A Chili Story (and a recipe)

We had our first snow of the year last week. Now, it doesn't take much snow to get Tennesseans all jumpy and to clear the grocery store of every item someone might possibly need for the duration, but this was a real snow. We actually made it to church that day, then heard reports of what it was doing up our way and turned around and went back home. We had to postpone our plans for hibachi and Tangled, and my school was out the next day, but canceled for the next before noon. And since I had everything on hand and had the time to prep it this morning, I decided to make a pot of chili for supper. But like any good recipe, there's a story that goes with it...

Each year I bring a pot of chili to Avery's daycare's chili supper fundraiser. Each year I lose. I really don't bring the chili to try to win, but because it's the easiest way for me to volunteer (much of the set up is done during my school day). I made chili for a cookout with Kyle's coworkers. It received raves. I made it the next weekend when another coworker and his wife came over for dinner. (I found out an hour before they were to arrive that the wife was allergic to beef--and I'd made chili!! Thank goodness for my 3 ingredient potato soup.) Kyle said it was the best chili he'd ever had, and he's brutally honest about my cooking, so if he says it's good, he means it. My parents came by to drop Avery off and I offered them a bowl. My dad was still talking about it at church the next day. The next week was the chili supper, and, as usual, I was afraid it wouldn't work. See, I have to drop it off at 7am when I take Avery, so I can't tweak it like I do at home, and I'm at someone else's mercy to turn the crock pot on. I learned after the second year to assemble it the night before but not cook it til I dropped it off. Yuck! So I'm making the chili when I realized I'd gotten the tomatoes with garlic instead of the plain ones. And I'd already put extra garlic in the meat when I cooked it.

That afternoon I'm on the phone with Kyle coordinating our plans for the afternoon when he starts reading an email that just came into his inbox from my mom (she works for the same company he does):

"Heather's chili one 1st place in the contest. I wasn't judging, but was up there when they were. It was a unanimous decision. I haven't told Heather yet, though. I figured she'd want to be surprised."

That's when Kyle said "Oops." Hehehe!

 So in my last year of eligibility (Avery will be in kindergarten next year. sigh.), I was finally victorious. My prize? My name next to the trophy with a big spoon of beans on it. The trophy (thankfully) stays at daycare to be reused each year. This recipe really is yummy, and the crock pot makes it great for busy evenings. It started out life as a Weight Watchers recipe, but I have made many changes to it over the years. It is packed full of veggies and has double the beans of the original recipe, so it's very hearty and healthy!

(Ignore the horrible picture taken with my iPod after a very long day of teaching. I just needed proof that I actually won!!)

Fire Roasted Vegetable Chili
1 medium onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 medium carrots, chopped small*
1 lb ground beef (I use lean, but use whatever)
2 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1 can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can light red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans Fire Roasted tomatoes*
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp brown sugar*
1/2 cup orange juice (I actually used V8 Splash Peach Mango, as I had it on hand)*
salt, to taste

Set crock pot to cook on low (mine is 6 hours). Combine onion, green pepper and carrots in crock pot, add a bit of salt. Meanwhile, cook ground beef and garlic in nonstick pan over medium heat until cooked through; salt to taste. Drain meat and return to pan. Add chili powder, cumin and coriander and stir to coat. Add meat to crock pot. Add beans, tomatoes, paste and brown sugar. Stir until everything is well combined. Add juice and stir once more. Allow to cook on low for 5-6 hours.

I put a star next to what I consider my secret ingredients. The fire roasted tomatoes really add that special something. It's really easy, even if the ingredient list looks a little long, and  I usually already have these things on hand. Something about this blend really highlights the different flavors, and each one hits you separately. Love it. I'll probably make it again over my 16 day Christmas break which starts in 2 hours and 36 minutes. Not that I'm counting.


