House For Six


The Family Picture Swap

Deme Crinion2 Comments
A couple weeks ago I stumbled on this post by Jackie from Teal & Lime.  She explained how her family managed to grab some great family photos by swapping photos sessions with another family.  Basically both families head out to a great location armed with cameras and take turns snapping photos for each other.  While I completely recognize the value of a professional who knows their stuff (and camera equipment much better than I do), this cost effective option seemed worth a try...not at all because of my procrastination in scheduling a photo session.  Not one bit.

We were holding out for some snow (pretty white backdrop!), but with not a snowflake in the forecast we dressed the family in festive clothes, wiped the tears over the "lame sweater", and met our friends at a nearby park on a chilly winter afternoon.  (First tip: unless there's some sort of beautiful snowy background you really want to capture, go when it's warm-ish.  You'll have more time and less cranky kids).

We both brought our cameras, and I had mine set up on the tripod for the first set.  We made sure to capture the full family photos first, since we both wanted those for a potential Christmas card.  We went to a park that had beautiful trees, trails, and an old barn...which gave us plenty of options for different shots.  (Second tip:  in hindsight we should have had both cameras snapping at the same time...but there were babies that needed to be corralled and kept from eating pine cones.  If you can swing it though - use both!)

Clearly, we captured a lot of these:  

Which I sort of love.  While a perfectly posed shot is nice, it doesn't really capture those larger than life personalities.  And ultimately I think people enjoy seeing those pictures just as much if not more than the "nice ones".  (Third tip:  snap, snap, snap! I took over one hundred pictures between our families which ensured we came out with at least one good photo and whole lot more to laugh over and enjoy).
Don't be afraid to capture those less than posed moments.  Pictures of your family interacting with each other and their surroundings makes for some great candid shots.

I randomly snapped this one after taking pics of our friends' family.  James was keeping her bundled up in a blanket off to the side and it ended up being my favorite shot of the day.
(Fourth tip: Have an idea of what you would like to do, but be flexible.  I spent some time looking at family photos on Pinterest to get an idea of setting/poses/angles we might like to try, [and we did bring along a few props] but ultimately we tried a couple different things for each family and called it a day.)

The biggest benefit to this type of setup is how comfortable the setting is - you're with friends, so likely much more at ease than with someone you don't know.  I would even recommend sharing a photography session with friends even if you do use a professional. It will just add to the ease and keep the experience fun.

We went late in the afternoon and as the sun began to set, the temps dropped right along with it.  We rushed the last few pics of the kids and didn't get to snap any of just the adults, but it was absolutely a great hour spent!  My friend and I are both still learning our cameras and we took away some great lessons learned to make the next time even better.

That night we uploaded our pics to a shared dropbox folder so we could pick and chose photos to edit.  I've always made our Christmas cards in the past, but this year I went with Minted.  The cards are slated to arrive today and I can't wait to see them!

Thanks so much for reading! We would love to hang out!
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Tips For Getting the Perfect Cake-like Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

Deme Crinion2 Comments

My sister-in-law makes the best sugar cookies.  And I mean the BEST.  She was kind enough to let me share the recipe here awhile back (find the post here and a printable version of the recipe here)

I thought with her secret recipe in hand, I would just whip up a batch and soon be basking in the abundance of chewy frosted goodness.  But that's not exactly how it went down.

My shapes were more like indiscernible blobs and they were far more crunchy that her melt-in-your-mouth version.  What did I do wrong? I followed the recipe to the letter!

It turns out that cut-out sugar cookies are a bit of an art least if you're picky about how you like them. It starts with a great recipe, but there are some key steps that will ensure you get soft, chewy shapes every time.

Looking back, I made a few newbie mistakes (like cutting the time the dough spent in the fridge). So after a few more attempts at this recipe and a few more tweaks, we now have a tried and true method that's an easy family favorite.

Now when I say "perfect", I don't mean those impeccably frosted masterpieces you almost don't want to bite into because they're so pretty.....although that's never stopped me in the end.   You're always going to get the unmistakably home-made looking variety around here.  But I promise you, they will taste amazing! 

Here's how we get soft, chewy sugar cookies (in identifiable shapes) every time....

1. Don't Overwork The Dough

I think this goes for most cookies/baking, but avoid over mixing and over working your dough.  I stop my mixer as soon as all the ingredients come together but are well integrated.  Since you're going to be rolling and handling this dough even more, do your best to avoid over mixing it in the bowl.  I work any lingering flour in by hand.

