THE Best Homemade Almond Milk (that's way easier than you think!)

Almond milk.  It sounded super daunting to me too, but trust me you guys - this is EASY.   It also tastes a trillion times better than the store bought stuff and doesn't have all that added chemical crap.  I'm no mathematician, but I'm 96.3% sure it's cheaper too.  Mic DROP.

I'm going to walk you through the whole process to show you JUST how easy it is and because I'm such a visual learner - maybe you are too?  Don't want all the fluff and images?  Just scroll down to the bottom and print yo self out the recipe.  You'll be missing out though.  Just sayin.

First thing's first: pour 1 cup of almonds in a glass bowl and cover with water.  Soak overnight.  This is probably the hardest step, because you have to remember at night.  Ya know, when you're a zombie.

By morning the water will look pretty nasty and the almonds will too.  Have faith.

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Because no one likes nasty stuff, rinse those babies off in some nice, cool water until they glisten and shine.

Enter: an obviously photoshopped diamond bling shimmer star on the sunshine-kissed almonds... 

Secret ingredient time!!  I think everything tastes better with just a *touch* of sweetness, so when I was working at getting my almond milk juuust right I thought of coconut water.  Turns out I'm a genius, but does that really come as a surprise?

Pour 1/2 cup (4 oz.) coconut water (without pulp) into your blender.  This feels like a good time to mention that I haven't tried making this without my Blendtec.  I LOVE my Blendtec.  It was an investment, but I use it at least once a day - it's so worth it.  I'm sure the same goes for a Vitamix or other high quality blender.   

Fill the blender with 3 1/2 cups cold water, so you have a total of 4 cups liquid.  1/2 cup coconut water + 3 1/2 cups water.  

Throw the clean, glistening almonds in the the coconut water/water mixture.  

I don't even know why but this might be my favorite picture of them all.  The calm before the storm... 

If you have a Blendtec, I use the 'Whole Juice' setting, but just basically blend those babies to smithereens, whatever setting/however long it takes.  Just DO IT.

It'll be kind of frothy on the top, like this:

A friend told me the same thing I'm about to tell you before I tried making almond milk and I decided I could do without it.  You'll need a Nut Bag.  Yes, a Nut Bag.  LISTEN TO ME NOW: Buy a dang Nut Bag.  It's fun to randomly throw out the phrase 'Nut Bag' into conversations anyways, so if anything - just get it for that.  But seriously - you NEED one.  It makes all the difference.  I got mine here.

Pour the almond mixture into the nut bag with a big bowl underneath to catch the liquid.  Fun fact: you can throw the nut bag in the washer when you're done and reuse it.  Ahhhh-mazing.

Gently pick up the bag and begin squeezing in a downward motion, beginning at the top of the bag... 

Keep squeezing... 

The goal is to get every last bit of liquid out, so twist and squeeze like you mean it!

When you're done you'll have a bunch of almond bits left in your bag - this is almond meal and don't you worry - I'll tell you what to do with that too!  Nothing goes to waste!

Look at your beautiful, creamy almond milk.  You've officially reached domestic god(dess) status.  I applaud you.  

Carefully pour the almond milk into a clean (preferably glass) container and refrigerate.  I definitely recommend waiting until it's nice and cold to drink/eat.

I've read varying opinions about how long the almond milk will last in the fridge, but I haven't had any go bad yet.  I'd say for sure a week and maybe up to 10 days or so?  OH!!  And separation is totally NATURAL.  Just give it a good shake before you pour :-) 

Now, the almond meal.  The first couple of times I made almond milk, I wasn't sure what to do with it and hated the thought of just throwing it away...  

Thankfully one of my friends hooked me up with this awesome tip: pour the almond meal onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet...

Press it down a bit and then stick it into a 170 degree oven for about 3 (ish) hours, or until it's dried out.  I've made gluten free granola and pancakes with it and they were both delicious!!  

31 Days of No Spending

Yes you read that right.  An entire month of no spending.  I know you already have about a million questions racing through your mind, the first most likely being, "WHY!?!"  Don't worry, I'll explain everything.  

The madness began when I stumbled upon Ruth Soukup's Book Living Well Spending Less, which I absolutely loved.  It was inspirational and motivating, and a super easy read.  I highly recommend it.  I also have her Living Well Planner which has been a game changer for the to-do list addict in me.  {While I was at it, I grabbed her Living Well Spending Zero book, which basically guides you day by day through a month of no spending.  Because you know I always keep it real, I thought it was a complete waste of money.  Oh, the irony.}  

So what the heck is 31 Days of No Spending?  It can be a little bit different for everyone, but essentially it's one entire month where you don't spend ANY extra money.  No Target, no Starbucks, and definitely no Amazon.  Of course there are things that need to be paid each month - rent/mortgage, gas, power and garbage bills, etc.  Aside from the absolute necessary, each person/family can make their own specific guidelines depending on how strict or lax they want to be.  For our family, we decided that we would only purchase produce and dairy/eggs.  In the book, she said her family only purchased BANANAS and lived off their pantry for everything else.  Bananas ya'll.  For 31 one DAYS.  I'm super big on clean eating, so not having fresh fruits and veggies for an entire month just wasn't an option for us.  But that's what's so cool about it - 31 days of no spending will look somewhat different for everyone.

So WHY did we decide to do it?  My husband is a physical therapist, I stay home and homeschool/adventure with our four kiddos and (obviously) am a photographer part-time (or even less as of lately).  We just paid off the balance on our student loans (whoo hoo!), so our current financial goals consist of building our savings back up to ultimately buy or build a home.  To do so, we've been consciously working at spending less over the last several months - without much success.  After each month went by, we'd add up what we spent and then sit there baffled, wondering what we spent it all on...  Please tell me we aren't alone in this?!?!  So when I read about the extreme no spending concept in Living Well Spending Less, I knew immediately I wanted to do it.  We needed to do it.  It made complete sense to me.  I thought of it like a cleanse for our spending - a way to reset our habits and begin anew with a clearer perspective.  I mean, how hard could it be? 

