Yellowstone National Park

During one of the mister & I's adventures we set out to visit North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Nebraska..  Like many of our trips, we had a rough outline of our agenda but allowed wiggle room to stay longer, or leave earlier if we felt the need to alter our schedule. 
One of the highlights of our trip was the visit to Yellowstone National Park. 

Yellowstone is the world's first national park. It is also one of its most unique and well visited. The park is  3,400 square miles  and boasts geysers, mountain lakes, forests, river canyons, waterfalls, and many threatened species.

The Grand Prismatic Spring, the third-largest hot spring in the world.
We both agreed we could go back and spent a week or two just in Yellowstone. 

After a ton of research we opt'd to go in the "off season" While some areas of the park were closed to visitors, we appreciated the lack of tourists, and quite honestly felt like we had the park to ourselves much of the time.

Several have asked me for tips when visiting Yellowstone.
 Note I am no expert but here are a few things I suggest. 
  1. Even in the off season, Old Faithful is a big draw. I suggest planning to see Old Faithful in the early morning or in the evening.  We followed this advise and watched her in all her glory with just 4 other people in the early am. 

2. Take the time to take a hike. (big or small) Don’t just see Yellowstone’s wonders through your car window. Walking even a ½ mile on a boardwalk or trail offers you a more complete sense of Yellowstone. And you are able to get up close and personal to so many of the parks amazing features. 

With little light pollution, the night sky is a wonder. Take time to get outside. 
We drove to the center of the park, were careful to look for animals, and go outside
it was crazy what you could see. Truly nearly the entire milky way is just shinning down for you to see 


Fall Favorite - 4-Cheese Artichoke Dip—or Pasta Sauce

Fall is here & that means busier days/nights. Which means we will be having more crock pot meals at the Riley residence! Just picked up the Stock the Crock by Phyllis Good. Copyright © 2017 Oxmoor House. The mister has already dog eared recipes he wants to try

4-Cheese Artichoke Dip—or Pasta Sauce by Jessica S.

qt slow cooker   Makes 7 to 10 cups Prep : 15 to 20 minutes Cook : 1 to 1 1⁄2 hours

   2 (14-ounce) cans water-packed artichoke hearts, coarsely   
   chopped (drain one can; reserve the liquid from the other 
   can to add to the dip)
   2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1⁄2 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1⁄2  cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 tablespoon seasoned salt
1 tablespoon seeded, chopped jalapeño chile
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Tortilla chips
Fresh topper: sliced green onions, optional

1. Grease the interior of the slow cooker crock with butter or nonstick cooking spray.
2. Combine the artichoke hearts and next 10 ingredients (through garlic powder) in the prepared crock.
3. Cover. Cook on Low 1 hour, or until the cheeses are melted and the dip is heated through.
4. Top with green onions, if desired. Serve from the cooker with tortilla chips.

Make 4-Cheese Artichoke Pasta Sauce
Combine the first 11 ingredients as stated above, but use a 5-quart slow cooker. Thaw 2 (10-ounce) packages of frozen chopped spinach. Squeeze the spinach dry. Stir it into the mixture in Step 2. Follow the directions in Step 3, cooking another 30 minutes if needed to heat the sauce through.

Serve over rotini, cavatappi, or another twisty pasta that will catch and hold the creamy vegetables.

Make It for Picky Eaters
Omit the jalapeño chile.

Simple Swap
Substitute fresh vegetables for the canned artichokes. Wash 1 1⁄2 pounds fresh spinach. Chop it. Microwave, covered, on High for 3 to 4 minutes, or until it’s still bright green but wilted. Allow to cool. Then squeeze dry. Stir it into the mixture in Step 2.

Reprinted photos shared with permission from Time Inc. Books, a division of Time Inc. New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Note I received a copy of the book but was not asked to complete a blog post all opinions are my own....


Charity Auction fun! searching for some new ideas...

As most of my readers know I am involved with both the sorority I joined in college as an advisor, and serve on the Board of Directors for a local non-profit. I am always reading and looking for new ideas for charity auctions. Silent Auctions, Live Auctions, Facebook auctions, you name them we have them.

We recently I discovered Charity Auctions, and while we have not yet utilized them. I feel the need to share this find with my readers, as I am completely jazzed on what they offer. I am looking further into what they offer for a few reasons. 1. would love to add an online component to our collegiate auction to engage with alumnae. 2. love the idea of the mobile auction for bidding- I mean who doesn't have a phone on them at all times these days 3. some of the big items we won't have to fork out the money upfront.

