Friday, September 30, 2011

Fun at the Zoo

One of our favorite places in town is the Knoxville Zoo! Its just the right size...not so big that my kids get completely worn out but big enough that we see lots of animals. This week since my sister and niece are in town we took advantage of the gorgeous fall weather and headed to the zoo.

Violet, Savannah, and Landon - ready to see the zoo!

This guy came as close to us as he could. Isn't he cute?

There weren't very many people at the zoo on this particular day which was great because the kids could just run. Here you see Landon leading the way with his map. Even though we know exactly where everything is, he insists on getting one each time we go.

We stopped for lots of photos, of course! (The animals are cute, but the kids are cuter.)

Meghan and Violet.

The petting zoo is always a highlight for my kids.

I love Meg's face in this picture as she sees that the goat Violet is observing...relieves itself. (Gross) I also keep giggling at the random bunny in the background. 

Elephants - another favorite!

Time for more pictures.

Isn't he gorgeous? Zebras are so fun to look at. 

Also gorgeous. Both of them. (If I do say say myself.)

What a fun day at the zoo with our little monkeys!

Cutest things at the zoo...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chocolate Candy Caramel Apples

One of my favorite things to make in the fall is caramel apples. I knew I wanted to post this recipe to my blog the first time I made them this season because you'll want to make them more than once! These are not just any caramel apples...they are apples, dipped in caramel, dipped in chocolate, rolled in candy toppings of your choice. Um, yeah. They are to die for! You've seen them in gourmet chocolate shops for around $6 a piece. Skip it and make a whole batch for yourself (or share them if you're feeling nice.) First thing you'll need is a bag of Kraft Caramel Bits. I have made this recipe with the original caramels and these just melt much more nicely and are much easier to deal with! (Find them in the baking aisle.) I always buy two bags. If I'm going to make the mess I want to get at least a dozen apples done. One bag will make approximately 6. You'll also need a bag of chocolate chips (or two for my double batch) - I use both milk and white chocolate.

You'll also need to pick out your candy toppings...some of my favorites to use are Heath Bits (also in the baking aisle), Reese's Pieces, Oreos (really this is a must try!), and of course the traditional caramel apples topping - nuts.You could actually use any candy bar you like - just smash it and you have your topping. Lastly you'll need your paper supplies. Popsicle sticks and cellophane bags if you plan to share:

The sticks I find in the craft aisle. The clear bags are usually with party decorations and favors. Now, for the fun part. Step one is to put all of your caramel bits in a microwave safe bowl. For each bag add 2 tbs of water. Melt them for approximately 2 minutes and stir to smooth. While your caramel is melting start inserting a stick into each apple. This isn't really for eating them (the only way to each these babies is to cut them into slices!) but rather to help you in the preparation and look cute.

Dip your apple in the caramel. You may need a spoon to help cover the apple as your caramel gets low. (Remember small, deep bowls are best for this purpose!) When you pull the apple up let the excess caramel run off, then use you spoon to scrape the bottom of the apple clean so that you won't get too much of a pool around the bottom. Set the apples on a cookie sheet that is either covered with wax paper or sprayed with a non-stick spray.

I like to leave a little bit of green showing at the top but you can completely cover them if you prefer. Once your apples are all dipped they will need to be refrigerated for one hour.

Once your caramel is hardened you can begin step two for the double dip! To dip fruit in chocolate you need to add shortening so that it will harden. For every two cups of chips (which is one bag) add 2 tbs of shortening. Melt for one minute. Stir and then microwave at 15 second intervals as needed, stirring each time. Don't overcook your chocolate or it will become thick and gloppy! (One minute - stir, 15 seconds - stir, is usually the magic formula for me.)

Have your apple dipping assembly station all arranged so that you can work quickly before the chocolate becomes too thick. Dip each apple in the chocolate of your choice and then sprinkle with your toppings! Set back on your tray and refrigerate another hour. You may want to set your apples out a few minutes before eating so that they come to room temperature and won't be difficult to cut.

These are totally worth the time and effort! I package mine in the cellophane bags using the twisty tie they come with and then adding ribbon or twine just to make them look extra special. They don't need the ribbon'll know how special they are with the first slice you eat. I hope that some of you will make and enjoy this fall treat as much as I do!

P.S. I'm linking up.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Welcome to Fall

Welcome to fall at my house. Allow me to take you on a little tour. My first small project was the front porch. I got this little bench from my mom. She purchased it at an estate sale for just 50 cents. I painted it black and decided to use it to make my own little pumpkin patch.

My wreath on the front door was something new that I made for this year. Grapevine wreath (extremely inexpensive) and rosettes made out of burlap and remnants of material. Simple but I love it.

Come on inside and imagine that it smells like pumpkin spice, Chex mix, hot apple cider, and all of the wonderful things that fall smells like.

I am thrilled with how my mantel turned out. I wanted to do something really different this year. I went with the creamy white pumpkins (remember those bright orange dollar tree cheapies?) and who could forget the leopard candle pillars?

I think they turned out quite nicely! I love them. The white pitcher is a loaner from my mom. I love all the white and how it makes the orange in my garland pop. The garland was my one splurge item and even with it the entire look on my mantel cost less than $20. My favorite addition is my "Thankful" banner.  This idea came from Pinterest. I used burlap (which is very budget friendly) to make the pennants and an acrylic paint to stencil the letters. I debated putting it up closer to Thanksgiving but I need the reminder now as much as ever. I have much to be thankful for!

