Posts filed under Building Your Home

Entrusted Recipes: Mom’s Chili


My most favorite time of the year is Fall. I’m the one who anxiously waits for the stores to bring out their pumpkin-spiced food and drinks, checking almost every day to see if anything is out yet. I’m the one who stalks Starbucks to see when they’ll bring back their Pumpkin Spice Latte – this year Starbucks even had a secret group where lovers of all things Fall could share their excitement.

I love football, wearing leggings and comfy shirts, cooler temps, pumpkin farms, and beautiful leaves. I love breathing in crisp, fresh air that smells like dry leaves. I love Fall so much that my husband and I were married in the Fall of 2006. And I love Fall so much that the paint colors and accents in our living room and kitchen are rustic earth tones that resemble Fall leaves. Yeah…I kinda like Fall.

With my love for Fall comes a love for Fall food – pumpkin scones, pumpkin pie, beef stew, mac and cheese, soup, and most of all, chili! But not just any chili. My mom’s chili. I’ve had many types of chili but my favorite is my mom’s recipe. And because I want others to enjoy her recipe as much as I do, I asked her if I could share it.

So here it is – the best chili you’ll ever eat. (Yes, I’m completely unbiased.)

Susie’s Chili


2 lbs. ground beef

2-3 Tbsp chili powder (to taste)

Salt and pepper (to taste)

1 medium chopped onion (if I don’t have onion, I use dried, minced onion)

1 large can tomato soup

1 can diced tomatoes (with chilies if you like more heat)

2 large (or 3 small) cans drained kidney beans

1-2 cups water (1 cup makes it thicker, 2 makes it thinner – in the picture of the simmered chili, I added 2 cups)



Brown the beef in a large pot. Add seasonings and onion. Simmer for a few minutes. Add tomato soup, diced tomatoes, kidney beans, and water. Heat through for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Then simmer an additional 10 minutes on low. The longer it simmers, the better it tastes.


 When it comes to how to top your chili, there are many options! My favorite is sour cream, cheese, and corn chips. My dad likes to top his with black olives. We also usually make cornbread muffins as a side.


However you top it, it’s good chili. You’ll let out a contented sigh as you get comfy on the couch to watch football with a warm bowl of chili in your hands. I love it anytime of the year, but it’s even more delicious now that it’s Fall.

Posted on September 21, 2018 and filed under Building Your Home.

Entrusted Recipes: Summer Salad with Brown Rice


A little while back I stumbled upon a recipe video online where the chef put cooked brown rice on her salad. I had never seen such a thing done, but it looked so yummy that I tried it immediately. It was a game changer! I absolutely loved how the rice added new texture to my salad, and how much heartier it became. It is now my go-to for building a healthy and fast salad that can stand-alone for a meal.


I usually throw together a random assortment of on-hand ingredients to build my salads, but I’ll share one of my favorite combinations. (Calling it a “recipe” is a bit of a stretch, I will’s more of a “suggested guideline”.)

The best trick I’ve found for incorporating brown rice easily into my diet is to cook a big batch over the weekend. We usually grill a bag of chicken breasts on weekends as well, to have on hand during the week. Having these two things in the fridge, along with a fresh bag of spinach, makes healthy summer lunches quick and accessible.

To make my favorite salad, start with a heaping fist full of lettuce in a large bowl. I like to use a spinach & arugula mix, but any combo of dark leafy greens that suits your taste buds is fine.

For dressing, I keep it simple and use olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt. Toss your lettuce in this mixture.

Next, top with a heap of brown rice. For all of these ingredients, you can use however much you like. I usually use about half a cup of brown rice. To me, it tastes fine even if it’s still warm from cooking, but it’s even better pre-cooked and refrigerated.


That’s all you need for the base of a great salad!

For toppings, my favorite combination is:

  • cubed grilled chicken
  • sliced avocado
  • dried cranberries
  • chopped apples
  • sliced almonds & chopped pecans
  • and sometimes a little blue cheese

This is definitely one of those recipes that you can experiment with, depending on what you have on hand and what suits you. But give the brown rice a try as you’re building—it might be just the healthy and hearty zip your salad needs for the summer.

Posted on June 6, 2018 and filed under Building Your Home.