So I convinced my husband and kids to commit to this crazy challenge and off we went!  First we set our guidelines: absolutely no spending aside from groceries - specifically only produce and dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs).  We decided on a $500 food budget for the month (which honestly I have no idea how this compares to the average family, but it was pretty minimal for us) - we're a family of six and my 9 year old consistency puts down 2-3 apples a day.  You do the math.  My husband said he didn't think I could do it, which by the way - I DID. (insert punch emoji here)  Then we stated our goals:  Obviously we wanted to save money throughout the month, but we also really wanted to find a deeper appreciation and gratitude for the many blessings we already have.  To find joy and contentment without the need to purchase new things.  We wanted to pay attention to our spending habits (both good and bad) and to better differentiate between "wants" and "needs".  Instead of walking you through our month, I decided to answer all of the questions that were asked via Facebook and Instagram (make sure you're following along yo!):   

Did you stock up a ton before hand?  Actually no.  However, this totally depends on how stocked you keep your pantry and cupboards.  I'm kind of a "prepper" when it comes to how much we have on hand - for example, when our favorite pizza sauce is on sale, I'll buy 10 instead of 1 so that I have it on hand when I make pizza, which happens to be every Thursday.  I also buy lots of things in bulk with Amazon's Subscribe & Save like conditioner, lotion, baby wipes, etc.), but I did make sure we had plenty of toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo etc. which we already did.  The only things I bought ahead of time were a bunch of bread from Costco (and then froze it) and some ground turkey and chicken breasts, which went in the freezer as well.  So I really wouldn't say we spent extra before we started, mainly because of the way I already shop.  If you keep a minimalist pantry and cupboards, this challenge might be a little more difficult for you.  

Did you cheat?  Technically... yes.  As in, I broke our own guidelines.  Some of the meat I had counted on using from my freezer had gone bad (due to our garage freezer being turned off without us knowing), so I did purchase a few meat items throughout the month, but extremely sparingly and I kept within our $500 budget.  I also bought a couple of "snack" type items (popcorn, crackers, etc.) for our kids lunches because we ran out after week one.  I had saved up two Starbucks drink rewards on my app and used those on the days when I reeeeeaaalllly needed it, which technically I wouldn't call cheating because I didn't spend any money.  Josh and I also went on a date to Cheesecake Factory and used a gift card we had been gifted... again, didn't spend a penny!  Oh!  But I just remembered I bought 2 bottles of Diet Coke and a pack of Mentos for a science experiment... Cheater status up in hurrr.

Did you meal plan for the entire month?  No.  If I was amazing and totally on top of it (which is never) then I would have...  I just don't have the time (or at least I tell myself I don't!) so I *try* to meal plan each Sunday for the upcoming week.  Throughout the month I would buy whatever produce was on sale - broccoli, asparagus, kale, oranges - and base our meals off of that and what I already had in my pantry.  I definitely had to improvise and get creative, but the challenge was surprisingly fun.  On the flip side, there were definitely a few nights when I would have done ANYTHING to just grab a pizza.

What lifestyle and/or routine changes did you have to make?  Where do I begin, ha!  My love affair with Target was put on hold and remarkably, I survived... ha!  In lots of ways it's easier for me to take all my kiddos out.  I'm more present, they argue less and everyone has more fun.  But leaving the house usually = spending money.  Especially when it's raining - which it did - a lot.  So making our home a more peaceful and organized place to be was something I worked on quite a bit throughout the month.  That and not going completely insane.  On that same note, another challenging aspect was packing food before we left to go anywhere.  I swear my kids never stop eating therefore I am never without snacks because let's just say, I've learned the hard way (HANGRY 4 year olds are scarier than any horror film, trust me).  So having food on hand wasn't a new thing for me.  What was a new thing was making sure I had MORE than enough food to last us our entire adventure before we left the house.  Making sandwiches, cutting fruit... and when we had to be out the door by 8:30, it got kinda rough.  We were late more than often (which is often).  This month also contributed to a self-realization about my unhealthy relationship with food.  I realized that one of the main ways I've learned to "treat myself" when I'm having a rough day with the kiddos is to buy something - usually involving Starbucks and/or chocolate - so I was forced to first of all, really notice this about myself, and then to seek healthier (and free) ways to give myself a break.  One of those was going to the gym and listening to uplifting podcasts.  I've also been inspired to take on my next adventure - which is no sugar or gluten for 2 weeks.  Maybe I'll blog about that next ;-)

Did it affect the kids?  If so, how?  It absolutely did, but in amazing ways!  My older two (ages 12 and 9) were completely on board and would say things like, "Mom, do you think it's okay we're using gas?" or "Oh shoot, we'll have to wait to buy that until next month."  Now that the month is over by son just said out of the blue "I'm so proud of you and dad for doing no spending for a whole month!"  They're old enough to really understand the difference between a "want" and a "need" and I think it was a great lesson for all of us, especially them.  I think it also helped them to realize that everything costs money and you can have tons of fun without spending any!  Besides the occasional comment about wishing we had certain food items or not liking some of the food we were having, they really didn't complain at all.  But then again, my kids are pretty awesome.

What about essentials or unexpected items?  What about birthday parties and gifts?  This is such a good question.  We got totally lucky and didn't have any crazy unexpected expenses like a flat tire or health emergency this month, so I guess I'm not exactly sure how that would have gone.  My husband's car suddenly needed new brakes, but we decided to wait until the month was over.  (And still haven't done that... whoops.)  As far as essentials, I already mentioned how my "prepping" mentality took care of that.  Birthday parties!!  Such a great question.  So maybe this is totally unoriginal of me or maybe it's genius, I'll let you decide... but whenever I find an awesome toy or game at a great price, I'll buy one (or two or three) and stick them in our gift cupboard.  I've even bought gift cards when they're on sale to have on hand.  You never know when you'll want to surprise a friend with a little pick-me-up or get invited super last minute to a party.  The gift cupboard has saved my life at least nine times.  My baby girl actually turned 3 this month, but (before even knowing we'd do this no spending challenge) I had already bought her gifts after Christmas.  We had a little potluck dessert party with family and she thought it was amazing.  Once again, gift cupboard to the rescue!!        