My Little Cupcake

I have made all of Avery's Halloween costumes. Well, my grandmother did most of the work on the first two, but they were my designs, and I sewed every stitch of the last three. Except the Tinkerbell one that had no sewing involved...but, whatever. We're really not that into Halloween. I put out a few pumpkins, but that's more fall than Halloween. We don't have trick or treaters out here in the woods, so the last couple of years we've taken Avery to a local park where area businesses hand out candy, but that's it. Despite my whatever attitude toward the day itself, I love love love coming up with costumes for Avery and making them. Maybe it's my competitive spirit knowing all the other daycare parents will see it at the costume parade at her school. You can see my past efforts here, except for last year's Tinkerbell, which I just realized I never blogged about. Sheesh. Add that to my to do list. The flower was probably the hardest, considering I had to dye leggings green and do some real sewing. It was also the most expensive because of those teeny tiny purple ballet flats that called my name from Gymboree. Evil, that place is. :)

This year Avery decided she wanted to be a cupcake after seeing one in the Pottery Barn Kids catalog (yep. she's her mother's child!). Weel, I was not about to spend $60+ on a costume that would be worn for a couple of hours. But I figured I could make it easily enough.

Here's my recipe for a PBK Knockoff:
1/2 yard pink fleece
1/2 yard brown felt
4 pieces of .20 felt in whatever colors
1 yard brown ribbon
1 pink turtle neck
1 super cute kid (I found mine in my living room, but you can use whatever you have on hand)

Cut, sew and glue and.....


Avery Olivia, 4 1/2 years old

I am really excited about how this turned out. Truthfully, I like it even more that the PBK one. I made the frosting by cutting two doughnut-like circles and then scalloping them. I glued felt "sprinkles" on, and then added a little more glue to keep the two layers together. I didn't bother with the white ruffle part, as we prefer all icing and no whipped cream on our cupcakes. This just slipped on over her shirt--no buttons, no ties.
For the wrapper, I cut strips of felt about 18" long by 6" wide. I then sewed the strips wrong sides together until I had a tube the right width. This made the pleated effect of the wrapper. Two pieces of ribbon made the straps, and it, too, just slipped over her head.

Her headband was just 3 small scalloped circles bunched and stitched and then glued on a headband we already had.

Total time spent? A few hours altogether, but that was mostly because my craft room is still in boxes.
Total cost? $10 including the turtleneck!

And you know you've creatd a successful costume when everyone asks where you bought it and someone else jumps in and says it came from PB and you have to convince them all you made it. Craft bliss, that is.

I'm really happy with this one, and already thinking ahead to my next sewing project. Hhmmmm....
What are you sewing these days? Leave me a comment; I'd love to hear about your projects!


Finally Fall

After weeks in the 90s, I woke up last Sunday to sweater weather! Finally! The mornings are cool, the afternoons perfect. And just in time for fall break, which, so far I am enjoying immensely, even if it has been very busy.
I really had high hopes for being a better blogger (I say this a lot, don't I?), but life happened, as it tends to do. But, for the most part, life happening this time has been fantastic! Here's a run down of the good, the bad and the ugly:

  1. started back to school August 6th
  2. closed on house August 13th
  3. moved into new house August 20th!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  4. Weekend writing retreat August 26th and 27th
  5. Finally got phone transferred September 2nd
  6. School Homecoming September 10th (I have several responsibilities this week; it wears me out)
  7. presentend at a writing conference September 21st
  8. FINALLY got internet September 21st (yes, one month after moving...it's a long story that involved threats of cancelling service at the end)
  9. presentend at a writing conference September 25th
  10. laptop died September 26th
  11. VERY successful yard sale October 2nd (as in, $900 in one day)
Most of it was great, but busy. The laptop part? I'm still in denial that it's dead and hope to revive it somehow. Fortunately, all of my pictures are backed up online, and my really important documents are also on a flash drive. I have some photoshop projects that I don't have elsewhere, and I don't have photoshop on this machine to work with them even. Not the end of the world, but frustrating.

