DIY Upcycled Brown Paper Bag Gift Wrap

It’s finally the holiday weekend and that means we are inching ever closer to the start of 2018. We recently hit our 2 year blogging anniversary earlier this month and we thought it would be nice to celebrate with a short reflection and a makeover of the first post that ever went up on this blog. Why? Because sometimes, in the nitty gritty of blogging we can find ourselves questioning it all and in our tunnel vision of self-pity and negativity, we forget how far we have come. Comparison isn’t so bad when you’re looking at yourself and everyone loves a good before and after so here is ours.

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As you can see clearly, our styling and photography has drastically improved in the last two years. Our first post was written in 2015 just a week before Christmas and right before I was about to dive into a week of hell taking my PhD qualifying examinations (a 7 day, 40+ page writing endeavor). Since that first post, we have connected with some wonderful bloggers, participated in two One Room Challenges, built a small but amazing community, and even wrote our first sponsored blog post.  There have been many times this year when we would feel frustrated with our engagement or turn-around time and even question what kind of blog we were aiming to be but looking back to our first post, I think the answer has always been there. DIYing is obviously something we are very passionate about as well as striving to live as simply and sustainably as possible and that’s exactly the commitment that our first post embodies. In this post, we will be sharing our revamped post with a little twist; using stencils to create beautiful gift wrap designs. For those of you who waited until last minute to wrap your gifts, you’ll want to hold off on that last minute Target run because this is such a simple way to add a personal touch to your gift wrapping and for next to no cost at all (depending on what your craft supply stash looks like). The wonderful thing about this gift-wrap is that it’s not just for Christmas; you can customize it to fit any holiday or occasion year round.

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Supplies
Brown paper bag
Scissors
Stencils
Metallic Paint Marker, paint pens, or sharpies
Twine
Embellishments such as eucalyptus, flowers, pine cones, etc..

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Directions

  1. Flatten your brown paper bag and cut down to the size you need.
  2. With a metallic paint pen, stencil in the blank side of the bag using the pattern of your choosing.
  3. Place your thoughtful gift inside and wrap nicely.
  4. Embellish with rustic twine, eucalyptus, pine cones, or holly.

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As you can see, I was going for a minimalist/bohemian look (surprise, surprise) with the copper and white pattern, twine, and eucalyptus accent. It’s almost too pretty to open!

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So what does 2018 hold for us? It’s been really hard to answer this question because life is pretty busy with two kids and graduate school on our plates. We do know that we love what we do and we love sharing it with you. We hope that we can continue growing; growing ourselves, our skills, and our blog and hopefully inspiring you all along the way. We can say for certain that we will definitely be sharing more DIY projects, simple family recipes, our simple living journey, and parenting adventures but whether we can keep up with our 50 blog posts/year productivity will remain to be seen. If there are topics you would like to see more of here on The Cozy Home Chronicles, please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments below. And for those of you new bloggers, those considering starting blogs, or even veteran bloggers wondering “what’s the point?”, keep on dreaming and working towards those dreams with your eyes on the journey and not solely on the destination.

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”-Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist

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Family Finance: A Simple Budget Overview

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Hello friends! Today’s post is going be different than the usual and it might even seem a little off topic because it’s about numbers (my favorite subject). As a financial analyst, budgeting is a subject near and dear to my heart and something I have been wanting to write about for a while now. While it doesn’t fit the usual cozy home posts of DIY projects and healthy recipes, it is something that is essential to the kind of lifestyle we write about. Sound budgeting not only reduces stress but it is absolutely necessary for eating healthy, saving for the future, and investing in quality experiences (just to name a few).

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Although life is busy with two kids and endless responsibilities, I try to make sure that my wife and I are on the same page when it comes to our finances. While talking about money sometimes gets a bad rap in certain cultures (it can be taken for stinginess or greed) the reality is that money is an important aspect of life that, when managed properly, can be a real source of strength for your family.  With the New Year just around the corner, I wanted to write a series of posts that would be helpful for those looking to review and improve their financial stability by acquainting them with some basic concepts, tools, and resources to budget better, save more, and stress less. In this first post, I will discuss a simple approach to budgeting that will involve choosing a methodology for budgeting and tracking that is comfortable and realistic for you and your lifestyle. Let’s get started!

