Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Making Christmas Memories with Santa at Northwest Arkansas Mall #NWARK

I was compensated for this campaign by Northwest Arkansas Mall. All opinions are honest and are my own.
You're never too old to have your picture taken with Santa! All the Coller kids, from little 2-year-old Brenna, on up to almost 15-year-old Lynzie, gathered round the big guy this morning at Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville for a festive photo shoot. 

Even though we don't really do the "Santa thing" here at home, it's still fun to keep this tradition that both Jamie and I enjoyed as kids. Here are me and my brother getting our photos with Santa in Heppner, Oregon in 1984. Joe and I sure grew up, but Santa hasn't changed a bit!

It was easy to find the spot where Santa would be making his magical appearance at Center Court---everything was decorated so pretty and Christmasy! The kids were especially excited about this great big Christmas tree standing behind Santa's chair. This year, Santa is enjoying a brand new set and décor. Trust me--if you've not decorated for Christmas yet, this festive setting will make you want to!

Christmas Eve. 
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11am - 8pm 
(break from 3-4)
 Sunday 12pm - 6pm 
(break from 3-3:30) 

As you can see, most of the kids were pretty happy to be posing with and sitting on the lap of a guy they've never met before...but you always have that one kid who just won't smile and cooperate. Ha! Oh well, it's a cute picture anyway!
There are several photo packages to choose from, along with the option to add a phone app to your package, if desired. The photos printed immediately for us to bring home. 

Near the checkout counter, they've got all kinds of cute frames, snow globes, and other products in which to display your picture. Lots of great gift ideas!

I had an idea for a frame using some supplies that I had at home, so I stopped by Claire's before we left and grabbed a couple of sparkly things to add to it. I found these sweet Christmas tree earrings, along with a hair tie featuring Rudolph, Clarice, and lots of pretty ribbons.

Once we got home, I grabbed an old frame, some scrapbooking paper, scissors, and a glue stick and got to work. First I covered the front of the frame with the pretty paper. Then I cut up the hair tie and removed the posts from the earrings. I glued them on the frame in a kind of cute/kind of gaudy way---and voila! Our Christmas 2014 photo is done and being displayed in all it's messy beautiful glory!

I can't wait to see your family photos with Santa this year! Make sure to leave me a link in the comments, if you have one, and let me know what some of your favorite Christmas traditions are. Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Win an Etsy Gift Card and More at the Holiday HOHOHO Giveaway Hop! #RWMevent

Welcome to the Holiday HOHOHO Hop!

Now is your chance to seek out some awesome prizes for those on your Christmas list, but you better hurry, the hop ends on December 5! Make sure to stop by The Review Wire for the Grand Prize, an Erin Condren Life Planner! Use it as a nutrition/exercise log, newborn sleep & peep record, work meetings & appointments, academic & social planner, keepsake journal or as a scrapbook...the possibilities are endless! 

I'm giving away a $20 Etsy gift card! Help support home based businesses by shopping on Etsy. This giveaway is open worldwide so check out the Rafflecopter below to enter and then share with your friends!

Disclaimer: This giveaway ends at 11:59 PM EST on December 5, 2014. The Anything Goes Event Bloggers are not responsible for sponsors that do not fulfill their prizes. Companies and bloggers, if you would like to participate in group giveaway events like this one, sign up to be emailed about future events hosted by Review Wire Media. Visit the other bloggers on the hop to win more great prizes! *************************

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Walnut Wreath Cookies

Welcome to the Homemaking Party!

Mom was helping me come up with some ideas for holiday baking and told me about these Wreath Cookies that my great-grandma used to make. They're super easy and taste awesome! You can find the recipe below, but first...

Check out the adorable ballet bag I bought for Avalon from Heather Rogers Designs on Etsy*. What first got me excited about this bag was that I could personalize it with her name, and even choose her hair and skin color! Besides that, at only $20, I figured it was a good investment to keep her ballet things organized.

Once I received it, I realized what a great investment it really was! First off, the bag is way bigger than I was expecting. The measurements are, 14"W x 18"H x 2"D, which is plenty big enough for her to use into her teen years. I'm also impressed by the quality of the canvas bag. The design is dyed into the fabric, rather than ironed on, for a much better quality product.

