Fall Dessert Recipes

“In November, the smell of food is different. It is an orange smell. A squash and pumpkin smell. It tastes like cinnamon and can fill up a house in the morning, can pull everyone from bed in a fog. Food is better in November than any other time of the year.”
― Cynthia Rylant, In November

Now that Halloween is over and we all have Election Feelings to deal with, we should talk about dessert! The holiday season is here and we’re all looking for ways to celebrate and create wonderful memories in spite of literally everything. Today I’m sharing some of my favorite fall dessert recipes that would be a wonderful addition to any Thanksgiving table and welcome little helpers to the kitchen. Food creates the coziest atmosphere that can transcend any heaviness that may accompany your holiday season. (We just won’t worry about the heaviness it may cause!)

No-Bake Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake

Ingredients:

  • Crust:
    • 1 box gingersnap cookies (you won’t need the whole box but I’ve never seen them in a smaller quantity)
    • 1/2 Stick of butter
  • Filling:
    • 8 oz (1 block) cream cheese, softened
    • 3/4 cup of pumpkin
    • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
    • 1 tub Cool Whip, thawed
    • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
    • 1 tsp nutmeg

Instructions:

  • For crust:
    • Pulverize 2.5 cups of cookies in food processor. You will want 2.5 cups of crumbs when finished.
    • Melt butter in microwave & mix with cookie crumbs.
    • Press into pie plate and bake at 350 for 10 minutes.
  • For filling:
    • Beat cream cheese in mixer until smooth
    • Add pumpkin and mix until combined
    • Add powdered sugar and mix on low
    • Add Cool Whip. Beat on high several minutes.
    • Add pumpkin pie spice and nutmeg. Taste mixture and add more if desired.
    • Spread filling into cooled pie crust. Refrigerate until set up, at least a few hours. Set out cheesecake about 30 minutes before serving to allow crust to soften enough for cutting.

Notes: Thanksgiving treats us to so many warm, rich, heavy foods, this cold dessert is a nice finisher. The crust can be modified with more cookies or butter depending on how you like your crust consistency. This cheesecake is simple and fairly plain for those who don’t like decadent dessert. If you want more going on, get creative with garnish. Top with gingersnaps, sprinkle nutmeg, drizzle caramel…or whatever sounds good to you!

Brown Butter Maple Pecan Blondies

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped toasted pecans, divided (1 cup set aside, 1/4 cup set aside)

Instructions:

  • For brown butter:
    • Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until butter browns and smells nutty (5-7 minutes). Immediately pour into a bowl. Place in fridge or freezer to cool, whisking every few minutes until thickened and creamy (about 20 minutes). Butter should look like melted peanut butter when done. (If you’re making this all at once, use the freezer for faster set up. If you’re making the brown butter ahead of time to use as an ingredient later, use the fridge.)
  • For blondies:
    • Preheat oven to 350. Beat eggs & sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until thickened and pale yellow, about 3 minutes.
    • Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add slowly into egg mixture, alternating with cooled butter, beating on low after each addition. Slowly beat in maple syrup and vanilla. Beat just until combined. Fold in 1 cup of the pecans with a spoon.
    • Pour batter into greased and floured 9×13 inch baking pan and spread into an even layer. Top with remaining 1/4 cup pecans.
    • Bake in preheated oven 35 minutes, or until golden and a wooden pick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool in pan 1 hour before cutting.

Notes: This Southern Living recipe makes use of toasted pecans and maple…two underrated flavors of fall. DON’T FORGET: The brown butter will need time to set up. I hate when I get rolling on a recipe and have to stop and wait. Make the brown butter the night before or in the morning and plan to bake later in the day, or just build in extra prep time.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

There is no way I could improve upon this recipe from I Heart Naptime. Visit her site for the recipe so she gets all the credit.

While these aren’t the traditional pumpkin and pecan pie desserts we usually see at Thanksgiving, I hope they will inspire you to try something new or give a jolt of creativity for some of your tried-and-true recipes. I truly believe there is always more to be thankful for than there is to mourn, because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. I pray you would know that hope this holiday season.

Gift Guide for New Moms

This will be the last gift guide I share this year, but I didn’t want to let the season pass without acknowledging new moms! A baby’s first Christmas also means that there’s a woman in your life celebrating her first Christmas as a mama. Last year, Lyla was three months old at Christmastime. I was so tired and didn’t really know what to ask for because I didn’t even know what I wanted. My thoughts were completely consumed with Lyla. Chances are, if there’s a new mom in your family, she’s in the same boat. I tried to choose items I thought would appeal to most women, regardless of their personal style. You will note that none of these gifts are baby items. Moms are still women in addition to being mothers. New moms think about their baby and put them first 24 hours a day. Do not get something for the baby as “their” gift. Of course moms love getting gifts for the baby, but don’t forget to acknowledge that you still see her as herself and not just as baby’s mom.

Loopy phone case // I honestly don’t know how I would make it without this thing. As the mom to littles, you constantly have a million things in your hand. Being able to loop my phone around a finger or thumb and know it’s not going anywhere is so helpful.

Mom Q & A journal // My sister-in-law got me this last year and it’s been one of my favorite gifts. It has a short prompt for each day of the year, and you’ll answer each question/prompt for five years. There’s so much I want to remember about these days but it’s so hard to collect my thoughts. It all goes by so fast. Being able to focus on one day at a time and just write a couple sentences has allowed me to preserve memories I probably would have forgotten. I love that I’ll be able to look back each year at the previous years’ responses, too.