Agenda

  • Choose a methodology for budgeting that is realistic
  • Find and maximize your budgeting strategy to free up time for other activities
  • Help you commit to a new financial awareness

1. Cash vs. Credit: Choose a spending system
There are many blogs and websites out there that tout the merits of using cash-only while vilifying credit cards as enablers of mismanagement. While there is some truth to this, there are many benefits to using credit cards especially when used alongside online budgeting platforms. I am a firm believer of using a hybrid system and as of right now we have an 80/20 split between credit and cash respectively. Choosing a system is important because it will dictate how you track your numbers.  For example, if you decide to use mostly credit like we do, along with an online budgeting platform, much of the work in terms of tracking numbers will be done for you automatically. Another benefit of using credit is being able to take advantage of cash-back or point bonus systems that many well-known credit card companies offer. While your budget will dictate to some extent what your spending system will look like, it’s important to envision how you’re comfortable spending so you can get into a rhythm that works for your lifestyle and fits into tracking and accountability.

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2. Written vs. Digital: Tracking your numbers
Aside from choosing a spending system, it’s also important to pick your preference when it comes to keeping track of your income and expenses. There are many budgeting apps and free online software’s such as Mint, YNABGoogle Sheets, and Microsoft Excel to name a few. I use Excel because I always have but if I didn’t have access to it then Google Sheets would be a more than capable replacement. If you can’t see yourself committing to updating a sheet every day or two on the computer then stick to good old pen and paper (you can find PDF expense trackers here). If you’re not into tracking at all then you might want to really consider an online system like MINT or YNAB. All you need to sign up is a valid e-mail address and the rest is simply adding your financial account information.  Mint is a free platform while YNAB is free for some people such as college students (more on their pricing structure here). The most important thing is that you choose a medium that is comfortable for you so that you can be consistent and disciplined.

Now that you have an idea of what kind of spending system you’d like and how you want to keep track of your numbers, let’s do a very basic run through of how to calculate a budget.

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3. Fixed vs. Variable Expenses: Determining your Budget

Fixed expenses: A fixed expense is one that you can’t change and tends to stay around the same dollar amount every month. Mortgage payments, apartment rent, and car lease payments are all examples of fixed expenses.

Variable expenses: A variable expense is something that changes from month to month based on different factors. Groceries, clothing, entertainment, and gifts would be examples of variable expenses because you decide how much to spend to some degree.

To determine your monthly budget, you will need to calculate your expenses (fixed + variable) and subtract them from your monthly income. I have provided a sample Excel  sheet template below for downloading to show you how this is done. As you can see, there are three sections: income, fixed expenses, and variable expenses. If you want to follow along using the custom budget template that I created, go ahead and start by inputting your  income first followed by your expenses. In this example, the income is $3500/month, total expenses are $2402, and there is a positive balance of $1098.

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You can adjust the expense categories to more accurately reflect your family’s lifestyle but I tried to include a diverse list of expenses to give you an idea of what to account for. If you’re totally clueless on what you’re spending on or even how much you spend on basic things like groceries, I suggest you try a 30-day trial period where you diligently track each and every expense. This will help acquaint you with your spending habits and allow you to identify practices that are not budget-friendly. For example, if your grocery expense is much higher than you’re comfortable with and you’d really like to be saving for say a post-graduation trip then you might want to adopt practices like meal planning and meal prepping to work alongside your budgeting approach. While you do want to be as accurate as possible when accounting for your spending, you don’t want to be too extreme to the point that you’re tracking every penny unless you are in a very tight situation. Once you’ve figured out you’re spending habits, created a budget, and have begun tracking your monthly expenses you are now able to do the fun part of analyzing your data and working towards saving and investing.

