Always, Katie: June 2017

Friday, June 23, 2017

Completely Amazing, Super-Easy, 4-Ingredient Chocolate M&M Cookies

I am always on the lookout for a new delicious but quick and easy cookie recipe! They're my favorite type of dessert for taking to meetings, reunions, carry-in meals, etc because they're fixed serving sizes and easy to take in leave-behind containers with no serving utensils to find before leaving. These chocolate M&M cookies definitely fit the bill! I made the original Rolo recipe (from Lolly Jane) for my Trades of Hope launch party, and they were so easy that I decided to play around with them a bit. I'd been craving a good soft M&M cookie for a while, so that was my first adaptation. I made them for Ethan for Father's Day, and I plan to make them again for a family reunion this weekend. 

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They call for four ingredients, and I don't even use my stand mixer to mix the dough up. It's THAT easy... I use my mixer for everything! ;-) But this comes together quickly and easily in a medium mixing bowl with a silicone spatula.

Go ahead and use a store brand cake mix... you can't tell the difference, I promise. :-) 


1 Box Devil's Food cake mix
1/2 C oil
2 eggs
M&Ms (to taste)
(Optional: chocolate chips, crushed peanuts to taste.)

Preheat oven to 350*. Prep some cookie sheets (I love these!) with foil. In a medium mixing bowl, mix cake mix, oil, and eggs. (If you're adding chocolate chips and/or peanuts, add those now and incorporate.) Roll dough into one-inch balls (I have this scooper. I'd never seen one like it before, but I think it works really well and is so much easier to me than the usual kind), and place on foil-lined sheets, a few inches apart. The cookies spread quite a bit. :-) Bake for 8-10 minutes. When you remove the cookies from the oven, immediately press M&Ms gently into the tops of them. Work quickly, the M&Ms settle in best when the cookies are still very soft and warm.  

Makes approximately 3 dozen. Ish. :-) 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Creating a Dynamic Shadow Box (+ 50ish ideas of things to use as fillers)

Not long after the kids were born, I made shadow boxes for each of them and hung them next to the shadow boxes from our wedding and honeymoon. But... I hated the new ones! I finally got around to fixing them to my usual (read: not still post-op and pre-sleeping-through-the-night) standards ;-)

Here's a before and after (although, technically I guess it's an after and before, but that feels super awkward to say. Try it. See?): 

I had included one of the blankets from the hospital (we sent them home with the babies' scent for Charley), the handmade hats they were given in the Special Care Nursery, the buttons the staff gave Ethan (It's a Girl! It's a Boy!), their hospital bracelets, and cord stumps and clamps. Yeah, I'm the mom that held on to those. ;-) I also stuck a post-it note in each one as a placeholder for whenever I got around to printing newborn pics, haha! As you can see, the placeholders were still holding that place two years later! 

I was unsatisfied with the original shadow boxes almost from the beginning, and a big reason why is my first shadow box tip: Use a deep box. I love these that I got from Hobby Lobby, because they have adjustable depths. Even the shallowest is pretty roomy, though, and you're going to want that. See how the baby blanket in the "before" box is all squished up against the glass, and all of the other items are even more squished? It makes it look flat, messy, and somehow unintentional. Like I just threw stuff in and hoped for the best! Which, let's be honest... isn't really incorrect.

Now, once you have your box and before you've touched any of your treasured keepsakes, we need to talk supplies. Please please don't cut corners on this! Make sure any papers, adhesives, embellishments, baggies, etc that you put in that box is archival quality. Should be acid- and lignin-free... almost anything you find in a scrapbook section at a craft store should qualify. But you do NOT want to risk your precious mementos to sub-par materials! Nobody's paying me to say this. I just want what's best for you. ;-)

Next, as you're choosing items to put in the box, dig out everything you can find that's even kind of a candidate to go in it, and take stock of what you have. Sort it by priority... the things that have to be in it or there would kinda be no point in doing the box, the things that you'd really LOVE to have in it, and the things that are cool and would probably be neat fillers. Aim to have some large/dimensional items, some flatter ones, and some items in between sizes. If you don't really have any flatter items, consider using pictures from the event you're commemorating. And either way, I also recommend picking up a few pieces of scrapbook paper that coordinate with the items or the theme of the box to cover what is usually a relatively unsightly background of the box (in my case, black plushy stuff). You can cut that to size and pin it in with straight pins.

Here's the fun/frustrating/satisfying part: test your layout. Test it a lot. Tweak it. Re-tweak it. If you find a layout you think you may like, take a picture of it on your phone, then tweak it to something you may like even better. :-) 

While you're testing your layout, arrange the must-have items first. You can create dimension by clustering larger items together and leaving areas where the flat items or background paper show through. Think of it like decorating a shelf - something deep, something flat, something to bridge the gap. :-) 

For paper items (like my kids' names that were on my door and their bassinet cards), use an archival safe plastic baggie with a little extra room at the top. Secure them to the background with straight pins through the extra plastic, avoiding piercing the paper itself. Baggies are great for small items that you can't or don't want to pin or tape down, too... like my kids' cord stumps. :-)

I pin everything to the backing with straight pins. I try to use them that coordinate with my box (lots of pink pins in Abbie's, blue and white ones in Sam's), just in case they're visible, but whenever possible, I try to conceal them behind either another object, or between layers of the item itself (like clothes or hats). Take a picture of your final version of the layout before you start pinning things down. Then, start at the back and work your way forward! It helps to remove as few items as possible before pinning, though, to preserve the spacing and such that you like.