The new house is amazing, and we are loving every minute of living here. Avery is a changed child--from day one she was picking up her toys, getting up and dressed on her own, making her bed. It really is incredible. I made my first cake here the other night. Let me just say that having a level oven, counterspace to work and a dishwasher make cake decorating a much more fun experience! There are no spiders, and our first electric bilkl with us living here was the same as the one at the old house with no one living there, and it's 4000 square feet smaller. It just shows us how inefficient that house is, something we'll be even more aware of this winter when we're not constantly freezing. This house has truly been a blessing. We are slowly getting furniture, and then I can really start decorating. I cannot wait! In the meantime, though, here's a little fall inspiration via Kirklands.

We lost our nearest Kirklands in the 2010 Flood, so now the closest one to me is an hour away. Fortunately, it's in a town I visit regularly for Writing Project stuff. Check out these vignettes from an email they sent me:

There are many reasons I love this mantle: the varying heights, textures, the fact that it is clustered in the center instead of all spread out, and mostly, that it could be recreated for any season or style. I see something similar in my future!

We have built-ins like this in three rooms, and each go up 10 feet. They look great, but are intimidating to decorate. I mean, how do you fill that space? This vignette gives me great ideas. Wreaths are a great way to visually take up space without having a bunch of little things eerywhere. And I always forget about placing wall art on the wall behind the shelf! Tabletop frames, yes, but art? Love it. I don't have outlets in my shelves, (they are in the cabinets below) but I think a non-functioning lamp would still be cool. And the layering...so many possibilities.

Right now my great room bookshelves are decorated ala Kyle, which means there are some random ORB pieces spread throughout the space. Not the look I'm going for, but it's more than I have done!! Part of the problem is that we don't have furniture in there (or anywhere except Avery's room and the Dining Room, really), so I don't have colors to work with. My displays will likely be seasonal for now, as those colors are not really determined by furniture. The library shelves are filled with...books! And that is pretty much Kyle's room, so I'm leaving the arrangement of that to him. The family room shelves are completely empty, but have a very cool design to them, so I am anxious to start filling them.

Okay, so this one is not really me. What I do love, however, is the grouping of several large items instead of tons of tiny things. That is something I'm going to try to focus on in decorating this house--high-impact accessories instead of lots of knick-knacks. This is an especially good lesson after seeing the TONS of tiny things I got rid of in the yard sale!

So what are your fall decorating plans? Where do you put your money and effort--bookcases? Mantles? Porch? As for me...I'll let you know after I go shopping!!


A Character Party without Visiting the Disney Aisle

When it comes to kids' TV and movie characters, I have issues. To me they belong on underwear and (maybe) sippy cups. I have never purchased character clothes for Avery, and those other people buy her (ahem, grandparents) she only gets to wear around the house. And this loathing of super commercial characteriness spills over to birthday parties.

But, alas, Avery loves princesses. And now that she's four, she has more opinions for her birthday parties, as I want her to. So how do you mix a little girl's interest with mommy's desire for pretty? Go for colors, ideas, not the character itself. For Avery's Princess and the Frog party, that meant soft blues and greens, princesses and frogs, storybook fonts....but no Tiana or Naveem.

We planned and planned...I crafted and crafted...and I'm really happy with how things turned out! This was her first friend party, and that part went well. The pictures....well, not so much. It rained all morning the day of the party, and though it cleared up and was beautiful by the time the guests arrived, we were scrambling to get things out. And then is was WINDY. Combine those, and you get windblown pictures and details that didn't get photographed. I think you'll get the idea though.

Birthday girl ready for the big day. In theme appropriate outfit, of course!

Banner whipping in the wind...it says "Avery is 4" and has dimensional frogs and crowns.

Loved the place settings! I made these plate by cutting eyes from extra plates and paper and adding a food-safe smile. The silver napkin was folded into a crown.

Paper flower centerpieces. I also found some vase gems with light purple flowers that I ran down the table.

Princess crown straw toppers. The cups had green labels and flower embellishment...with room for guests to write their name and claim their cup.

