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It's 80 degrees today in Louisiana. Even in the deep South, this is unseasonably warm for this time of year. We took advantage of it, however, and spent the day playing outside. One of our activities today was drawing with chalk; with a Christmas twist.

I drew a huge Christmas Tree outline and instructed the kids to decorate it. They spent a solid hour drawing the garland, ornaments, wrapped presents, and, of course, the star on top. And since the tree was so big, all five kiddos were able to decorate it at the same time.

So if you're looking for a way to entertain the kiddos outside in this totally weird, warm-weather spell, add this to the list!



     
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Louisiana is being weird right now. Even though we are almost halfway through November, it's still running about 70 degrees and higher outside. 

I'm beyond ready for cooler temperatures because my favorite things happen once it gets cold outside. For example: unlimited hot chocolate and tea breaks, crackling fire in the fireplace (even though the downdraft fills our house with smoke momentarily), AND not leaving my house for days on end. 

Another favorite thing is warm and cozy comfort foods, like soup, gumbo, and casseroles...and Chili...and Chili Mac. 

So in direct violation of my imaginary food/weather code, I made Chili Mac for dinner even though it was 80 degrees outside and it was glorious. I threw some stuff together and it was delish!

Easy Cheesy Chili Mac

Ingredients

1 lb ground beef, cooked and drained
1 can of chili
1 can of Ranch Style Beans
1 can of corn, drained
1 lb elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
1 lb Velvetta Cheese, cubed






Combine all the ingredients and heat through. That's it!

My kids were big fans of this and even requested the leftovers for lunch (and dinner) the next day. I was cool with that because, for some reason, when I don't have to cook dinner for the kids, I forgo the dinner thing completely, make hubby a sandwich, and I eat cereal. 



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I try not to keep many snacks in the house, aside from fruits and veggies, but granola bars are one of our favorites and I just can't NOT have them in the house. But I've never been super impressed with store-bought granola bars so I make my own and they are FANTASTIC. At least, we think so. This recipe makes a lot of thick and chewy granola bars, feel free to halve the recipe.

Homemade Granola Bars

Ingredients

6 cups old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup oil (vegetable or grapeseed works well)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup peanut butter
3 cups of add-ins (nuts, dried fruit, pretzels, etc)
                        



Step 1
  
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the oats in a 9x13 baking pan and toast (stirring once) for about 15 minutes. 


Step 2 


While the oats toast, heat the oil, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, vanilla, and cinnamon in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and heat until the brown sugar has dissolved. Stir in peanut butter and set aside.


Step 3





Add 3 cups of add-ins to the toasted oats and stir. I chose dried chopped figs, raisins, dried cranberries, pretzel pieces, sunflower kernels, almonds, walnuts, and chocolate chips. 


Step 4





Pour the syrup over the oat mixture and stir to coat. With a spatula, press the oats into the pan. Flatten and press the mixture until it's smooth and even. Let cool for about an hour. Then cut into bars. 


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Chicken Cordon Bleu is one of my favorite dinners. Especially covered in creamy Parmesan sauce. 



Chicken Cordon Bleu with Creamy Parmesan Sauce



Ingredients

3  skinless chicken breasts, cut in half length-wise
12 slices good quality deli ham
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 pound (8 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Step 1 


Layer the chicken breast halves in a baking dish.

Step 2


Layer the ham on top of the chicken breasts (I accidentally bought ham that wasn't sliced...oops)! 

Step 3


Sprinkle the Swiss cheese over the ham.

Step 4



Sprinkle with bread crumbs. And drizzle with melted butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes until chicken is cooked through and bread crumbs are browned.

Step 5






While the chicken is baking, make the sauce. Melt the 2 Tbs of butter in a sauce pan. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the milk/chicken broth while whisking. Whisk constantly and cook over medium-high heat until it starts to thicken. Remove from heat. Add the salt, Worchestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, and Parmesan Cheese. Stir until blended.

Step 6


Top the chicken with the warm sauce and serve.



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Homemade Brown Sugar Cinnamon PopTarts

Ingredients

1 box of refrigerated double pie crust dough
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon


1/2 Tbs all-purpose flour


1 egg
2 tsp milk
For glaze: 

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp milk

Step 1



Roll out one of the pie crusts a little, trim the edges to make a rectangle. Cut the rectangle into four rectangles.
Step 2

In a bowl, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour; set aside. In another bowl, whisk the egg and milk. Brush egg mixture on each rectangle. Divide the filling among the four rectangles, leaving a small border of dough.

Step 3



Roll out the other pie crust a little, trim and cut as you did with the first pie crust. Place the top rectangle on the filling rectangles. Poke holes in the top and seal the edges with a fork. Refrigerate raw poptarts while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Step 4

Bake poptarts in the preheated oven for 22-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool while you prepare the glaze.

Step 5



In a bowl, whisk together the glaze ingredients. Spoon over the cooled poptarts and serve!















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My kids go through a lot of chalk. Since we homeschool, there is a lot of playing outside everyday. Chalk is a daily activity! This is an easy recipe for homemade chalk and you can control the color and shape, so it's perfect for themed party favors or Easter basket stuffers. 

Homemade Chalk

Ingredients

3/4 cup powdered Plaster of Paris
1/2 cup water
Tempura Paint

Silicon molds

Whisk together the Plaster of Paris, water, and a few Tablespoons of paint. Pour into molds, let harden (about 20 minutes) and unmold. Enjoy right away or package up as gifts!





