Holiday Cheer 2016 {4} Holiday Lights Magical Nights

One of the things we look forward to every year is driving through the Holiday Lights display in Decorah put on by Helping Services for Youth & Families. The Pulpit Rock campground is set up each year with TONS of light displays and it stays up from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Volunteers staff it each night as drivers pass through. They encourage you to turn your radio to a local station for Christmas tunes as you drive through and some nights, even Santa is there. They also ask for free-will donations. We've gone to this every year with Owen and Jack but this year we found out there was a walking tour as well!

We parked in the nearby parking area by the soccer fields and drove an Earl bus to the campground. The boys both freaked out a bit and cried but you would never know that. Owen constantly asks to go on a bus again. Weirdo! Once there, we were greeted by food and cookies. For whatever reason we decided to forgo the food and went straight for the cookies. Yes, that kept the boys busy but that was a mistake. We took the boys immediately after daycare that day and they are always very hungry at that time.

We managed to get a family photo before meltdowns began but holy moly, meltdowns they were. We learned our lesson so we'll do better next year but it was fun to see the displays while walking. Definitely will do that again next year as long as the weather cooperates!


Holiday Cheer 2016 {3} Family Photos!

When Brittany Todd offered mini sessions in November, I moved quickly to snatch a spot. I even forgot that we had one of Owen's art sessions that day - oops! The weather was a little chilly but it was sunny and beautiful! The boys were such good sports and surprisingly didn't run around too much. Of course, Brittany did a great job yet again! I was also able to purchase the rights to all the photos at a really great price because of her Black Friday deals. Brittany's prices are great already so this was an awesome surprise! Below are some of our favorites from the shoot!


Holiday Cheer 2016 {2} Matching Jammies and a Book Tree

My mom had a really cool gift idea this year for all the grandkids. It included two each of three DIY holiday jammies, little pillows and big blankets. The best part of all, a book tree as well! I can't even begin to imagine wrapping 25+ books for each family because I'm not the best wrapper in the world but it was a lot of fun to open those throughout the month. My mom sent home all of the gifts on Thanksgiving with instructions - open the big gifts plus the first book (they were all numbered) on December 1. Then open the 2nd book on Night Two and so on.  The boys were always really excited to open them each night, both helping to unwrap the gift. While there were issues with sharing, it was really fun to read those with the boys. It also doesn't hurt that it helped replenish our book supply. Our boys haven't been the most gentle to books but it does seem like they've both gotten better about that.

Below are some fun photos we took of the boys and their gifts! Thanks, Mom!!


Holiday Cheer 2016 {1} Santa Sightings!

Santa came to town a few times this year and much to my surprise, Jack was afraid of him while Owen was pretty smitten and wanted to chat him up. It's been fun to see the boys grow up and more confident but seriously, where have my little babies gone??

The first sighting was after the annual Holiday Parade in Decorah. We planned to take both boys to it but Jack decided to eat s.u.p.e.r. sloowwwwwwwwwwwwww so off Owen and I went. We walked up to downtown and stood on the street while the parade went by. Unfortunately for my arm, Owen didn't want to stand on his own so I held him the entire time. When the parade was over, we made our way to the Montessori school to see Santa. It was really sweet to see Owen be so excited to see Santa this year. I was glad we trekked out in the cold!

The second sighting was in Strawberry Point for their Library's annual holiday party. They had Santa in a different spot this year and on the way to see him, you were greeted by a fake singing Santa. The kids kept wanting to play with that one which was super cute. This was Jack's first Santa sighting this year and he was a little skeptical. He didn't even want to touch Santa's finger!

The last Santa sighting was at the annual Sunflower holiday party. It was a little tricky to manage both boys in their different rooms with the different activities but somehow we made it work. Owen had just moved over to the Owl room so we looked a wee bit awkward over there but oh well. This time around, Jack was having none of it. He was a little squirmy as we approached but at the last second was totally in to it. As you can tell, he was more than willing to show off his little belly to Mrs. Claus. Oh and beforehand, Gspice and I had a little breakfast date at my favorite spot :)


Office Art {UPDATE!}

When I talked about my Office Art in June, I left you with a half finished gallery wall. I had hoped to complete it a few weeks later but who was I kidding. My life does not work that quickly. It's now completed, but it's December. (That's 20+ weeks later, not a few....) Nonetheless, here we are and I am so excited to share it with you!