Again with the wind! The center of the tent had a paper flower chandy I made. 

Lavender foam monogrammed flags mark the entrance to the party.

I found this great frog standee at Oriental Trading. I made a blindfold and pink glitter lips to play "Plant the Kiss on the Frog." It was not as exciting as the bounce house, however.

a simple lily pad for the bird bath...

all of the food had storybook names. These MnMs were called "Happily Ever Afters."

"Magic Fruit Wands," "Cheesy Dragon Tails (Cheetos)" "From the Royal Garden (veggie tray)"

I made frog hats for the boys (LOVE)...

and personalized crowns for the girls.

Avery was crowned with her special crown by Tiana, played by one of my sweet students. She called me that morning to ask that I not let Avery see her crown until the party. She came up with a whole script including taking the Princess Pledge and the official coronation. She stayed for the whole party, even through gift opening after the kids had left. It was so magical for Avery to have the "real" Tiana at her party!!

The cake!!  It came out really well, despite the wet week.

I have done some figure molding with fondant before, but never have they turned out so well! I was really happy with it!! The crown was colored with silver luster dust. All of the flowers had pearl dust on them as well. I tried to save the frog, but it came back headless. Avery took it off to eat!

Favor bags had  frog and crown suckers, bubbles, chocolate lips candy, frog toy for boys, lip gloss for girls.

And a partied out four year old. She fell asleep watching...what else? Princess and the Frog!

Hope you loved your party, Peanut! I'm excited to start planning #5!


Quick Cricut Goodness

Mom got Avery this little yellow plastic tote to take to the beach. Knowing Mom, I figured my  nephew would have one, too, so I decided to personalize Avery's to avoid confusion and ensuing arguments. (As it turns out, she did get Cameron one, but forgot to give it to him. So, it was just cute for cute sake, which suits me fine.)

I cut the sandcastle (Doodlecharms cart) from green vinyl and the wording (ZooBalloo) from the pink. Center. Layer. Done.

It took all of 8 minutes, and when Avery got home the day before we left, she found it neatly stocked with her beach toys. She squealed and told me I was the "best maker she ever had". My sweet girl loves to give compliments, and they always make my day.

And real quick before I head to my classroom to work for hours, making up for all the time I wasn't there this summer, here are some pictures from the vacation that inspired this little project.

 Sweet Avery

Little Fish
(PS-she's not using her vest at all anymore)

"Helping" by putting sunscreen on all by herself

Heading down one of six waterslides at the condo

Love this sassy pic, though she's really just waving to Pop Pop

My sweet niece, Brenna. I'm really proud of how great this picture came out!!


Avery's New Room-Part 3

Eventually I will make something that's not for Avery's room, but as I've said, I'm trying to have at least that one room done when we move in, and it's the room for which I have the clearest vision of what I want it to look like.

And by room, I also mean her bathroom, so....

I took these super cheap, completely not my style canvasses...

....and painted over them to create these:

I love them so. Especially the one with the quote. It's a Chinese proverb that I might have altered the wording of a bit. I can't remember. Both are mixed media, which is my favorite type of art to create. The snail was inspired (like a whole lot) by GalerieAnais. I. l.o.v.e her designs. For the quote I cut each letter out with my trusty Cricut. The flower was inspired by Lindsey's posies, but made of paper and using a fun brad for the center. Actually, the only painting on that one is the branch and the stripes on the edges.

I'm thinking the snail will look cute over the toilet, the quote/branch one over the towel bar.

The long canvas was on clearance at Target--$2.99. The square one was $4 at Hobby Lobby. I would never find plain canvases that inexpensive, and since I'm painting the whole thing anyway... I used the same trick with this trio for Avery's playhouse. I really love those. So much that I thought about recreating them in different colors to match her room. But then I decided that that's not all that creative.

I'm fixing to start in on two canvasses for over Avery's dresser, also in mixed media. It has taken me forever to come up with a design I like for those, and I'm a little nervous to start in on them. I think better in threes, apparently, as those designs are a snap for me to think up. 