A massage // If anyone deserves a massage, it’s new moms. Their body has been through so much and they spend almost all day looking down, picking up a baby, and probably taking care of the housework, too. Get a gift certificate for a reputable, local massage therapist. Did she get pre-natal massages? Buy a certificate for that same place!

Baby’s initial/name necklace // The necklace linked is the most popular style right now. I ordered my necklace from this company. I love the cursive “L,” and I couldn’t find a letter necklace in cursive. There are lots of personalization options if you search “name necklace” on Etsy. You can incorporate birthstones, choose an option that allows you to add more names/initials in the future, opt for a monogram, or go with the letter trend.

A comfy robe // If she’s had a baby in the last year, chances are she’s going to be spending a lot of time around the house. Get something she won’t feel too frumpy in, like this soft, pink number.

A large tote bag // I linked a more fashionable option, but if you’re going for maximum functionality, I’ve heard great things about this Land’s End canvas tote. They have lots of sizing options and you can personalize. Most of the time, moms will be carrying the diaper bag. But it’s nice to have something to easily transfer your things to when you’re leaving the baby with someone else.

A gift card for a mani/pedi // New moms need pampering, but often feel guilty taking time for themselves. A gift card will give them a reason to go have some mommy time.

Cute sneakers // Whether she’s at the grocery, the pediatrician, running errands, or taking baby for a stroller walk, new moms will be getting some serious steps in. Get her a pair of sneakers that are comfy and go with everything. I’m also linking something more trendy here. I love Keds and these leather lace-ups can be worn with tons of different outfits. I would personally lean toward the Nikes because if you can keep white leather shoes clean, you’re a wizard.

Cozy slippers // I would opt for a pair with hard, non-slip bottoms. Bonus points if you get a matching robe, slippers, and a coffee mug for a themed present since that’s basically the new mom uniform.

Cute loungewear/PJ sets // I can’t stress enough the value of being able to feel somewhat put together but also comfy. Matching loungewear or pajama sets make it seem like you put an outfit together even when you’re just in sweats.

Beauty gift set // Ulta has a ton of great gift sets. You can get fragrance, skin care, makeup, or hair care products in trial sizes for a great price. They also have special holiday sets that feature seasonal colors, packaging, and combinations of a brand’s best-selling products.

A meal delivery service subscription or gift card: This year has been extremely hard on new moms. Because of COVID, many went without the support they so desperately need. Mama didn’t get a meal train when baby was born? Make up for it by getting her a subscription to Hello Fresh or another meal delivery service.

Stocking stuffers:

  • Coffee mug // For obvious reasons
  • Hair accessories // Baby is going to be grabbing mom’s hair 24/7. Thankfully, hair accessories are trending right now. Headbands, scrunchies, and clips, oh my!
  • Wet Brush // Once I switched to a wet brush, I couldn’t go back. I linked classic black, but I have my eye on this Disney Princess one.
  • Beauty tools // Make her makeup routine as easy as possible.
  • Nail polish // This Target brand is the best I’ve found at not chipping.
  • Gift cards // For clothing stores so she can work on her post-baby wardrobe.
  • Hand lotion // She’ll be washing her hands a lot.
  • Lip balm // Baby takes all your moisture with them when they’re born.
  • Soft, cozy socks // for plodding around the house for night feedings
  • Small candle // Because babies fill your house with ALL the smells
  • Pom pom keychain // So she can easily feel her keys in her purse
  • Jewelry // Doesn’t have to be expensive, just something that matches her style
  • Sheet mask // For quick, at-home self care.
  • Mascara // Get a trial size of a more expensive kind for her to try, or stock up on her fave.

And that’s all she wrote for gift guides around here this year! If you haven’t gotten your shopping done, now is the time! Shipping times are getting crazy, stores are getting busy, and things will go out of stock. If you need more ideas, check out my gift guide for men, gift guide for one year olds, and best baby buys!

My Fall/Winter Mom Uniforms

When I decided I wanted to have a baby, I knew it would change my body. Through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, I accepted the differences because I believed wholeheartedly a healthy baby was worth it. Sure, I wish my stomach would stop bending over when I do, and that my neck didn’t look like a deflating balloon. But I truly was at peace with the fact that my body had changed. What I wasn’t prepared for was how dressing this new body would become a source of stress. After Lyla was born, I continued wearing my maternity clothes. As the weeks passed and maternity clothes grew too large, I panicked. If I had to get dressed to go somewhere, I would sit on my bed and cry–staring at my closet overwhelmed. I didn’t know what size I was, or what would fit, or what would look good on me. Something about that was so unsettling to me. Having to re-learn a skill as basic as getting dressed sent me reeling. And if there’s one thing moms don’t have enough of, it’s time to spend on themselves. I rode it out in baggy lounge clothes until I was ready to try everything on, pack up or donate what didn’t fit, and start filling holes in my wardrobe with pieces in my new sizes. Over the last year, I’ve developed a few tried-and-true “uniforms” I can use to combat outfit anxiety before it starts. Today, I’m sharing those with you along with a few general tips for looking and feeling your best. One of the best things we can do is let our kids see us shine, too!