Here's what it looked like in June. It certainly left a lot to be desired.

And now, it looks like this!

I will admit that this is the first time I've put up photos of the boys a.n.y.w.h.e.r.e. I'm not surprised by that at all but it's definitely something that will change here soon. I just need to decide on where! Bedroom gallery wall, anyone? But back to the gallery wall at hand, I'm so in love.

There are three components to the gallery wall: the large circle frames with fabric, the three framed photos and then two mounted photos.

The two large circle frames were an accident. I did want circle frames but mistakenly ordered three larger frames instead of what I originally meant to get. I have one left at home that I'll figure out what to do with someday.

I knew from the get-go that I would update the main three photos whenever I felt the need to do so. The photos in there now were taken by our photographer, Brittany Todd, of Photography by Brittany. (Don't worry, we'll share the rest of our family photos soon as part of our annual Holiday Cheer posts next week.)

Lastly, the two others are an awesome find from Nations Photo Lab. I really wanted mounted photos but didn't want the cheaper foam core option. I wanted it to stick out by at least an inch and be some sort of brown or wood color. When I searched for that online, it brought me to the Nations Photo Lab website and they offered a really cool bambo option. Just what I was looking for! I got the two above for about $40. Here's a close up of the side:

Since I can't change these I opted to use a photo from their one-year photo sessions. It'll be so much fun to see how they change through the years!


What's for Dinner {39} - Slow Cooker Spaghetti Bolognese

It's time for Luther's annual Pasta Night for students staying over break! Actually, the event took place last night and it was a hit! So much pasta, so much bread, lots of salad - it's a carb lovers dream! The boys came along too and it was great to see them interacting with the college students and my coworkers. Of course Jack had to show off his belly (I didn't catch that photo in time!)

I love pasta so much (probably too much) and got really excited about this once again. Though I didn't land on my recipe until last week, holy cow, you guys! It's so good! Gspice even said this was the best red sauce he's ever had!

Like last year, I made this dish ahead of time at home so I could try it. The recipe I used is actually a double recipe so I ended up using the rest of it for the event. Worked out well, except we didn't get to use the leftovers ourselves! As you'll see below in the notes section, freezing is a great option for this as well. I'll definitely use that in the future since my crockpot can hold the double batch just fine. I also used a crockpot liner which is the best thing ever! No clean up = worth every penny!

I should also say that this isn't necessarily what I would consider a traditional Italian-style bolognese sauce. That would have celery, onion and carrot, beef and lamb, red wine and a small amount of tomatoes to create a thick sauce. Outside of Italy, you'll likely see more of a red sauce with the addition of a lot more tomatoes. As you might have guessed, that's what I made.

Slow Cooker Spaghetti Bolognese from Spend With Pennies
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 onions, diced (I used one)
  • 2lb ground beef
  • 1 cup red wine such as a cabernet sauvignon or merlot (or chicken or beef broth)
  • 2 x 28oz canned crushed tomato
  • 4 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 beef bouillon cubes, crushed
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 3 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 3 dried bay leaves
  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ lb spaghetti, dried
  1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and onion, and cook until translucent and sweet - around 7 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in the same skillet and increase heat to high. Add beef and cook, breaking it up as you go, until browned. Cook in 2 batches if your skillet is not large enough. Transfer to slow cooker.
  3. Return skillet to the stove, turn the stove down to medium and add red wine. Bring to simmer and scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the skillet into the wine, then pour the mixture into the slow cooker.
  4. Add remaining ingredients into the slow cooker. Cook on Low for 6 hours.
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook the spaghetti until just before al dente (still slightly firm). Remove 1 mug of the water from the pot, then drain the pasta.
  2. Return the pasta to the pot and add 2½ - 3 cups of Bolognese Sauce, plus ½ cup of reserved pasta water. Toss gently over medium high heat for 2 minutes, or until the Sauce has thickened and coats the spaghetti. (Note 3)
  3. Serve immediately with freshly grated parmesan cheese if desired.
  1. Bolognese Sauce freezes wonderfully! Allow to cool overnight then freeze in serving size portions.
  2. This recipe is a double batch and makes enough for 8 to 10 servings.
  3. This step of tossing the pasta with the sauce and some of the pasta water is called "emulsifying" and it's when the magic happens. The oil in the sauce and the starch in the pasta water come together to make the Bolognese Sauce thicker so it clings to every strand of the pasta. This is the proper Italian way of making pasta!