Heather has over 2,500 items to choose from in her Etsy shop---lots of bags, mugs, phone covers, and clothing items to choose from---all personalized. You can find tons of gifts in Heather's shop and, best of all, you'll be supporting a home-based business to boot! Check out Heather Rogers Designs and tell her you saw her here! (I've always wanted to say something commercial-ly like that!)

Now, as promised, a yummy recipe!

Grammy Annabelle's Wreath Cookies
1 c. butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 eggs, separated
2 c. flour
2 c. chopped nuts
7 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1 c. chocolate chips

Cream sugar and butter. Blend in egg yolks. Add flour and mix well, then form into small balls. Beat egg whites in a separate bowl until frothy. Dip dough balls in egg whites and then roll in nuts. Set them on a cookie sheet and press down the center of each cookie. Bake at 350º for 10-12 minutes, then remove from oven and immediately press down center again. Cool completely. For filling, melt milk and chocolate and stir until smooth. Spoon into cookie centers and let cool until hardened. 

Now it's time for the Homemaking Party---I can't wait to see what you've got to share! 

*I was given a discount on my purchase in exchange for this review. Review was solicited by me because I LOVE this bag! All opinions are honest and are my own.

Linking with:

Monday, November 17, 2014

RSV Prevention and World Prematurity Day #MC #RSVAwareness #PreemieProtection #sponsored

I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for MedImmune. I received  a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

Today is World Prematurity Day and what better way to honor families who have experienced the birth of a premature baby than to discuss RSV Prevention. Up to 1/3 of parents are unaware of the risks and symptoms of RSV and often brush them off as a simple cold. However, when you're dealing with an infant, especially a premature one, any illness should be taken seriously.

When Lynzie was about 22 months old, she contracted RSV. Her symptoms included blue color around her mouth, as well as a raspy cough and gasping for breath. As young parents with no experience recognizing the symptoms of a sick baby, we held off taking her to the doctor much longer than we should have. We'd dealt with sickness like this ourselves as adults and knew we eventually recovered fine. It didn't occur to us how this sickness could be much more serious in a baby or toddler.

When my husband noticed her "falling asleep" on the couch, I realized she was actually passing out. We raced her to the emergency room, me singing, You Are My Sunshine, all the way just to keep myself from panicking. Her oxygen saturation was very low and she was immediately put into an oxygen tent where she spent three days. 

We were blessed to have a baby who recovered, yet not all children do. Up to 200 infants die each year from RSV.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus effects nearly all babies by the time they're two years old. It usually causes mild or moderate cold-like symptoms, but in some babies, symptoms become severe and cause a dangerous infection.

Premature babies, those born before 37 weeks, are at a higher risk for severe symptoms since they usually have underdeveloped lungs and immune systems. RSV season usually runs November-March and accounts for about 125,000 hospitalizations each year.

Here are some things to look for in your infant:

*Persistent coughing/wheezing
*Bluish color around lips, mouth, fingernails (indicates lack of oxygen)
*Rapid, difficult, gasping breaths
*Fever (over 100.4º in infants 3 mo. and younger)

How can you prevent RSV? Here are some crucial steps:

*Understand risk factors to see if your baby is at an increased risk.
*Never let anyone smoke around your baby.
*Wash your hands and require others to do the same before handling your baby.
*Keep toys, clothes, and blankets clean.
*Avoid crowds or other young children during RSV season.

For more information, contact your child's doctor or visit RSVProtection.com.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Chocolate Orange Swirl Bread

I made this delicious bread for the kids' breakfast a couple days ago and it was a huge hit! I substituted clementines for the oranges, since that's what I had on hand, and made up the remaining amount with lemon juice. It was still great! Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Chocolate Orange Swirl Bread
(makes 2 loaves)

1 c. softened butter
2 c. sugar
4 eggs
2 lg. oranges
4 c. flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 TB. unsweetened cocoa
2 TB. milk

Mix butter, sugar, and eggs until well combined. Grate the peels from both the oranges to measure at least 2 TB. zest. Juice both oranges to equal approximately 1 c. of juice. If you don't get quite enough, you can add milk or water to make up the difference. Mix zest and juice into butter mixture. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl, then stir into wet mixture until just combined. Pour all but 1 c. of mixture into 2 pans. Add cocoa and milk to the remaining mixture and whisk until well combined. Divide between the two pans, pouring down the middle of each. Use a knife to swirl the mixture around a bit. Bake at 325º for 1 hour.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why It's Not "UnChristian" To Be Open On Christmas Day And Thanksgiving

I can't tell you how many versions of "Don't Shop at ...." I see during this time of year. Stores are labeled pro or against Christmas, like in the recently published AFA Naughty or Nice list

People put up snotty status memes like this one:

Or this one is even better...