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Now with the basics down, it will be much easier for me to share some of my tips and tricks for saving monthly, planning trips, and investing in the future. I have a few posts planned out for this series already; one to cover college savings funds and another to cover the advantages of memberships like Amazon Prime and Costco. As I said early on in this post, finance is a subject that I am very passionate about so if there’s something you’d like to see covered in this series then please don’t hesitate to contact us either through email or by leaving a message in the comments below. We hope this post was the spark you needed to rethink your budget and saving strategies for 2018. As always, if you liked this post please follow us and share!

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Salted Maple Vanilla Caramel Sauce & Snack Board

**This is a sponsored post written by us on behalf of DairyPure. All opinions are 100% our own.** 

Cozy. It’s a simple, four-letter word that evokes plenty of warm fuzzy feelings. It’s also at the heart of our blog. Coziness, for us, is less about having a particular sense of style and more about cultivating specific practices that are meaningful and beautiful to you. One practice we find universally cozy (and we are sure you’ll agree) is the ability to create joyful memories with loved ones.

IMG_8106Everyone knows that food brings people together and while this is true, it doesn’t mean you have to prepare a three-course dinner to have a successful family gathering. A simple snack will more than suffice and that’s exactly what we have for you today. A delicious, naturally sweetened caramel dip that pairs well with your choice of wholesome snacks like apple slices, pretzels, and rice cakes. The best part about this caramel dip, is that it’s easy to make in a pinch. With just 5 ingredients and in under 20 minutes, you will have a decadent dip that would satisfy any sweet & salty tooth. And not just any ingredients. This dip is made with ingredients you can feel good about feeding your family; from the DairyPure cream, backed by its 5-point purity promise and sourced from local dairy farms to the 100% pure Maple syrup. Considering store-bought caramel dips are filled with artificial flavors and colors, these ingredients might even make you feel less guilty about eating the caramel straight from the jar (guilty as charged). With the holidays around the corner, we could all do with a little more relaxing and a little less stressing. Whether it’s your next family game night or your annual ugly sweater Christmas party, this snack board featuring our salted maple vanilla caramel sauce is sure to help you do just that!

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Salted Maple Vanilla Caramel Sauce

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients
1/3 cup DairyPure Half & Half or Heavy Cream
4 tablespoons unsalted quality butter
1 cup 100% pure Maple Syrup
1 teaspoon natural Vanilla extract
Pinch of Salt (I use Himalayan pink)

Note: If you want the sauce richer and creamier, you can substitute the DairyPure Half & Half for DairyPure Heavy Cream instead.

For serving:
Apple slices
Pretzels
Rice cakes
Waffle crisps
Shortbread cookies

Directions:
1. In a deep saucepan, bring the maple syrup to a boil then turn on low and let simmer for 10-15 minutes until the syrup has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.
2. Add in the butter, vanilla, and salt and stir until the butter has melted.
3. Now pour in the half and half, stir for a minute or two and pour into a bowl or jar for serving. The sauce will solidify more as it cools so don’t be alarmed if it’s loose. If you want it thicker you can always let it simmer for a little bit longer.
4. For a fun presentation, arrange a cutting board with snacks for dipping around a bowl of caramel sauce.

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What are your favorite family-time snacks? Let us know in the comments below and if you make this recipe or any other DairyPure simple recipes be sure to share and tag us on Instagram @thecozyhomechronicles and use the hashtag #SIMPLYMADEMEMORIES for a chance to be featured in our stories. Be sure to check here for special holiday coupons before you make that shopping trip!

As always if you liked this post, please follow us and share!

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Organizing for Your Lifestyle: Strategies for Developing Sustainable Organizing Solutions

Let’s be real. Maintaining a clean house most days is a challenge in itself. Now add two young children and school and we are looking at nearly impossible. But we manage somehow. Believe it or not, the hardest part is not having to pick up after our little ones but rather picking up in a timely manner. In order to do that, one needs to be…dun..dun..dun.. yep, you guessed it. ORGANIZED! Since both my husband and I are in school this semester, we figured it was high time we got our house sustainably organized once and for all. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to get a little bit of help.