Loungewear looks: Let’s be real, as a mom in 2020, I spend most of my time at home having various substances wiped on my clothes. I try not to put pressure on myself to look Insta-worthy at all times, but I do feel significantly better when I actually get dressed. (Read: Take off my pajamas and put on other clothes) My criteria for an around-the-house outfit is: 1) I have to be able to answer the door in it without feeling ashamed. 2) I have to be able to jump in the car and take Lyla to the pediatrician if there’s an emergency (yes, this has happened multiple times). I generally alternate between two uniforms: Leggings with an over-sized graphic tee & joggers with a tank and cardigan. I can throw on sneakers with either outfit if we have to run out the door. I get most of these clothes at Victoria’s Secret (I only shop their semi-annual sale and their stuff lasts really well), Old Navy (great for comfy tees, tanks & cardigans), and Walmart (great for basic tees & cheap men’s tees that can be worn with leggings.) This outfit: Tee from Walmart, leggings are Chaps brand from Kohl’s that I got at Goodwill and I love them. The material is thick and good quality.

Running errands/Casual looks: High-waisted jeans with a striped tee & flannel is my errand-running uniform when the weather cools down. No matter the temperature, it gets HOT lugging around these babies. I love being able to tie my flannel around my waist. You can do this look with leggings too, I just prefer jeans because I’m really particular about having my shirt be long enough when I’m wearing leggings. When the weather gets really cold, opt for a sweater, Sherpa, or cardigan over a thinner shirt so you still have layers to work with. I pair with sneakers (I love Keds, TJ Maxx, and Walmart for cute canvas options) or low-heeled booties. This outfit: Lucky Brand jeans from TJ Maxx, tank & flannel from Old Navy. Mickey Mouse Keds old from Disney World but I love any style Keds.

Church/Dressy looks: Once I became a mom, I retired my beloved mini skirts and dresses. Not because I don’t like how they look (I still love them!), but purely for practical reasons. I’m constantly bending down to pick up Lyla or something she dropped. She pulls on my clothes when she’s on my hip. In short: modesty is key! I’ve adopted the midi/maxi peasant dress as my weapon of choice. I opt for high necklines and easy lengths (nothing I could trip over in flats). I usually pair them with heeled booties. Belt them for a more polished look, or wear loose and flowy for a laid-back style. (Or, realistically, if you plan to eat a big lunch after church). I’ve found the most luck with midis and maxis at Old Navy and Target. This outfit: Dress from Old Navy (they have several prints), Belt from H&M (a friend gave it to me so I don’t know the exact style)

Date night/Girls’ night/Baby-free time: When I know I’m going to be away from Lyla for a few hours, I like to have fun with my outfit. I wear necklaces because she always pulls on them and I end up taking them off. I wear an above-the-knee skirt or dress because I won’t be carrying her around. Or, as pictured, a white sweater which I would never dream of wearing around her! I will say, I wouldn’t advise buying clothes you can’t wear around your child. But this is a good time to pull out old faves you don’t typically get to wear anymore. This outfit: Sweater Old Navy last year, Hat from Walmart which is where all the cute, cheap hats are.

General tips: If you find yourself regularly facing what I’m calling “outfit anxiety,” here are some general tips that have been helpful for me.

1) Lean in to what works. Try to narrow down to a consistent color palette, a few fabrics you really love, or patterns that make you feel put together. For example, I wear different colors seasonally, but I always have mauve-y pinks, dusty blues, and neutrals because those are my favorite colors. As a result, a lot of my outfits can mix and match. I really love chambray, and white, flowy cotton tanks. I can pair them with lots of things. If I find good ones in my budget, I buy them. I feel great in stripes so a go-to outfit for me is a striped tee, jeans, and flats or sandals. No need to overthink it. If your wardrobe starts looking like slight variations of the same outfit, in my opinion that just means you’re honing in on your signature style.

2) Eliminate variables. If you’re putting an outfit together and you have one sticking point, swap it for something else. For example, you have on leggings but you’re having a tough time finding a top that looks good with them. Swap the leggings for jeans and go from there. If you find yourself in one of those high-stress moments when getting dressed, just start putting clothes on. Choose undergarments. Choose a pair of pants that work with the underwear (Example: if you put on dark underwear, you can’t wear white pants. That eliminates one option.) Choose a top that works with the pants. (Example: You chose black jeans, so choose a top that pairs well with them.) As you put on each piece, commit to it and don’t let anything you see in your closet derail you. Sometimes you have to treat yourself like a toddler to get out the door on time.

3) Put away things that don’t fit: Keeping up with your wardrobe is impossible during the baby years. There’s so much fluctuation and you want to keep things in case you have another baby in the future. Do your best to pack away anything that doesn’t fit you right here and now, and store it somewhere out of sight. Decision fatigue is real and having things in your line of sight you can’t wear just makes getting dressed harder.

Those are my tips and tricks for simplifying getting dressed for the day! Whether you’re staying around the house and won’t see a living soul other than your kid(s), or you’re getting out and about, I hope these were helpful! What about you? Do you have uniforms?

To 20 from 30

November 8th will be my 30th birthday. It’s a little hard to wrap my head around that number, but I’m so excited for what my 30’s may hold. Hitting this milestone has me looking ahead more than looking back on the past, but I have found myself reflecting on where I was the start of this decade versus where I am now. I had so much fun writing my letter to Lyla on her first birthday and to my pregnant self. I wanted to speak to the 20-year-old version of myself, now that I have a decade more experience under my belt. I don’t tend to hold back, but I got really real in this one. Maybe there will be something here than resonates with you, no matter your age!