2.  Don't Skip The Fridge

Most sugar cookie dough needs to be chilled.  This not only helps the cookies keep their shape once cut out but it also prevents the cookies from being too crunchy.  So don't cheat!!  Our recipe calls for the dough to be chilled one hour.  If you're short on time, pop it in the freezer for 30 min, but DO NOT skip this step!  And also do number 3....

3.  Flatten the Dough Before Chilling

I used to just pop the dough into the fridge in a giant ball.  It took longer for the dough to fully chill and made it really difficult to roll out.  Now I lay out a long sheet of Press N Seal, dump the freshly mixed dough on top, then spread it out to a rectangular shape about 1 inch think. I make sure it's all wrapped up (usually needing one more sheet of Press N Seal) and pop it in the fridge.

  It chills much faster and more evenly...and it's much easier to roll out when it's time to bake!

4.  Not Too Thin

When it's time to roll out the dough I break off about a 1/3 chunk from my chilled rectangle and place it on a well floured cutting board or mat. 

 Roll out the dough as evenly as possible but not too thin.  The cookie will keep it's cut shape much better with a thicker dough and it will also give them that to-die-for cake like quality.  I aim for 1/4" thick

5. Dip Your Cutters In Flour

If you find your dough sticking to your cutter or having to wrestle it out, dip the cutter in a bit of flour first.  

6.  Maximize The Dough Space

Try to get your shapes as close as possible and use as much of the dough as you can the first time around. 

After that, ball up the extras, add some more flour, and roll out again.  I try not to do this more than 2 times with each piece of dough.  The more you work the dough the softer and warmer it gets....meaning the more likely it is to end up a flat cookie.

7.  Chill The Shapes In Waiting

Our recipe makes a pretty large amount of dough.  If I'm baking it all the same day, I will place the cut shapes on a sheet of parchment or wax paper and keep them in the fridge until I'm ready to pop them on the tray for the oven.  I have two insulated baking sheets that I swear by for cookies.  So, when I'm cooking large batches I often have to reuse a warm cookie sheet.  I wait until the very last second to put the shapes on from the fridge so the dough doesn't start to warm up or spread.

8.  Do Not Over Bake!!!

For a soft, chewy cookie, this is the most important tip!  And it took me awhile to figure out the right time on my oven for a cookie that was "just" done but not raw in the middle.  I promise to update this post with a pic of this but in the meantime, here's what I look for:

Wait until the center of the cookie no longer appears wet or shiny but do not let the edges brown

.  If I check the cookies and the center is still uncooked, I check it every minute after that and pull them as soon as the center is done. Smaller cookies will take less time and larger/thicker shapes take longer.

Once they have cooled completely you can frost away or save the frosting for another day.  Just be sure to store them in an air tight container.

9.  Break It Up

If even the mention of making sugar cookies from scratch feels completely overwhelming, try breaking up the steps over a few days.  We used to set aside a day for baking, but now I try to save myself some time and sanity.  I usually make a quick batch of dough the day before and store it in the fridge....the next day we'll cut out the shapes and bake....and the following day is for frosting.  It can be a messy job, especially if you get the littles involved, so spacing it out might just be the ticket to everyone living through the process.  And hey, you get delicious sugar cookies at the end of it! 

*I would love to hear from you veteran sugar cookie bakers!  What are your best tips?  I know some swear by certain baking sheets/pans/etc or maybe you have a special ingredient that makes your cookies out of this world.  Let's hear it! 

And good luck to anyone taking on some holiday baking this week!

How To Keep Your Curtains From Sliding All Over The Rod

Deme Crinion3 Comments
So, this may not be post-worthy....but maybe??

My mom was visiting and commented on how I had hung our curtains so they don't slide all over the bar.  It made me wonder if it was something that could help any of my fellow OCD curtain peeps out there.

It's nothing fancy, just in the way you place the curtain rings/clips/tabs on the rod. I give you the simplest fix ever....
Such a simple way to keep your curtains from sliding all over the bar

Don't mind my unfinished curtain panels for demonstration here....

When I'm ready to hang curtains, I extend the curtain rod about an inch or two beyond the rod-mount hardware instead of having the finial flush against it (adjust your measurements accordingly).  Then, I make sure I put the end clip to the outside of the mounting hardware. 
Such a simple way to keep your curtains from sliding all over the bar
That end clip becomes an anchor and doesn't go past the rod mount.  So, when I close the curtains it keeps the outer end of the panel in place instead of having the entire panel slide down the rod.

