Easy Entertaining: 3 Fabulous No-Prep Menus

When life gets busy, it’s hard to make time to prep a meal for guests. So I thought it would be fun to come up with a few menus that are entirely store bought, requiring no prep, plus totally gorgeous and majorly delicious.

The idea is that you can swing by the grocery store on the way home from work, or after school (or you could even use a grocery delivery service), and pick up an instant meal that tastes amazing, is fun to eat and serve, and requires no apology.

Does a no-prep, grocery store menu sound right up your alley? Then you’re in luck! I’ve got 3 for you today. One French-themed, one Scandinavian themed, and one filled with All-American flavors. A stop at the store, a few minutes opening bottles and packages, and boom, you’re hosting a stress-free dinner party.

Dessert For Two: Sautéed Caramel Apples

Dessert For Two: Sautéed Caramel Apples and Vanilla Ice Cream | DesignMom.com

Caramel and apples are one of the greatest combos ever. Not sure if it even matters how they are combined, there’s just something wonderful about that buttery, sweet and sticky caramel paired with tart, juicy apples. These Sautéed Caramel Apples are no different. If you’ve got a craving for something sweet, this will most definitely satisfy it. Can you imagine digging into a bowl of ice cream topped with warm, tender caramel-y apples? Yeah, it’s like pie without the crust. But in a good way.

Here’s what I love about this recipe, besides how delicious it is: it tastes fancy (but isn’t), it’s easy to make, and you can make it even easier with a little shortcut (see the notes!). Oh, and because you’ll probably be wanting to make this on a daily basis (no judgement) you can also make a larger batch and store it in the fridge for up to a week. Woot!

The ingredients are very simple. You probably have everything on hand already — apples, sugar, butter, lemon juice, cream, and vanilla. It really spruces up a bowl of vanilla ice cream, but you know what would take it up another notch? Sea salt caramel ice cream. It’s almost too much to think about!

Living With Kids: Jen Hansard

Bargain hunting is a true skill, but doing it with style is another kind of trick altogether. So when Jen Hansard told me that 99% of her home furnishings were bought second-hand from Craigslist, The Salvation Army, and garage sales, I wanted to see more. Naturally, I wanted to show you, too! I hope you enjoy the tour of the Hansard’s brand new home as much as I did. Her reasons why she loves her photo wall absolutely melted my heart. This is a good one, Friends.

3 Simple, Beautiful Polymer Clay Earrings — Even Kids Can Make These!

Beautiful Polymer Clay Earrings featured by popular lifestyle blogger, Gabrielle of Design Mom

I’m perpetually on the hunt for sweet, pretty, usable, handcrafted projects. Ideas that are perfect for a rainy afternoon, or for a Ladies Crafting Night, or for a birthday party activity, or to make as a gift. And this project definitely fits the bill! Homemade earrings that don’t look homemade at all! And so easy that your kids can get involved too. Yes, please!

Let’s get to making.

Chile Verde Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder

Chile Verde Slow Cooker Pork Shoulder | DesignMom.com

The beauty of this recipe is two-fold. First and foremost, it’s easy to make in a slow cooker, on the stove-top, in the oven, and I assume in an Instant Pot. The sauce is comprised of Mexican-style salsa verde (made with tomatillos and green chiles), onion, ground cumin, garlic, a little brown sugar, and vinegar (the secret ingredient). The other secret ingredient is nothing more than time.

Second, it’s one of the most versatile big-batch recipes you can make. That means cook it once and enjoy it several times during the week or freeze in portions to use later.

If you need some ideas on how to use slow cooked pork shoulder, here is a short list: nachos, enchiladas, soup or stew, tacos, burritos or wraps, over polenta or rice, taco salad, a base for tamale pie, etc..

Traditional Chile Verde is a Mexican stew that uses most of the same ingredients in this recipe, but is definitely more stew-like. This slow cooker pork shoulder doesn’t have as much sauce or liquid, which makes it more versatile in that array of dishes mentioned above. But you could add an extra bottle of sauce, plus some chicken broth, and turn it into stew, if desired.

Living With Kids: Kimberly Senn

I get so many notes from readers wishing they could find the courage to send photos of their homes, but then months pass without even a peek! When I check back in with them, they sometimes tell me it’s not yet camera ready or they just need one more perfect piece to make their living room livable or “WE ALL HAD THE FLU AND NOW I WANT TO MOVE!” The goal of perfection really does get in the way of life, don’t you think?