Before You Buy Legos You Need a Game Plan


There are times when I see something on Pinterest and I think, “Oh that’s a neat idea! I’m going to do that when I have kids!” And then a moment of panic rushes over me. Oh wait--I HAVE kids already! FOUR OF THEM!! It seems hilarious, but it’s true. Even the most well-intentioned of mothers can be blindsided with the duties, challenges, and blessings of parenting.

One such hit on my mothering has been the acquisition of Legos. It seemed so natural, my son was getting older. He was bright and creative. Legos were a clear choice for a birthday present. He played with that first, small set repeatedly and looked over the manual multiple times. We declared a “Lincoln Lego Zone” and put the tiny pieces in a place that would not be ambushed by little brothers.

And then there was another tiny set…

And then another…

And Lincoln learned how to get the pieces down by himself…

And then the neighbor boy started mixing the sets...

And of course these tiny mini-figures love to play in the imaginary worlds made of other toys…

And the little brothers weren’t really that much younger, so of course they wanted to join in...

And then the paper manuals started to tear…

Thankfully, we really didn’t have that many sets yet. Then Lincoln asked for the BIG set for Christmas. And he was intellectually ready for it. But with all the busyness of preparing for Christmas I didn’t think through the organization of it well enough.


Packages were torn open excitedly, the set was discovered, and my little boy begged to put the set together right away.


We cleared off a table, told his brothers it was off-limits (which was fine since they both had smaller sets to build at another table.) Lincoln worked all day on the giant set. We managed to keep it safe for a few days on the school room table, but of course we needed the surface eventually.


The set was moved to a cabinet in our guest bedroom. It is a very feminine cabinet, but it has glass doors, so it works well for showing off a little guy’s craftsmanship for the time being. (Eventually I would love to have a huge reclaimed wood, industrial bookshelf like my friend has, but this was fine in a pinch.) Well… if you have read my quiet time post (please link), you know I separate my kids for their daily thinking times, and put them in different bedrooms. I need that guest room for one of them to rest in… and one day the youngest brother--”The Climber”--happened to be in that room. Needless to say, the set was no longer in tact after that “rest time”. I consoled my eldest, telling him we would rebuild it together, but it’s difficult to find that much time to rebuild a large set that’s been destroyed. The process is harder than building it from scratch. We’ll get it done, but it’s going to take a lot of time. Anyway, I felt like a failure--my mother-in-law, the woman who still has her son’s Lego sets in boxes after 30 years, purchased this expensive set for us--and I let it get smashed. Someone show me the rewind button for life please.

What began as a Type A personality toy with methodical instructions was confronted with the endless creative possibilities they represent. The whole dilemma of The Lego Movie was playing out in my home. (If you haven’t seen it, the father in the movie follows the directions to a T, and would never even think of building connect blocks unless instructed to. His son wants to combine the sets and think, literally, outside the box. Eventually the father comes to see there is value in his way of playing, and they learn to carefully AND creatively play together.) Well, my boys are 3, 5, and 6… and their little sister will be roaming the halls before we know it. This constructive epiphany isn’t happening tomorrow.


Part of me wants to blame my sons for the chaos. Those little guys are darling, but they are DESTROYERS! Some days I hear my own mother’s voice ringing through my head, “Can’t I have anything nice?!” as I discover new stains, broken toys, and chipped furniture. I have been sent a mini-army to raise, and I can’t seem to find the balance between training them to be MEN and teaching them to have a semblance of self-control! People are more important than things, but we are called to be good stewards! “Balance Gentlemen! Balance!” Because I am wrestling with it, I know God will give me wisdom. But I’m not going to lie to you, these thoughts run through my head a lot.

Okay, back to my Lego conundrum! Since my personality is usually a battle between the creative and the organized, I’ve been challenged how Legos are going to work at our house. I can’t tell you exactly how it should look for you and your kids, but I want to pose a couple of questions for you to consider before you go purchasing these tiny people… or maybe if you’re feeling how I was this can help you get back on track. (Side note: I will continually be referring to Legos, but the concept and questions are the same for any collection of tiny toys.)


  • Where are your kids going to play with Legos? Is this a permanent location, or will it need to be cleaned up at certain times?
  • Where will the creations be displayed?
  • Where will manuals go?
  • Where will boxes go? Will they be recycled or kept for storing the individual sets?
  • Will they be allowed to play with Legos in their bedroom? What about bedtimes or rest times? How will you stop them from playing with them at those times?


