Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Big Ten Celebration {with Free Printables}

Today we're celebrating a fabulous 10 years with this sweet girl...

Our Lily was definitely a very sweet addition to this family.  

Her tender heart and knack for expressing herself in so many artistic forms blesses us every day.

I've taught her to sew and clean and use good manners...

And she's taught me to appreciate sensitivity in others and that words written by a child's own hand are truly priceless...

And since she chose to have cookies as her birthday treat to share at school, I made some special printables for the occasion...

If you're celebrating a Big Ten at your house, feel free to download these here for your special day.  Print the circles on adhesive paper to stick them on a treat, or on card stock for a cute party circle for cupcakes.  Use a 2-inch paper punch from Hobby Lobby or other craft store to get a perfect cut.

And these little strips make great bands to go around a small package, or they'd be cute cut down for banners and glued on a toothpick as well.

Hope you enjoy!  I'm off to celebrate!

Sharing with a few of these parties.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Visa Gift Card Giveaway From

This post brought to you by All opinions are 100% mine.

A little over 3 years ago, we put a for sale sign in the front yard of our previous house and prayed for the right buyer to come along.  Three weeks later, our prayers were answered, but since this house was still months away from completion, we had to find a rental--fast.  And that's not an easy thing to do for a family of 6.  Thankfully, everything worked out well for us, but I could've saved myself a few headaches if I had known back then about

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This is a fabulous site designed to help you search for just the right apartment in your city, using the search criteria that meets your needs.  It's super-easy to use and they give you plenty of photos and information for each property.

On you'll find choices like this luxury apartment in New York City...

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Or this eclectic space in Nashville...

Or small-town cozy-chic like this place in Franklin, TN...

And if you're picturing yourself somewhere warm beside a beautiful pool, there's this gorgeous complex in Savannah, GA...

So, whatever type of apartment home you may be searching for, you'll find millions to choose from at  They even have a mobile app available for iPhone, iPad, and Android.

And is so sure you'll love their site, they're giving one of my readers a chance to win a $25 VISA gift card, just for trying it out.  All you have to do for a chance to win is visit their site, choose which apartment you'd like if you were moving, and leave a comment with a link to that page in the comments below.

For an additional entry, tweet @aptscom telling them which apartments you love.  Include #AptsWin in your tweet, then leave a comment here that you did.

Giveaway ends on March 8 at 11:59 pm.  I'll be choosing a winner from the qualifying comments and posting it on my own Facebook page on March 9!

So good luck & have fun with your search!

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Tastes Like Chick-fil-a's" Chicken Tortilla Soup

When Chick-fil-a came out with their Chicken Tortilla Soup last year, it was love at first bite for me.  I have no idea why it took them so long to bring it to us, but, as many of my Facebook friends know, I'm a big fan of it.  And I'm notorious for shamelessly posting pics and status updates to let everyone know about it every time I eat it.  As a result, I've turned several of you into big fans of this soup as well.

And I don't know if it's a marketing ploy or if they have special beans that are only in season in the winter, but they only offer this for a limited time, which really puts soup-lovers like me into a panic.  I'm just dreading that day when I drive up to the drive-thru and they tell me they no longer have it.  

So, I decided to take action.  Somebody had to, so I gave it a try.

As I was eating a bowl of it one day for lunch, I jotted down a few ingredients I tasted (and I took a look at their ingredient list on the Chick-fil-a website), and I came up with a very close version of the original.

So here it is, for those of you who love this soup like I do:

"Tastes Like Chick-Fil-a's" Chicken Tortilla Soup

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4-oz can diced green chilies
1 taco seasoning packet (use hot or mild depending on your preference)
(4) 14 oz cans chicken broth
(1) 15 oz can black beans
(3) 15 oz cans navy beans
(1) 15 oz can corn
3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
1 cup heavy cream

Heat the olive oil in a large pot, add the onions, and cook until translucent.  Next, add the green chilies, the taco seasoning packet, all the canned items, and the chicken.  Bring to a boil, then allow to simmer for several minutes until heated through.  Lastly, add the cream and heat for 5-10 more minutes.  Serve with tortilla chips and top with shredded cheese, if desired.

