Saturday, January 31

MAKE iT | Homemade Vanilla Extract


You will either love me or hate me for this post.
Regardless...I HAVE to share it before January officially comes to an end.

Homemade Vanilla Extract...
for the Holiday Season + Beyond!!

C'mon now. You've had over a month to recover from the holiday season and just trust me...
you will thank me later when the 2015 holiday season sneaks up later this year and you and I are already fully prepared for treating the people in our life with some of the best vanilla extract because we will have been aging it all year!

I LOVE all things homemade and vanilla extract is no exception.
It's sooooo easy to make and takes such little effort we should ALL be doing this on a regular basis.

I LOVE making it for holiday gift giving.
The problem is...I usually remember I need to start a batch WAY too late to actually have it ready in time to actually give as a gift.  (it takes at least 6 weeks of aging to make it suitable for baking).

Yes, there have been some holidays where I've realized, once again, my vanilla extract won't be ready on time and I thought about giving it anyway and adding a little note to the bottle saying..."will be ready for use by..." But that just really translates into: "Hey...I didn't plan ahead and although your gift isn't necessarily ready to give you...you are getting it anyway".

So...when I found myself AGAIN this last holiday season unprepared for gifting delicious homemade vanilla...I vowed never to find myself in that situation again. I decided to start the process RIGHT AFTER the hustle and bustle of the holidays and be completely prepared for next year.

Did you know the longer you let the vanilla cure/mature the more rich and beautiful and delicious the end flavor will be. In fact, letting the vanilla age for 6 months to a year (or two) will result in the best vanilla your heart (and baked goods) will ever experience.

So...let's do the math, shall we? If we start a batch now...
our homemade vanilla will have the ENTIRE YEAR to sit and wait and age...
which means we will be ready for gift-giving when everyone else is scrambling for ideas.

But let's back up for a minute.
Homemade Vanilla Extract isn't just a gift for the holidays.
It makes a fantastic hostess gift, teacher gift, birthday present and I intend to give some as a gift to my mom for Mother's Day. (shhhh...don't tell her)

Remember...6 weeks is all it REALLY takes for an acceptable curing time...anything longer just makes it all the better. And I'm all about better so I'm shooting for the full year.


All you need in Vodka, vanilla beans and patience.
That's it.

If you want yours to be organic then choose organic brands of vodka and vanilla beans.
Otherwise, if you couldn't care less about your vanilla extract being organic then choose any grade/quality of vodka (the cheap stuff is fine) and just make sure your Madagascar Vanilla Beans are of the highest quality. (look for moistness in the packaging).

The amount of vodka + vanilla beans you need really depends on how much you want to make and how quickly you'll be using your Homemade Vanilla Extract.

The basic formula for the quick (6 week turnaround) goes something like this: 
1 cup of Vodka + 5-7 Vanilla Beans = 2 - 4oz. bottles of vanilla extract. 

For me, I want to make a A LOT at one time and I'm curing mine for a full year so I bought a 1.75L bottle of Hope French Organic Vodka and cut up 16 Organic Madagascar Vanilla Beans.  I'll walk away with about 12 small 4oz. bottles of homemade vanilla extract for gifting.

Now...since I also want to use some of this homemade vanilla extract for my own baking needs...
I will be starting another batch here in the next couple of weeks so I can let it age for a few months and I won't have to mess with this particular bottle that I'm letting mature for the entire year.

Once I open, use or gift a batch, I will immediately start a new one to replace it.
By doing so, I'll ALWAYS have plenty of homemade vanilla extract on hand for my own baking needs and for all of the people, celebrations and seasons in my life. *wink*


DIRECTIONS FOR A SMALL BATCH - curing for 6 weeks or longer
Yields 2 - 4oz. bottles

8oz. glass jar or bottle. (a mason jar with a lid works great)
7 Madagascar Vanilla Beans
1 cup Vodka - must be 70 proof/35% Alcohol

Slice each vanilla bean into thirds.
Add beans to glass jar.
Pour in vodka and make sure the vanilla beans are completely covered.
Put on the lid and give it a swirl.
Store in a dark place at room temperature.
Swirl the vodka and beans around once or twice a week over the course of 6 weeks.
Pour prepared Vanilla in glass jars for gifting.

TIP: If you find vanilla specks in your vanilla extract and prefer a more clear extract you can strain it through a coffee filter prior to pouring into your prepared bottles.

DIRECTIONS FOR A LARGE BATCH curing for 6 months to a year or longer
Yields 12 - 4oz. bottles

1.75oz Vodka
16 Madagascar Vanilla Beans

Pour out a little bit of the vodka from the bottle to make room for the vanilla beans.
Using a sharp knife, slice your vanilla beans into thirds and drop into your bottle of vodka.
Close tightly and swirl it around a little bit.
Store in a dark place at room temperature.
Shake the bottle every week for the first 4-6 weeks.
Continue to shake the bottle at least every few weeks.
Let it mature for at least 6 months. One year is best and 2 years is even better.