Where do your art inspirations come from? Share, please!


Check This Out

If you have never visited Copy Cat Chic, you need to. Reichel finds the best looks for less. And even though I have never used any of the items she has featured, it really has helped me keep my eyes open for less expensive versions of things I like.

So when I found the Anderson Bed on PBKids, talked myself out of it because of the price, and then found the JC Penney's version for pretty much nothing, I had to tell her.

So, take a sneak peek at the bed Avery is getting (courtesy of PaPa & JuJu and Grandmommy & Pop Pop) and then spend some time at Reichel's place learning how to shop with an eye toward savings.


Cookie Sheet Chore Chart

Have I mentioned that I intend for this new house to change our lives? Hey, for the amount of money we're spending on this thing, I don't think it's too much to ask. We have really tried to think about how we will use each space as we made changes to the plan, selected cabinets, planned shelving, etc. Examples: adding outlets at the top of the stairs and over the fireplace for Christmas decorations, adding a closet under the attic stairs that would otherwise be wasted space. I really think having a place for everything will be life-changing. Right now I feel consumed by clutter, but while some of it needs to hit the road, most of it are items we use (or would use more) if we just had a place for them. We have 17 closets in the new house. Seventeen. Seriously. I know, crazy, right? That's not even including the pantry. And the master closet has more square feet than our current bedroom. Oh, we have a dishwasher, too. I've never had one before, and excited does not begin to express my joy in it. Combine that with a room just for books (a library in the house is an English teacher's dream!!) and one for crafts, and life-changing doesn't seem so far fetched, does it?

Right now I feel like I do everything around here. I'm not saying I do alot, but what does get done is generally done by me. That's changing, too. Kyle has promised to help more (he mows and weedeats; it's not like he does nothing), and we're officially bringing Avery on board, too. She is so excited about this, and we're working with that enthusiasm while it lasts. But since consistency is a weak area in my life, I wanted a way to help us all stay on track.

Enter the job chart.

Isn't cute? The turquoise and apple green are the colors I'm using in the kitchen, where this will live. I spent a lot of time looking for ideas on Etsy and Google, but nothing really fit our needs. Part of simplifying my life is creating systems that are themselves simple. The simpler it is, the more likely I am to stick with it. Most of the ideas I was seeing online had too many boxes and stickers and...stuff.

There's not really a tutorial needed for this, but here's basically what I did:

  1. Spray paint a cookie sheet (ORB for me!!)
  2. Modge Podge two papers to cookie sheets--one about 3/4 the length of the sheet, the other 1/4. 
  3. Add stickers outlining jobs to be done.
  4. Seal with another coat of MP.
  5. Embellish.
  6. Add a magnet for each job to the bottom section.
All Avery has to do is take a magnet and check off jobs as she completes them. Easy, right? We discussed together which jobs she wanted on her chart. I was thinking we'd do about four things since she is four, but she had a list of 10 jobs! We settled on these six, making them general enough that they will work as she grows and her responsibilities become greater.

Avery LOVES this. Yesterday after she got home, she ran into the den and asked which job said "make bed." I told her and she placed a magnet beside it. I went to her room, and sure enough, she had made her bed! She'd NEVER done that before...and she sure didn't learn it from me! (See Sarah's take on bed making here.) And this one made me laugh out loud: she looked at her chart and asked what she could put magnets by. "Well," I said, "you put your dress up clothes away, so put one beside 'pick up toys.'" She did, and then said, "those are clothes, too, so I can put one there, too!!" Such a multi-tasker, she is.

What daily organizing tips work for you? Comment, please! I need all the help I can get!!

Edited to Add: Ok, so I don't really expect this house to change my life. I'm exaggerating.  I do think, however, that having a home that better fits our family's needs will greatly impact our day to day routines and will, by default, reduce my stress levels at least somewhat. It also gives us the space to expand our family should we choose to. We don't have room for that here. We will live in this house for the rest of our lives, so we built it with future space needs and old age issues in mind. And in a family that has deep roots in this land, I think we have constructed a home that can be passed down to future generations and become a part of the history this family has in our town.