Dear Ashton,

Happy birthday! Your 20’s have officially started. SPOILERS AHEAD: This will be the year you have your first, actual, serious boyfriend (Hey, Stephen!), the year you get your first job, the year you learn what a toxic relationship is and begin the slow process of walking away from it, and the year you work at Disney World, which will turn out to play a major role in your life. I’m torn, because I don’t want you to do anything different. I want you to take all the steps that led you to the life you have here at 30. But there’s also so much I’d love to tell you, if you’ll let me.

On boys: Listen to me, pretty girl. If a boy who is worth your time likes you, it won’t be confusing. It will be easy and natural and fun and exciting. He won’t fall head over heels for you, then get bored the second you like him back. He won’t make your head spin with mixed signals, like sitting beside you in every group setting but spending the whole time making fun of you, or writing you letters in private, but acting too cool for you in public, or holding your hand ice skating one weekend and introducing you to his new girlfriend the next. He won’t swear up and down that the two of you are “just friends” but freak out when his girlfriend shows up at the restaurant where you’re eating, or motion for you to be quiet when she calls while you’re hanging out. (Begging the question, if we’re just friends, WHY DOES IT MAT-TER?!) You’re going to waste so much of your precious time trying to figure out which series of flaming hoops will get you those guys and constantly picking yourself apart wondering why you’re never the one anyone wants. I want you to repeat this to yourself and live by it until the right one comes along: I don’t want to CONVINCE someone to love me. You did not have to convince Jesus Christ Himself to love you. You sure don’t have to convince some boy. I don’t want to spoil too much for you, but if you could see the way your baby’s face lights up when the man you end up marrying gets home from work, not another tear would be shed over the boys who didn’t want you.

On body image: I know you don’t realize this because you’ve been so busy criticizing yourself, but you are a ten. There are a million girls in a million gyms trying to get the body you have without lifting a finger, and all you can see is what it doesn’t have enough of. Your skin is radiant (For the love of God, cherish it!), your stomach is flat (!!!!!), and your eyes are your secret weapon. There is nothing wrong with your size or your shape. As the version of you whose entire body responded to pregnancy like a balloon that had juuuuuuuust a little of the air let out, I am begging you to wear crop tops and bikinis as much as you can. And take pictures. Stop worrying that you’re not measuring up, what size you are, and what people think. No one questions someone who’s confident, they just question themselves. You are altogether beautiful, my love. One helpful hint? You have eyebrows. Do something with them.

On anxiety: Speaking of worrying, let’s just go ahead and cut back on that. When I look back at the photos from this year of your life, I see the fun memories and the smiles. I see you surrounded by incredible young women and true friendships. I see cute boys with their arm around you. And I know that you operate under the assumption that those girls are all better friends with each other than they are with you. And that none of those boys like you, they’re just being nice (Hint: boys aren’t nice). You would never say it out loud, but the voice in your head isn’t a big fan of yours. All your life you’ve made your decisions primarily out of fear. Fear of failure, fear of disappointing your parents or a teacher or a bible study leader or any adult for that matter, fear of “doing it wrong.” You’re in Cru with a ton of kids from Nashville and Louisville who are getting together to write songs and you’ve never even told anyone that you sing. Or that you’ve been writing songs in your notebooks since you could write. You think anything outside the very acceptable “get a scholarship-go to college-pick a sensible major-get a good job” model is for kids who are braver than you and whose parents are richer than yours. If there’s anything I could change for you, it would be that. Stop thinking so dang hard about everything. Do the thing you want to do. You are allowed to fail. You’re allowed to try something and not be incredible on the first try. There is no Achievement Police. I could write a whole book on this topic, but I’ll leave you with something I know you’re going to think sounds lame: Just breathe. Trust me. It’s never as complicated as you’re making it.

I think that’s all for now. This is a great year, full of learning about yourself, working through some baggage you’re carrying, spontaneous adventures, and opening yourself up to love and heartbreak. You’re so beautiful, and life is so good right now. Let it be that simple. Your future is a dream come true, I promise.

Men’s Gift Guide

I decided to get a jump start on Christmas this year. This is my fourth year as the woman of the house (aka The Gift Buyer), and I’ve learned my lesson about waiting. Things sell out online and stores get too busy. I expect both those factors to be even more chaotic this year because of COVID. I’ve already got all of Lyla’s presents (Check out my Gift Guide for One-Year-Olds here). Next up is buying for the men in my life! Shopping for men can be so challenging. They never “want” anything, or the things they do want are expensive. Here, I’ve compiled every gift I’ve gotten Andrew in our six years together (not to brag, but they’ve all been home runs), as well as the things I have my eye on for upcoming holidays.

