Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Site Sponsor Spotlight: Spring Finds at Flourish Boutique

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

As soon as the sunshine peeks out in Indiana, I start dreaming of Spring and finding new ways to freshen up my wardrobe for Spring. This week I headed into our fantastic site sponsor’s boutique, Flourish Boutique, to check out some of their Spring offerings and I was not disappointed in the least! Pictured above is just a sampling that the store offers. Basically, it is my very own Pinterest fashion board come to life.

Here are a few of the spring trends I am embracing right now!

Chevron Fun

I love chevron print anything and Flourish has you covered with chevron print dresses, tunics, and scarves. While I love the bold chevron prints on the dresses, with my petite frame, I look for smaller nods to chevron like this Infinite Chevron Scarf ($29) or this Bold & Beautiful Dress ($59.50) that is edged in a bold chevron pattern to embrace the trend while still adding some neutral balance with my accessories and other pieces in my wardrobe.

Polka Dot Delights

I am a sucker for anything polka dot and the red dress that I pictured above, could not be snatched up fast enough for my wardrobe. The Party Time Dress ($59.50)  is a great dress that could be dressed up for a night out, or paired with a cute blazer, long sleeve t-shirt, or a pair of leggings for cooler Spring nights.

Statement Necklaces

Statement necklaces are one of my new favorite things to add to my Spring shopping to-do list because they can change everything in your wardrobe into a completely different outfit. Even an inexpensive white t-shirt suddenly looks different with the addition of a great statement necklace. This Mint Medallion Necklace ($49.50) is a great example of embracing both the statement necklace and the mint trend! You can find statement necklaces for very cheap, but I have found that they don’t hold up very well and I have started investing in one or two good pieces of costume jewelry for the year instead of buying necklaces that break on me before the season ends.

Nautical Knits

I love trends that never seem to go out of style and nautical is something I am always adding to my closet because it lasts from year to year. Each year I try to get one knit dress that I can dress up or down for the summer. This Nautical Knit Dress ($49.50) is the perfect example of a dress that can be accessorized with a bright belt, a big statement necklace, or thrown on for a day at the beach. Ironically, I spotted almost the same dress in my own Pinterest board that I had pinned ages ago. I already knew that this would be the perfect dress for me!

Coral & Mint Hues

I am loving all things coral and mint for Spring. This Shades of Perfection Top ($49.50)  is so cute and could transition out of these colder days with the long sleeve t-shirt and easily put on sleeveless for Spring. Flourish also offers tons and tons of mint this year in jeans, tops, and dresses. This Timeless Engraving Tunic ($54.50) is just one example that they offer.

I am always so proud to wear Flourish Boutique and am so thankful to them for their sponsorship of MomAdvice! I am a real mom that takes a lot of pride in what I wear. I am no fashion expert, by any means at all, but I truly love taking great care in looking nice for myself (and let’s face it, I like to wow my hubby!). These are just a few of the outfits I have worn in the last month that show off how real and approachable their pieces are.

Boutique shopping may seem out of the budget, but what I think makes Flourish special is their  great sales they offer. Like them on Facebook and you will see a daily deal/sale they are running. Check out their Overstock room upstairs (locally) or Overstock online where you can score many great deals for a fraction of the price.

The store offers online shopping so if you don’t live around here, you can still partake of all of the amazing deals and steals that the store offers on their website. MomAdvice customers receive a 25% discount code. Just enter WEB25 when you checkout!

Thank you again to Flourish for being a valued supporter of MomAdvice.

 

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The Best Resources For Frugal Readers (And How to Make Reading a Priority Again)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

One of the things that I get asked the most is how I am able to read so many books each month and still manage everything else in my life. If one of your goals this year is to read more, I want to share with you how reading has transformed my life and how it can transform your life too!

The truth is, we all have the same hours in the day and we all choose what we want to fill them with.  Some days I fill it with managing the house and doing everything that needs to be done for my family, but there are days that I let it all go and sit in my favorite chair with my favorite book for an hour instead.

Here are some simple strategies I have used to carve in more time for my fictional reading life:

I Stopped Watching Television- When we dropped our television package, it was the greatest gift in time management I have ever given myself. Our television watching has now whittled down to about four shows a week that we really care about and the rest of the time our television is turned off. It has been so freeing to not feel like I have to dedicate time to the television to justify the bills that we were receiving.

Although watching news has never really been a priority to me, to not be detached completely from the world, I listen to NPR on the way into the gym each morning or while I am tidying up from breakfast. I know what I need to know about world news and local news and then I turn it off and focus on the books I am reading.

I Always Have a Book In My Hand- You will very rarely see me without a book in my hand and I find ways to make the most of every single little pocket of time I have to read my books. Whether I am coloring my hair, cooking, waiting for the kids to get off the bus, waiting at the doctor’s office, or standing in line at the grocery store, you will find me trying to devour a page or two of a book. With devices like the Kindle for your smart phones and tablets, electronic readers, audio books, and the endless supply of great free reading material  from the library, I am constantly trying to find a new way to sneak more pages in my day.