What did you miss the most?  Oh gosh... probably Target.  I just finally went for the first time in OVER a month and it kind of felt like walking through the gates of heaven.  But then as we were walking around, this part of me kept thinking - look at all this stuff that I don't need.  I'm proud to say I waltzed outta there spending less than $12.  Twelve dollars ya'll.  Pretty sure that's a lifetime record for me.  I'm a changed woman (for now)!! 

How much did you save?  This is the pretty crazy part.  So I mentioned earlier that we've been actively trying to spend less and save more.  Well, compared to our average spending over the last six months, we spent $2800 LESS this month.  {To clarify, I took what we spent each month for the past 6 months and divided by 6 to get that "average" number.}  Also - wow factor here: that's including a credit card payment of $1200 we made from last month's spending!!  (We have a couple credit cards like Southwest airlines that we intentionally use each month and then pay off to get the points for flights, etc.)  When we did the math, my husband and I were BLOWN AWAY.  I still don't even know what we've been spending all our money on.  I don't even get it.  I do know though, that most of it was completely unnecessary.    

Would you do it again?  What would you do differently?  We're planning to do it again for sure.  I think we'll do it at least once a year around Spring time (maybe February next year - less days, ha!).  As far as what we'd do differently - I'd make sure we had a little more meat and bread stocked up (and maybe some treats).  I'd also talk more with the kids about why we're doing it so they can be more involved.  Sidenote: all my kids have their own money and they each chose to do the no spending month along with us!!

How has this challenge changed you?  Now that the month is over, do you want to spend a ton?  Considering I walked out of Target spending less than $15 should speak volumes.  I'm not a big spender, really - but I think it's all the little things that add up.  $5 here, $20 here... it can add up quick!  This month has helped me to be much more aware of my spending habits and what things we actually need.  I'm motivated to keep the momentum we're on.  It feels so good to be in control and to see the fruits of our labors!  So if anything, it's been the opposite of wanting to go out and spend a ton!  I've been very reserved and aware.  Fingers crossed it'll stick!  That being said, we aren't being quite as strict now that the month is over.  It's definitely not something we could maintain long-term, nor do I think we should.  I mean, isn't the reason we make money is to enjoy it and have it work for us?  

Tips for those who want to give it a try?  First and foremost, you have to really be committed.  You have to WANT to do it, knowing it will be hard - but also knowing you can TOTALLY do it.  It's truly empowering to practice self-control - in any form.  I'm realizing it's not something I'm naturally good at (hence my crazy emotional food attachment issues...).  Second, have a plan.  What exactly will be your guidelines?  Make sure it's something you can stick with, but that will be a challenge.  And WHY are you doing it?  What are your goals?  Depending on how you already shop, I'd slowly start adding a few extra cans of tomatoes here and a few extra boxes of cereal there - and when you find a great deal on meat - buy three and freeze them!  Like Dave Ramsey always says, "If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else!"  The sacrifice is well worth the reward - which is getting that much closer to your financial goals and hopefully making some lasting changes to the way you view spending.  If you don't care about all that saving mumbo jumbo and competition is more your thing, then -

I dare you.

 

Feel free to reach out to me with any questions.  I'm no expert of course, but I'm always down to lend a helping hand or give a little moral support.  You can totally do this!!! 

* All images in this post are iphone images and not a reflection of my professional work.  Just had to throw that in there. ;-)

Fall Minis 2016

 It's that time again...  Fall Mini Sessions are here!!   This is the first time I'll be offering mini sessions in California!!  Space is extremely limited, and they're already halfway full.  Skip to the bottom of this post for mini session pricing and how to book now!!

Mini sessions are tons of fun - if you've never attended one of BDP's mini sessions before, here's a few things to expect:  I always have a few little activities to keep kiddos occupied while Mom or Dad are filling out paperwork and waiting their turn.  There will also be gorgeous product samples to check out, including holiday card designs and gift ideas.  They are QUICK.  20 minutes flies by, so a mini session is much different than a regular session - however, they're an awesome opportunity to get a quick updated portrait for the wall and get those holiday cards taken care of.  It's also a perfect chance to give the Brandilyn Davidson Photography experience a try if you haven't yet.  Or maybe you've never had any professional photography experience before, or maybe you're looking for a new photog to call your own... whatever your story - I hope to see you there!!

TO BOOK YOUR MINI SESSION: Contact BDP via email - bdprophotography@gmail.com or phone 423-483-0262 or simply click HERE.  Be sure to let me know which time and type of mini session you'd like (info below).

MINI SESSION REFERRALS: Tell your friends about Fall Mini Sessions and get rewarded!!  For EACH friend who also books a mini session, you'll both receive not one, but TWO FREE gift prints (an $80 value!!).  There's no limit, so get talking and sharing to rack up those free prints!!  Make sure to have your friends let me know you sent them!  **For Fall Mini Session clients only**

Here are the mini session details - you have two packages to choose from, and I'm currently only offering one date.  

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 22ND (9-11 AM & 3-5 PM)

- sessions are scheduled in 1/2 hr. increments 

- Classic Mini clients will also receive 20% off additional purchases!

- up to 6 people per mini session time slot (additional person, $25 each)

- session fee is due at booking to reserve your time slot

Sydney Seniors {Grass Valley, CA Senior Portrait Photographer}

This girl was a dream in front of the camera.  I could've taken her picture all day long...  

And this right here... well - it gives away just how behind I am with blogging sessions.  I debated not even blogging them - but these are too gorgeous to not be shared.  Better late than never, right? ;-)

To book a senior portrait session, go ahead and click HERE and I'll get back to you with details!  

10 minutes {write down your goals}

The secret to accomplishing what matters most to you is committing your goals to writing. 

 

According to this blog post, writing your goals down is important for five reasons:

1. It forces you to clarify what you want.

2. It motivates you to take action.

3.  It provides a filter for other opportunities.

4.  It helps you overcome resistance.

5. It enables you to see - and celebrate - your progress.

A good friend of mine said something life-changing yesterday, probably without even knowing it.  She's reading a book right now that said (in her own words) - if you take just ONE thing away from this book, let it be this: spend 10 minutes with your child each day.  In my opinion, this can apply to any relationship in your life - so feel free to substitute the word child with spouse, sister, etc.  Be warned though, there's a catch: these 10 minutes must be completely uninterrupted, non-distracted, not doing anything else but spending quality time and listening to that important person. 

