Saturday, July 30, 2011

Celebrating Mom with Chocolate and Raspberries...

When I was growing up and it was my birthday, my mom made me feel like on that day I was a princess. She sent flowers or balloons to school, there were notes and cards in my lunchbox, there was usually a party or special dinner, and there were always presents, whether big or small, that were always perfect because she knew just what I liked. Mom still makes my birthday feel this way. This past Wednesday happened to be my mom's birthday. She had a busy week but we made time for a birthday dinner and I made cupcakes (of course!)

My mom's favorite dessert is anything raspberry with chocolate - a love that she has passed on to me! These cupcakes are just a variation of other recipes that I found. I tweaked them and came up with this little creation of my own. I'm so excited to share this recipe because these were the best cupcakes that I have ever made!

For Cupcakes:
1 box chocolate cake mix & required ingredients (I used Duncan Heinz Dark Chocolate)
Raspberry Preserves
Fresh raspberries
Mini chocolate chips
Raspberry dessert sauce (Optional but if you can find it, this adds soooo much.)
For Frosting:
1/3 cup butter
2 cups confectioners sugar
6 tablespoons baking cocoa
3 to 4 tablespoons milk

Mix the cake batter per the directions on the box. Mix in a handful of mini chocolate chips for good measure. As you read this recipe keep in mind there's no such thing as too much chocolate...

Once you have mixed in the chips and spooned the batter into your cupcake liners add your secret ingredient: a spoonful of the raspberry preserves! I also sprinkled a couple more chocolate chips right on top because they tend to go to the bottom of the batter. Bake the cupcakes for about 20 minutes (or follow the time on your cake mix) at 350 degrees. While they bake you can mix up your frosting. Cream the butter, cocoa, and sugar and then add the milk at little bit at a time as you mix it to make sure you get the right consistency.

Once your cupcakes cool - my favorite part - time to decorate! The frosting looks so pretty if you pipe it on from a pastry bag. I used fresh raspberries for the top, sprinkled with more mini-chips, and then drizzled with raspberry dessert sauce. (I found this at Kroger and Melissa's was the brand. It is SO yummy...) I only used a little bit so I look forward to trying it with other desserts.

Just want to wish my Mom a happy birthday again. I hope this year brings her lots of joy. She deserves it  much more than I can say.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Splash Pad

Welcome to New Harvest Park and Splash Pad. As I've been mentioning (not complaining about...) it has been so hot here! Today I was excited to have my niece and nephew from Chattanooga for the day, so we decided to beat the heat and hit the splash pad. I love New Harvest because there is both a playground and  water. The kids had a blast running back and forth, and back and forth between the two. Just wanted to share some pictures from our fun day.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sidewalk Chalk

Remember when you were a kid and there were certain things that were just so much play-dough, or finger-painting, or sidewalk chalk! My kids love sidewalk chalk. For me is an an easy way to get them to play outside for a solid 30 minutes and if I'm being honest, I enjoy it too! (The only thing I don't enjoy so much are the chalky footprints on my dark hardwood floors in the aftermath...gotta let the little things go sometimes, right?) So on occasion we break out our buckets of rainbow chalk and make our front sidewalk our canvas.

Here Landon and Savannah are coloring with our neighbor and good friend, Halle. As I mentioned above, I enjoy it too so I join in the fun. I've always like coloring! Although I'm not the most artistic person in the world, I can hold my own with simple drawings and my kids are impressed. Here is a sample of my beautiful chalk-work:

The kids artwork was much more abstract, but no less beautiful.

Thank goodness for simple pleasures in life, like sidewalk chalk.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Deck Makeover

Let me share with you one of my favorite summer escapes: Pouring myself a tall glass of tea or lemonade, grabbing my latest issue of Coastal Living, and sitting in the sunshine on my deck. Most days this is how I spend my "lunch break." It's not the beach, but I'll take it! Because I like to spend so much time on my deck, I want it to feel like another room of my house...I want it to be cozy, warm, and inviting. I really want it to look like a deck right out of one of the beach houses in Coastal Living! However, I am on a little bit of a budget and I don't live on the beach...still, back at the start of summer I took some inspiration from this deck makeover issue and I have been loving my "new" deck. First, a before photo:

After winter and a stormy spring I started out with a few problems. First of all, my deck was dirty. Easy enough to fix. Second...because I had a glass table and we experienced a very windy spring, I no longer had a table! The wind picked my umbrella up one day and shattered my table! And third, it just looked blah and boring. I got to work (I wasn't able to do everything all at once, but picking up little things here and there it took me about a month to complete.) Here is the after photo:

Cleaning the deck was step one. A good sweeping and then scrubbing was easily completed. I got my table (wrought iron - no more glass for me!) at Target when all of they're outdoor furniture was on sale. This was obviously my largest purchase but the most necessary. The throw pillows also came from Target. Love the bright green! It just says summer to me.

The third thing I did was find some inexpensive accessories like plastic place-mats for a splash of color and a solar lantern. I also placed a couple of the inexpensive solar lights in my large potted plants! These add the perfect glow to the deck at night. I found some colorful glass bottles and jars which I think are perfect (Hobby Lobby - gotta love it!) The small crate also came from Hobby Lobby and altogether with the bottles cost me about $10! I found the place-mats at Walmart for around $1.50. I love love how the color just pops!

The last thing I did was pot my plants. My absolute favorite is my little palm tree! It is loving this hot and humid weather (...My other plants are not loving it quite so much.)