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In her book Organizing for your Lifestyle, Jane Stoller offers inspiration and practical advice for tackling any organization project from the smallest closet to the biggest room. The first chapter is a general overview of organization philosophy covering the very basics including the health and cost benefits of organizing as well as organization approaches such as minimalism. After that expect to dive straight in. My favorite part of the book is the way in which it is organized; each chapter serves as a guide to a different space. As someone who suffers from indecisivism (is that a thing?) I can tell you that knowing where to start is the most stressful part so following a list definitely helped eliminate that stress. Here’s how the book is split up:

  1. Closet
  2. Bathroom
  3. Kitchen
  4. Travel
  5. Books
  6. Storage Room

Suddenly, a good pre-New Year’s purging doesn’t sound too bad now does it?! Today I’m sharing five of my favorite practical tips from the book and how I’m applying them as we tackle our organizational woes.

1. Have a date with your closet every year. Jane recommends evaluating and reorganizing your closet twice annually as “this will help you to stay fully in control of what you have, and knowledgeable about what you need, while ensuring that no excess clothing outstays its welcome.” We recently tackled the kid’s closet and ended up donating a TON of stuff they had outgrown that was taking up valuable space. After seeing how much space this opened up, I added reminders to my calendar to do this on a quarterly basis.

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2. Think in terms of frequency of use. Mentally sorting out your belongings into daily use/weekly use/sparse use really puts things into perspective and allows you to tailor your organization system to your practical needs so that you have what you need when you need it. This has been really helpful in our bathroom as I have tried to make sure that we have easy access to the things we use every day like toothpaste and shampoo whereas medications that are used infrequently are tucked away out of sight.

3. “Organize so your mother (or father) can cook in your kitchen.” This one really stood out to me because the kitchen is the heart of our home. If you don’t have easy access to basic tools and ingredients while cooking then you’re wasting valuable time during meal prep. Imagining someone else using your kitchen is a great exercise for thinking about the efficiency of your space. I used the opportunity to remove some unwanted gadgets, dinnerware, and Tupperware out of circulation to make room for things that I actually use and need.

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4. Find a balance between function and aesthetics. What works for one person or family doesn’t work for everyone and that’s okay. It’s up to you to find a solution that is both functional and visually appealing for your needs (sometimes function will trump aesthetics and that’s also okay). This issue came up for me while I sifted through my scarf collection. Although I can see how the variety of colors and patterns hanging together on a wall can be visually unappealing, this strategy has proven to be the most practical for my lifestyle because it offers easy open access to all my scarves.

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5. Make organizing a lifestyle. This is by far the most important advice because it requires you to think in the long term. With this philosophy, organizing is no longer about buying storage containers or fancy systems but rather about asking yourself, “how can I stay organized?” The answer, I think, will lie in a happy medium between a designated system, daily practices, monthly maintenance, and a quarterly assessment of successes and failures. To help us along through this process, I’ve created a diagram to envision what this would look like.

Organizing Chart

We are by no means completely organized because we haven’t had the time to tackle all of these spaces in one sitting but we have been thinking through these tips as we slowly organize our home corner by corner. These strategies have certainly helped me be more intentional about finding sustainable organization solutions and I look forward to sharing more as we work on making our home better organized. If you want more organizing inspiration as well as tips and tricks on the specifics of storage, folding, and labeling, you can find Jane’s book here.

If you enjoyed this read, please share and follow!