Big image image1
In relation to #3 above I was excited to check out the items they had to offer. And to check out some of the current auctions they had going on   (you can check them out here)

I have to say I am always drawn to trips/experiences and handmade items in auctions be it art, or something like this beautiful quilt. While searching all the current auctions/items I determined anyone can bid so for the next 11 days and 23 hours... I'll be watching this one for the here

While I was initially contacted to review charity auctions as a sponsored post, I decided to do so as I am love what it has to offer. All opinions and thoughts are 100% my own.


Cashiers, NC..... some of our favorite places to eat..

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” – Seneca

Cashiers, NC 
Photo taken on lake Glenville

Favorite Restaurants
  1.  Corucopia -Love this history of this restaurant, and the cute little food shop attached. We typically get friend green beans for an appetizer, and I opt for the Cobb Salad, and this mister one of the many sandwich options
  2.  Orchard Restaurant - This is a favorite for a nice dinner in town. They have a good wine selection, and I can honestly say we are always delighted with the meal. Their fried green tomatoes are a great appetizer, and you cant go wrong with their FRANKLINIA RAVIOLI- Wild mushroom stuffed ravioli, roasted red peppers, wild mushrooms, spinach and asparagus tossed with a light basil cream alfredo sauce.  A favorite is also their SILVER RUN SEAFOOD AND PASTA
    Pan seared jumbo sea scallops, shrimp, Prince Edward Island mussels, and wild mushrooms all sauteed with roasted red peppers, roma tomatoes and shallots, in a garlic herb white wine broth with wild mushroom stuffed ravioli. (can you tell I like mushrooms)   Fun fact- they also have an adorable guest cottage. I will post more on that in an upcoming post.(will link when complete)
  3. Randevu -This is a favorite for brunch. The portions are large, and the omelets are amazing! They also serve lunch and dinner
  4. Slab Town Pizza - We gave slab town a go on our last trip to the cabin. The pizza topping offering is large, and the pizzas are huge! Great place to grab a pizza to go, or stop in and watch a game. 
  5. Ugly Dog Pub  - This is a favorite of ours. They are located in Highlands and Cashiers. If you stop into the Cashiers location look for a white framed photo of Georgia Anne on the wall. They have  a good beer selection, great live music, and a varied menu. They also support the local humane society with donations! You can't go wrong
  6. Bucks Coffee - Another spot that is also in Highlands, and is conviently located at 4 points intersection. This is a great morning stop before you head out, and they also often have live music in the evenings for you to stop in and have some wine. 
Check back for an upcoming post about some of our favorite hiking spots 


Almost-Famous Peppermint Bark

With the holidays around the corner, it is time for my annual cookie baking extravaganza! This year in addition to making some of my favorites (Monster cookies, Peanut Butter Blossoms, Reindeer Chow, & Butter Pecan Cookies), I decided to give the Peppermint Bark a try. After sometime spent looking at various recipes I opt'd to try the Food Networks, Almost- Famous Peppermint Bark. Below is the recipe with the edits that I made denoted in bold. I am sure I will make again this holiday season, and I will make note to take step by step photos to update this post with!

  • 12 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract
  • 1 pound good-quality white chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 candy canes or 12 round hard peppermint candies, crushed (I started with 6 candy canes & used more until I was happy with how they looked on top)

  • I stared by putting candy canes into a gallon ziplock bag and then used a rolling pin to break them up. I started with 6, and added a few more.. 
  • Line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with aluminum foil, shiny-side up; smooth out any wrinkles. 
  • Heat 1 inch of water in a saucepan over low heat until steaming.
  • Put all but 3/4 cup of the semisweet chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over the saucepan of steaming water (do not let the bowl touch the water) and stir until one-third of the chocolate is melted. Remove the bowl from the saucepan; keep the steaming water over low heat. Gradually stir the reserved 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate into the bowl, a few pieces at a time, until all of the chocolate is melted. Return the bowl to the saucepan, 5 to 10 seconds at a time, to help melt the chocolate, if needed. Do not rush this step: It may take up to 10 minutes to melt the chocolate. note it took me the full 10 minutes...  
  • Wipe off any moisture from the bottom of the bowl. Stir 3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract into the chocolate, then quickly pour into the prepared baking dish and spread in an even layer. Firmly tap the dish against the counter to remove any air bubbles. Set aside at room temperature until almost set, about 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, put all but 1 cup of the white chocolate in a large heatproof bowl and repeat the melting process over the steaming water; dry off the bottom of the bowl. Stir in the remaining 3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract; pour over the semisweet chocolate and spread in an even layer. (note i then used a knife and swirled the chocolates together, becuase I liked the way it looked)
  • Sprinkle immediately with the crushed candy canes, gently pressing them into the white chocolate. or swirled chocolate if you are me)  
  • Set aside at room temperature until firm, about 1 hour. 
  • Lift the bark out of the pan using the foil and break it into pieces. 
  • Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.