  • When will your kids have building time?
  • Is there a time when they can expect you to build with them?
  • Will they be required to complete certain tasks before they can build?
  • When do they get to build by themselves, and when will they need to share with siblings?
  • When friends come over, are they allowed to play with the Legos? What rules will they need to follow with them?


  • How are the Legos going to be stored?
  • How will they be displayed?
  • Will sets be separated and stored, or mixed together?

Now that your head is spinning with the management crises of these tiny toys, I do have a few tips…

  1. Buy a giant toy drawstring storage bag. These mats lay flat for play, but cinch up and contain the toys for storage. Instead of picking every transparent Lego light from the carpet each time your child plays, you can have the mat underneath them. If they can contain their play to the mat, it really is a cinch to clean up. Pun intended. We asked for one for Christmas, and it has transformed Lego time!

       2.  Get a three-ring binder and some pocket protectors. Every time you buy a set, safely store the manual in a sleeve. That way they are easily accessible and kept from certain ruin.

       3. In hindsight, I wish I would have kept all the individual sets in their boxes and bought a few Lego Classic Creative Building Block Sets. I would put these in the drawstring bags for my boys to mix and build as they pleased. Or I’d store these pieces in a rainbow tower like this. Right now we keep our Legos in this. I wheel it into the boys bedroom for building time, and take it out before they go to bed.


       4. Have a place to display their creations. Let them have some pride in their hard work! We are now using a bookshelf. Each boy has a shelf to display his Legos.

       5. Look online at organizational options. Perhaps your kids are all old enough to have the Legos in a common play area. There are great ideas for that! Once you start searching, an idea that fits your situation is sure to pop up. I want to caution you though, just because an idea is the cutest, doesn’t mean it will be the most functional for your family. Think through the above questions as you evaluate an idea.

This may seem like a lot of thought for a toy. However, at the end of the day, toys aren’t just toys. They are training grounds. Training our children’s imaginations and growing their responsibility. This is an issue of character. And character counts! I am trying to train my kids to take care of what they have with the little investments so that they can take care of more costly gifts in the future. Hopefully I have helped you a little with this process… and perhaps spared your feet from the painful fate of stepping on the inevitably misplaced building block!

Posted on March 21, 2018 and filed under Building Your Home.

4 Free Valentine's Printables


Happy (almost) Valentine’s Day!

We have four free printables for you to print and frame, keep or give, this Valentine’s. Remind someone how special they are, or remind yourself!


(Click on each image below for a printable pdf format):

Put this in your closet or on your dressing table (or gift it to your best friend) to show yourself a little love...

Invite your husband and kids to get cozy with pajamas, popcorn and a movie on Valentine’s Day (who cares if it’s a school night, right?) with this one.

My fellow Star Wars fans will enjoy these iconic words from The Empire Strikes Back. (And if Han and Leia aren’t your jam, the “I love you” part can stand alone!)

Here’s an easy-to-save graphic for you. We’d love for you to share & save on Pinterest!


Posted on February 12, 2018 and filed under Building Your Home.

DIY Fresh Greenery Arrangement


I love decorating with fresh greens for Christmas. Adorning the house with fragrant sprigs of rosemary, eucalyptus, and evergreen branches *almost* even makes up for the fact that I will never buy another live Christmas tree!
Here is a simple formula for how to create an arrangement of greens, and my one sneaky trick to make it last all season.




Most grocery stores sell bunches of seasonal branches at this time of year. You can also ask your local florist for some greens, or forage in the yard. Pine branches, eucalyptus (look for regular, silver dollar and seeded varieties- all are lovely!) and herbs like rosemary and even oregano will round out a bouquet of pine branches. Grab a sprig of red berries for a colorful accent if you wish.



For my arrangement, I used an old candle jar. Let’s be honest...I loved how it smelled but I would have bought it for the jar no matter what the scent was! Sometimes these jars are so pretty it’s just a shame to toss them when the candle is gone. Those are the times I love to convert them into vases. You can put the jar in the freezer for a while to make scraping the candle remnants out a little easier.

I also find it handy—though not absolutely necessary—to place a flower frog in the bottom of the vase. This is a heavy piece that you can buy at craft supply stores. Any stems that have a hard time staying upright or staying where you want them can be poked onto the prongs of the frog and they will stay in place.

Go ahead and fill the vase no more than half full with water and place your frog at the bottom.