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It was spaghetti night last night. I'm not usually one that needs bread with my dinner but my husband is. This recipe comes together quickly and only has to rise once so it's super fast! The breadsticks are soft and airy, perfect for any pasta dinner!

Garlic and Herb Breadsticks

Ingredients

1 cup warm water (about 120 degrees)
3 Tbs brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp dry active yeast
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil

3 cups all-purpose flour
Melted butter
Garlic Powder
Salt

Dried Parsley


Step 1 






In a mixer, combine the water, brown sugar, and yeast. Let sit for 5 minutes to allow yeast to activate. 



Step 2



To the yeast mixture, add the oil, salt, and flour. Mix until a dough forms. 

Step 3



                                

                                   Knead dough for 3-4 minutes, until it's smooth and elastic. 

Step 4 



Roll out the dough into a rectangle about 12in by 10in. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into strips about 3/4 inch wide.

Step 5




Fold each strip in half and twist. Place on a greased baking sheet. Let breadsticks rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. 

Step 6 





Bake the breadsticks in a 375 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. When they come out of the oven, brush them with melted butter and sprinkle with garlic powder, salt, and parsley to taste. Then take a blurry final photo before eating them all in one sitting. =)






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Sometimes you need a chocolate fix! This recipe is delicious and healthy. We have it for breakfast on occasion; the girls love it.

Avocado Chocolate Pudding





Ingredients

2 large avocados, peeled and seeded
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup milk
Pinch of cinnamon

Blend all ingredients together in food processor or blender until smooth. Chill for 30 minutes and enjoy!



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I know I already have a recipe for hamburger buns on my blog but I have another recipe for those who like them super soft and fluffy, like store-bought buns.

Super Soft Hamburger Buns

Ingredients

1 cup warm water (between 110-115 degrees)
1 Tbs of Instant Dry Yeast
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg
2 Tbs melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt


Step 1

Combine the warm water and yeast. Let sit for 10 minutes.

Step 2 


To the yeast mixture, add the flour, egg, melted butter, sugar, and salt. Mix until combined and knead until it's a smooth, slightly soft, elastic dough. Place into a greased bowl, cover, and let rise for about 2 hours (or until it doubles in size).

Step 3

Deflate the dough, divide into 8 pieces for large buns (or into 12 pieces for normal sized buns). Press each piece into a disc, about 3 inches in diameter. Set onto a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise again, about an hour, until puffy.

Step 4






Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, bake buns for 15-18 minutes until they are golden brown on top.






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Over the past 6 years as a mother, I've found a handful of products that I rave about to other parents. I thought I'd share them with you! You may not even know these things exist, but I consider them MUST-HAVES!


Number One




This amazing product has been a life-changer. My kids have always been great sleepers. Getting them down is never an issue, they go to bed willingly and without a fight. The part they needed work on was knowing what time was acceptable for them to get up in the morning. 

Think about it, you can't tell time as a kid, so when you naturally wake up, how do you know if it's okay to get up or if you should roll over and go back to sleep? My kids would peek out the window and if the sun was up, so were they! At 5:24am! Yeah. And sometimes, I'd have the feeling of little eyes peering at me from the depths of the darkness in my bedroom, at 3:45am, "Is it time to get up?" "NO." 

So while researching ways to teach my kids to stay in bed later in the morning, I came across THIS clock. It sounded amazing. An adorable owl nightlight that you can make one of three colors: pink, yellow, or blue. You set it's timer for whatever time you'd like them to get up (in my case, 8:00am) and every morning at that time, it will turn green. It will stay green for 30 minutes...this is their cue for getting up! 

It took a bit of training to make them understand that unless their clock was green, they were to stay in their beds and try to keep sleeping. It's been almost 3 years now, and my kids are completely sold on the clock. They DO NOT get up before 8:00am, unless I go in there and give them permission (like on Sundays for church). No more early wake-ups, no more cranky kids who needed a few extra hours of sleep that morning. If you buy nothing else on this list, buy this one. Seriously, everyone will be happier for it.

Number Two







Now this, I saw online, probably on Facebook. It's genius. A fitted sheet and soft comforter that are attached, like a SLEEPING BAG for their beds. No comforter hanging off the side of the bed, no kicking and flopping the sheets off during the night, no more messy beds. AND it's easy for kids to zip-up in the morning for organzied and made beds.



I hated traditional sheets and comforters in their room. Marie rocks herself to sleep at night and constantly falls out of bed or rocks the bedding right off the mattress. June flops back and forth at night and always woke up tangled and cold. This bedding comes in TONS of designs and some even glow in the dark. The comforter is reversible, too! At night, we zip them up, and they stay covered all night. Then in the morning, they zip it up all the way, and it's an instantly made bed! This is a great product for bunk beds and trundles, too. Easy to remove, wash, and replace...no sheets to lose!


Number Three





Having two girls can be tricky sometimes. Too many baths can be physically irritating for them. Especially sitting in soapy water for too long. We decided to forego the daily bath and have them take showers instead. This proved to be quite a challenge. We only have one shower in the house and my husband is over 6 feet tall. Showers became stressful for us and the girls. They don't like getting water or soap in their eyes so we began looking for a way we could bring the spray down to their level. A hand shower attachment seemed the answer until we found THIS guy. He was stationary and cute! With just a click, we could move the stream from the normal shower head to their own. The girls beg to take their shower now, no more water in the eyes.


So these are my three must haves for kids. Do you have another product you consider a must have? Share it below with the rest of us!



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