Brown Butter Pecan Cookies

Earlier this week, I blogged about being from New Orleans originally, and how I have an affinity for a Community Coffee, so when they reached out to see if I would be interested in partnering with them for some samples it was a no brainier! I shared that I would be doing something different with the coffee samples, trying some recipes from their website.  I shared the Southwestern Snack Mix, and today Ill be sharing the Brown Butter Pecan Cookies! These are sure to be on repeat with Fall decides to arrive in North Florida!

1 cup Unsalted butter

3⁄4 cup Confectioners’ sugar

1 tsp. Vanilla extract

2 cups All-purpose flour

1 tbsp. Community® House Blend coffee, ground

3 tbsps. Water, divided

3⁄4 tsp. Salt

24 Pecan halves

Optional Confectioners’ sugar as garnish

1. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Cook until butter turns a medium-brown color and has a nutty aroma, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Refrigerate until almost firm, about 1 hour,stirring occasionally.

2. Preheat oven to 300°.

3. In a large bowl, beat browned butter, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla with a mixer at medium speed until creamy.

Add flour, ground coffee, 2 tablespoons water and salt, beating until combined.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon of water, if needed. Roll dough into 24 balls. Place balls 1 inch apart on a large ungreased baking sheet. Place pecanson dough balls, pressing to adhere.

4. Bake until bottoms of cookies are lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool on pan for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on a wire rack. Garnish with confectioners’ sugar, if desired. 

FUN PROMOTION FROM Community Coffee..
Now thru September select bags and boxes of Community® coffee will feature on-pack game codes that can be entered online at for a chance to win. Prizes include an all-expense-paid trip to Houston for the Big Game, outdoor grills, flat screen TVs, Southwest gift cards and more.

While I received some coffee in exchange for the post, all opinions are truly my own. 
I am thankful for the opportunity to combine two of my favorite things coffee + football + baking


National Parks...

In honor of my post about our time at Yellowstone & Grand Tetons, I would be amiss if I didn't mention the National Park Service turns 100 years old in 2016  (this year) and they are inviting everyone to the party! On 16 days in '16, all National Park Service sites that charge an entrance fee will offer free admission to everyone!!!!

Now with that being said there are over 400 National Sites, (monuments & parks) and only 127 of these, currently charge a fee; the other parks/sites are currently free all the time (though it is always nice to make a donation when you visit) During the 16 days, they will offer a fee waiver that will include entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.

Mark your calendar for these entrance fee–free dates in 2016:
  • January 18: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • April 16 through 24: National Park Week
  • August 25 through 28: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 24: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

I feel the need to state that National Parks are always an economical option when looking at travel, as entrance fees that range from $3 to $30. While the Mister and I don't have kids, while researching for this post I learned that any fourth grade student can get a free annual pass through the Every Kid in a Park program, and active duty military and citizens with a permanent disability can also get free passes. For more information about the variety of discounted passes available, please visit the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass page.

With so many options for parks to visit, I can't wait to hear where you go? do you have a favorite park? or favorite trip? I'd love to hear about it?

next on our list: Glacier Bay, Grand Canyon & National Park of American Samoa ...

above is another one of our favorite parks thus far. Great wildlife & hiking trails..


Coffee + Football- a few of my favorite things

If you know me, you know I love coffee. And being from New Orleans originally I have an affinity for a Community Coffee, so when they reached out to see if I would be interested in partnering with them for some samples it was a no brainier! However, I opt'd to do something a bit different with the samples- I opt'd to try some of the amazing recipes from their website.