Makes it super easy to open and close your curtains without the skiwampus joyride. 
Such a simple way to keep your curtains from sliding all over the bar
This obviously works for curtains hung with drapery clips, tabs, or some sort of individual hanger.  Although, you could probably cut a slit in a pocket rod curtain panel where your mounting hardware is for the same effect. 

Ahhh, the little things. What simple household tricks do you have?

Thanks so much for reading! We would love to keep in touch!

Coffee Break: The Case For Space

Deme Crinion1 Comment
We had a sick little girl earlier this week and awoke to our 3-year thowing up this morning.  Soooo...movies, laundry, and anything that doesn't require a whole lot of energy are on the agenda for today.  We've also had a ton of rain that's put painting on hold for the last of my office projects.  So, while my office waits patiently for me to come back around, I thought we would chat a little bit about home size. 

It seems there's been a shift from super sized McMansions to serious downsizing.  Smaller is the new big, and I can completely see why.  There is something liberating about letting go of a huge chunk of your possessions in order to embrace a different kind of lifestyle, where you spend less time maintaining all the stuff and more time enjoying life....less separation and more family time...less money towards a huge house and more financial freedom.

But what if you aren't there?  What if you aren't in the position to pick up and move, or simply don't have the desire for a smaller house?

I say, fine!  Because the bottom line is that it doesn't matter how many square feet comprise your home.  It's all about how you use them.

If you're frustrated by the size of your home (big or small) but don't have the option to move, there are ways to make the best out of an imperfect space.

Ideas for the overwhelmed in big homes looking to simplify...

- Purge! If you do have a big ole house that's a beast to keep up with, try purging down the items you have. Fight the urge to fill it up with more stuff.  It will be much easier to maintain with less in it.

-Get rid of the small chachki's and embrace larger pieces. Just a few can fill a space and have a much bigger impact than a bunch of little decor items.  And it's much easier to clean a few large items than dozens of little ones.

-Reconsider how you use each room. Are you using all that space in the way that works best for your family?  Do you have an office but constantly bring your computer down to the couch to work?  Do you end up spreading craft stuff all over the kitchen table?  Maybe creating a small workspace in the corner of the living room and turning that underused office into a craft room is a better use of space. Think about how you actually live in your home right now and whether or not the current set up supports how your family lives there. Go ahead and break the rules!  A bedroom doesn't have to stay a bedroom, and the other rooms in your home are whatever you need them to be.

For those in small homes praying for a little more space....

-Purge! Pardon the broken record, but by now you all know that purging has saved my sanity and brought my heart back to the right place on many occasion.  Clutter can accumulate and take over a space very quickly.  When living in small spaces, keeping only what you love, need, and actually use is key.

-Go for double duty function.  Any piece of furniture that gives you a big bang for your buck is essential in a small home.  Ottoman with hidden storage as a coffee table?  Yes!  Storage bins that slide under the bed?  Oh yeah.  Flexible seating?  Please!  The more function you can get out of a single piece, the more precious space you will free up.

-Bunk up the kids.  When bedroom space is tight, get creative.  Can two kids with their own rooms, now share?  Being able to free up an entire room is huge!  If the rooms are already at max capacity, think about the furniture....bunk beds and loft beds can free up valuable floor space giving much needed breathing room.  The murphy bed is another one of those amazing space saving solutions.  Get creative and don't be afraid to mix things up!

-Take advantage of any outdoor space.  Creating a great dining or seating area in the backyard can make it feel like you've gained a whole other room!  At least for a few months out of the year anyway.  Do you use all of your garage?  Turning part of it into a game or movie area is another way to "expand your house".

Ultimately, it's all about how we view and use our space.  There's no need to play the comparison game.  We can all celebrate our different homes with each other.  Have a friend that loves living small or is looking to downsize?  Enjoy the excitement of the adventure with her, even if it's not for you.  Have a home with a lot of space?  Open it up to friends and use it as a place to gather and enjoy community.  Don't be swayed either way by the trends of the times.  We each have to discern whether or not we're called to make a change in the way we live.  It's personal and different for each of us.  The good news is that we can all live simply and live well, regardless of the size of our homes.

Happy Weekend!

Thanks so much for reading! We would love to keep in touch!