Place the hardy greens, such as pine tree branches in the arrangement first to create a well rounded base. Try to make your arrangement balanced, but not overly symmetrical. As you go along, mentally leave space for a floral bloom toward the front of the vase.



Once your shape is established by the heavier foliage, add in rosemary, then eucalyptus and so on, dotting the most delicate greens throughout your arrangement.


These greens, especially in water, will truly last all month. Unlike with fresh flowers at other times of the year, it’s wonderful to be able to create this mess only once and be done! However, nothing adds a wow factor like a beautiful bloom. So, my trick is to add ONE (very high quality) faux flower to the vase. I know, I know, faux flowers are a faux pas! But I really believe that if you buy a super convincing one, and surround it with everything else that is fresh, no one will know. So go ahead and bite the bullet and place your single beautiful rose or gardenia or whatever large bloom you choose right there front and center. (And of course, if you can’t bring yourself to do it, then you can just use a fresh rose and swap that one element weekly when you freshen the water).




This is optional, but I like to tuck a sprig of berries behind the flower for a pop of color. And you’re done!


This is especially pretty in a powder room to add a luxurious feel for your guests. Freshen the water every week or two, and this will be something you can enjoy all season!


Merry Christmas!

Posted on December 7, 2017 and filed under Building Your Home.

Entrusted Recipes: Grammie's Caramel Corn


My mom made caramel corn every Christmas season and I have to say it was by far one of my favorite holiday treats. I remember making it with her for several years. It was so addictive that we would end up devouring it before Christmas even arrived. She got smart and started hiding it and it would make its grand re-appearance closer to Christmas.


As we got older we realized what she was doing and I must confess, I started searching the house for it. (Did I mention it was addictive??) Well, I ended up finding her hiding spots and enjoyed every bite.

I wanted to share the recipe with you all—it’s super easy and sooooo delicious.

Grammie's Caramel Corn-2.png

1. You will need 6 quarts of freshly air popped popcorn. Set the popcorn aside in a roasting pan.


2. In a medium saucepan melt 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of brown sugar, ½ cup of light corn syrup and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.


3. Boil without stirring for 5 minutes.


4. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla. As you stir it in, it will puff up.


5. Pour this over the popcorn. Stir it throughout the popcorn as much as possible.

Grammie's Caramel Corn-6.jpg

6. Bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.


Remove from oven and cool. Break apart and store in a tightly covered container. Hide if necessary. Enjoy!

Baked Caramel Corn

6 quarts popped corn
1 cup butter
2 cups of light brown sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt butter; add sugar, syrup and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil without stirring for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and baking soda. Pour over popcorn in a large roasting pan. Bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool. Break apart and store in tightly covered container.

Posted on November 22, 2017 and filed under Building Your Home.

The Decluttered Holiday


Last Christmas was probably the most chaotic of my life. I remember sitting on my couch in my pajamas on December 26th, and finally feeling like I could relax for the first time in two months. That week post-Christmas was amazing. All the lead-up, the work, the hustle was over and I could just breathe.

But it immediately begged the question, where did I go so wrong? How did Christmas morph into some kind of crazy parade? I absolutely know it was my own fault...of that I’m sure. I’m just not sure exactly HOW I had gotten to that point. Or rather, how I can avoid the same mistakes this year. I’ve been asking myself that question for the last 10 months.

At the end of the day, I think it is the “do it all” mentality that women can suffer from year round, but that hits a fever pitch at the holidays. Between Pinterest, and Instagram, and school parties, and Facebook, and idyllic holiday movies, and all the perfect store displays, the good ideas (and the comparisons to what others are doing) are boundless. And with them, the guilt and FOMO of not being able to do it all, or have it all, can hit hard. I usually wait until January to go on a decluttering spree, but the truth is I need to declutter my to-do list starting now!

We strive and we yearn and we work toward “balance.” We want to create meaningful memories for our kids, without making Christmas about commercialism. We want to have fun and festivity, while still enjoying the moment. We want to sit down to a gorgeous dinner, and actually stop to taste it. We want to linger at the table and enjoy the candlelight while the dishes magically do themselves!