I started crying just a little bit when she said it.  I *think* I played it cool by looking the other way and trying my best to swallow the ginormous lump in my throat - hopefully she didn't notice...  It felt a bit like a knife was going right through my heart and it stung.  It stung because I knew how beneficial it could be - and how little effort on my part it would take...  I mean, how easy should it be to spend 10 uninterrupted minutes a day with my kids?  And yet, I'm not doing it, at least not how I should - not how I want.  Remember when I talked about being present?  Let's just say I haven't been putting my money where my mouth is.  And this goes for many other "goals" I have - it's so easy to say I'm working on or towards something when I'm really not.  And least not with REAL intent.

So, I'm writing down my goals, and sharing them with you - you'll never guess what's at the top of the list... ;-)  I obviously need some accountability or something.  Geez!  Maybe you'd like to do the same?  You don't have to share them with the world, but maybe your best friend, spouse, mom, me?  I really believe this whole concept has merit.  When you write it down, it becomes more than just an idea floating around in your head, a good intention.  It becomes REAL.  Something to actually check off your list.  Something to go and DO. 

MY GOALS

1. Spend 10 minutes of quality time with each of my children (and husband!).

2.  Limit my phone/social media use.

3.  Smile more.

4.  Complain less.

5.  Get my big camera out more often.

6.  Be creative each day.

7.  Love (myself and others) more completely, forgive more freely.

8.  Serve daily.

9.  Yoga once a week.

10.  Pray with more intention.

11.  Travel, go adventuring, get outside!

 

Whew.  That felt good... I think.  Also a little bit scary and lot bit vulnerable.  But mostly good.  

Why don't you give it a try?

 

Present.

I'm lying on the living room floor listening to tales of deadly motorcycle crashes from Robbie while trucks fly past my head coming from Lucas on the other side of the room.  I ask him to please not throw metal objects and continue pointing out animals to Emma who is snuggled up next to me with her favorite book.  Mariah interjects from the dining room table with questions about the art project she's working on and I smile and tell her it looks great.  From an outsider's perspective I'm totally interacting with my kids.  But really, my mind is in about a billion other places.  "What should I make for dinner?" "Did I deposit that check?" "Wait, is basketball practice tonight or tomorrow night??" "Shoot, I need to send that email!"  I mean, with how much we have going on, it's almost impossible for our minds to not be constantly racing.  But it's alllllll good because I'm super awesome at multitasking, right?  Maybe that's not so true...

In an article titled 5 Steps for Being Present, it says:

"Contrary to popular belief, human beings cannot multitask. What we are capable of is handling a number of serial tasks in rapid succession, or mixing automatic tasks with those that are not so automatic.

So, how do we stay present? The first thing to recognize is that, try as we might, we really can only do one thing at a time, so we ought to do that thing wholeheartedly. Most of our time is spent in the past or the future, rather than the present moment. What we end up doing is passing through that moment on the way to somewhere else and, in doing so, we miss the moment. That's how life ends up passing us by - we do it to ourselves."

Wholeheartedly.  That word jumped out at me, probably because i just finished a book all about living a wholehearted life and what exactly that entails (totally recommend it - The Gifts of Imperfection).  When I think of living a wholehearted life, I think of children.  Their main concern at any given moment is doing exactly what makes them happy.  They're also quick to forgive and not embarrassed to get down in front of a crowd.  But what's best about kids (in my opinion) is that when they're with you, they're WITH you.  They're 100% present in every moment and mindful in all they do.  We can learn so much from them.

I'm clearly NOT an expert on being present (just re-read the first paragraph in case you were having doubts), however I have noticed a few things that have helped me to be more present with the people I love.  

#1: Get outside.  I don't know what it is, but being outside is like fresh air for not only your lungs, but your brain.  It gives clarity to the mind like nothing else.  I also think the act of getting OUT of the house, aka: the visual to-do list, makes being present that much easier.  And don't even get me started on the sun... Two words: free therapy.  

#2: Put your phone down.  It seems like a given, but sadly I have to remind myself to do this way more often than I'd like to admit.  When you're with someone and you're focused on your phone, you're telling them that your phone is more important than they are.  Technology can be awesome when it comes to connecting with people we care about, but nothing creates a more powerful connection than being completely with the ones we love. 

#3: Play.  This one is HARD for me.  Honestly, it usually feels like a big, fat waste of time.  I mean, there's always SO much that needs to be done!!!!!!  But in reality, it's the best possible thing you can do with your time - and one that will have the biggest payoff.    Playing is anything you do just for FUN.  When my sisters and I get together we love to go yelling.  We basically just yell like crazy people out of car windows and make ourselves look like idiots.  It's completely pointless, and also SO. MUCH. FUN.  Don't worry - I won't make you come yelling with me - there are plenty of other non-embarrassing ways to have fun...  Like hopping on the trampoline with your kids or playing tag at the park (always WAY more fun than expected), or maybe crafting with your best friend or planning a game night with a few other couples.  It can be as simple as breaking out that sudoku notepad in your nightstand and going to town...  Whatever it is, allow yourself to have FUN - because when you're having fun, you're living in the present.  

#4:  Look them in the eyes.  Sounds a little creepy, but it works.  When my kids or husband are talking to me, I try to stop what I'm doing (within reason) and look them in the eyes.  Not only does it let them know I think they're important and I care about what they're about to tell me, it helps me to focus and be present with them and really hear what they have to say. 

And that's it!  Four very simple little tricks that have helped (and continue to help) me strive (key word here - it's an ongoing process) to be more present in life and with the people I love.  What helps you to be present?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!  

<3

Happy Place

Hello.... it's me.  It's been a while.  Like, a LONG while.  I have lots of really good excuses as to why it's been so long, but does it really matter?  Probably not - so I'll just begin with now.  