I really enjoyed sprucing up this favorite place of mine and when I was done I just felt like I was a bit closer to my "coastal" deck. I can almost hear the ocean...hey, a girl can dream, right?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sweet Summertime...

You know it is mid-summer in Knoxville, Tennessee when you walk out the door and immediately feel the sensation that you're under water. It is hot and its humid. But I love love love this time of year... You know that feeling that you had when you were a kid and school was out and it was finally summer? I still kind of get that giddy feeling every year at the beginning of this season. So today, instead of being tempted to complain about the summer heat I decided to share you with you just a few of my favorite things about summertime...

Flip Flops 
Fresh berries
Shorts,tank tops, and sundresses
Splashing in the pool with my kids
The smell of rain on hot pavement
Floating on the lake
Backyard barbecues
Trips to see family and friends
Sunshine until almost bedtime
The sound of cicadas and katydids
An ice cold glass of sweet tea on a hot day
County Fairs

For these reasons and more, I will always love summertime. For this girl it  passes too quickly. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Aunt Lola's Sweet Red Sauce

I want to give you fair warning: If you're a sucker for Italian like I am then this post will make your mouth water! I'm sharing a recipe that is kind of famous in our family: my Aunt Lori's red sauce. She has been known to go by many names...I decided to use Lola when I named the recipe because it just seemed to fit. My thanks to her for letting me share this! (You'll want to thank her too.) First of all, this recipe is semi-homemade because it uses store-bought pasta sauce and convenience ingredients. So if you've never tried to make your own sauce - this is the recipe for you! is delicious. I make lasagna, stuffed shells, and spaghetti often. This sauce just takes those dishes to another level! Here's what you need:

One large jar pasta sauce or two standard size (Brand of your choice - traditional flavor)
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 scoop brown sugar (to taste) 
1/2 stick butter
1 lb ground beef browned and rinsed

Once you've browned your beef work it well with your hands so that there aren't any really large clumps of beef. I like mine to be really fine in this sauce. I put it in a ziplock and worked on it this way so I didn't have to get my hands gross. So now we're ready to start throwing stuff in the pot. You'll want a large one as this recipe makes lots of sauce! I first added my sauce, tomatoes, and for the yummy parts...brown sugar and butter! (You can use white sugar too! Lori and I prefer the brown.) Use a scoop or a large spoon. I don't use a specific measurement and sometimes I add a little bit more. This takes the bitterness out of the tomatoes and makes the sauce nice and sweet so don't be shy!

For the butter add 1/2 of a stick. No wonder this recipe is great, huh? It is definitely rich!

On a side note...sometimes when I'm working on a blog post and I find myself doing things like...taking pictures of butter...I have to laugh. It feels a little strange, but doesn't it look pretty?? I love it. Ok, so back to the recipe! Once you've added your beef and mixed it all together, all that's left to do is let it simmer.

Doesn't that look so yummy... Let it simmer for about 30 minutes at least and then you can do a taste test to see if it needs more sugar. This recipe is great because it makes plenty of sauce for dinner, to share, and to save! From this batch I made two small pans of lasagna, I shared a jar with a friend, and I froze enough for another dish later on. Hope that you will love this simple sauce as much as I do. Is it lunchtime yet?...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Under the Bridge

Another photo post...but to me these are the best! Especially since I have such cute little subjects in these particular pictures. Allow me to introduce Brevin Eli, and Allie Peyton, my niece and nephew. I have been dying to get these two in front of my camera since I got it because cute kids make great photos and these two are super cute! We shot this session in Gatlinburg. One of my favorite locations was this gorgeous covered bridge that's just off the beaten path.

I am sharing several of these photos in collage form because there were just so many that were great and I wanted to share as many as I could in this post!

Allie was such a willing little model. She was all smiles and loved posing for me!

While Brevin was slightly less interested in the photo shoot, he sweetly cooperated and it would be nearly impossible not to get some great shots when you're this darn cute!

These shots are great too. Something about the reflections on this little pond is just perfect.

I am really enjoying all of the little photo shoots I have done this summer. I am definitely interested in bettering myself, and there is something in the back of my mind that says maybe I could do something with this! I have three sessions lined up right now so look for more soon. I'm posting even more (a lot more...I went a little nuts) from this session on my photography page (Just click the Stories From Behind My Lense tab at the top of my blog to check them out!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Speak Now World Tour 2011

There are sometimes in life that you get the opportunity to do something just for fun, and I love it when they come around! Summer has been flying by and I have lots to catch up on, but I'm going to back up and start with a post about something that I did that was so much fun! Back on the first day of July, my cousin, Jessica, drove town to Knoxville and we got all dressed up and headed to downtown Knoxville to see Taylor Swift. Getting ready was half of the fun! We had planned clothes and how we would wear our hair for weeks (I used my curling wand!)...not mention boots were a must have. Here was my pre-concert self portrait.

Not only do I love Taylor's music, but this was my first big concert, which just  made it that much more exciting. I wasn't disappointed. Her show was amazing! There was snow, there were fireworks, there was a mix of all kinds of dance, so many sets and costumes...even some gymnastics. I loved every minute.

My only regret was not taking my camera! Instead I ended up using my phone which is pretty basic and doesn't take the best pictures. I especially regretted it when mid-show Taylor came down to a small stage right beside Jess and I! No exaggeration.

Overall it was just a fun experience that I'll never forget and I'm so thankful for Jessica for putting it together. We had a great girls night that will be nearly impossible to beat. As Taylor says, it was "Enchanting..."