Avery's New Room-Part 2

Okay, here's another project stolen from inspired by blogland. I don't remember where I first saw Suzanne's Give A Hoot Pillow, but when I did, I knew I had to make it. A bit of fabric from this shopping trip, some fiber fill and three hours of fighting with my sewing machine, and Hilda Hoot Owl was born...

Even her backside is cute! Love that fabric.

Seriously, it should have taken 20 minutes to sew, but I could not get my needle threaded. I spent at 30 minutes on two different occasions trying. When I finally got it threaded, the bobbin wouldn't catch. Sheesh. It was worth the effort though, because I love love love her. I also used Heat and Bond on the piece work, which made sewing  easier in one sense, but the web itself was hard to sew through and left needle marks. It also made the pillow not so soft, but it's really more for decor than head resting.

I can't wait to see how it looks in Avery's new room!

I'm linking this one to


Avery's New Room-Part 1

The house is almost finished!! Hopefully that explains my extreme lack of posting. Building a house is a full time job. All we lack at this point is carpet, finishing the hardwoods and a few plumbing odds and ends. We have to close on or before August 18, so it really is almost here!! I cannot express how excited we are to be moving into our dream home. The retaining wall, nicknamed The Great Wall of Goodlettsville, ate into our furniture fund (this thing is 200' long by 6' tall at its highest point), but I am determined to have at least one room completely done when we move in...and that, naturally, is our daughter's room. At four, her room still looks like it did the day she was born. The only thing that has changed is that we converted her crib into a toddler bed. She's tiny (33 lbs finally!), so this isn't a big deal. I didn't see the point in redoing her room knowing we wouldn't be in the house much longer. Besides, her room is so small, I'm not sure a bigger bed would even fit.

Her new room is 23' x 15' (HUGE), so the timing is perfect for all new stuff. And, since I'm making pretty much everything in there, I have been able to work on it over the last several months. I'm going to start posting about the various projects for her room, and once we're moved in, I'll how everything in use.

Let's start with the inspiration:

I had planned to make her bedding out of this fabric collection (Gypsie Spring by Robert Kaufman), but then found a set in the exact same fabric for $60 at Stein Mart. I couldn't by the fabric that cheap! Plus, it's already made, so she'll have bedding before middle school.

Here's a picture of the whole set. I'm using white sheets (more on those later!), and folding the comforter at the end of the bed. A white quilt from HomeGoods will be what's actually on her bed. Also not using the striped Euro shams. I may try to find some green ones in a damask or something, but I'm not sure I really even need them.

And speaking of HomeGoods....

Here's the picture of the washcloths she picked out again. See how great they're going to tie in?!

Okay, scroll back up to the picture of the bedding. See the nightstand? I'm 99% positive that's the filing cabinet from Walmart that matches the desk we ordered for Ave's room. The one I thought would make a great night stand. Hmm...maybe once I see the quality of the desk I'll go back to that idea. I do love them...

But anyway, I promised a project, and here it is.

I knew I wanted something for Avery's dresser and something with her name on it, and when I saw these Spring Blocks from Lindsey I knew it was exactly what I wanted there. Lindsey has a great tutorial on her site, so I'll just show you my finished product.

Cute, huh? My dad cut the wood for me (all scraps from the construction site--hey, I paid for them!) and sanded them with his belt sander, saving me sooooo much time. Here are close ups of each letter.

Lindsey also shows us how to make the cutie paper flowers on her site. I used a few on this modge-podged picture frame redo.

$2 at HomeGoods and paper I already had!

So there's two of the two dozen or so projects I have planned for her room. You can watch the progress of the list over on my sidebar. Like any good crafter, though, I'm adding as many projects as I'm completing. Oh well!

I'm linking this project up at

Add to Any Share/Save Button

Related Posts with Thumbnails