The Instant Pot

By: Leah Prescott

Do you often scramble for dinner ideas on the commute home from work? Do you try to plan the evening’s meal while standing in the grocery aisle at 5 PM? Do you find yourself stopping for fast food because there just isn’t time to defrost the ingredients to cook? If these scenarios sound familiar, you need to keep reading! (If I sound like a terrible infomercial, I apologize; I’m very tired.)

Instant Pot As I have said before, I absolutely love reading product reviews and time-saving tips and tricks. As a matter of fact, as a stay-at-home mom and homemaker, I sort of feel that reading blog posts, scouring Pinterest for recipes, and flipping through Better Homes & Gardens is just a form of continuing education or professional research….right? In the spirit of giving, when a product “lives up to the hype” I feel a moral obligation to share it with my friends. So I am happy to share a product that has transformed dinner time and taken a lot of stress off of me: the Instant Pot.

The Instant Pot performs multiple tasks and serves as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, steamer, rice cooker, sauté pan, yogurt maker and warmer. When I first got it, I immediately got rid of my rice cooker and my slow cooker, and I was already saving space. This thing does it all and it does it fast. (Please note I am just an enthusiastic consumer and am not being compensated by Instant Pot for my endorsement!)

I encourage you to read some of the many reviews online that delve into some of the nitty gritty of this appliance. For now I will just share some of the dishes we have made and loved over the last 6 weeks:

  • Baked potatoes: Done in less than 30 minutes, perfectly soft and moist.
  • Balsamic chicken: 5 minutes to prep, 45 minutes and done.
  • Beans & Rice: From brown rice and unsoaked dry black beans to a one-dish meal in less than 45 minutes. That’s right: dry beans and rice start to finish in 45 minutes! We have already made this recipe four times!
  • Mac & Cheese: This takes only about 20 minutes and is SO much better than instant.
  • Rice: Comes out perfectly and no monitoring the hot stove.
  • Ribs: Fast & delicious.
  • Potato Salad: Crazy easy and tasty. The potatoes were the perfect consistency and the eggs cook right in the pot with them! This was my first attempt at potato salad and I am happy to have found such a simple method.
  • Oatmeal: Delicious, quick and no burning the bottom of the pan while I am in the shower.

As the weather gets cooler, I will definitely be using the Instant Pot for soups and chili. The fantastic thing is that you can sauté veggies or meat right in the pot before switching it to slow-cooker mode. (That was always my gripe with my crock pot: I hated dirtying an extra pan and having that additional step.) Also, after you set the machine on, it will automatically switch to the warm setting when the cooking is complete. This thing really puts my old slow cooker to shame!

For me, the major drawback of this item was the cost. The Instant Pot retails from $150 to $260 depending on the features you select. (The newest and latest is Bluetooth enabled!) I was happy to find a deal on Amazon for an older model and now that I have used it for a few weeks I consider it money very well spent. Also, I am saving space, money, and time which is worth a lot! The Instant Pot is a game-changer for a busy family; check it out at http://instantpot.com/

5 Minute Fall Necklace

By: Leah Prescott

I have been dying to share this easy DIY project that combines two of my favorite pastimes: thrifting and crafting! Tassel necklaces are very trendy right now and these are the perfect way to add a little splash of color to your outfit as we head into fall. All you will need are vintage beaded necklaces, embroidery thread, and lobster clasps.

DIY tassel necklace
You can buy inexpensive bead necklaces at Michael’s craft store, but we picked a few up from Palmetto Thrift and also used a few vintage necklaces that belonged to my grandmother. The best part about this project is that the tassels will be interchangeable, so you can change them anytime to get a different look. Both retro and handcrafted, these necklaces end up different from any you will find in a store.

To create the tassels, you will use the entire bundle of embroidery thread. Take it out of its wrapper and tie an extra piece of thread firmly around the middle of the bundle, being sure to leave some extra length. (This will be the top of the tassel). Thread a bead on to those threads and tie them firmly to a lobster clasp. (Now you can hang it anywhere).

DIY tassel necklace

Next, holding your tassel-in-progress by the top, fold down the bundle so that all threads are hanging together neatly. Tie another piece of embroidery thread about an inch down from the top to create the tassel. It looks best if you wrap it a few times and tie firmly. You can try to hide the ends of your knot in with the rest of the hanging ones, but good luck with that. Remember, boho style is perfect in its imperfection. At least that’s what I told myself.