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One Room Challenge: Week 7 |Simple Office Makeover Reveal

Today is the big day friends! Although we weren’t able to keep up with the weekly progress posts for our One Room Challenge, we still managed to finish the room on time (hooray!). If you’re just tuning in here for the very first time and don’t know what The One Room Challenge™ is, it’s a widely anticipated biannual event every April and October, hosted by Lisa of Calling It Home, in which twenty design bloggers take the challenge of transforming a space in just six weeks. Every Wednesday, the designers document their process while sharing their sources and professional advice. On Thursdays, guest bloggers, like us, can play along and support other guest bloggers that are also tackling a room renovation. As you may already know, we were working on an office makeover for my brother and sister-in-law because although we love DIYing, we couldn’t handle the stress of doing our own home renovation while both of us are in school.

ORC GPDon’t worry I’m not going to chit chat too much. The whole point of this post is to see a satisfying transformation and we will get to that in just a minute. Of course we also want this post to be inspirational and informative so following the before and afters we will give an overview of the changes this project entailed, the cost, and our sources. If you don’t even remember how this project began you can refer to weeks one, two, and three for a quick reminder.

BEFORE: A DARK & SAD ROOM

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AFTER: WORK SPACE GOALS

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So how did we get from A to Z? Never underestimate the power of a fresh coat of paint. In our opinion it is the cheapest, easiest, and most impactful way to transform a space. My sister-in-law wanted a bright and modern space so we went with Behr in Ultra White for a fresh clean look. Another impactful thing we did was to take down the vintage lace curtains and replace them with brand new blinds that I purchased from IKEA for $2 each (yes you read that correctly). Let’s just say it pays to lurk in the last chance section!

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Replacing the fan light with a modern ceiling light from IKEA for $30 also dramatically changed the look of the office. The black fixture really complemented the gray desks and the hardwood floors and brought in much needed light. Of course one of the most expensive purchases was the Algot system which we added for shelf space above the desks. While we did toy around with the idea of building custom shelving, we decided in the end that spending a little more on a system that could be adjustable to changing needs would be the smartest choice. For $85, it was well worth the investment and provided the perfect amount of space for organizing books, supplies, and for styling decor. The best part about this transformation was that nothing was difficult to do; painting, installing shelving, replacing the light fixture, all of these required no super special tools or skill sets (which means you could do it too!). 

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We could not be happier with how this room turned out. Considering our crazy schedules and all the stress in our lives, I think we did a pretty good job of bringing  our simple vision to life. We wanted a fresh, inspiring space with bohemian elements (patterned rug, copper accents, plants) and I think we definitely pulled that off. While we are very happy with the final look of the room, there are still some areas of improvement that we will probably return to. One of them is wire control. We definitely want to find a way to conceal and minimize the tangling of the printer, desk lamp, and laptop cords. We also want to add a little more color and character to the rest of the walls. I think this is something that will naturally come as my brother and sister-in-law live in the space and identify what speaks to their style. In that sense, I don’t mind the empty walls as much because I think of it as their decor journey has only just begun. I also thought it would be nice to have a fun little reading corner complete with fancy shmancy floor pillows but it looks like that will have to wait.

 

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Ceiling Light $29.99 | Office Chair  $84.99 |Shelving  $85| Rug $69.99| Desk Lamp $12.99 Magazine Rack $14.99 |Vase $2.99 | Plants $2.99| Hanging Storage $4.36| Frames $.99

As you can see, many of the items we purchased are both accessible and reasonably priced for the average home DIYer. We took advantage of many deals to save big including using a 10% off coupon from Wayfair and thrifting to keep our makeover well under $500. The rug was my sister’s belated birthday gift to my brother for the renovation so all we really had to purchase was the shelving, chairs, lighting and accessories. This came out to about $350. For the decorating I was a little savvier as I relied on some thrifty finds like a set of 4 wall baskets for $1.99 and free printable wall art (tropical palm leaf and keep pushing on).

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All in all, it’s been another successful One Room Challenge and we can’t wait for the next one 🙂

Any questions? Thoughts? We would love to hear from you in the comments below. Don’t forget to check out everyone else’s final reveal posts and as always, if you liked this post please follow us and share!