The photo above is what it looks like right after adding the vanilla beans to the vodka.
The photo below is after 3 weeks of curing.


Notice that I'm storing the extra vanilla beans I had from my package in a recycled caper jar. I just folded them in half and stuck them in the jar. I'm saving them for when I start my next batch. (properly stored, these beans can last a year and sometimes even more depending on conditions).


It's not necessary to purchase bottles for gifting at this point - you've got at least 6 weeks if you are doing the small batch and nearly a year if you are curing yours for holiday gift giving.

However, if you want to get a jump start on it, these 4 oz. Boston Round Bottles come in a pack of 12 and are ideal for gift giving. They look really cute with a label too and have plenty of space for cute label customization.

The cute clear corked bottles from Hobby Lobby you see in the photos are ones I picked up prior to the holidays. They are smaller than 4oz. and they actually came with a wire for hanging - I just used wire cutters to remove it.  If you go that route...make sure you check to make sure the corks on your bottles actually fit properly before you leave the store. I had one of the corks accidentally fall inside of the bottle when I picked it up off the shelf in Hobby Lobby. It was obviously too small but I would've been really bummed had I not noticed it until I got home.  

PACKAGING TIP:
If you go with a corked bottle for packaging I advise against shipping it. Hand-delivery is preferred.

Anyway - I sure hope you'll join me in making some homemade vanilla extract.
Do it now. Thank me later. *wink*

I'll share some packaging and labeling ideas when I actually package mine all up.
But that won't be for another 6 months. *wink*

QUICK SOURCE REFERENCE
Organic Madagascar Vanilla Beans - you get about 32 organic beans
Madagascar Vanilla Beans - I've used these too but they aren't organic - if that matters to you.
4oz. Brown Bottles
Hope French Organic Vodka

DON'T FORGET!!
The PNPF Book Club starts February 1st!
Did you get your "May You Live A Life You Love" Book yet?

KEEPiNG iT REAL
That's a BIG ol' bottle of Vodka people.
I'm not a drinker, at least I haven't been a drinker in many, many moons. 
Sooo...having J bring this home for me was a little comical and I got a few eyebrow raises from my two older girls. *giggling*
I'm sure the vodka lovers out there are gasping over the fact that I just "ruined" a perfectly good bottle of "vodky" too - *wink*

Read more...

Thursday, January 29

MUSIC | The Heart Wants What It Wants :: Selena Gomez




I love this song.
Like I REALLY love this song.
When I actually get to listen to music all by myself at the house or in the car...
I've had "The Heart Wants What It Wants" by Selena Gomez on repeat for weeks now.
And when I say repeat, I mean I can replay it 25 times in a row and not apologize.
I can drive across town, and often do, playing the same song as I'm pulling back up to the house.
And when I say I play it...I mean I play it LOUD.
And when I sing along, I sing without shame - even while driving down the road. 

I'm sure I sound terrible...
sunroof open, windows slightly cracked so as not to be too windy...
sunglasses on...
and fresh coat of lipgloss.
I don't care who's listening or who's watching. (it's easy not to care if you don't make eye contact) *wink*
It's loud enough to drown out what I probably really sound like
and allows me to pretend I'm a fabulous singer - never mind what the cars/people around me are really hearing.


Being the superstar I am...I naturally assume the "music video" role and add in the appropriate hand motions to emphasize the lyrics I'm singing...

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
"Save your advice cause I won't hear"  -
I cover my ear while shaking my head "no"

"You might be right but I don't care"
I offer a gentle hand wave as if to let someone know I'm done listening to what they had to say

There's a million reasons why I should give you up...
I look away

But the heart wants what it wants...
I gaze down
::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

All while moving my upper body back and forth to the beat...of course.
Because that's what every diva does.

Okay - so that's really dramatic...
and yet so embarrassingly true. Ha!!

And I've watched the video probably more than a girl would really ever need to...
I think because Selena looks so beautiful and grown up and it's in black and white - which I LOVE!

I really feel like anyone who's ever experienced heartbreak will really be able to connect to the raw emotion associated with the lyrics and the meaning behind the song. As far as I know it was written out of the pain Selena was experiencing after Justin Bieber broke her heart. Whether that's all true or not...you never know with tabloids and such...I definitely connect with her pain.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

The Hearts Wants What It Wants Lyrics
You got me sippin' on somethin'
I can't compare to nothin'
I've ever known
I'm hopin' that after this fever I'll survive.

I know I'm actin' a bit crazy
Strung out. A little bit hazy.
Hand over heart I'm prayin'
that I'm gonna make it out alive.