The first recipe, I had to try was the Southwestern Snack Mix. This is perfect for a tailgate, or even a fall snack. It was a huge hit with the mister, and is sure to be on repeat this fall

4 cups Corn cereal squares

4 cups Small pretzel twists

2 cups Bite-size Cheddar cheese crackers

2 cups Roasted salted peanuts

1⁄2 cup Unsalted butter, melted

2 tbsps. Community® House Blend coffee, ground

1 tbsp. Sugar

2 tsps. Chili powder

1⁄2 tsp. Salt

1⁄2 tsp. Ground cumin

1⁄4 tsp. Ground red pepper

1. Preheat oven to 250°.

2. In a large bowl, combine corn cereal, pretzels, cheese crackers and peanuts. In a small bowl, whisk together

melted butter, ground coffee, sugar, chili powder, salt, cumin and red pepper. Pour over cereal mixture and

toss well to coat. Spread mixture on a large rimmed baking sheet.

3. Bake until warm, about 20 minutes, stirring twice. Let cool completely.

Now if you know me, you know I am also a huge football fan. Being raised a Saints Fan, by dad taught be early on the importance of team loyalty, tailgating, and of course the rules of football. This came in handy when attending Florida State University. With this being said when I found out now thru September, Community Coffee would be hosting their annual Tailgate Traditions sweepstakes, the decision to share became a no brainer. 

So simply put now thru September select bags and boxes of Community® coffee will feature on-pack game codes that can be entered online at for a chance to win. Prizes include an all-expense-paid trip to Houston for the Big Game, outdoor grills, flat screen TVs, Southwest gift cards and more.

So while I received some coffee in exchange for the post, all opinions are truly my own. I am thankful for the opportunity to combine two of my favorite things coffee + football, and look forward to posting about the other recipe I tried, the Browned Butter Pecan Cookies that are currently in the oven this week!


Closet Refresh Part 2

Assuming you have already read Closet refresh part one, and are prepped for the job ahead, and yes I am going to call it a "job" becuase lets be honest us it is a tall task- especially if you are embarking on it after sometime. Let's rump into the actual assessment. 

  • Set up an area for keep, donate, sell, alter/update and trash/recycle. Some will tell you to use bags, I like to use piles so I can access what I am putting in each along the way. I also like to have a pad of paper and one side is shopping list/ the other alterations
  • Start with a sort pulling out items that you "LOVE" the go to items that you wear on repeat, and wish you had bought two of. Access these items, are they in good condition, will they be something you will continue to wear net season? As yourself if I could only keep 10/15 things from my closet to wear on repeat what would those be?- these are the items you keep and can place back into your closet
  • Now we move to the remainder of the items in your closet using some questions to guide you. 
    • When accessing occasion items - honestly ask yourself- Will I wear it again? I find this works better than the age old question of "Have I worn it in the last 6 months" Meaning that black dress you bought for a gala, that still fits, but it is sitting in your closet is a timely dress and would work well for a future wedding or charity event.  So keep it. On the flip side if you find yourself thinking "this dress would work if I loose weight" or "it doesn't really fit great, but ___ event was a blast, and I received complements on the dress " that is a no go.. place the dress in a sell/donate pile
    • When accessing the day to day.. try on the garments you are unsure of and ask yourself. 
      • Does this garment feel good on me? 
      • Do I receive compliments on this item? 
      • Is it comfortable? 
      •  if you are like me and own several similar items - is the most flattering/best quality of the xx number of black sweaters I own.. 
      • What is the cost of upkeep of this item. Meaning does it require regular dry cleaning? is it worth it? Sometimes the effort of hand washing/price of dry cleaning  is simply not worth it. Note I use this filter for my day to day clothing, and not for occasion items. 
Ok you have gotten thru the hardest part and by now likely have significant piles of keep, sell/donate, tailor/update & recycle/trash....  Things to think about to further assess each file. 
  • KEEP- does each item in the keep pile coordinate with 2-3 other garment in your closet, or will they require you to add items to your shop list? If you can think I would wear this skirt with xy&z then it is still a keep. 
  • Sentimental/must keep but won't wear items- Set a limit for yourself. for me it is one plastic tub for my husband and I- in the tub we have my high school letter jacket, cheer uniform, my husbands late dads army jacket, etc, etc. When accessing if I need to keep an item I think would a photo work? What will I do with the item in the future? etc. Only you can set this boundries for yourself. My advice is to focus on the sentimental importance of the item, and not look at cost of the garment. Meaning that pricey Tiffany necklace I received for high school graduation. While I could argue I need to keep it, it is a go- I have photos with the item, but my tastes have changed and it is now collecting dust- it could have a new life in rotation in another persons wardorbe.. 
  • CANT DECIDE- you can access this two ways. I typically will hang the item back in my closet on  a backwards hanger. Personally setting an "expiration date" for the item. Meaning if I wear it and place it back in my closet within 6 months the hanger will go back to normal and it is a keep - added to the rotation of my wardrobe. If 6 month comes and it is still hanging on that backwards hanger it is a go no questions asked. 
    • I have also had friends place a twisty tie on the hanger with an actually expiration date 
Sell/ Donate/Recycle 
  • Sell- I am a big fan of uploading items in good quality to Tradsey, not only does this allow me to get a few bucks back from my purchases, I can then use the money towards purchasing new items for my closet. I only upload new and/or gently used items to my closet. I like the site as it allows me to upload various photos of each item and include a description. The site allows me to set the price, but does suggest one based off price paid, and other similar items listed. Once sold the site allows me to ship the item with a printable label or allows me to have a shipping kit sent to me for use complete with label, box/bag, etc. I receive 91% of the purchase as site credit. I can also choose to withdraw 88% of the purchase price to my checking account. 
    • There are a few other sites some of my friends use 
      • Poshmark- This has more users than Tradsey. But only gives 80% of sales on items more than $15 & takes $2.95 on items less than $15. Since the madjority of what I sell is over $15 I didn't find this to be as beneficial. 
      • TheRealReal - I have not sold on this site, but have purchased from it. You send your item to the company, they photograph and price, and list. They take 60% of the sale. This is a site for designer clothes/bags, etc. 
      • Ebay, Thredup are two that I have minimal experience with but are also good options. 
  •  Donate-
    • I suggest donating to a charity you have researched or support. I personally donate to the local Refuge House, a shelter and agency for victims of domestic violence and there families.
    • If you have items that are not in good condition you can drop them at your local Goodwill and label them recyle. They will sell them off to a textile recycler who will give the fibers a new life in a different form (think insulation, or carpet padding) Let the person know at drop off that the items aren't good for resale. 
    • Old Shoes- I drop mine at a Nike store. you can bring up to 10 pairs at a time and drop them at the store. They will take the rubber and fabric from the shoes and use it for playground surfaces or recycled Nike shoes. Learn more about the program here