Makes me want to remind them about the holi-day our Lord, a practicing Jew, celebrated during this time of year---Hanukkah. Heard of it? Besides the fact that it makes sense for a business to buy a Happy Holidays banner that will suffice from Nov. 1-Jan. 2, this arrogant point of view also shows off your ignorance, since Christmas was a man-made holiday that came way after Jesus. I don't think he really cares one way or another if or how we celebrate it. (Yes, I celebrate. No, I don't want to have this discussion.)

But the thing that just makes me want to smack y'all upside the head is when you tell me you're going to actually boycott a store because it's open on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Are you kidding me?

"Oh, but those poor single moms should be home with their poor kids who have to be in school all week long and they should at least get Christmas together, for crying out loud!"

Really? No, actually it's called, doing what you have to do. Or, more plainly, having character and integrity.

Ok, so I'm sure there are tons of people, who work for companies that require them to work on a holiday, who are pretty put out about the whole thing. In fact, I bet every single one of them wishes they could be home with their families for Christmas Day. 

You know, because that's what normal families do.

You know what else probably goes through their minds? They're probably thanking God they have a job. They're probably thanking God they might be able to provide for some or all of their family's celebration that year. They're probably thanking God they're doing better than they did last year. Maybe they know their willingness to work hard, even when it hurts, will show their employers that they're committed to the job and they'll be put up for a promotion? 

Many companies offer time and a half, or even double time and a half, for employees who will work the holiday. Maybe that's the make it or break it day that will push their paychecks up just enough to be able to make their family celebration meaningful. Because they're making their own family traditions...a normal for them that is, frankly, none of your business.

Last Thanksgiving morning, my husband was home for the day, enjoying his paid holiday with his children. As they all giggled and played in the living room, I worked in the kitchen preparing a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner---more food than we could even fit on our table. I realized I'd forgotten to get something, and headed to Walmart. I felt a little guilty "making" the cashier ring me up, even though she had to be there anyway. As I reached for my change, I told her thank you for working that day. I told her how much I appreciated the store being open so I could finish what I was working on. 

That woman didn't see me as some snob who was rubbing it in her face that I got to be normal and she didn't. She smiled big and told me how much she appreciated that I said that. I'd made her feel valued in the midst of hundreds of other shoppers also rushing through to get back to the kitchen. Her family was preparing the dinner and she was going home later that afternoon to enjoy it with them. This was her normal.

This Thanksgiving, I might just head down to Walmart for the fun of it. Just to tell one of them thanks for doing hard things. Here's a new status meme for you...I dare you.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Last Bride --- Book Review

I received this book from Family Christian for review. All opinions are honest and are my own.
I've been reading Beverly Lewis books for years---I've read every adult one she's published so far! While The Last Bride wasn't up there with my favorites of hers, I must say that there was more than one surprise in this one---which is surprising in itself since I found most of the story pretty predictable.

Book Description: In The Last Bride, the sixth book in the Home to Hickory Hollow series from bestselling author Beverly Lewis, nineteen-year-old Tessie Miller is the youngest of her Old Order parents' five daughters - and the only one yet to marry. She has her heart set on Amishman Marcus Smucker, and come wedding season, they plan to tie the knot and start a family together. But Tessie's father disapproves. Ammon Miller has his reasons, and he has put his foot down: the marriage will not go forward. 

Impetuously, Tessie and Marcus take matters into their own hands, eloping to exchange their vows in the English world. After a secret honeymoon, they return to their Plain community to live as singles, hoping that, in time, they can convince the Millers to give their love a chance. But when the unthinkable happens, Tessie faces the biggest challenge of her life - and the almost-certain censure of the People. 

My Thoughts: First off, I must say that what I thought the cover meant by "the unthinkable happens" is not actually what happened. Well, it was---but there was more to it which definitely surprised me. See, now you can stop right there and go buy the book because that's just enough vagueness to get you interested, right?