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Simple California Sushi Bowls

We LOVE sushi. What we don’t love, however, are all the dangerous ingredients hidden in restaurant-made sushi. The artificial colors in the surimi, the alcohol  and high-fructose corn syrup in the unagi, the MSG in the soy sauce. Many think of sushi as a healthy option but when you break it down, it becomes clear that these ingredients are far from clean and healthy. So what’s a sushi lover with little time to do? Make homemade sushi bowls of course!

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As you know, both my husband and I are in graduate school so the less time we can spend to have a filling and healthy meal on the table, the better! While I enjoy making sushi rolls every once in a while, I really don’t have time for it with my schedule. This is why I’ve been working on meal plans with little time investment but big impact. With a little bit of preparation, this meal can easily come together in under 30 minutes. 20 minutes for the rice to cook and cool while you cut up the vegetables and make the crab salad. That is it! For the crab salad, we use a surimi that is made from Alaska pollock and is free of alcohol, artificial colors, and phosphates. You can make this recipe even healthier by substituting the sushi rice with brown rice or cauliflower rice and using a larger variety of vegetable toppings including carrots and daikon. Either way you’ll have one amazing bowl packed with all the flavor of a California roll for a fraction of the cost and in no time at all!

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Simple California Sushi Bowls

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients
2 cups sushi rice (subsitute brown rice or cauliflower rice)
2 cups cold water
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon salt
12 oz. flake style surimi (we use Simply Surimi)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (more if you like it creamier)
1 teaspoon Sriracha (more if you like it spicier)

Toppings
Cucumbers
Avocado
Scallions
Sesame Seeds
Nori

Note: This recipe makes between 4-6 sushi bowl servings depending on how big your serving size is. If you’re an individual making this recipe, it is enough to have you covered for a week of lunches. If you’re a family of four, it will take care of one meal time.

Directions

  1. Prepare your sushi rice by rinsing the rice in a bowl under cold water until the water becomes clear (about 3 times).
  2. In a medium saucepan bring the rice and 2 cups of water to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook for 15 minutes then remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes while you prepare the vinegar and sugar mix.
  3. While the rice is cooking you can dice your toppings and prepare the crab salad as outlined in step 6.
  4. Combine rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small bowl then pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds.
  5. Transfer the rice to a large wooden or glass bowl and add the vinegar mixture, folding gently to coat the grains. The rice is now ready for assembling the sushi bowls.
  6. In a food processor, pulse the surimi until you get a shredded texture. Then pour into a mixing bowl and add the mayo and Sriracha. Adjust to the level creaminess and heat depending on your taste.
  7. Assemble your sushi bowls by layering the sushi rice base and topping with the crab salad, nori, cucumbers, avocado, scallions, and sesame seeds. Serve alongside spicy mayo and soy sauce.

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Keeping it Cozy: Simple ways to add warmth to your home

With Halloween behind us and Thanksgiving ahead, we are inevitably inching closer to the end of the year and to even colder weather (brrrr… just the thought makes us cold). The good news, however, is that there are a few simple ways to kick the coziness factor of your home up a few notches and I’ll be sharing them with you in this post. It really doesn’t take much to make a space inviting and cozy. No matter what your style is, if you can envision yourself curling up with a good book or good company and forget all your troubles then you’re doing something right. The fall and winter seasons makes this more of necessity because there’s less going out and more staying in. The last thing you want is to be sitting in is an uninspiring space all winter. Plus with the many holidays around the corner, you’ll definitely want a welcoming space where your family can gather. Here are just a few ideas that you can implement today:

Bring out the throws. Nothing says warmth like a soft, fluffy throw. A throw hanging out on your sofa is a nice invitation to relax and feel right at home after a long busy day.