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I've been on a reading binge lately.  This crazy desire to learn and develop myself as a human has hit me HARD - possibly stemmed from the responsibility of inspiring and guiding my kids to develop themselves into awesomely accountable and contributing humans (I homeschool part-time)?  I was reading the book Dare Dream Do by Whitney Johnson when I had a total "ah ha!" moment.  I realized that BDP hasn't been a true representation of me and what I feel I have to offer the world.  I haven't been sharing my passions and I feel like there's so much more I want to say/do/explore/etc.  It hasn't been deep.  It hasn't been REAL.  At that moment, I had this sort of intangible vision of what I wanted to create...  So I stopped everything and wrote down the thoughts that were suddenly flooding my mind.  This is what I jotted down:

PHOTOGRAPHY -   COOKING   -   HOMESCHOOL   -   ART   -   MOTHERHOOD   -   HELPFUL TIPS/TRICKS   -   GARDENING   -   YOGA   -   MUSIC   -   FUNNY   -   LIFE   -   REAL   -   PARENTING   -   JOURNAL   -   GOALS   -   raw

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What that all means, I'm not completely sure yet but I'm slowly refining and pondering on my thoughts and trying to figure out how to pull it all together.  And I have a feeling it's gonna be pretty awesome.  

Art is my absolute favorite thing to do with my kiddos, aside from exploring in the sunshine.  It's my Happy Place and for some reason, I'm just now coming to this realization (my oldest is eleven).  Watching them express themselves freely, get creative and think outside the box and then stand back and admire their work makes my heart sing.  And selfishly I love doing it alongside them.  

The thing about art though, is that it's MESSY.  So very messy.  And messes kind of stress me out.  I try to be all cool and laid back, but they seriously stress me out - although you'd never guess it if you showed up at my house on any given day unannounced.  So even though it truly is my Happy Place - it takes a decent amount of effort on my part to give into the mess and let it be an awesomely enjoyable experience for everyone.  And so I make the effort because I can so clearly see the benefits my kids (and I) reap from being unleashed with paint and a brush. 

I believe we all have an inner desire to create.  When I was reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown (SO good.  Get it now.) it solidified my feelings on this topic.  She says, "The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born out of creativity.  If we want to make meaning, we need to make art.  Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared."  She goes on to list several examples of creativity (writing, cooking, rebuilding an engine, dancing, decorating...).  "As long as we're creating, we're cultivating meaning."

And so that's my mission.  To cultivate my creativity, which will in turn give life meaning and depth - as well as fulfill that inner desire of mine to create... and maybe even as an added bonus - inspire others to do the same?!  I want to dig deep down and discover what exactly it is that I have to contribute to the world, or maybe even more importantly, what I'm supposed to contribute to the world.  I'm seeing so clearly lately that time is out of our control.  It flies by without a second thought and before we know it, a season has passed.  A child has grown.  A memory, forgotten.  A chance, lost.  And because of this - everything we do matters.  Every single choice we make.  Every precious minute.  

So here's to a new year, to getting REAL, to cultivating creativity and to making every moment count!!  Let's do this!!

 

Post contains affiliate links.  Thanks for your support <3

Things I <3 Thursdays {Carmelitas aka: The Best Thing You'll Ever Eat}

It all begins with a little caramel...  And with a touch of magic - the Carmelita is born.  It's such a beautiful thing.

Oh you think I'm exaggerating?  Absolutely not.  Just trust me on this one.  However, these are not healthy in any way (unless you count the whole wheat flour!) so eat in moderation, if you can.   I don't have any self control when it comes to delicious desserts, so whatever.  

Put your kids/husband/roommate/grandma to work unwrapping caramel candies.  It takes a surprisingly long time to unwrap 32 of those little things.  Put them in a small sauce pan and add in your heavy cream.  

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Yeah.  I told you they weren't healthy.  Just wait.  It gets better.

Put this over low heat and stir frequently until smooth.

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Meanwhile, grab your butter - a stick and half to be exact - gulp - and pop it in the microwave to melt.  

Mix the brown sugar, flour, rolled oats and baking soda in with the melted butter.

Mix until combined.

I use white whole wheat flour just to make me feel a *little* bit better after I eat my fifth square...  But any kind of flour will do. ;-)

Grab an 8x8 pan and spray with non-stick spray or grease with butter.  Might as well just use the butter.  I mean, really.

Press oatmeal mixture into 8x8 pan, creating the "crust".

Pop it in the oven and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.

How's your caramel mixture doing?  Don't forget to stir!  It should go from looking kind of lumpy like this:

... to creamy and smooth.  Take it off the heat and try not to drink it from the pan.

Take your crust out of the oven and get excited because here's where it starts getting really good...

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Sprinkle some chocolate chips over the crust.

I'm so obsessed with mini chocolate chips lately...  Just look at them - they're adorable.

Now grab that caramel that may or may not have a few spoonfuls missing... It's okay, you're only human.  Pour it over the chocolate chips like so:

Are you excited yet?  Yeah, me too.

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Now take the other half of the oatmeal mixture and sprinkle over the top of the caramel.  Pop it back in the oven for another 15 ish minutes until edges are lightly browned.

And now, for the hardest part of all: let it cool.  Trust me - do not get impatient and try to cut these before they are COMPLETELY cooled.  It's a mess.  A huge, sticky, delicious mess.  

In my opinion, they're best cold - straight from the fridge.  Just let them sit about 5 minutes. Perfection.

De nada.

 

-----------  CARMELITAS  ------------

32 CARAMEL SQUARES, UNWRAPPED (DUH)

1/2 CUP HEAVY CREAM

3/4 CUP BUTTER, MELTED

3/4 CUP BROWN SUGAR, PACKED

1 CUP WHITE WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR

1 CUP ROLLED (OLD FASHIONED) OATS

1 TEAS. BAKING SODA

6 OZ. SEMISWEET CHOCOLATE CHIPS (PREFERABLY MINI.  I'M KIDDING.  BUT SERIOUSLY.)

COMBINE CARAMELS AND SCREAM IN SMALL SAUCEPAN OVER LOW HEAT.  STIR UNTIL COMPLETELY SMOOTH; SET ASIDE.  IN A SEPERATE BOWL, COMBINE MELTED BUTTER, BROWN SUGAR, FLOUR, OATS AND BAKING SODA.  PAT HALF OF OATMEAL MIXTURE INTO THE BOTTOM OF A GREASED 8X8 PAN.  BAKE AT 350 DEGREES FOR 10 MINUTES.  REMOVE PAN FROM OVEN AND SPRINKLE CHOCOLATE CHIPS OVER CRUST.  POUR CARAMEL MIXTURE OVER CHOCOLATE CHIPS.  CRUMBLE REMAINING OATMEAL MIXTURE OVER CARAMEL.  RETURN TO OVEN FOR AN ADDITIONAL 15-20 MINUTES, UNTIL EDGES ARE SLIGHTLY BROWNED.  REMOVE FROM OVEN AND COOL COMPLETELY BEFORE CUTTING.  ENTER HEAVEN.