No? Ok, so this was the first Lewis book I read after being in Missouri's Amish country earlier this fall. I saw my first Amish man, horse and buggy, and Amish-made goods for sale in September in Mansfield. It gave me some real faces to imagine on these made up characters and that was a neat experience. 

Without giving too many spoilers away, I'll just say that while the book definitely did have a happy and redeemed ending, this didn't move me to tears like most of hers normally do. There were several holes left open and the plot line wasn't tight enough to keep me from asking question after question about the scenarios that didn't make complete sense. Still, Lewis is and will probably always be up there in my top five favorite authors, so I'll proudly place this book on the shelf with the rest of the collection and enjoy it for years to come.

Friday, November 7, 2014

10 Festive Sweet Treat Recipes -- Great Christmas Party Finger Foods

We've scoured Pinterest for 10 of the most beautiful and tasty festive sweet treat recipes---all for you to get you in the holiday party spirit! Enjoy and don't forget to pin!

Christmas Tree Brownies from Betty Crocker.com.

Hot Chocolate Cookie Cups from The Gunny Sack.

Strawberries and Cream Pinwheels from Made From Pinterest.

Brownie Butter Cake from Rasa Malaysia.

Marshmallow Popcorn from One Good Thing.

Dark Chocolate Drizzled Cashews from What's Gaby Cooking?

Rainbow Layered Jello Jigglers from Tried and True Favorite Recipes. These look like Christmas ribbon candy!

Santa Hat Cheesecake Bites at Cooking Classy.

Amish Chocolate Covered Cherries from Tastes of Lizzy T's.

Gingerbread Cheesecake Dip from Food, Folks and Fun.

Make sure to check out these 10 Festive Christmas Party Finger Food Recipes, as well!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Stocking Up For Sick Days at Sam's Club #SimplyHealthy #shop #cbias

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #SimplyHealthy #CollectiveBias
As much as I love the cold weather, it's also the start of flu season and that is not fun. In our family, sickness never seems to hit us all at once. Instead, it attacks just a few of us at a time---which has its pros and cons. While it's nice that there are still a few unaffected to help those who are down, it also means that sickness stays around the house for a long time. Luckily, there are some things I can do to prepare for the sick season---like stocking up on essentials at Sam's Club.

In addition to the common flu go to items like tea, soup, and lots and lots of tissues, I also like to stock up on a few fun things to help the invalids pass the time and maybe get their minds off their ailments a bit. Last week, I went to Sam's Club and picked out a couple things to set aside for when the sickness hits our house. One thing I picked up was a new movie for the kids. They love the Barbie fairy tale series---and so do I!

A great resource for tips on keeping your home healthy is Sam's Club's Healthy Living Made Simple online magazine. This month they've got an article on flu vaccines that some readers may find helpful. Sam's Club's pharmacy offers flu vaccines, so make sure to contact them for immunization schedules if this is something you desire for your family. 

You can read the article online or download the app to your iPhone or iPad.

I love shopping at Sam's Club because it's the one place I can take all my kids and not feel like we're hogging the aisle! Plus, my kids love all the big boxes and cans of things. It's a great place for big families to do their weekly shopping and for smaller families to stock up on all the essentials---like over the counter products for flu season. You can shop for cough, cold, and flu medicine, as well as visit the pharmacy for prescription refills and flu vaccines. 

Most everyone has a medicine cabinet that they keep stocked with syrups, pills, and first aid supplies, but how many people have a cabinet stocked with toys, craft items, and snuggly blankets---all set aside for sick days? An available shelf or basket in your home is a great place to hide away a few fun things to surprise your kids with when they're feeling down. I remember my mom sometimes pulling color books or snacks out of nowhere when I was a kid. When I was really little, I really did think she was magic! I think she just had a secret stash of fun stuff that she set aside for a time when my brother and I needed a little extra love.

Books they haven't seen in awhile are great to pull out on a sick day, as well as things they don't use often like markers and special stickers.

A new movie is always a treat when your little one doesn't feel like leaving the couch. Coupled with a snuggly blanket, it can make all the difference in raising their spirits. What kinds of things do you do to make flu season more bearable for your family?

Please note: The opinions on immunizations expressed in any of the articles linked here are not necessarily my own. However, I do wish to provide this information to my readers, should you choose to seek vaccinations for your family.