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Light it up.  Candles and string lights add a warm, cozy glow to any space especially when it’s cold outside. Furthermore, the scent of your home can really make or break the mood. Try burning or diffusing fragrances that are meaningful to you. Some of our favorites include cotton, balsam fir, orange, and vanilla.
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Warm drinks at the ready. Whether you’re a coffee or tea or hot cocoa drinker, having a tray or cart set up for an evening sip-a-thon will transform your space from cozy to COZY. I mean, who doesn’t dream of relaxing in their home with a warm mug of their favorite beverage in hand?
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As you can see, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how we can make our home a little cozier for the winter. During my browsing adventures, I came across many home decor items that I found both beautiful and cozy so I put them all in a mood board for you  with sources included. For now, my plan is to add winter greenery with some fairy lighting but our living room always feels cooler in the winter even with the heat on so I thought it would be nice to have a TV stand with fireplace. One can dream, am I right? Anyways, I hope you find inspiration in our little collection and in our simple tips for making your space cozy for this winter season.

Keep it Cozy Post

Sources: 1. Wayfair | 2. H&M Home | 3. IKEA | 4. Amazon | 5. H&M Home | 6. IKEA | 7. Target | 8. H&M Home

What are some ways you like to make your space cozy for the changing seasons? Tell us in the comments below and as always, if you liked this post please follow us and share!

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There and Back Again: A last-minute DIY Halloween Hobbit Costume

 Halloween is just a day away so if you’re scrambling for a last minute costume idea, we have just the thing for you! Now do you want to take a wild guess what my son and daughter will be dressed up as? Hobbitses!!! Yes, Hobbits! Frodo Baggins and his side kick Samwise Gamjee to be exact. We don’t really celebrate Halloween per say (our kids don’t even eat candy) but every year my good friend hosts a “babyween” as a place for the kids to get together, dress up for fun, and enjoy healthy snacks and fun games. This year she will also be adding a giving component to the party so we will be taking canned goods that she will be donating to a local food pantry. As I’m sure you already know, we are huge fans (understatement) of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. The way I see it, we all have role models that we admire and kids grow up looking for those role models. J.R.R. Tolkein’s mythology offers plenty of worthy role models; compassionate, brave, and principled characters that fight to defeat the greatest evil of their time. And what’s not to love about that?

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This costume is super easy to put together and most things (clothing items) you will probably already have at home. The only things you’ll need to get are a piece of fabric for the cloak and clay and a hair clip to make the elven brooch. The fabric doesn’t even need to be sewn because it looks more authentic with uneven and rustic ends. For the elven brooch, I just pulled up an image of the real one as I shaped the clay. It’s not perfect but it looks pretty good. After that, all that’s left is to get dressed in your fancy hobbit attire, pop on a chain with a ring on it, and clip your cloak on. Just remember,

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

What you’ll need:
White/Gray button down shirt
Suspenders
Dress pants like corduroy, khaki, or twill (preferably short or you can roll them up)
Necklace chain with a ring
Fleece fabric square
Elven Brooch

Note: Some of these components may be a choking hazard for young children so be very careful.

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DIY Elven Brooch:

  1. Shape white modeling clay into a leaf and bake for 20 minutes at 250F or according to instructions as it varies by brand.
  2. Once hardened and cool, paint the leaf with green acrylic paint. Let dry.
  3. Glue the clay leaf to a hair clip using hot glue or heavy duty glue. Let dry and you’re all done!

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I’ll be sharing more of the final look on Instagram tomorrow so be sure to come see 🙂 And as always, if you liked this post please follow us and share!

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Tomato Parsley Rice Soup

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With colder weather finally on the horizon, I thought it would be a perfect time to share one of our favorite soup recipes. I wasn’t much into soup as a kid because I didn’t think it was a legit meal but this one always filled me up. I remember actually being happy coming home to see my dad standing over a large bubbling pot of his famous Tomato Parsley Rice soup. It’s the same look my husband gives when he comes home and sees it simmering on our stovetop. Pure joy. Because who doesn’t love a warm, hearty soup? The wonderful thing about this soup is that it is super easy to make with just a few simple ingredients you probably already have on hand. Although I call this recipe a tomato soup, it’s not so heavy on the tomato; the tomato paste is more for a bit of color. The real flavor lies in the broth; in the sweetness of the onion and richness of the beef. If you’re not into the meat scene, you can easily make this vegan by leaving the meat out and replacing the broth with a vegetable stock or tomato soup. I’ve made this meal countless times with a tomato soup base and it was a perfectly delicious, healthy, and filling alternative.