I get it. And so does Kimberly Senn. But somewhere along the way, after missing out on opening up her home to old and new friends because of a fear that it wasn’t stylish enough or clean enough, she consciously stopped pausing her life and holding her breath and waiting for everything to be perfect. Instead of sitting alone pondering the layer of grimy fingerprints on the lower three feet of her walls, she and her family now open up their home as often as possible — today, to us! (As she put it so eloquently, “Our friends don’t like us because we have a perfect house. They like us because we keep our fridge stocked with good beer.” Ha!)

And guess what? No one notices the grit. All I can see is the joy. Come see it, too! Welcome, Kimberly!

Three Lunch Box Ideas for Three Age Groups — from Pre-K through 6th Grade

The new school year makes me feel nostalgic. I can still smell the distinct scent of opening up a box of brand new crayons, and still enjoy the satisfaction of a newly sharpened pencil, with a squishy pink eraser on the end. At our house, school supplies are marked off the list pretty easily. The more challenging part of back-to-school for so many families? The morning struggle for lunch box ideas.

The Perfect Gift: Clay Chandelier Mobile

Let me guess: someone you know is having a baby, or is decorating a nursery, and you’re on the hunt for a baby gift that will knock their socks off. May I humbly suggest a pretty little mobile, hand made in their very favorite colors?

They can hang it above the changing table, or the bassinet — there is a calming peace that comes with the quiet twirl of a mobile.

Or maybe they’ll hang it in the corner of the family room to add some visual interest to the space.

With air dry clay, an embroidery hoop, string and some paint, the possibilities are endless.

Living With Kids: Meghann Halfmoon

We caught Meghann just before her family moves from Amsterdam to the island of Saba. (So that you don’t have to disappear to look up Saba, it is a Caribbean island and the smallest special municipality of the Netherlands. It consists largely of the potentially active volcano, Mount Scenery, which at 2,910 feet, is the highest point within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Thank you, Wikipedia!) I was instantly intrigued when she described her life in her 700 sq. ft. home, using terms like “micro dwelling” and “huge bathroom to fit even tall Dutch men” and “big love” during our correspondence.

Her enthusiasm is infectious. And I hope it’s the best thing you catch all day. Welcome, Meghann!

Newlane University US Accreditation!

Some very exciting news: Newlane University just earned US Accreditation!!!!!

Don’t know what the heck Newlane is? In 2017, my husband, Ben Blair, and my brother, Josh Stanley, set out to build a university that was accessible to everyone. It’s called Newlane University. Newlane’s Mission: “To make quality online liberal arts higher education accessible to anyone on earth by breaking down the barriers of cost, schedule, and geography.”

In 2019, they started on the journey to get US accreditation to help assure students that Newlane is a high quality education, and an institution they can trust. Earning accreditation is a HUGE accomplishment, and I could not be more proud of them. DEAC is the accrediting organization, and for those who are curious, you can see Newlane listed here. Here’s a quick FAQ about Newlane:

What is the cost?

Newlane is incredibly affordable! Newlane offers accredited degrees for $1500. Period. $1500 for an Associate degree, and if you already have an Associate degree, then it’s $1500 for a Bachelor’s degree. You pay a $249 registration fee, then $40 per month until you reach $1500. That’s it. You won’t get charged again even if it takes you another year (or years) to finish. And it’s risk free! If you register, try it out, and decide it’s not for you, you have 30 days to get a full refund.

I’m busy. Will Newlane work with my schedule?

Newlane courses are self-paced. This means you can starts and complete your degree according to your schedule, no matter where you live. You can literally sign up today and get started. Newlane has professors around the world who can accommodate any schedule. Need to fit your education around work or family obligations? No problem. In a hurry? You can work as quickly as you’d like. Don’t live near a campus? Doesn’t matter. If you can access the internet, you can complete your degree. Anywhere in the world.

What degrees does Newlane offer? 

Newlane offers an Associate Degree in Liberal Arts, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy. Some fun news: Now that they are accredited, Newlane can begin building new programs, degrees, and areas of study. Newlane is currently working on courses in Psychology, Art History, Business, Natural Science, and more. You can begin taking classes today that will count toward any degree they offer in the future.

Are the courses challenging?

Courses are rigorous and competency-based. This means you pass the course only after you’ve learned the material. There’s no sliding by with a B- or C, where you’ve only learned part of what the class covered. Students in typical schools often worry: Will the professor like me? Will I get a good grade? But those questions have nothing to do with actually learning the course work. In contrast, Newlane is explicitly focused on helping you master the course material, and verifying that you have in fact mastered it. It’s a totally different (and better!) approach. Again, you pass the course only when you’ve learned the material.