Men’s Gift Ideas:

  • Duffel bag & matching toiletry bag // Most men refuse to spend money on themselves. The gifts they’ll appreciate most are practical things they can actually use, but would never have bought on their own. This was one of the first things I bought for Andrew and he has brought up time and again how much he loves it.
  • Winter weather accessories // Again, men don’t buy things. There’s a reason God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Stock your man up on hats, gloves, and scarves for the winter months. Some for dressy outfits, some for working outside, and some waterproof for snow days.
  • Record player & records // If the man you’re buying for is an old soul, he’ll appreciate the unmistakable sound of a spinning record. You can buy new albums or turn hunting for vintage ones into a fun hobby.
  • Updated clothing basics // When I met Andrew, his wardrobe was comprised entirely of things he’d owned since high school and clothes his mom had bought for his dad at a consignment store that were too small to fit so they got passed on to Andrew. He wanted to update his style, but didn’t have the time or desire to shop. Even slight upgrades to his basic tees, jeans, and shoes went a long way. Don’t try to change him, just pick out comfortable, easy-to-pair staples that reflect his personality and style.
  • House slippers // A good pair with hard bottoms will last a while and keep him cozy when he goes to check out what that noise was at night.
  • A staple pair of tennis shoes // Andrew is very hard on shoes, and he tends to wear one pair for everything until he literally wears holes in them. A pair of shoes specifically for casual wear will make his other shoes last longer.
  • Wallet // When I posted this link, this Ralph Lauren wallet was on sale for $17.99. Is your husband’s wallet hanging on by a thread? A new one that matches his style will be appreciated for its utility and thoughtfulness.
  • Car cleaning kit or car wash membership// In my search for a link to this kit, I also stumbled across this cleaning gel that I now want to order for my car. There are also vacuum cleaning kits with multiple attachments if you want to get into some serious detailing. If your man isn’t one who enjoys washing his car, or doesn’t have the time, you could get him a membership at a local car wash.
  • Cologne // Andrew prefers this body spray to actual cologne. I linked a low-priced option, but if you’re searching for something more high-end, you could browse a department store and choose a cologne you like. Andrew told me he didn’t care what it smelled like, he just wanted to smell like something I want to smell.
  • Grilling utensils w/their favorite team’s logo: Whether tailgating at the game or hosting friends to watch at home, he’ll love showing these off.
  • Clothing/hat from their favorite sports team: While it may seem too obvious to we women (who, ahem, tend to overthink things), men are happy to rep their team no matter how much gear they may already have.
  • Insulated tervis: I got a small camo tervis from the brand linked and it performs as well as our Yeti tervis for a fraction of the price. Keep water cold in the summer and coffee hot in the winter.
  • Yoga mat & resistance bands: Yoga mats aren’t just for yoga. Gyms are still kind of weird here in 2020. These bands will allow him to work out anywhere. Yoga mats can be used for any type of floor exercises or stretching or, of course, yoga! Andrew has done yoga with me a few times and he says it gives the best stretches for his hip flexors, just FYI.
  • Robe: Even the most hot-natured hubby will be chilly on winter mornings. Plus, a good robe is a rite of passage for the man of the house.
  • Personalized tie bar: Tie tacks aren’t as much of a thing these days. Opt for a tie bar he can pair with any tie. You can buy a set with different metals/finishes, or go with a personalized option for something meaningful.
  • Portable speaker: I got one of these for free from work once and gave it to Andrew and he raved about it. He used it when working out at home, outside washing the cars, and while studying.
  • Biography of a man they admire: Andrew enjoys reading but after reading so much for school, it took him a while to get back into it. I got him this book about John Wayne and he read the whole thing quickly.
  • A book related to their interests: In a similar vein, you could get a book about something you know your man loves and wants to learn more about. Business, a historical figure or period of history (like WWII), a sport he loves, a criminal case that relates to his field of work…the possibilities are endless.
  • Outerwear: Andrew always seems to have 100 jackets and yet none of them serve the function needed in the moment. Make sure he has a rain jacket, a winter coat, a dress coat for church/events, and a light jacket for casual outfits.
  • Gift basket themed around their interests: OK so I couldn’t find a link for this one, but if you’re really stumped, choose a theme and make a gift basket around it. Andrew loves all things Kentucky and cooking, so my parents once got him an Ale-8 themed basket that had marinades and other food items from the Ale-8 brand. Small, local shops are a great place to find gifts like that.

Stocking stuffers:

  • Multi-tool: I got this wood-handled multi tool for Andrew’s brother and Andrew claimed it before I could wrap it he loved it so much. We use it frequently around the house.
  • Car air fresheners: Go with a clean, masculine scent
  • Beard balm: If your guy has facial hair, gift him with a beard balm that will keep his skin and hair moisturized through the winter.
  • Mini flashlight: I think my dad carried his Mag-lite on his person every day for 20+ years
  • Favorite candy: Hit up the Dollar Tree candy aisle and stock up for your next movie night
  • Gift cards: To gas stations, his favorite stores, or restaurants
  • Lip balm: Once again, something he will need but probably not think to buy himself.
  • Novelty socks: Andrew wears “crazy” socks with his scrubs every day so he can have a conversation starter with patients. I get him at least one pair for every occasion.
  • Coffee mug: Andrew loves this gigantic American flag mug from his stocking a few years ago.
  • Locally made bar soap: A lot of men use bar soap instead of body wash. Why not support a local business and serve a practical need?
  • Back scratcher: I just feel like every man should have one of these.

So there you have it! Everything I could think of that a man would actually use and enjoy. Have you had any big hits with your gift giving? Share them in the comments!

P.S. The photo for this post is one of our engagement photos. It was taken five years ago when we had gotten a lot more sleep.