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Lately, I’ve been experimenting with boiling meat in advance and storing it with its broth in the freezer and I can happily report that it has not changed the quality of the meat. As long as you boil the meat until it’s tender you can have the base of a great stew or soup at the tip of your fingers. Simply defrost and add whatever flavoring, grains, and vegetables you like and you’ll have dinner ready in no time! This has been a huge time saver for me while my husband and I both navigate graduate school and homekeeping.

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Tomato Parsley Rice Soup

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients:
1 pound beef stew cubes
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 large bunch parsley, chopped (plus extra for garnish)
1/4 cup uncooked rice ( I prefer long grain like basmati)
2 dry bay leaves
2 tablespoons tomato paste (more if you like it a deeper red)
8 cups water/vegetable/beef stock
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (more if you like it tangier)
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, drizzle a bit of olive oil and brown the beef stew cubes and sauté the onions until translucent.
  2. Add your bay leaves and water/vegetable/beef stock and bring to a boil before reducing the heat. Be sure to skim any impurities that rise to the surface. Then cover and cook on a low simmer until the meat is tender (about 2 hours).
  3. Once your meat is tender, fish it out and shred it with a fork.
  4. To the broth, add in your rice, lemon juice, and tomato paste. Give it a quick stir and let it cook until the rice is tender (about 15-20 minutes). Stir in your shredded beef.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Take the pot off the heat and add in the parsley, give it a gentle stir and let it sit for a few minutes before serving.
  6. Ladle into bowls, garnish with extra parsley and serve with a side of fresh crusty bread.

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If you do give this soup  recipe a try be sure to share with us. We love seeing our recipes on your table 🙂 And as always, if you liked this post please follow us and share!

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One Room Challenge: Week 3 | Choosing Office Furniture

Hello friends and welcome to week 3 of our One Room Challenge Office Makeover. Hosted by Lisa of Calling It Home,  The One Room Challenge™, is a widely anticipated biannual event every April and October in which twenty design bloggers take the challenge of transforming a space in just six weeks. Every Wednesday, the designers document their progress while sharing their sources and professional advice. On Thursdays, guest bloggers, like us, can play along and support other guest bloggers that are also tackling a room renovation.

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If you’ve been following along since the beginning, you’ll know that we are running a bit behind schedule. As of now, we are officially done with painting the room and we are getting ready to furnish it! Although we haven’t made any big changes yet, we did make some pretty big decisions recently including settling on a rug, blinds, and shelving system. Today is a big day because we are actually going to IKEA to finally purchase many of those things including the Algot system, which we will be installing on the wall where the desks will be located. I’ll be taking my brother and sister-in-law along  with me so they can test out office chairs to determine what is comfortable and stylish for them. Ideally, it would have been nice to thrift and reupholster some office chairs but for longevity and comfort purposes we opted to buy them new instead.  Here are just some of the things we will be picking up today:

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We really wanted to build custom wood shelving but there is simply not enough time in our schedules. At the end of the day, we think the Algot system is the best choice because: 1) it’s easy to install, 2) reasonably priced, 3) modern and clean, and 4) customizable to fit any organizing needs. We will share a post in the future detailing exactly how to purchase and install the Algot for your office space. In the meantime, here are some pictures of the painted room and the itinerary for the last three weeks.

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WEEK 1: Empty office, tape around the walls and windows, and paint

WEEK 2: Finish painting walls

WEEK 3: Finalize and purchase office furniture

WEEK 4: Install shelving, lighting, and window treatments

WEEK 5: Organizing, styling, and decorating

WEEK 6: Cleaning and Final Reveal

Be sure to check back next week for more updates on this fun office project! And as always, if you liked this post please follow us and share!

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