How do you pass a course at Newlane?

The final step to pass a class is called a Course Hearing, where you meet one-on-one with a professor on a video call for 30-40 minutes. The professor asks open-ended and follow-up questions about the material. Their role is to verify you have mastered all the course goals and objectives. And if you haven’t? The professor will tell you what you still need to review, and then you’ll schedule a follow-up Course Hearing. This means you can’t fail a class. You just review and try again. 

What if I’ve already completed some college courses?

You can likely transfer your credits to Newlane, getting you closer to earning your degree faster. And you’re not alone. In the U.S., 40 million people have completed some college, but have not earned a degree. And that number is in the hundreds of millions world-wide. Many schools make it painful and difficult to transfer credits. Newlane does not. Newlane works hard to make this process smooth and efficient. No need to waste time re-taking classes, put those credits you already earned toward your degree.

Apply for Free at Newlane.edu

Newlane is currently accepting students from countries around the world. Feel free to email Newlane with any questions. They would love to hear from you. In the meantime, you can check out testimonials from Newlane students, graduates, and professors.

Founding a university from scratch and earning accreditation was super challenging. I’m so proud of Ben and Josh for making this happen. If you are a journalist, or know a journalist who would want to cover this, please reach out to Newlane. It’s a fantastic story and the more you dig in and learn about Newlane and Higher Ed in general, the more compelling it is.

For those of you who have been following along when I report on Newlane progress, I’m sure you already know how awesome this news is. We are cheering like crazy!!

Make it: Easy Hanging Succulent Frame

Still in love with succulents? Me too. They’re so easy to care for and they add beautiful depth and color and texture to any space. So I LOVE the idea of using a shadowbox frame as planter. Succulents on the wall? Yes, please!

This project is especially appealing to me for 4 reasons: 1) You can choose any style shadowbox — silver, modern, carved, traditional, black, glossy — whatever works best for your decor. 2) It hangs on the wall and keeps flat surfaces clutter free. 3) It works in any room. 4) It would make such a fun gift!

Let’s get dirty.

Dessert For Two: Peach Shortcakes

Summer peaches are here! Which means maybe you’re in the mood to bake pies and things like these Peach Shortcakes for Two.

These peach shortcakes are really more like sweet biscuits, instead of spongy little cakes. They are flaky, buttery, toasty on top and soft in the middle shortcakes that practically melt in your mouth with each bite.

The peaches, if you’re using the sweetest, juiciest ones you can find, make all the difference here — it’s worth waiting until they ripen. This is not the dessert to use up sub-par peaches that are tinged with green and rock hard.

Living With Kids: Mia Galison

Mia owns a super cute boutique toy company on the Upper West Side of New York. It began in the basement of the building where she still lives, but now is found just down the street. Once a renovated ballroom that at one point was a Japanese tea room full of flea market finds, Chinese art deco, rugs, sky lights, and school house lighting, it’s pretty magnificent. (Especially the bathroom converted to become her son’s room! See if you can spot the tiling and leftover soap bed!)

DIY: Tree Branch Planter for Succulents

Hooray! I’ve got another gorgeous DIY to share with you. This project is the perfect excuse to get outside and interact with nature. These little planters would be gorgeous inside or out. I can picture them in our living room, and also on the balcony. I really want to make like 35 of these and line my front walk with them! I think they’re so cool.

I’m going to tell you right now, that this project takes a few bona fide tools and some muscle, too. But it’s actually pretty easy and straightforward. If you can handle a drill, then you can handle this project.

You ready to get started? Head out into nature and let’s make something!

Living With Kids: Nathan of Wand’rly

I found Nathan in his own corner of Instagram, and was instantly intrigued. His bio reads “A family of five galavanting about Mexico in a 1978 VW Bus. Full-time travelin’ types since 2008.” His squares are dusty captures of a life lived on the run — not away from anything, to be sure, but more toward everything. Toward crisp blue bodies of water and hammocks for everyone and space to run and time to explore. Does that make sense? It will after you read Nathan’s compelling interview.

He founded an online magazine dedicated to advising others who want to travel full-time — A Complete Guide to Perpetual Travel, as he calls it — and it’s wonderfully empowering and community-building. Go see. (But first, this tour around his family’s life!)

I’m so excited to share him with you. Welcome, Nathan!

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