The beds gettin' cold and you're not here
The future that we hold is so unclear
But I'm not alive until you call
And I'll bet the odds against it all. 
Save your advice 'cause I won't hear. 
You might be right but I don't care.
There's a million reasons why I should give you up
But the heart wants what it wants.

You got me scattered in pieces
Shinin' like stars and screamin'
Lighting me up like Venus
But then you disappear and make me wait

And every second's like torture
heroin drip no more so
Findin' a way to let go
Baby, baby no I can't escape

The beds gettin' cold and you're not here
The future that we hold is so unclear
But I'm not alive until you call
And I'll bet the odds against it all. 
Save your advice cause I won't hear 
You might be right but I don't care
There's a million reasons why I should give you up
But the heart wants what it wants.

This is a modern fairy tale
No happy ending
No wind in our sails
But I can't imagine a life without
Breathless moments breaking me down

The beds gettin' cold and you're not here
The future that we hold is so unclear
But I'm not alive until you call
And I'll bet the odds against it all.
Save your advice cause I won't hear 
You might be right but I don't care
There's a million reasons why I should give you up
But the heart wants what it wants. 

The heart wants what it want baby...
::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

So there you go.
Roll your eyes or high five me...
I'll take either one because I'm expecting mixed responses honestly.

I'd love to hear what YOU are listening to right now so be sure to leave a comment.

KEEPiNG iT REAL
I actually really hesitated posting this because this is the only Selena Gomez song I've ever purchased and I kind of feel like a teeny bopper being stuck on this song. And then...I saw a friend from High School post on Facebook, "Not that I really care but what will Selena Gomez say to herself when she is 42 about the relationship she had with Justin Beiber when she was 22? #theheartiscluelessaboutwhatitwants"  Yikes! I totally get what she was saying but I couldn't disagree more with her hashtag. As Shakespeare once said, "Love reasons without reason."  *wink*

Read more...

Tuesday, January 27

LIFE | Ella and Elise :: Best Friends Forever


Ella and Elise.
Elise and Ella.
These two sweet girls have been besties since they were two years old...and now they both are six.

They typically get together on Fridays for a playdate after school - and we rotate houses every week.
The photos I'm sharing today are from the playdate they had together last week at our house.
I had just finished putting makeup on each of them because they were prepping for a "fancy tea party" in Ella's room. This was of course after they had already had a fancy "Hot Cocoa Tea Party" at the dining table using the Hot Chocolate Bar  we have set up right now. 

Anyway, next thing I know they both came walking out of my closet with some "fancy" shoes on. Fancy tea party means fancy shoes, right? I giggled to myself as I watched them both wobble their way towards me and then I had them stop them in their tracks.


I couldn't let this moment go by without snapping some quick photos with my phone.
They both of course couldn't pass up the opportunity for some shenanigans and goofy poses for the photos. I couldn't help but think this was a glimpse into future photobooth photos and selfies these two are sure to take together for High School Proms and Homecomings.

Man!! Talk about a heartstring moment!! *sigh*
And look...Ella even has the arm pose down already. *wink*


It all goes too quickly, doesn't it!?
I just want to keep'em little. We all do, don't we?

KEEPiNG iT REAL
I actually didn't even realize how long Ella and Elise have been friends until I stumbled upon a recent video of Ella. It was an interview-type video I was taking while Ella was sitting in her high chair eating a popsicle. I had asked the typical questions of "What's your name?" and "How Old Are You?" along with what she had had for dinner. Then, I asked her who her best friend was. She responded emphatically in her adorable 2 year old voice: "Leese!"

Read more...

Friday, January 23

GIFT IDEA | Custom Pup Portraits + Mugs :: Kori Clark



Looking for a sweet + thoughtful gift idea for an upcoming birthday? Valentine's Day? Mother's Day?
I just LOVE the custom pup portraits and coffee mugs from Kori Clark Designs.
I've been friends with Kori for awhile - you may remember her as Paper and Pigtails.

She did some re-branding for her business a year or so ago and took a step in the direction of her REAL passion by focusing on her love of working with watercolor paints.

I've loved watching her business evolve and when my mom's birthday approached (back in December), I KNEW without a doubt a personalized gift from Kori would be the perfect gift for my mom this year.

You see, my mom had two Jack Russells, Skippy and Maggie. They were a match made in heaven - total opposites of each other. They had puppies together many years ago...one of which is my family's dog, Hamilton.

After Maggie became ill mid-2014, my mom eventually had to put Maggie down in the Fall. As you can imagine it was devastating for her.

I sent Kori some photos I had taken of Skippy and Maggie over the Summer...prior to my mom having to put Maggie down. Kori worked her magic and created a custom water color art print and a matching coffee mug for me to gift to my mom.


My mom became tearful when she opened her gifts...I knew she would...how could she not.
She certainly wasn't anticipating this gift and I know the art print and mug touched her heart.