Family Halloween Costume Ideas

I’m so excited to celebrate Halloween with Lyla this year! Last year she was only seven weeks old and I was too exhausted to do anything. Since she’s not really old enough to have a preference on her costume , I decided to go with something simple we could mostly put together from items in our closets. Here, I’m sharing our easy costume idea along with some other suggestions. These are mostly for a family of three, with the option to add more characters for a bigger family. I also have some classic group costume ideas. I chose ideas based on the baby costumes I’ve seen for sale this year and the feasibility of putting the outfits together with your closet, Goodwill, or inexpensive costumes. Keep reading if you haven’t landed on a costume idea for this year and need something more realistic than Pinterest!

Farmers & Livestock/Produce:

The Cude family is celebrating Halloween as proud farmers with their prize pumpkin! Andrew and I will wear jeans, flannels, and hats we already have. I ordered Lyla a pumpkin costume that has already come in. It has sleeves attached, and I have the option to put her in pants or leave her legs bare depending on the temperature. Halloween in Kentucky can be freezing or sweaty, there is no in between. This is a really easy costume because there are tons of animal and fruit/veggie baby and kid costumes. Some of my favorites besides a pumpkin are linked below:

Other farm-themed baby costumes: Cow, strawberry, and pig.

The Flinstones:

A family of three could go as Fred, Wilma, and Pebbles. If there were more in the group, you could add Barney, Betty, and Bam-Bam. Fred and Wilma costumes for adults are easy to find. Ladies…just make sure the fabric isn’t see-through if you buy a costume on the cheap side. If you’re crafty or sew, these costumes would be easy to make.

Mickey, Minnie, & Pluto:

Shockingly I couldn’t find a good picture of these three to share here, but I think everyone knows what they look like! My sophomore year of college, a girl I met through mutual friends sewed me a Minnie Mouse skirt. I think I’ve worn it every Halloween since. A classic never dies. Disney has an affordable baby Pluto costume this year. Mickey and Minnie costumes can pretty easily be put together with black tops, red shorts and suspenders for men, and a red polka dot skirt for women. Bonus points if you manage to find yellow shoes! If you’re crafty, you can make ears. If you’re like me, you can buy them. For a bigger family, simply add more Disney characters! Goofy, Donald, and Daisy are icons, too.

Jurassic Park:

The adult costumes for this would be fairly easy to put together with a Goodwill trip and a browse through your closet. Number of kids = number of dinos in your park! You don’t have to buy the same costume for everyone (unless you think it will help avoid sibling bickering!), there are lots of cute options, like this one and this one.

Star Wars:

There have been so many Star Wars movies now, you could reasonably make a Star Wars costume out of things you already own. I didn’t want to share photos of random families from the internet, but if you do a Google or Pinterest search for Star Wars family Halloween costumes, you’ll get some good ideas! At the very least, outfits could be pieced together on a Walmart run. Add lightsabers from the toy section and you’re a Jedi!

Costumes for a group:

Here are some ideas that could incorporate kids or be worn by a group of adults.

The Wizard of Oz

These costumes would be a little more elaborate and require either some craftiness or a higher costume budget than some other options. These classic characters will be quickly recognizable at any Halloween gathering, and the movie has enough characters to accommodate a large group.

Scooby-Doo

Why not celebrate spooky season with American’s favorite mystery-solving dog? If you’re true to the original, this would be best with a group of five. Unless you want to have a sixth person play your masked culprit and refer to you exclusively as “meddling kids” the whole night.

Gilligan’s Island

I’m gonna be honest, it was hard to find an example photo for this one that didn’t feature Ginger and/or Mary Ann in a bikini. This costume has characters for seven people and would be pretty easy to assemble from your respective closets, Goodwill, and a costume shop.

These are just some basic suggestions to spark your creativity. Halloween is one of the only days we all get to embrace our inner child so I say if you have an idea, go for it! What are you dressing up as this Halloween? Share in the comments!

Simple Fall Decor

I was so excited for fall this year. I couldn’t wait to put out all my fall decor. Then I realized, I literally have two flat surfaces in my home that I can decorate. For one thing, we’re living in a rental that we had to move into very quickly. It’s an old farmhouse so it was built for utility, not luxury. The other reason? I have a one-year-old who is into EVERYTHING. Anywhere she can reach is off limits for breakable items. Or items that could not conceivably withstand being coated in peanut butter. Needless to say, I’ve had to adjust my expectations for decorating this year. At first I was a little bummed, but I shifted my perspective and I’m challenging you to do the same. Instead of feeling like you have to buy something new, flex your creativity and be inspired by what you have. This is a good practice no matter what season you’re in.

Decorate smarter

For holidays/seasonal decorating, I like to pick a few key areas to focus on, rather than feeling like I have to fill the whole house. Like I said, my spots to decorate were chosen for me by my circumstances. I have our porch, our entry table (which is actually a buffet), and the top of our bookshelf. Since I couldn’t go too crazy on either of the indoor surfaces, I decided to focus most of my creativity on the porch. It made perfect sense because Lyla can’t wreck something she’s never around, and our porch isn’t big enough for play. I bought pumpkins and a mum from a local pumpkin farm. I had so much fun picking them out! I bought one bag of small pumpkins and one bag of gourds from the Walmart produce section. Other than fall candles, that was all I spent on fall decor this year. Since my other decorating was so minimal, I knew it would be silly to spend money on it. I laid out what I already had and picked a few simple things.