I’m learning that we’re all chasing balance like a horse chasing a dangling carrot. It simply does not exist. The sad reality is that most of the memory-making we do today costs money. And that it takes a lot of work to have fun. (If you don’t believe me just remember how much laundry, packing, unpacking, and laundry your last vacation required.) And that the gorgeous family dinner, while worth the effort, did require a real human to plan it, shop for it, cook it, serve it, and clean it up.

Behind every idyllic holiday memory, there’s usually a woman working really darn hard to make it happen. She’s just never actually in the picture on Pinterest, and she definitely hasn’t figured out the key to “balance” it all.

If we can all agree that balance is a pipe dream, then I’ll tell you what does exist (or at least what can): Priorities.

This lesson may apply in every area of life, and we might have to broach that subject in another blog post sometime soon, but for today let’s just talk about prioritizing at the holidays. Taking the time to think through and write out your priorities, to discuss them with your husband and family, is a delightfully helpful exercise. It brings clarity to difficult decisions, and can help you budget your time and resources so that you don’t have to constantly feel guilty for your choices. It’s freeing!

It can also help you set realistic expectations for the time you have and your capacity to work within it.


We all have a list of the season’s to-do’s. Some of them we love-to-do and have-to-do. Win! We check them off the list, it’s great, and life is good. A tiny handful of others fall into the don’t-have-to-do and don’t-love-to-do category. We’re usually smart enough to bow out of those without needing to make a fuss. But the vast majority of to-do’s fall somewhere in the nebulous matrix of have-to-do and don’t-love-to-do, or don’t-have-to-do but love-to-do. This is where we need to choose our priorities, and that’s not always easy!

I made a simple table for myself (and I’ve fancied it up for you as this free printable!) so that I could write down all of the things that creep onto my own list at the holidays, and assign them a category. Once they were categorized, it was time to take a hard look at my to-do’s and see what—if anything—could be eliminated to declutter and prioritize my list.


Here’s what I learned:

  1. Everything in the “don’t-love-to-do / don’t-have-to-do” category should be eliminated.
  2. Turns out, I couldn’t bring myself to do that, so “have to” must be a subjective term.
  3. There are several things—school Christmas concert, piano recital—that I put in the “don’t-have-to-do and don’t-love-to-do” category. (Yes, I am dead inside.) But truthfully, they needed to be moved over to the “have to do” side. Just because you’re not legally obligated to do some of the mom stuff, doesn’t mean you don’t still have to do it.
  4. There’s a LOT in the “have-to-do and don’t-love-to-do” category. And I can’t really prioritize it, because I have to do it all.
  5. Moving on, I found confirmation that holiday insanity is my own fault. There are infinitely more “love-to-do but don’t-have-to-do” tasks than in any other category.
  6. This is truly the only category where I can choose my priorities and cut a few out. I don’t want to strip my Christmas of enjoyment, but if I try to take on all of it, I’m going to be so busy doing that I won’t be enjoying anyway.
  7. Some cuts were easy, and some were hard, but I was able to make cuts I feel good about, knowing now what things are most important to my family.
  8. I’m going to need a strategy to accomplish everything that’s left.

It felt really good to put my swirling thoughts on paper and see everything written out clearly. Right off the bat, that made it feel more manageable. As for strategy to tackle what’s left, my plan is two-fold: 1) Start early and 2) schedule tasks.

Everything in me wants to wait until the day after Thanksgiving to put up our tree. But that happens to be on the list of things I can do early, (and that’s super high on my priority list), so I’m going to put it up sooner rather than later. Same for Christmas cards. There’s no reason for me to wait to order them and address them. I can have those ready and waiting to go in the mailbox the first week of December. There’s also no reason to wait to start shopping (other than me hating it...which is just called procrastination, so that’s going to have to be a no-no).

As for some of those other things that don’t usually end up on the calendar (making sugar cookies for example), I’m going to assign them a day. That’s not to say it can’t get moved around, but I think that doing so will help me avoid the “Oh my goodness, the holidays just snuck up on me!” speech I give every year. And as I’m mapping out my calendar, I’m going to plan on weaving those not-so-fun tasks in between the ones I truly love. Hopefully that will help spread the joy and temper the crazy.

So what do you think? Is balance possible? Or do we just need to take a hard look at how we spend our time and prioritize it? Here’s a copy of the holiday to-do list organizer you can download and use if you’d like to give it a try. I hope you find it useful, and that everything you choose to do (or have to do) is merry this Christmas!

Posted on November 8, 2017 and filed under Building Your Home.