I Make a Goal For Myself- Every year I use GoodReads to create a reading challenge for myself. For me, vague goals of, “I’d like to read more,” usually yield mediocre results. With a number in mind, I know that I have something to work towards and to accomplish. Sometimes I reach my goals, this year, I did not. It doesn’t bother me if I don’t reach my lofty goals because the true point of the goal for me is just to read, read, and read some more.

You can connect with me on GoodReads and see what I am working on right now!

I Want to Be a Role Model For My Kids- I want my kids to model the good things that I do in my life and being a reader is one thing that I am proud of and that I want for them. I don’t want my kids remembering that I sat in front of the television and watched Toddlers & Tiaras every night or that their mom was never without her celebrity gossip magazines. I want them to remember that their mom was always reading, always learning, and also that she wasn’t afraid to tackle hard books and hard topics.

The results for me have been having two kids that are ferocious readers themselves. They beg to go to the library and they are just like me,  often walking into walls and doors because they have their nose in books. If we are going somewhere, they grab their books to take with them when we run errands and one of our biggest struggles is when we have to shut off the lights and our books at night. I love seeing them model me in this way.

I Read What I Want To Read- We have enough pressures on us as mothers, but to be pressured to always be reading award-winning books doesn’t have to be one of them. If your life is full of stress and chaos, a good chick lit book might be just what the doctor ordered. I like to read one heavy book and one light book and alternate them. When my children were smaller all I wanted to read was something that would make me laugh. No matter what you read… just keep reading!

I Want to Be a Well-Rounded Person- I didn’t take a lot of advanced classes in high school like my husband so I was only exposed to excerpts of classic books, rather than reading them. As a woman in her thirties, I am reading these books for the first time in my adult life and I am proud that I am no longer intimidated by classical literature. I won’t let the hurdles of my youth stop me from being a well-rounded person and that is why you will often find me making a goal to read the classics.

I Want to Be a Great Writer- Great writers are great readers. Other writers constantly inspire me to be better at what I am writing. I found it a hard juggle to work on my own book and still squeeze in time to read. My pockets of time had dwindled, but I still tried to make it a priority because reading is that important to me.

Reading has changed my life and has shaped me into a better person than I could have been without the words of great writers. Books provide an escape, they challenge how I view the rights and wrongs in life, they take me to countries I may never visit, they make me weep, they make me laugh, and they made me dream that I could transform someone else with my own words. 

Great Reading Resources To Get You Started:

 

GoodReads or Shelfari- Goodreads is my ultimate resource for keeping me motivated to read daily. I use it for my yearly reading goals, to keep track of books that I want to read in the future, and to rate and review books that I have finished reading. The best feature is the barcode scanner that you an use to scan books to quickly pull them into your to-be-read or reading virtual piles.

BookCrossing- This site offers a fun way for you to clear out your bookshelves. The idea is simple, but so fun. Just put a tag within your book to track it and release your book into the wild, which just means leave it somewhere where someone else can find it (coffee shops, doctor’s offices, schools, etc.). When someone finds a book with a BookCrossing ID number in it, they can enter that code into the site and report where the book has moved to. It is a fun way to track where your books have traveled and see how far they can go.

Library Elf- This program helps you keep track of your library materials so you won’t get socked with late fees. Elf is an Internet-based tool for keeping track of what’s due, overdue and ready for pickup. Reminders are sent when the user wants it — before items are due (up to seven days advance notice, weekly notice or everyday reminders). For my local friends, South Bend is not currently participating, but the Elkhart Library is. The basic membership to Library Elf is free.

What Should I Read Next?- One of the big hurdles with reading is finding the perfect reading material. What Should I Read Next? allows you to put in the name of your favorite author or favorite book and then gives you a reading list of similar reading material that it thinks you would like based on your preference.

Paperback Swap or Bookmooch- Just two of many sites where you can exchange books for free. You simply sign up for a membership and list the books on your bookshelf. You can then browse the books from other members and make a request to receive a book. When you are done with the book, you can list it back on the site or keep the book. New members start out usually with credits to get started on exchanging books. The more you ship and share, the more credits you recive to get more books.

Amazon’s Free Kindle Downloads- Amazon offers oodles of books for free for your Kindle or you can download the free Kindle app for your phone or tablet to read your books on. Explore this free list when you are in need of a new book to read!

 

Be sure to visit our Great Reads section to get you started on selecting great books to tackle!

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The Top 7 Apps to Organize Your Life

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

If you asked me the one thing that I could not live without, it would be my iPhone. Today I want to share the top iPhone apps that have organized my life and my family. This gadget has brought more organization to my life than I dreamed possible and is what I rely on daily to tackle the day-to-day tasks as a mom. Of course, you don’t have to have an iPhone to benefit from these apps, almost all of these are available to any smartphone user. Here are my top 7 apps to get your family organized.