Here are a few notes:  
I've noticed Chick-fil-a varies a little on the spiciness of this soup.  Sometimes I get it and it's much spicier than others, so use a hot or mild taco seasoning packet, depending on your preference.  My little kids won't eat things that are too spicy, so I made ours with the mild seasoning.  

Also, I noticed my soup was a little thinner than the original, so to thicken it a little, I ladled into a measuring cup about a cup of the broth from the soup pot. (This step is before the final step of adding the cream.)

Then, I just added a few tablespoons of flour and whisked well to thicken.  You can use cornstarch to thicken instead if you prefer.  After it's mixed well, return to the pot and stir.  

This makes a fairly large amount, so if it's too much for your family, you can freeze half of it for a second meal.  

So, for all you fellow Chick-fil-a soup lovers out there (and those of you not fortunate to live near a Chick-fil-a), enjoy!  I hope you love it!

I'm sharing this recipe with a few of these friends.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Inspiring Artist: Brian Neher

I know we talk a lot on this blog about not having to be a professional decorator or a real artist to make beautiful things.  All that's true, of course, and I love that inspiration can be found in the imperfect.  But, every once in a while, you encounter talent that's the real deal, awe-inspiring, and just plain wow.  

That's kinda what I think of the work of portrait painter and artist Brian Neher.  Here are just a few examples of his work, but I'm sure you'll agree that it's amazing...

Brian and his wife, Jacquie are friends of my husband and I from back in our college era and we are not surprised by Brian's success as we have always been amazed by his talent.

Brian currently lives with his family in Charlotte, NC, but he travels all over the U.S. for portrait sittings.  How awesome would it be to have him paint your kids?!  

He also offers instructional video courses for aspiring artists, which you can find available on his website.

And just this week, Brian has launched his 2013 "You Be The Judge" Art Contest open to artists world-wide.  The contest is free to enter and the Grand Prize package is worth over $10,000!  The contest consists of several bi-weekly contests in which viewers are given the opportunity to vote for their favorites.  Voting is already open for the first session!  So if you or someone you know is an aspiring artist, check out all the details about the contest and vote for your favorite pieces by clicking here.

Thank you, Brian, for inspiring us with your talent!  I suddenly feel inspired to go paint something now.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Bloggers: Use Your Influence, Make Some Money

Blogging, blogging, blogging!  It's the funnest job I never knew I wanted.  Only because there was no such thing back when I was dreaming of what I wanted to be when I grew up.  My 6-year-old has recently been trying to talk me into being a lunch lady in the cafeteria at school.  She told me I'd still have plenty of time to come home and "do blogs".  I'm flattered that she thinks I could do it, but I did my time in hairnets years ago in college and, trust me, it wasn't pretty.

I truly didn't start this blog because of the potential income.  (I actually didn't even know back then that there was any.)  And I still don't blog for the money.  However, I have taken advantage of several opportunities that have come my way since I've been writing, and many of those opportunities have come through Social Spark.

Social Spark is a blog marketing platform that connects bloggers and advertisers for sponsored posts.  They send leads for sponsored posts, and I can choose to accept or reject based on what I believe is relevant to my readers.  

The arrangement has worked well for me so far, and now I like them even more since they recently chose me as their Influencer of the Month for January.  That's right, kids, Momma's got her name on a star.  

I'm still thinking about where I'm gonna display this baby.  I may have to come up with a special display case or something.

Yeah, I'm a little excited.

They even interviewed me and featured LTPLOB on their site this month! (Click here to read that.)

And then, if that wasn't enough, they asked me to be their Valentine.  Of course, I said yes.  After I saw the candy, I kinda have a crush on them, too.

So, clearly, IZEA/Social Spark knows how to treat bloggers well.

If you're looking for new opportunities to bring in a little advertising income with your blog, please let me refer you to Social Spark.  Click here to sign up and begin the process.  You'll be glad you did!

Set Your Price. Choose your Advertisers. Sign up for SocialSpark!