Decorate smaller

I always love grouping collections of small items together. It’s a great way for your decor to look intentional, it’s interesting without being too busy, and it’s inexpensive. I made use of our letter board by putting up a fall quote by my favorite author, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Don’t overthink it

On our bookshelf, I swapped out a quote I keep up year round for this fall-themed piece. On top I simply placed a pumpkin and a fall candle. These items have to be kept out of Lyla’s reach. The other shelves are for Lyla’s books and large books that anchor the shelves in place so she can’t pull them out. (Yes, that happened.) I left the rest of the space empty because she pulls everything off. We always discipline Lyla when it comes to her safety, but for me personally, I don’t think decorations are worth the fight right now. Of course she’s going to pull things down that she can reach. She won’t be this little forever, and a home is for living, not looking perfect.

As much as I love going all out and getting festive, sometimes it’s nice to pare it down and really focus on the memories made in your home rather than the decorations you put up. I still had fun figuring out how to use what I have in this new-to-me space, and the small touches go a long way in a small house. How are you decorating for fall this year? Do you go all out or keep it simple? Share in the comments!

Our Family Fall Bucket List

I quit making bucket lists for the longest time. I’m a Type-A, achievement-driven perfectionist, so I tend to treat a bucket list less like a wishlist and more like a checklist. Then I get stressed out if I don’t complete it. Y’all pray for Andrew…he has to live with this. BUT, having a baby has mellowed me out in a lot of areas, and this year I was excited to make a bucket list of experiences we’d love to have as a family. Last year during fall Lyla was a newborn and we were first time parents navigating a bad flu season. We went to a pumpkin patch for about an hour one day and that was it. This year she’s the perfect age for so many of our favorite fall traditions. Of course there are many things you can’t do with a one-year-old, but the sweetness of this age is so worth it! What are your favorite fall traditions?

Visit a pumpkin patch: We still want to visit another pumpkin patch and take Lyla for a hayride, let her play in the patch, and get some apple treats.

Make fall soups and casseroles: I’m going to share some of our favorite fall recipes soon. Andrew loves cooking and he couldn’t wait to bust out the crock pot and dutch oven this year. I think we made chili as soon as it dropped below 80 degrees!

Buy local cider and apples: Apple cider is my favorite fall drink (yes, even more than the PSL), and I love to snack on apples and caramel. To make the BEST caramel, leave a can of sweetened condensed milk with the label peeled off submerged in water in a crock pot on low for eight hours. It will turn into the creamiest caramel ready for dipping!

Eat kettle corn & apple cider donuts: Two of my favorite treats and I can’t let the season pass by without them. The smell of kettle corn is heavenly. We found a place in Lawrenceburg last year and bought it hot out of the kettle. Salty, sweet, and warm is a good combination!

Make S’Mores: I got so addicted to S’Mores one year, I Macgyver-ed a tool to push the top cracker down to smoosh the marshmallow in the microwave. I think we will wait another year to make them over a fire. I’m not too sure about my crawling, curious baby and open flames. Actually…I am sure. We’ll stick to other methods this year!

Go trick or treating: We’re hoping our church or another church will have an outdoor trick or treat event where we can take Lyla. She won’t totally get what’s going on, but she will have fun watching all the other kids and munching on candy.

Decorate our porch: I can already check this one off my list thanks to our visit to the pumpkin farm around the corner from our house! I’ll share photos soon!

Fall Comfort Food Recipes

There’s something so cozy about warm meals when the weather first starts to get cool. I rely heavily on my crock pot and dutch oven during this season. Today I’m sharing a few of our favorite comfort food recipes. These are all simple and can be made in a slow cooker. For more easy dinner ideas, visit my previous post Easy Dinner Recipes.

Garlic Beef Stroganoff

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cube beef boullion
  • 1 TBSP cooking oil (I use olive oil but vegetable or canola is fine)
  • 1 pack lean stew meat
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1.5 cloves of garlic, minced (I buy jarred minced garlic)
  • 8 oz (1 block) cream cheese
  • 1 bag wide egg noodles

Instructions:

  1. Pour boiling water into crockpot. Place bouillon cube in water. Stir and cover. Set crock pot to low. (If I’m in a hurry, I just do hot water.)
  2. Heat oil in large skillet. Brown stew meat.
  3. Add stew meat, soup, Worcestershire, and garlic to crock pot. Stir to combine. Cook on low 6-8 hours.
  4. About 30 minutes before serving, cube cream cheese and mix into crock pot. Cover and keep on low, stirring as cream cheese warms.
  5. Cook noodles according to package directions. Serve stroganoff over noodles.

Notes: Many people put onions and mushroom slices in their stroganoff. I leave these out due to personal preference, but you can add them to the skillet after the beef is browned, cook until warm, then add to crock pot. This recipe is nostalgic for me. It was passed down by my Bible study leader from senior year of college. She used to have us over to her house for the study and cooked a delicious meal WITH homemade dessert every week. It was so special and so heartwarming back in those college days where being in an actual house and having a warm, home-cooked meal felt like such a luxury. This is one of Andrew’s favorite things I make. It’s SO good and a great fall/winter meal that really sticks to your ribs. I serve it with roasted veggies, and rolls to sop up the sauce!