Closet Refresh - part one....

Having worked in retail for the past 17 years, I often get asked about the staple pieces one should have in their wardrobe, what what I suggest for cleaning/purging of ones closet.

My honest opinion, is most people often already own great basics, and have a grasp on the pieces and fits that work best for them; the issue is the challenge is to find those pieces amongst the stuff that you "kinda like." I have found that consumers often purchase pieces that "kinda of work" becuase they are a "bargain" and then they have trouble pruging those items due to the fact they spent their hard earned money on those items. Truth be told I aim to use the filter of quality over quantity in my shopping. I find that quality will last longer than the shock of the price.

So let's get started on my process of wardrobe purging. I am to complete a major closet purge twice a year. Typically July/August after spring summer, and then again in January/February after fall/winter. I aim to keep items I truly love, and that work for me. From there I sell items that are not working on Tradesy. You can shop my closet from the prior link, and if you are looking to join click here, by signing up thru the link you will receive a  $20 shop credit (pending time of signing up, as this post will live past the promotion)

Set yourself up for success..
  • Open mind- you have to be open to the process, and enter knowing you will be purging and that the goal is not to keep everything. We must let some of the emotional attachment to items go, and only keep pieces that are right for our body and overall wardrobe
  • Full length mirror- This one is a biggie for me. In an effort to be honest with ourselves we must often try on some of our garments to see how they fit, are they flattering, etc. 
  • Nude undergarments- ok this goes with the above. I suggest wearing your most basic undergarments the day of the purge so when trying on pieces, you don't find yourself, defaulting to well if I was wearing a different bra, or I can't tell with these floral panties.. etc 
  • A plan!- I suggest doing the closet one day, the dresser one day, and then shoes, bags, and accessories on another day. Some people suggest doing it all in one day, but truly I find that overwhelming, and find that when I do it all in one day I tend to get rid of less.. 
    • in addition to the above plan. It is important to do all of a category at once. I start with dresses, move to skirts, then tops, sweaters, etc. If you are one that keeps items in more than one closet or dresser- you will want to pull everything out and arrange by category so you can get the full picture of what you actually own/need. This allows you too access things individually ie: How many black dresses do I need? Why do I own xx number of black sweaters, etc.  
  • Last but not least someone to keep you honest. This can be a friend or spouse who will join you for the process, or who will check in with you during the process to check in. This person can assist with an honest opinion, a positive attitude and even a glass of wine along the way. This person should be someone whose opinion you value and who understands your sense of style..