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Things I <3 Thursday {Drop Everything}

My oldest - Mariah, is notorious for refusing to have her picture taken.  So when she came to me the other day and said, "Mom, do you think you could take some pictures of me and put them on your website?" I tried to remain calm and quickly and maybe loudly answered "Yes!!"  I dropped everything, grabbed my camera, threw one of Emma's headbands in her {wild} hair, some lipgloss on her lips and headed outside.  I was NOT about to pass up an opportunity to take pictures of my {not so} little girl.

She has the absolute best sense of humor and a smile that's contagious.  She's an observer, but yet always the life of the party.  

She is super artistic and creative - always coming up with new inventions and possible business ventures.  I'll often find her hidden somewhere writing a quick graphic novel or poem.  She loves exploring, nature, animals, science and almost every sport out there.

I'm watching her turn into a young lady right before my eyes and it's almost incomprehensible.  I mean, wasn't it just the other day that she started walking?  

But best of all, Mariah always knows the exact moment when I need her most.  She comforts me with an unexpected hug, a helping hand or wise words of advice.  Sometimes I think she teaches me more than I teach her.  Wait - let me rephrase that: I know she teaches me more than I'll ever be able to teach her.  

And last, but not least - the completely staged "bad ninja guy chasing an innocent screaming girl" shot because Robbie was patiently waiting for his turn to choose a picture.  This also highlights just one more awesome thing about Mariah - that {most of the time} she can hang with her brother's wild games and ideas!!

I love you baby girl.  Thanks for letting me take pictures of you - let's do it again soon.  <3

Things I <3 Thursdays {Brandy's Famous Salad - Recipe}

It pretty much makes my day when I get a little tip or hint that makes my life easier/happier/awesome-er in some way.  So that got me thinking...  Why not share the little (and big) things that make my life happy.  The things I love.  Enter: Things I <3 Thursdays

So it's not exactly famous, per se... But it's dang delicious and never fails to impress.  Something else that's amazing about this salad is it's versatility.  You can seriously throw (almost) anything in and it'll be awesome.  

Let's start with the greens.  I prefer to use organic spring mix, but this could even be made with only spinach and still be delish.

Then we want to get started with our homemade glazed walnuts (or pecans or whatever you have in your freezer).  Throw a handful into a pan over medium heat along with a pinch or two (approx. 1 teaspoon) of sugar.  Keep an eye on it and stir every minute or two...

Next is chopping your fruits & veggies.  I'm not even kidding when I say the possibilities are endless.  There is one thing that, to me, is a must: and it's green onions.  Just trust me, okay?  Some of my go-to's: strawberries, blueberries, pears, avocados, apples...  At the moment I happen to only have strawberries and green onions so that's what we're doing. 

Don't forget about those glazed walnuts!!  You have to watch them closely because one moment they're doing absolutely nothing and the next... BAM!  The sugar starts to crystalize like this:  

and that's when you want to start stirring like a crazy person and get that pan off the stove before it burns!  It should coat all the nuts and look a little something like this:  (now is also the perfect time to taste-test one or seven)

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Pour nuts onto a plate and let cool.  Once cooled, throw all your fruits, veggies and glazed nuts into the salad mix.  I also like to add dried cranberries and sometimes crumbled feta cheese too.  Sunflower seeds are also a favorite.  Just do whatever makes you happy.

And now for possibly the most important part - and also the only part that I failed to take pictures of...  The dressing!!  It's so very simple.  I just pour it directly on the salad, but you're welcome to mix it up in a separate dish first if you prefer.  Mix equal parts extra virgin olive oil, rice vinegar (I like to use this one), and honey.  If anything, use a little less of the rice vinegar and a tad more of the honey.  Go easy at first - you just need a little.  

Stir it all up and then look at your beautiful creation... 

This salad honestly works with just about any meal.  It also goes great with homemade rolls, but really - what doesn't?  Don't worry - I'll be sharing that recipe soon.

BRANDY'S FAMOUS SALAD

1 8 oz. package organic spring mix

1 small bunch green onions, chopped

1/2 pound strawberries, thinly sliced

1 handful walnuts, chopped

1 teas. sugar

1 handful dried cranberries

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp. natural rice vinegar

1 Tbsp. honey

optional add-ins: crumbled feta cheese, sunflower seeds, blueberries, sliced pears, avocado chunks... 

ENJOY!!

Things I <3 Thursdays {Mon Petit Shoes GIVEAWAY}

It pretty much makes my day when I get a little tip or hint that makes my life easier/happier/awesome-er in some way.  So that got me thinking...  Why not share the little (and big) things that make my life happy.  The things I love.  Enter: Things I <3 Thursdays

I have a shoe problem.  I won't dive into the details, but it's a big problem and this is only making it worse - in such a wonderful way... 

Say hello to Mon Petit Shoes.

100% genuine leather and hand-made by the talented owner, Julie - these are so delicious.  The shoes pictured are the Mary Jane in Lilac, and now I officially need some in every color - and so do you.  That's why we're giving away a free pair (you choose style/size/color) and Julie has been so gracious as to offer a coupon code too (bottom of post)!!!  

Let me show you why:

Honestly I had to rip them out of the bag because I was so excited... then put them back for the pictures.  It's like Christmas morning all over again.

Adorable packaging if I must say so...

And seriously such great quality.  Check out the detail people.

I asked Julie to tell me a little bit about how she got started.  Here's her story:

"I started making shoes for my little girls when my oldest was born, 5 years ago. I have made all sorts of styles from all sorts of patterns, with all different materials. A couple of years ago I finally decided leather was what I wanted to work with since it is so durable and has more structure to it. I then started toying around with making my own patterns. I worked with a couple different people to come up with my Oxford pattern and started selling those first. I had a great response to them and then people started wanting a more feminine style shoe as well. So, again I worked tirelessly to design and create the t-strap Mary Jane. I am very proud of both designs but have to say, the Mary Jane is more unique in that, when I created it I hadn't seen any other shoe like it on the market. 
 