Okiedokie! So now you know how to build an awesome shadow box! So, um... whatcha gonna put in it? Here are some ideas of things I've done, things I want to do, things I've seen done, or things I really want someone to do so I can see it!

  • Wedding. (Use invitations, programs, boutonniere, table favor if it's small and non-perishable enough, garter, aisle flower petals if they're dried or silk, picture of the bride and groom or the whole wedding party...)
  • Vacation. (Use maps, brochures from excursions or attractions, ticket stubs, receipts (these do fade almost without fail, though), currency if it's an international trip, small items that remind you of a specific way in which the destination was different (from our European honeymoon, I kept an empty can of Coca-Cola Light), trinkets from gift shops, shells or a baggie/bottle of sand from a beach...)
  • Day Trip. (I've done two of these using 5x7 shadow boxes. I use one 5x7 photo as the background, and a small item. For our day trip to the D-Day beaches in Normandy on our honeymoon, I used a picture of Ethan and me, and a small corked jar with sand from the beach in it. I also made one using a picture of my MIL, Ethan, and me; a small corked jar of some of the teeny gemstones, and a few of the larger ones from one of those "mine your own gems" we went to on a trip to Asheville, NC. The boxes are deep enough that they make a ledge at the bottom that the jars and stones can rest on.)
  • Pet. (Either to commemorate baby days - a favorite baby toy, their first collar, first leash, baby pics, baby blanket; or as a memorial to a deceased pet with similar items.)
  • First home. (Picture, impression of key in clay, dried leaf from favorite tree...)
  • Graduation. (Program, ceremony ticket, cap, tassel, confetti from party, dried flower from "congrats" bouquet, year trinket...)
  • Special Party - Anniversary, engagement, promotion, graduation, shower etc. (Invitation, napkins, dried florals, picture, table decor, ribbons from gifts...)
  • Hobby/Extracurricular Activity (Dance shoes, programs, first jersey, game ball, ribbons, varsity letter/s, certificates... I have one of ticket stubs from concerts/etc, and one with the small SWAG from Geocaching...)

I hope this has given you some ideas for your own shadow boxes, and some guidance on how to tackle the project, but of course - rules are made to be broken. ;-) Experiment and see what you love! And then come back here and tell me about it!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Basement on a Budget: Intro, Rationale, Plans

Our kids currently share a nursery, for tons of reasons... including the reason that we only had one bedroom open to stick them in when they were born ;-) Their nurse practitioner warned us at their 18 month well-child appointments that they'd probably start climbing and that they'd most likely be climbing out of their cribs by 3.

We had decided that when we moved them into toddler beds, we wanted to give them their own rooms, too. The problem is: we have four bedrooms upstairs, but they're all currently full. There's the master suite (and I'm not moving out of it!), the current nursery, a guest room, and my craft room (that kind of resembles a Michael's store that's been hit by a tornado). 

The plan is for one twin to stay in what is now the nursery, and for the other to move into the current guest room. But then that leaves the guest room furniture without a home.

We don't entertain overnight guests all THAT often, but it's nice to know it's an option. So we're going to move the guest room across the hall to the smallest of the bedrooms... the one that my craft stuff is currently filling to the brim. :-)

Welllll... that explosion of crafty goodness has to go SOMEwhere! So we turned our attention to our unfinished basement. When we bought the house, the previous owners had started to finish it. so we have a gorgeous, mostly finished bathroom down there, and a little bit of framing, a cable drop, and a fireplace. Because of course. :-) My original vision was to make a little guest apartment/game and TV area down there, with one of the framed-in rooms becoming the guest bedroom and putting a little kitchenette in another little part, then have the biggest framed-in room as a storage room with doors to hide the stuff. But then as Ethan and I are talking through this and walking around our basement daydreaming, we kept coming back to the fact that we just... don't have that many guests! Can we justify a whole mini apartment for the off chance that somebody will want to spend the night once a year or so? DUH! 

So he starts talking about putting my craft room down there, in what was going to be the bedroom. Our basement is a walk-out, so there are windows and a door on one side, with two of those windows in what we were assuming would be the storage room. Seems like a waste of good daylight, and the stuff we're storing in there now doesn't even take up half of the available space, so we decided on this final plan: the basement will have a storage room (in the windowless but framed-in "bedroom"); a little nook with our big freezer, a mini-fridge, some cabinets, and a table for playing games or eating snacks; a sitting area with a TV mounted above the fireplace; my craft room/studio/office with a surprising amount of natural light; and lots of open space for the kids to be kids. :-)

I am BRIMMING OVER with excitement about this project, and I plan to take y'all with me through the whole shebang! We're trying to be very thrifty about the whole thing, without compromising quality, and I have some fun ideas about how to do that that I'm looking forward to sharing. We'll talk finishing, basement-friendly floor coverings, paint swatches, picking palettes, inspiration/mood boards, DIY projects, decor, and clever shopping. Hopefully I'll encounter some great companies along the way that I can tell you all about, too. Yay!


Sneak peek: This is the tentative palette I plan to use for my craft room. :-) I picked some Sherwin Williams paint chips up at Lowe's, and have been keeping them handy for motivation and inspiration. And then I made a collage of the same colors using their website and picstitch so I can have my palette at my fingertips on my phone. :-) It feels so bright and cheerful and will allow me to incorporate a few decorative items I've already picked up (because I have weak impulse control when it comes to pink pineapples, apparently). :-) I think that surrounded by lots of white, these happy colors, and inspirational craft supplies, my creative juices will overflow! Yay!

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