Finally, trim all the threads hanging down so that they are all loose and tassel-ish! Hang from your necklace and you are all done! Isn’t that adorable?

As you can see, we went a little tassel crazy at my house. But once my twins got started making them, they just couldn’t stop. I hope you enjoy this project as much as we did. Happy Tasselling!

Pantene Beautiful Lengths

By: Leah Prescott

Pantene Beautiful Lengths

Even though I have always liked my hair long, sometimes it’s just time for a change. There’s nothing like a nice short cut when late summer days are still hot and humid! Sometimes I am nervous about a change like this, but donating the length of my hair always motivates me to try a new style. This was my third time donating hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, and I always feel great about the experience so I wanted to share it here.

Pantene Beautiful Lengths

Pantene Beautiful Lengths uses donations to create wigs for cancer patients. Cancer takes so much from its victims, and I just love knowing my hair will help someone going through a difficult time! Beautiful Lengths requirements are simple: Hair must be a minimum of eight inches in length, have no dyes or chemical treatments and contain less than 5% grey. Check out the details here: http://pantene.com/en-us/experience-main-section2/beautiful-lengths

It takes eight to fifteen donations to make just one wig, so donating hair is very important! Why not consider donating your next chop to a great cause? If you aren’t able to donate hair, Pantene also accepts monetary contributions to finance their cause.

Pantene Beautiful Lengths

What do you think of my new cut? I’m working up the nerve to go even shorter next time!

How Making a Bed Changed My Summer

By: Leah Prescott 

Do you make your bed every day? It’s a habit I never really picked up. It just never seemed important to me. Anyway, I would always pull the covers down again, so what was the point? In my quest for household peace and simplicity, I have added some new habits to my daily routine, and making my bed is one of them. I have been surprised by the results.

Organization tips

It takes only about a minute to make the bed, but it can change your mindset and set the tone for your day. I have realized that making my bed becomes the signal to me that rest is over and work has begun. It’s nice to walk through the bedroom and have it finished. It’s nice to have a smooth surface to lay a basket of laundry on. It’s nice that if we have to call a plumber or HVAC technician at the last minute, I won’t have to be embarrassed by the state of my bedroom (not that that has ever happened to me….) It’s nice to see the pattern of the bedspread I chose with care, rather than have it kicked and twisted at the foot of the bed or find my beagle trying to nuzzle her way under the covers. She does that every chance she gets.

As I add habits of household harmony, I’m finding it creates a snowball effect. When I leave a room, I’m naturally looking around for an item or two to return to its place as I go. When the closet is neat, hanging up a jacket isn’t difficult. If my bed is made, I am less likely to fling my purse on it or pile it with books. When I am able to enjoy the cleanliness daily, I am motivated to keep it up. Here are a few more simple habits that are working for me this summer:

Leaving the house neat. This has been a bit of a battle but I knew the time to start was over the summertime when our schedule is relaxed. It does take me quite a bit of effort and the kids have to be involved in this. But walking into a neat house on return is totally worth it. If we walk into a neat space, it’s so much easier to deal with the chaos of a barking dog, groceries to put away, hungry kids, and approaching naptime.

Dishwashing on a schedule. This is a tip I got years ago and it has worked great for me. Every evening after dinner, I start the dishwasher without fail. If it isn’t quite full, I seek out items to fill it (a great excuse to clean out the fridge, collect water bottles from the car, or run the bath toys through the dishwasher). Every morning, I unload the dishwasher while I am waiting for my coffee. This makes it easy to load throughout the day and the kids can put their plates directly in after meal time. Simple, but it really helps me keep up with the dishes.

Organization tips

Make clean-up a no-brainer. I have realized I have to eliminate any excuses to clean, no matter how weak they may be. This means having cleaning products easy to access wherever they are needed: in the kitchen and under each bathroom sink. I thought since my house was tiny, I could keep all the products in one place, but having them at arm’s reach makes a difference. I’ve also discovered a new product I really love: Windex Touch Up. You just dab a rag on the top and it dispenses a bit of cleaner right where you need it. This is great for quickly wiping down the counters and mirrors in between deep cleanings.

Multi-tasking. When waiting in the car, I pick up clutter. While my son is bathing, I clean the bathroom. While making meal plans and grocery lists, I take an extra moment to quickly wipe down the fridge. While chatting on the phone, I start a load of laundry. I know that many of you will think these are obvious, or maybe you do them by second nature. For me, these have to be very deliberately added to my lifestyle since order doesn’t really come naturally to me.