Both styles are so darling on either boys or girls (I totally think the Mary Jane could be for a boy too, I mean, look at Prince George ;) ) The nice thing about these shoes is they stay on your child's feet. They are comfortable for the children and they are easy for kids to put on themselves when they reach those milestones. I hope people will find a color/style they like and enjoy these shoes!" - Julie, Mon Petit Shoes

And now, the best part - which of course I'm totally biased in my opinion, but seriously though, it is.  Mon Petit Shoes on... EMMA!!!

This girl does NOT sit still for longer than a second.  She's constantly on the go and doesn't like to stop - so I need something that goes on quickly and will STAY on.  She put them to the test and they haven't come off once.  

She obviously loves the shoes...  Look at that CHEESER!!  I could eat her. 

Something else that's super important when it comes to choosing shoes for babies/toddlers - especially ones that are going to be walking soon, who are just learning to walk or who have been walking for a while: Their "...feet are soft and pliable making them prone to damage from abnormal pressure, such as shoes.  It's important that shoes allow the feet to develop without restriction, as the last bone doesn't begin to form until children are about 3 years old.  Genuine leather shoes allow the feet to breathe and grow naturally.  It also promotes the grasping action of the toes which is essential when learning to walk." {source}  Mission accomplished - Mon Petit Shoes do just that.

Sooooo... now that you know how awesome these are - want to win a FREE pair of Mon Petit Shoes?!?!  (your choice of style/color/size!!)  Here's how to enter:  GIVEAWAY ENDS TUESDAY (4.21.15) AT MIDNIGHT.  WINNER WILL BE CONTACTED VIA EMAIL.

** Please remember that I verify each winner, so make sure you've either liked the Facebook page or are following the Instagram account!  Best of luck!!  <3

Need a pair now!?  (the answer is yes, duh.)  You can snag a pair for 15% off from now until next Thursday night at 11:59 pm when you use coupon code bdp15 at checkout.  Click {HERE} to head over to Mon Petit.  These would make the best baby shower gift ever by the way.  Just buy a few sizes up and they'll be thanking you for months to come.  Mon Petit also has adorable Oxfords in several colors and the sizes go all the way up to 10 for toddlers too!!  But hurry - coupon code is only good until April 23rd at midnight, so get them while you can!

Things I <3 Thursdays {First Birthdays}

It pretty much makes my day when I get a little tip or hint that makes my life easier/happier/awesome-er in some way.  So that got me thinking...  Why not share the little (and big) things that make my life happy.  The things I love.  Enter: Things I <3 Thursdays

I have a theory: The more children you have, the faster the time flies.

The way things just happened to work out, we ended up with two pairs of kids - each set fairly far apart.  My older two are 10 and almost 8, and then my younger two are 3 and (gulp, tear) 1.  

Because things ended up this way, I constantly have two walking, talking, silly, sometimes moody but always amazing reminders of just EXACTLY how fast time really does go.    

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And that brings us to today.  March 5th 2015.  Exactly one year ago, my sweet Emma arrived and I can remember each and every detail as if it really were yesterday.  

She has been such a blessing to our family and I just can't begin to imagine life without her.

Babies are funny that way.  Before they arrive, you can't really imagine your life with them in it.  But then, the second you hold them in your arms, you can't fathom life without them...

It blows my mind the growth a baby goes through the first year of life.  And although a year is quite a long time, it's also really not.  You'd think never sleeping through the night for an entire year would make things drag, but somehow time just keeps on ticking.

 Despite my every effort to cherish each moment, to live in the present and enjoy every second... an entire year has flown by before my eyes and it's overwhelmingly hard to put into words. 

So maybe I just won't even attempt it...

...because pictures are more my thing anyways.

And this is why I love First Birthdays...  because they are so much more than just a day.  Happy Birthday my sweet Emma.  <3

Things I <3 Thursdays {ZARA clothing}

It pretty much makes my day when I get a little tip or hint that makes my life easier/happier/awesome-er in some way.  So that got me thinking...  Why not share the little (and big) things that make my life happy.  The things I love.  Enter: Things I <3 Thursdays

I'm smack dab in the middle of Snowpocalypse 2015 {don't know what I'm talking about, THIS post will fill you in}, so this shall be short because this mama is tired from entertaining the cabin fevered troops - but after browsing the Zara site, my love for their baby and kids clothes has been completely renewed!  I mean, seriously!?  

A good friend of mine told me about Zara a couple years ago.  It's a Spanish clothing company based in Arteixo, Galicia.  I've ordered several things ranging from corduroys for my son to dresses and a winter coat for my daughter to shirts and shoes for me and have been extremely happy with everything.  I don't completely love all of the adult wear (too stylish for this mama), but the baby and kids stuff is to die for.  For example these adorable baby dresses... Gah.

They also have THE cutest shoes for boys.

And I'm loving these girls dresses...  If only my 10 year old would still wear things like this. :-(  Side note: if you have a child that will happily put on what you pick out for them on a regular basis, enjoy every second because the bliss has an expiration date my friend.  Even my 3 year old refuses to wear anything I pick out based on the fact that I picked it out.  But a girl can dream and that's where Zara comes in...

They do have some really great stuff for women - you just have to look around to find your style, which for me is pretty simple.  However, one of my all-time favorite shirts is from Zara.

And I guess I need to get the hubby some stuff because how great are these looks!?

You can snag free shipping on all orders over $50 {click HERE to head over to Zara}.  And even if your kids are like mine and refuse wearing anything remotely presentable most of the time, there are some great Picture Day finds to be found!!  **Fun fact - I work with all of my clients to help coordinate their wardrobes prior to their session.  I've even been known to come dig through closets to find the perfect combo. ;-)  I also make sure that the props and blankets I bring to the session go with what my clients are wearing...  Spring is around the corner folks!  Click {HERE} to book your session now while the calendar is still somewhat open!!  I am currently booking through May 31st.