A big thanks to Social Spark for making me a star.  I'm truly honored!  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

Here's to remembering that first meeting with your Valentine...

Or the one that hasn't happened yet.

I love this...

Disney does it best, don't they?

Happy Valentine's Day! 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Best Sugar Cookie Recipe Ever

Just in time for Valentine's Day, I have a special treat for you.  It's the recipe for the best sugar cookies I've ever tasted.  And the good news is, they're easy to make as well.

Here's the story:  my long-time friend, Vickie, is an extremely artistic and creative person with many talents, one of which is making fabulous sugar cookies.

Her recipe was passed down to her from her mom and her grandmother before that.  And for many years now, she has made hundreds of cookies for her family and friends--each one of them a delicious little work of art.

She shared the recipe with me years ago and I've made them dozens of times, but I've not yet perfected decorating them as beautifully as she does.

Here are a few she recently made for Valentine's Day...

And a couple she made at Christmas...

I told you she was good.  

I made a few, too, recently (remember these?), but mine are, well...a little plain compared to hers!

Thankfully, they still taste great.  And yours will, too, if you try this recipe.

Vickie's Sugar Cookies 

1/2 cup margarine, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cup self rising flour

Cream the margarine and gradually add the sugar.  Add egg and vanilla.  Lastly, add the flour and mix well.  The dough should be easy to handle.  If not, chill until ready.  

To cut the cookies, take small portions of the dough and generously flour the surface to start. Roll out the dough to approximately 1/4 inch thickness.  After cutting, return the scraps to the bowl and remix slightly, then repeat the process.  You should be able to use less flour for the surface each time.

Bake the cookies at 375ยบ for 10-12 minutes, or until golden.  Decorate when cooled.

One of these days I hope to have Vickie over to teach us a few decorating tips and tricks, but until then, give them a try!  A big thanks to her for sharing this recipe and for inspiring us to share some cookie love.

Let me know how yours turn out!


Monday, February 11, 2013

A Good Plan for Valentine's Day: K.I.S.S.

It's actually a good plan for any day of the week, but especially for Valentine's Day.  Husbands love it.  And women everywhere are getting better at it all the time.  It's the fine art of K.I.S.S.-ing.  

I'm talking about "Keeping it Simple, Sweetie," in case you're confused on that. {But the other kind is a pretty good plan as well!}  

Like I'm always saying, it doesn't require tons of talent or a big budget to show your family or your guests that you love them.

There are a lot of simple things you can do for Valentine's Day to really show the love, like setting a special table with your nice dishes and a few added touches.  I dressed up my dining room for Valentine's Day for under $12, including the fresh flowers!  

I started with a plain white tablecloth and added some color with a "runner" which is actually some cute wrapping paper.  This is the second time I've used this idea recently and I'm really starting to like it.

And what is Valentine's Day without roses?  But, as we know, cut flower prices can get expensive in February.  Another option is to buy potted miniature roses and place them in a cute container for a centerpiece.  I bought a couple plants at Dollar General for only $3.95 each and put them in a metal container I already had with a little burlap.

And the great thing is, they'll last longer than cut stems as well!

For a simple, yet pretty place setting, use your nice dishes and just dress them up a little with a nice napkin in a napkin ring.  You don't even have to use cloth ones.  Take two quality paper dinner napkins (like Vanity Fair), open them up, layer them together, then pull through a napkin ring.  That way, they look dressy, but your guests won't have to worry about ruining them with lipstick and you won't have to worry about washing them.

For some easy and inexpensive decor, buy some doily hearts from the Dollar Store and make some 3-D hearts to hang from the chandelier.  Just take 3 doilies, fold them in half, then glue the backs together and add some fishing wire for hanging.

Cut a few X's and O's out of some old book pages or cute paper and string them up for a little more love.

 Just remember, it all starts from the heart.  Keep practicing being a good K.I.S.S.-er and they're sure to feel the love.

Looking for a great meal idea to make for your Valentine?  Try my easy Filet Mignon.  I make it for my husband every Valentine's Day and he thinks I'm a genius.

And if that's not your favorite, you might like one of these:

Happy Valentine's Week!