Organization tips

Create spots of beauty. I read this on a blog somewhere and it really resonated with me. In the chaos of parenting, my home “décor” (if you can even call it that) has not really changed. While we don’t have the time or resources to do some of the major projects on my wish list, these quick face-lifts are totally doable. The idea is to focus on a clutter-magnet area and give it a mini makeover. An example is my bedside table. Hanging a homemade wreath, cleaning out the drawer, and finding the perfect basket has motivated me to keep it neat. Buying new velvet hangers and organizing my closet by color has made it so much prettier and I have easily kept it neat. Sometimes the little things can make a big difference.

Organization tips

These habits have made my summer far more productive and have given me a sense of accomplishment. Progress is progress, after all! Have you found any easy ways of improving your productivity? I would love to hear about them!

Bittersweet Summer

By: Leah Prescott

A few weeks ago, I said goodbye to a place that held some of the happiest memories of my childhood. Decades ago, my grandfather built a house on Lake Marion as a respite from his work as an ENT specialist and surgeon. He chose a simple layout with practicality in mind and my grandma decorated it in a casual, welcoming style. It was a weekend getaway and a summer oasis. At this house, my mother spent her teen years water-skiing, fishing, running barefoot, and swimming. My parents even started their life together there as honeymooners.

Lake Marion

I have visited this spot hundreds of times over the years and always felt it held some kinds of particular magic. Maybe because my grandfather refused to ever install a telephone and all the TV could ever conjure up were grainy golf tournaments or Lawrence Welk re-runs. Or maybe it was because my grandfather was the most patient, kind, and peaceful person I ever knew and his character was woven into the very house itself. Somehow nothing bad could ever happen there. My worst memories are of my brother running through leftover ashes of a bonfire and burning his feet. I also had a terrible case of chicken pox when I was twelve. And once I got a fishhook caught in my hand. But Granddaddy was a doctor, so no need to worry.

picking blueberries

We fished and ate fried fish, rocked in a hammock for hours with my grandfather, and spent lazy afternoons paddling around old stumps that we pretended were alligators. We picked blueberries and put together jigsaw puzzles and made huge pitchers of Sun Tea with mint. When my siblings and I were older, it was a place to re-connect away from the distractions and friends from home. Even as a teen obsessed with a social life and music, I could always slow down to watch a magnificent lightning storm through the huge wall of windows, catch lightning bugs with my little sister, or use binoculars to sight a crane.

Lake Marion

This was a place for birthday celebrations, sleepovers, and reunions with cousins. My mother, brothers, sister and I even lived there for months on end as we were re-locating for my dad’s job. When I first arrived, I always ran next door to play with my dear friend Bevin. We made playhouses in the lush, lake watered trees, ate scuppernongs right off the vine and picked figs from the biggest fig tree I have ever seen. We rode old Schwinn cruisers down the gravel paths to the graveyard, learned to water ski and watched fireworks from a pontoon on the Fourth of July. It’s a place I learned to swim, discovered how much I loved to write, and, on the dock in front of brilliant sunsets, I spoke aloud to God about all my fears. In the sweetest sense of the word, I grew up on Lake Marion.

Lake Marion

Since my grandfather died, and my grandmother’s mental health has declined, the lake house has been neglected. The upkeep was overwhelming to my parents and Aunt and Uncle, and the property taxes were eating away at its worth. This summer, the house was sold. We visited one last time and took hundreds of pictures. To say our time was bittersweet doesn’t quite seem to cover it. It’s by far the place that is most full of happy memories of my life. As my brother Kyle described, walking through the doors always felt like coming home.

Lake Marion

Over the years, I’ve dreamed of this peaceful spot dozens of times. Even though I tend towards nightmares that distort even friendly faces, I never had a bad dream about the lake. Instead, my dreams were much like reality there: slow, lazy and overwhelmingly peaceful. That’s one of the reasons I remember distinctly as a child picturing heaven as the quiet shores of Lake Marion. But this morning I woke up from a dream with tears in my eyes. I dreamed that I was searching for my childhood on the lake, but I knew I could never return. One day, I’ll be reunited with my grandfather in heaven and see if it really looks like Lake Marion at sunrise. Until then, I’m happy that new owners will be living there and fervently hope that they can find as much joy and serenity there as my family always did.

