your food.  And plan meals that will leave you extras for future meals. Your future self will appreciate these extra easy meals, or those you live with surely will.

Quick Recipes:

Sweet Potatoes: roast whole sweet potatoes in 400 degree oven until tender for 50 minutes. Make sure to prick them with a fork a few times before cooking. When finished serve with molasses or flavored butter.

Broccoli or Cauliflower: obtain florets then stir fry with minced garlic and red pepper flakes.

Carrots: Grate, toss with a vinaigrette, preferably mustard one.  Add fresh parsley or green onions as garnish.

Beets:  Put the beets in foil and roast at 400 degrees until they are tender, 1 to 1.5 hours.  Peel the beets and cut into wedges and toss with vinaigrette and fresh herbs.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Chicago Sights : Part 2

I have traveled to Chicago for the past two years with my handsome better half, Joe. We made the trip in order to spend some time with Shake, who is our favorite Chicago resident and best friend from college. (Weird how similar a story this is to Marie's recent Chicago visits... See the "twins" thing we have going on?) In 2012, Joe and I decided to take the trip together in place of the annual boys-weekend at Lollapalooza. I had been to Chicago a few times before that but it had been a number of years. Shake was a fabulous planner and kept us very busy!  

As Marie previously mentioned, one of our favorites was also the Hancock Tower's Signature Room for drinks. The view of the city is breathtaking and you can enjoy a delicious libation along with it. If you're a female, the floor to ceiling windows in the women's bathroom offer a view so stunning, you may need to spend a few extra minutes washing your hands! 

Left: View from the Powder Room. Right: The boy's romantic sunset drinks.

Another highlight was taking a boat ride on Spirit Cruises onto Lake Michigan for a lunch and skyline tour. After a nice lunch inside, we spent the rest of the ride sitting out on the upper deck couches in the sun, admiring the view from the water. It was a perfect way to see the city and relax at the same time. Spirit of Chicago Cruises offers a multitude of different boat ride options. Definitely spend a little time finding one that fits your mood and price range.  

We were able to go back for another visit about two months ago. Although we spent most of our time catching up with Shake and my cousin and her husband (who recently moved into an adorable apartment right outside of Downtown!), we did discover Second City on this trip. While we weren't big fans of the comedian that night, we were told we had to come back to see the improv performances. That's on our list for next year's trip! We also did a river architectural tour which was interesting but I felt that it lacked a bit. We learned the hard way that your docent can be hit or miss, so keep that in mind when planning your activities.  

We always enjoy indulging in Chicago's food because there are so many options. We had brunch at a delicious neighborhood farm-to-table restaurant called Lula Cafe, near Humboldt Park. Like Marie and Dave, we are very much pizza connoisseurs so deep dish pizza at Giordano's was our guilt-free dinner on our last night.Yum!! 

Chicago is a young-spirited and beautiful city with a little bit of something for everyone! We will be returning again soon whether it be for more deep dish pizza, one of Chicago's many music festivals or to visit the people dear to us :)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Chicago - MUST sees : Part 1

 Part 1:  Marie's Must Sees

I've been lucky to have the opportunity to visit Chicago numerous times. With my family we hit up the museum, aquarium, Lake Michigan, and more.  My mom and I have traveled to Chicago for a girls weekend of shopping, and boy do they have the shops. And then my husband and I have gone twice to see our best friend Charlie Swanson, who was a part of the Benedictine Volunteer Corps.  So of the 5 times I've been, here were my MUST sees if you find yourself in the windy city.

Drinks at The Signature Room
View from 95th floor
The View: Go to The Signature Room on the 95th floor of the John Hancock tower, situated along the magnificent mile, and enjoy a $10 drink with a breathtaking view of Chicago.  Totally worth it, instead of paying the same price to observe one floor up without the option of having a drink and chance to lounge while taking in the view.

Warning: Very high up, if afraid of heights...just don't sit too close to the window. 

Food: PIZZA really was our main focus on our visits. Dave being a pizza connoisseur made sure we got our pizza experience. Check out these 3 and you're sure to thank me later!
  • Giordano's (1974) -known as "best" stuffed pizza
      • Suggestion don't make my mistake and order the garlic as an option, since its not minced, you can imagine the fallout of that choice
  • Gino's East (1966) famous for deep dish pizza & the establishment inside is covered in graffiti
  • Unos (1943) -originated in Chicago and developed the deep dish pizza 

Amusement: Chicago has plenty that can occupy you, but if you're there for a short time this is what I enjoyed checking out.
  • Lake Michigan
    Lake Michigan
  • Shopping - The Magnificent Mile is aptly named for the mile of shops in downtown Chicago.  Even with the privilege of living in close proximity to the Mall of America, this stretch of stores is still a wonder to behold.
  • Shedd Aquarium - largest indoor aquarium in the world, more than 8,000 aquatic animals
  • The Field Museum of Natural History - dinosaur skeleton exhibit
  • Six Flags Amusement Park - Gurnee, IL (1hr north of Chicago), Batman roller coaster was decidedly the favorite at the park
  • Millennium Park - its the perfect picture opportunity and chance to see gardens and artwork
  • Annual Chicago Hunger Walk - Soldier's Field & Michigan lakefront

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fall Fashion Favorites

Like most mid-westerners, I am a huge fan of fall! There are so many wonderful things to love: the colors, the sunny but cool days, leaf piles, pumpkin spice lattes, apple picking.. The list goes on. But another reason I enjoy the changing of the seasons is fall fashion. So, before the leaves drop and the snow blows in, here are my top three fall favorite fashions of 2013.

1. Leg Warmers

If you don't have a pair, you're missing out! They add an extra layer of warmth to your legs and look adorable. The latest trend is to have a bit peeking out of your boot. My recent favorite is the cable knit sweater look.

There are plenty of tutorials on how to use an old sweater to make leg warmers with just a snip! Check out one tutorial here.

2. Infinity Scarves

Now these have been fashionable for a few winters now.. Probably because they give a clean look with just a loop around your neck and come in all sorts of colors, lengths and fabrics. My two favorites are the large, lightweight scarves and the short knit scarves. I made my own last winter and while my technique needs to be perfected, it was relatively simple.

Here is a simple pattern to follow if you want to sew your own infinity scarf!

3. Leather/Pleather

Whether its a purse, pants or boots, the leather look is in. My current favorites are a sleek leather jacket or some fun, edgy pleather leggings. Just be careful to not go overboard! Pick a signature piece to help achieve a polished but daring look.