I LOVE giving thoughtful gifts...and what could be more personal than creating a keepsake of someone's beloved pet? Or in this case...pets.

If you love this idea, check out Kori's website for information about ordering.
If you decide you want to stalk Kori, you can find her on social media too:
Kori Clark on Facebook
Kori Clark on Instagram

KEEPiNG iT REAL
Skippy is awfully lonely without Maggie around.
It breaks my heart. He's quite the spunky senior citizen though at the ripe ole age of 105 - in dog years, of course. We take Hamilton over to visit his "dad" whenever we visit with my mom and I know Skippy loves that.

Read more...

Tuesday, January 20

MUSIC | New Artist :: Louisa Wendorff



You guys!!
Omgoodness!
I have a confession. I've been obsessed by this Blank Space/Style Taylor Swift Cover by Louisa Wendorff eversince Taylor Swift gave a shout out to it on Facebook a few weeks back. (yes...I follow Taylor Swift). *wink*

I've been loving the whole 1989 album by Taylor Swift and I love Taylor's Blank Space song + video but I was blown away by this version from Louisa Wendorff.

So, I finally took some time today to really check out Louisa Wendorff's music and other videos and I'm just loving all of the covers + mashups she has done. She's got a beautiful voice and a gift for arranging music to make it her own.

I'm totally sharing with my girls today this MashUp of Beyoncé, Colbie Caillat and Jessie J - a beautiful mix of so many powerful songs about self-image and self-esteem.

Pretty Hurts/ Try / Who You Are (BeyoncĂ©, Colbie Caillat, Jessie J) Mash-Up Cover 



She's also just released a new EP on iTunes and I just had to buy it because I love supporting upcoming artists!!

I hope you love her as much as I do.

Stay tuned for when I reveal a secret about the song, from a different artist, I've had on repeat in the car and at my desk for weeks. You might just giggle at me...or roll your eyes.

Hugs you guys!!

KEEPiNG iT REAL
I promised awhile ago to share more of what I'm listening to...
Why am I suddenly feeling a little vulnerable?
Maybe it's because music is such a personal and emotional thing for me?
Tell you what...I'm going to stop right there and quit analyzing and just continue to share. *wink*

CONFESSION: 
I have never bought an entire Taylor Swift album...and I thought I was actually going to be able to say that I've never even downloaded one of her songs until my recent purchase of Shake It Off.

BUT...after looking back at my playlist I'm surprised and didn't realize how many songs of hers I have: Ronan, Safe & Sound, Never Grow Up, Last Kiss and Breathe. Well guess what? I just went ahead and bought/downloaded the entire Taylor Swift 1989 album. Did you see what Taylor Swift did for her fans for Christmas? She's pretty amazing...I'm loving her heart.

Read more...

Monday, January 19

FUN | Dreams Are Like Sprinkles Art Print + Giveaway Winner



I've got two fun things to share with you today!!
First up is this adorable "Dreams Are Like Sprinkles" Art Print I designed for The Cake Blog this month. If you love it, you can head on over to download the FREE 8x10 right now. Although it's perfect for the kitchen, I can see this charming print displayed pretty much anywhere in your home.


The second fun thing is the announcement of the winner from the "May You Live A Life You Love" giveaway that included these inspirational books + note card set by Compendium.


You can find out who the winner is by visiting the Book Club - February Pick post...
The winner's name is posted on the Rafflecopter widget at the bottom of the post!!
I appreciate all of the entries and positive feedback about the start of the book club!
Check out the post announcing the PNPF Book Club and how it will work if you happened to miss the post.

If you will be participating in the PNPF Book Club starting February 1st, you can grab your copy of "May You Live A Life You Love" by MH Clark on Amazon or at your local book store. I'm not sure if you can snag this one from the library or not but it's worth checking into. Although I really think this book will become a treasure you'll want to keep around your house for a long time...like as in forever. *wink*

KEEPiNG iT REAL
Is it weird for me to be excited about packaging up these lovelies?
The idea of sending off a box of inspiration to someone totally lights my fire!!
And hey...that totally has everything to do with helping me to use my One Little Word, SHINE, this year! *wink*

Read more...

Thursday, January 15

iNSPiRE | IG Art Print :: Add More Color



I believe this.
Follow me on Instagram for more daily original inspirational quotes and art prints.

Today is the last day to enter the PNPF Book Club giveaway for February!! Don't miss out!!

KEEPiNG iT REAL
I'm calling to schedule a pedicure right now! *wink*

Read more...

i WAS PUBLiSHED iN CASA CHiC MAGAZiNE

i WAS PUBLiSHED iN ARTFUL BLOGGiNG MAGAZiNE

MEMBER OF MARTHA STEWART'S DREAMERS iNTO DOERS

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