Things I <3 Thursdays {Snow Days}

It pretty much makes my day when I get a little tip or hint that makes my life easier/happier/awesome-er in some way.  So that got me thinking...  Why not share the little (and big) things that make my life happy.  The things I love.  Enter: Things I <3 Thursdays

I know when some parents hear the words "snow day", they suddenly feel sick to their stomaches, cringe and make a face similar to this one… 

I feel your pain.  I really do.  The putting on of snow gear makes my blood pressure rise faster than installing carseats and that's pretty high on my "I'd rather stab myself in the leg" list.  With multiple children, by the time I finally get the last one bundled up and ready to go, the first one is already crying because they're freezing.  And don't even get me started on the piles and piles of cold, wet shirts and gloves and hats and scarves and socks and pants and jackets and whatever else that end up ALL. OVER. THE. HOUSE…  

And then there's the whole cabin fever situation that is absolutely REAL people. That's all I'm going to say on that topic…  But in all seriousness - for the most part, I really love snow days.  I love how beautiful and completely peaceful the world looks when covered with snow.  I love the quiet of big, fluffy snowflakes falling slowly to the ground and how bright everything is as it reflects even the slightest amount of light.  I love spending endless hours of craziness with my kids, racking my brain for new, creative activities we can do together as the house gets more and more destroyed by the minute...  

I love watching them run and jump and slide and explore.  I love their smiles.  Their rosy, red cheeks.  Their laughter.   The joy.  Snow is magical ya know.  

So even if it's super annoying and tons of work - just bundle those babies up and take them outside.  You'll be so glad you did.  :-)  Happy Snow Days!!

PS: I'm totally running out of things to do with the kiddos when we're stuck inside…  I'll love you forever if you send me your tried and true tricks!!  

Things I <3 Thursdays {My Clients!! Best of 2014}

It pretty much makes my day when I get a little tip or hint that makes my life easier/happier/awesome-er in some way.  So that got me thinking...  Why not share the little (and big) things that make my life happy.  The things I love.  Enter: Things I <3 Thursdays

Now that's it's nearly the middle of February, I thought it high time to feature some of my most favorite people ever... YOU!!  I've watched many of you begin your families...  And then have had the pleasure of watching your families grow and change and blossom.  Your memories have become my memories and as mushy and cliché as it sounds... I love you!!  

2014 was seriously such a great year - let's take a journey through the year - from start to finish.  <3   

Real life people.  Can't leave that out... ;-)  

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Thank you again for supporting me on this adventure...  Can't wait to see what 2015 has is store for BDP!  To book a session, contact me by clicking {HERE}

Things I <3 Thursdays {The Easiest (and Yummiest) Bread You'll Ever Make}

It pretty much makes my day when I get a little tip or hint that makes my life easier/happier/awesome-er in some way.  So that got me thinking...  Why not share the little (and big) things that make my life happy.  The things I love.  Enter: Things I <3 Thursdays

I'm not even kidding when I say that this is THE easiest bread you will ever make.  You can't mess it up, promise.  And it's also amazingly delicious.  Super crispy crunchy on the outside, perfectly soft and moist on the inside.  A dream come true, really.  Here's how:  

First - grab a bowl and the recipe (below).  Dump in your flour - I love King Arthur Bread Flour.  Try to use unbleached if you can, but any flour will do!

Pour in your salt...  I'm totally out so I had to shake my salt shaker for an annoyingly long amount of time to gather approx. 3/4 teaspoon... Whoops!

Then pour in your yeast.  This is my favorite brand.  Just make sure it's Instant!

We're looking good here.  Give all the dry ingredients a quick mix-a-roo.

Now for the water.  The temperature doesn't matter.  Just throw it in there.  I told you this was easy!! 

Now mix until it looks "shaggy" (this word was in the actual recipe - I thought it was strange until I made it the first time because does this dough not look shaggy to you?  Thought so.)

Grab some plastic wrap and cover it up!

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Every time I put plastic wrap over a bowl I spend way longer than I should making sure it's juuuuuuuuuuuuust right.  No bumps, no wrinkles...  I know, I have a problem.  But really though, you almost didn't know this bowl was covered in plastic wrap, did you?  I'm THAT good.

Leave the bowl sitting for 12-18 hours.  So for me, the perfect time to whip up the dough is right before I go to bed.  Then it sits over night and though the day and is ready for dinner the next day!  

Good morning!  Shaggy dough, no more.

Do keep in mind that I doubled my recipe, so yours won't rise quite as much.

I'd like to introduce you to my bestest friend.  Dutch.  Oven that is.  I love her.  

Totally not mandatory, put I put a light spray of oil on the bottom.  I'm obsessed with avocado oil right now.

Turn the oven to 450 and throw the dutch oven in, lid and all.  I actually took a picture of the dutch oven inside my oven, but was so embarrassed by how gross the inside of my oven looked that I decided it would be best for everyone to just leave it up to your imagination and call it good.  Scary stuff guys.

Now, while that's warming up (leave it in for 30 minutes), throw some flour on your counter...

And dump out the dough, shaping it into a ball.  (Don't mind that I had two - I doubled the recipe this time, remember?).  

This is a good time to keep an eye on the dough because apparently toddlers think it's fun to punch it and then it doesn't look quite as pretty or round... 

Put your plastic wrap over the top of the dough and let is rest while your dutch oven heats up.

The plastic makes the dough even more appealing to dough-punching toddlers.  You've been warned. 

Once your dutch oven has heated up for 30 minutes, pull it out and take the lid off.  I don't know if you can see it, but it was steaming like crazy.  The kids thought it was awesome.

Just throw the ball of dough into the hot dutch oven - you should hear a sizzle which also sounds awesome. 

Plop the hot lid back on and put it back in the 450 oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown... 

And boom!  You successfully made the yummiest, prettiest and secretly easiest bread ever.  Give yourself a pat on the back.

And a generous slice (or three) of this beauty... and enjoy every bite because you deserve it.  Making bread is hard work.

I found this recipe on Pinterest of course (check out my Pinterest Page for tons more amazing recipes HERE) and HERE is the original recipe, which includes a video that might be helpful.  Hope you love it! <3