I have pumpkins everywhere. Standing alone, in groups, on pillars, in bowls... I had fun trying to think of creative ways to display them.

I had plenty of burlap so I decided to make a place-mat for my kitchen table to tie my theme into the kitchen.  I love think it turned out perfectly.

My centerpiece is a mix of random fall items and my candles. These cylinders also cost $1. Who says decorating has to be expensive? I think they look beautiful.

I added a splash of fall to my light fixture and found myself wishing it had a darker more worn look. I wonder how hard that would be to change... For now it is just fine. (If you look closely in the picture below you'll see I stood on my kitchen counter to take it...that may give you a good laugh. How funny I must look sometimes when I'm working on a blog post!)

Even my soap gets seasonally swapped out and I don't feel funny about posting that because based on the crazy selection of fall soaps I saw this year, I'm not the only one who does this!

I hope you've enjoyed looking as much as I enjoyed creating. Thanks for reading. Happy Fall to all. 

P.S. I'm linking up!

It's Fall Y'all (Autumn Link Party)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Whirlwind Weekend

It has been an absolute whirlwind this weekend, but it has been good. Saturday morning my mom, the kids, and I participated in a walk for Volunteer Ministries downtown. I was so disappointed in myself for forgetting to put my battery back in my camera after charging it all night. Oh well....the kids did look cute in their numbers and we enjoyed it. After the walk we headed over to Market Square for the farmers market. Once again I was sick I didn't have my camera. However, I snapped some pictures of my gorgeous and yummy selections. Yellow tomatoes (that I've been eating like candy), some beautiful zinnias, fresh apple cider (delicious!) a very creamy chocolate milk that is one of my favorites from the area farmers markets, and finally my adorable baby white pumpkins which are now in my centerpiece on the kitchen table. I finally completed my fall decorating Saturday evening, I just haven't been home during daylight hours to take photos yet, so that post will come this week.

Today was a fun-filled day as well. After church this morning we headed to Pigeon Forge. Once a year there is a special event for educators and their families and all Ripley's attractions are free! We took full advantage visiting the aquarium, playing putt-putt, exploring a mirror maze, and even checked out the World Records "museum." The kids had a blast and I will post pictures of that later this week as well. (I just had to post the above picture! There were fall props set-up everywhere and I had a good giggle after looking at Savannah posing much like the scarecrow!) Oh, and, my sister and her little girl are visiting all week! Looking forward to spending lots of time with them. For now, this is one tired mom whose pillow is calling...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Painting Pumpkins

(Image by Pottery Barn)

So it is finally favorite season! For the past few weeks I've been looking at Pinterest and my Pottery Barn catalog trying to find inspiration for autumn decor. I love bringing the outside in, and fall is a great time to do that! This season I've been particularly taken by white pumpkins. Don't get me wrong, I still love the big bright orange ones too but these little cuties in the Pottery Barn catalog caught my eye. If only they weren't $20 a piece (and up...) I don't want one pumpkin in my house. I want to set them out in pairs, fill my mantel, etc... I definitely couldn't do that at $20 a piece.  Fortunately I've learned that a lot of things can be reproduced for a fraction of the cost if you use your imagination and a little big of paint. So I headed to the Dollar Tree...yes, where everything is a dollar, and found this rag-tag group of pumpkins in need of a makeover.

As you can see they are foam and plastic...and they look a little bit cheap and shiny. The orange is not quite right either. But they were a dollar. You know what else is $1 just about anywhere? Craft Paint. The first thing I did to these guys was spray paint them white with cheap (97 cent) spray paint from Walmart because they orange was pretty bright and I wanted to get it covered quickly.

After spray painting them I took at creamier white and dabbed it on the pumpkins with a sponge brush. Then I also used some brown craft paint to add depth by dabbing it in the contours. (This is not pictured because this post is just a preview.) I also tied some brown string around the stems. They look so great, but I am not going to show you the finished product just yet since I'm still working on finalizing my decor. For my mantel I also wanted a creative way to display some of the pumpkins. I liked this look in pottery barn where the pumpkin is displayed atop a bowl/pillar.

(Image by Pottery Barn)

Again the price is not budget friendly at $39 and I'm actually not totally crazy about that style, just the idea. I decided to look for some white candle pillars. I found a few but still didn't want to pay $10 a piece for them. Then I found these little babies at Dollar Tree:

Are they leopard? Oh my...nothing a little white spray paint white won't fix. $1 a piece? I'll take them. You'll have to wait to see them finish product when I share my finished mantel. I'm really pleased with how it turned out! Lastly I decided to paint a couple of the small pumpkins a little differently by giving them a brown undercoat for a really distressed look. I started with this:

I used a muted brown craft paint and painted a thin layer over the entire pumpkin. I actaully like the way it looks here. I distressed some pumpkins like this last year. But I had more plans for this little guy.

Over the brown I dabbed a layer of vintage white using a sponge brush again, and I love my finished product. So it was a busy day of painting and my hands and fingernails look awful...but it was well worth it for the money I saved and the results! Can't wait to share the rest once I'm completely finished. I will leave you with a little sneak peak...