Summer Fun Baskets

By: Leah Prescott

This year we are taking a true summer break, free from formal studies. I am sure this won’t always be the case as we sometimes have subjects to work on over the summer or some catch-up from days lost over the year. Still, while “book learning” is fun, nothing can take the place of carefree summer days filled with playing in the sprinkler and hunting worms. I’m looking forward to my kids wearing themselves out in the sunshine and teaching them some new board games when the South Carolina heat gets unbearable.

Summer fun basket

On the other hand, I want to do all I can to preserve the knowledge my 8-year-olds have gained over this school year and get those little thinking muscles primed for third grade. I’ve been thinking of ways to help encourage learning without major preparation or angst for any of the parties involved. Today I wanted to share one of these ideas with you. Whether you homeschool or not, this is a simple idea that is easily adapted to many ages. Perhaps it isn’t revolutionary, but it’s easy…and sometimes that’s better.

Summer fun basket

I was pretty proud of myself for cleaning out our entire library area by the end of the school year. I had to prepare for our annual book sale, so my arm was twisted into action. I took stock of our materials, filed away completed work for our records, sold some unneeded items, and tossed a lot. All the pencils found their way back to the pencil boxes and I discovered that we actually own one billion crayons, which surprised me since the perfect colors always seem to be eluding my little artists.

Summer fun basket

After the big cleanup, I set aside a large basket for each child and started filling them with “summer fun.” There are only two rules for the contents of the baskets: they must be fun and they must require little or no supervision. Here are some of the things I added to these baskets:

Summer fun basket

  1. Pencil box with basic supplies: glue stick, crayons, pencils, scissors, ruler
  2. Clipboard and legal pads (My children love clipboards. Any writing project is instantly twice as enticing if a clipboard can be utilized.)
  3. Flash master handheld game (electronic flash cards)
  4. Construction paper, stickers, and stencils
  5. “Fun” workbooks (We like the ones in the Target dollar spot.)
  6. Three Ring Binder with cardstock (My girls like to “scrap book” with magazine cuttings.)
  7. Play-Doh or silly putty

Those are the basics that I added to start out. It’s nice to continue to refresh the basket throughout the summer. A new paperback book, card game, or puzzle would be fun to add. Bead kits, rainbow looms or embroidery kits for older children are perfect. I’m looking for a paint-with-water coloring book for my preschooler.

Summer fun basket

This is also a nice place to stick those prizes from Chick-fil-a that would otherwise get lost at the bottom of your purse or the freebie stickers that come in the mail. Really, the options are endless and can be tailored to your child’s interests or needs.

The only “rule” I give the kids about these baskets is that they clean up after themselves. Summer is the time when I really try to crack down on housework and form better habits, and the whole family has to be on board. (If anyone has any tips for teaching my 3-year-old to clean up after himself, they will be humbly received.) Of course, if you have any ideas for easy summer learning, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Grizzly Bears and River Otters

By: Leah Prescott

If you have visited Riverbanks Zoo recently, you have noticed lots of changes. Always a destination for locals and visitors alike, the zoo is currently in the midst of 36 million dollars of improvements and additions. Construction is underway for a spectacular new entrance, a vast children’s garden, and, eventually, an interactive sea lion habitat that my family is already anticipating.

Riverbanks Zoo

The kids and I were recently excited to visit Riverbanks Zoo to experience the opening of the Grizzly Ridge and Otter Runs. During the construction, Riverbanks grizzly bears Butch and Sundance were relocated to the Tulsa Zoo while their new bigger and better habitat was created. North American River Otters Divya, Savannah, and Sophia Grace joined them from their home at Miller Park Zoo and are now happily exploring Riverbanks Zoo.

Riverbanks Zoo Grizzly Bears

The new exhibits are amazing. The grizzly bears have always appealed to my children, but we have never seen them in such close proximity. The bears are very close to the glass and the height is perfect for kids and adults alike. The bears were clearly enjoying their new habitat and were both lounging in the sunshine when we visited.

Riverbanks Zoo Otters

We fell in love with the sea otters at the Georgia Aquarium last year, so we couldn’t wait to see the three river otter sisters at Riverbanks Zoo. Otters are just such cute little entertainers and really interact with the crowd. My three little ones loved the “rocks” you can stand on for the perfect view into the otter run. I finally had to drag our family away from the glass to visit the rest of the zoo. We will definitely be visiting the river otters again soon.

To read more about Riverbanks Zoo’s latest news, click here.