The Homemaking Party: The Beginning and End of Fall

Welcome to the Homemaking Party! Wow---before I could even do this fall season justice on the blog, it's already come and just about gone! We're supposed to be hit with our first Arctic Blast next week---sounds like Gatorade, but nope---it's code word for COLD!!!

Time to stock my cupboards and prepare for the inevitable snowing-in! Last winter, Jamie worked from home just as much as he went in, due to yucko roads. That's really not so bad...

Thanks for linking up at the Homemaking Party! 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

George Washington's Secret Six --- Brian Kilmeade Book Signing Nov. 15th #FCEvents #FCBlogger #FoxNews

   This post is part of a promotion for Family Christian. I was compensated for sharing this information. All opinions are honest and are my own.
Those who live in the northeast Texas and southeast Oklahoma areas have the opportunity to attend author and Fox News personality, Brian Kilmeade's, book signing November 15th. Kilmeade will be signing copies of his new book co-authored with Don Yaeger, George Washington's Secret Six.

Family Christian bookstore of Plano, Texas will host the event at noon on 11/15. Address details are listed below.

About the Book (from Family Christian): When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. 

Drawing on extensive research, Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger have offered fascinating portraits of these spies: a reserved Quaker merchant, a tavern keeper, a brash young longshoreman, a curmudgeonly Long Island bachelor, a coffeehouse owner, and a mysterious woman. Long unrecognized, the secret six are finally receiving their due among the pantheon of American heroes.

About the Authors (from Amazon): "Brian Kilmeade cohosts Fox News Channel’s morning show Fox & Friends and also hosts the nationally syndicated radio show Kilmeade & Friends. He lives on Long Island. Don Yaeger has written or co-written twenty-three books, and lives in Tallahassee, Florida."

Meet Brian Kilmeade at Plano Family Christian bookstore at noon on November 15th:

601 W PLANO PKWY #153
PLANO, TX 75075-8968
(972) 423-9568

Hope to see you there!

Littlest Pet Shop Party Ideas #LittlestPetShop #MC #sponsored #birthday

 I participated in an Influencer Activation Program on behalf of Influence-Central for Littlest Pet Shop. I received a sample to facilitate my review and a thank you item for participating.
Last week, Selah hosted a Littlest Pet Shop party and we all had a blast! It was a fun time for everyone with great treats, games, prizes and more! See how we partied with LPS---you're in for a treat!

Special guest Blythe Baxter, the cartoon's main character, showed up as a surprise for the guests! She helped Selah host the party and led games and snack time.

The kids started out by playing a couple of fun games. This one is called "Penny Ling Says". You can read all about how to play it in my post, Littlest Pet Shop Party Game Ideas.

 After that, it was time for a few rounds of Musical Paw Prints. Again, directions for this one can be found in my party games post. We used a YouTube track of the LPS theme song for our music on this one.

Avalon was pretty excited to be the big winner of the Blythe's Bedroom Style Set! It's her first LPS toy, as only her older sisters had some before this. 

I put one of these together to display on the party table and was impressed with how easily it came together. The directions made sense and featured clear photos, and the parts all snapped together well. Blythe decorated it for me and we had it all ready to set out on display in less than 30 minutes.

This new line of Littlest Pet Shop style sets allows kids to customize their own Pet Shop world in a way that is unique to them. Fans can make their own Downtown City, with stackable style sets and little accessories that plug into them for adorable accents. The sets can sit next to one another to make a city skyline scene, and there are stickers and other decorative pieces to make it perfect for play time.  Kids can also collect and customize 100+ new pets to live with Blythe in their Pet Shop world!

After game time, we enjoyed several LPS themed snacks. Sunill's Blue Mongoose Punch, Zoe's Perfect Puppy Chow, Russell's Hedgehog Treats, and Mrs. Twombly's Raspberry Parfaits, all made for some fun Littlest Pet Shop treats!

You can get the recipes for all our treats on my post called, Littlest Pet Shop Party Snack Recipes. They're all fun and easy ones to make and I offer a couple ideas for variations, as well.

After snack time, it was photo booth time! All the kids got to take turns posing with Blythe for fun photos!

A great time was definitely had by all! Do you have a Littlest Pet Shop party coming up in the future? I'd love to hear about it in the comment section below.

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