Turkey Chili

Ingredients:

  • Ground turkey
  • 1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can red kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
  • Diced tomatoes (not drained)
  • 2 cans tomato juice
  • 1 packet chili seasoning
  • 1 Tablespoon cooking oil
  • Shredded cheese (for topping if desired)
  • Sour cream (for topping if desired)

Instructions:

  1. In a Dutch oven, heat cooking oil. Brown the ground turkey.
  2. Add beans, tomatoes, tomato juice, and seasoning packet. Stir until combined. Cook, covered, on high until mixture is close to boiling, then turn down to low heat and allow to simmer, about 30 minutes.

Notes: We had frozen, homegrown tomatoes, which have a lot of water in them. Depending on how thick you like your chili, you may want some water or beef broth to add a little liquid. Or to use fresh tomatoes vs. canned for more water. I’m not usually a huge chili person but turkey was a game changer for me. The cooking time is not an exact science. Technically, once the meat is cooked and the chili is heated through, it’s “done.” But the longer you let it simmer, the more well combined the ingredients will be. This is a good meal to make on a Saturday, when you’re not in a rush to get supper on the table after work. Then you have leftovers ready to go on Sunday!

Vegetable Beef Stew

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb beef stew meat
  • 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 carrots diced
  • 2 medium potatoes diced
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • Any other veggies you prefer, like onion & celery

Instructions: Combine all in crockpot, cook on low 8 hours

Notes: This classic veggie soup recipe doesn’t have to be exact. This is a great way to make use of produce you have on hand, and it’s the ultimate warm, sip-able supper. Serve with crackers or grilled cheese.

Pot roast

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag baby carrots (you don’t have to add them all)
  • 2 medium potatoes, diced
  • 1 packet ranch dressing mix
  • 1 packet brown gravy mix
  • 1 beef roast, any kind, about 5 pounds
  • 1 1/2 cups water

Instructions:

  1. Wash potatoes and dice into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Place roast in crock pot. Pour ranch packet and gravy mix over roast and rub in like a dry rub (you can use a basting brush if you don’t want to get your hands dirty!)
  3. Surround roast with carrots and potatoes.
  4. Pour water over roast & veggies. Cook on low 8 hours.
  5. Before serving, shred roast in crock pot with forks.

Notes: This always makes me think of Sundays after church when we would come home to the smell of roast in the crock pot. I personally prefer to cook my vegetables with the meat, because they soak up the flavor and it’s ready all at once.

Those are the recipes we look forward to most each year, along with the white chicken chili and ham & white beans I wrote about it my previous dinner recipe post. What are your go-to comfort food recipes or dinner ideas? Share them in the comments!

Gift Guide for a One-Year-Old

We’ve had a one year old in our house for a few weeks now, and, I have to say, one is fun! We’re enjoying this age so much as Lyla becomes more and more of a tiny person. Lyla got really good gifts at her birthday party and I’ve been looking into Christmas gifts. I compiled all her favorites along with what I’m thinking of getting her into this guide. A couple of these will overlap with my Favorite Toys in the First Year post, but I wanted to have all my recommendations in one place. If you have a one year old in your life, hopefully this will give you some good ideas! Share your own suggestions for this stage in the comments!

Crawling toy: I bought this for Lyla around six months and she was terrified. #momfail. I brought it back out the day before she turned a year old and she’s obsessed with it. She smiles and claps when it lights up. It has settings for carpet and hardwood, and attempts to redirect itself like a robot vacuum when it gets stuck.

Shape sorting toy: There are hundreds of versions of this classic developmental tool. You can go with the OG Fisher-Price version, Montessori (aka hipster) style with a wooden option, or choose an activity toy that encourages pretend play. Lyla has this Leap Frog picnic basket and loves it. It has multiple settings she will be able to use for imagination play as she gets older. In a similar vein is this tea set she got for her birthday. I could hardly get her to open her other presents because she wanted to play with it right away!

Crawling tunnel: I wanted to get Lyla one of these for her birthday, but we’re saving it for Christmas. I’m still deciding between a few different options: a crawling tunnel by itself, a tunnel with a tent, or a more aesthetically attractive tent.

Palm Crayons: We don’t have these, but I put them on Lyla’s Christmas list as soon as I read about them. They’re designed in an egg shape, for babies who might enjoy coloring but are too little to safely be given a regular crayon.

Large stuffed animal: Lyla fell in love with her stuffed animals at this age. She takes turns hugging them and handing them to us to love. About 12 inches in length is a good size at this age. They can really bear hug it. She also LOVES her Squish-Mallow. Just make sure to get one that can be machine washed. They will likely go through a lot!

Suction Kupz: This is another item Santa Clause might be bringing Lyla. These multi-use silicone cups sold me when I learned they could stick to the fridge for her to play with while we try to get dinner on the table. (Is than an Olympic sport in anyone else’s house, or just me?)

Push walker: I mentioned the Sit to Stand walker in my favorite toys post. Lyla loves hers and a walker of this type was suggested by her pediatrician as being a good developmental toy for encouraging independent walking.

Wooden puzzles: These are in every nursery, classroom, and daycare for a reason. A puzzle with knobs on the pieces will go a long way in helping babies at this age conceptualize matching the shapes.

Building blocks: I’ve been wanting to get these for Lyla forever, and I think she’ll finally be the right age at Christmas. I like that these come with a bag for storage.