Cozi

Whenever I talk about the best apps to organize a family, I always think of Cozi first. Over the years, this app has evolved so much and fits perfectly into our family’s everyday needs. Cozi is a calendar app that is made with a mom in mind. It is easy to use, color-coded (for each family member), includes pictures of your sweet little ones, helps you with your grocery list, and offers text message alerts to you for appointment reminders…all from one central location.

My favorite feature that has saved our family countless fees and embarrassment is their text reminder service. When I input our family’s appointments, I can have a text sent to myself or to my husband that reminds us about that appointment. The reminders can come whenever you designate them (one hour ahead, one day ahead, one week ahead, etc..).  Does your child have jean day at school? Super silly hair day?  Little things like that are even input in this handy calendar and a text reminder goes out to me first thing in the morning to save my children from their mom’s forgotten dollar or the super exciting monthly “skip your uniform,” day.

(Free. Available for the iPad, iPhone, or Android.)

 

Mint

If you are looking to get your family’s finances back on track this year, my favorite and most reliable financial reporting comes from Mint. Mint can be set up through your home computer, your smart phone, or tablet.  An account with Mint can be set up in less than five minutes and gives you the chance to set budgets to your spending categories and track them with handy pie charts and graphs. In one glance, you can monitor your checking, savings, investments, and retirement at any moment during the day.

Most of the spending categories are immediately categorized for you while unfamiliar categories (like your favorite local restaurant or doctor’s visit) may need a quick categorization for accurate reporting. For tax purposes, you can also tag items for reimbursement so that it can help later when filing your taxes.

The best part, I have found, is that Mint will alert you via email when spending or withdrawals seem high. Did the mortgage company take out an extra payment? Did you have an unusually high amount of withdrawals in one month? Was a large deposit made? Mint sends you an email to alert you of unusual transactions happening in your account which could potentially save you from being the victim of credit card fraud.

(Free. Available for most devices.)

 

Grocery IQ

Making and sticking to your grocery lists has never been easier thanks to the Grocery IQ app. With Grocery IQ you can type, speak, or scan grocery list items into your list. The list automatically adds your items into categories and then alerts you if coupons are available for any items you might be adding to your list. Coupons can then be sent to your email when your list has been made or (if you have a wireless enabled printer) can be sent to your printer for printing. As you gather your items from your list, simply check it off and the item moves to the bottom of the list. Once your whole list is complete, everything is shifted towards the bottom and then can simply be clicked to add those repeat items back on the list for your next visit.

Since I always have my phone with me,  switching to an electronic grocery list has been much easier than I thought it would be. The coupon feature helps save our family money on items we were already planning to buy and the list helps keep our family budget on track. I also love that I can sync my list from my iPad to my iPhone so I can use whichever device I have handy to add items when we need them.

(Free. Available for the iPad, iPhone, or Android.)

Evernote

If you are trying to stop the paper pile-up from school, Evernote is a fantastic tool for  clipping and saving those papers in one spot that you can access from your phone or computer. When items come home to us that I might need to reference for our family later, like the cafeteria lunch schedule or the recess schedule, I can either take a photo of what I need or I can scan that item into Evernote and tag it with, “School,” for easy reference.

Things that I often refer back to, like our library card numbers, gift card numbers that I want to store on my computer, receipts for purchases, or even keeping track of the books my children are reading in a particular series are all housed in my Evernote account for easy accessibility when I need them.

No more scraps of paper all over the house or hanging on to newsletters for one paragraph of information, Evernote has become my virtual notebook to keep us organized.

(Free. Available on most devices.)

SpringPad

Menu planning can be a challenge for families and keeping track of all of those recipes you want to try can be a challenge when your Pinterest boards are overflowing with ideas. I have come to rely upon SpringPad for creating our family’s weekly menu plan. I think of SpringPad as a virtual notebook where you can privately or publicly share things you want to reference to manage your life. Notebooks can be created on any topic, but I create weekly notebooks of menu plans for my family, adding those recipes into a notebook so that I can reference them later, whether I am cooking in the kitchen or I am at the grocery store and not sure if I added all the ingredients to my list like I thought.

Depending on how the recipe is input into the source, SpringPad will either pull the recipe right into your notebook so you can view it right from the notebook, you can manually add in the recipe, or a link to the recipe will be provided so you can access it from the page you found it.

(Free. Available on most devices.)

30/30

Setting a timer to get tasks done around the house is an old school method that works remarkably well for productivity that has now been brought to the future with this 30/30 app for organizing your day.  The idea behind this app is very simple: you work for thirty minutes and focus on a single task with no distractions. When your time is up, you give your mind a break and do something completely unrelated, also for thirty minutes. This 30/30 cycle is repeated until your tasks are done.

Type in what your ideal day will look like including blocking out times for a little down time like enjoying a cup of coffee, time wasting on sites like Facebook or Pinterest, or just time with a great book.  Then set up what the rest of your productive day will look like and use the 30/30 app to visualize if you are going to get your tasks done in the designated time.  It provides a countdown and a visual reminder of what you are working on and beeps when your time is done. Simple, visually pleasing, and highly effective, I can’t recommend this app enough to increase your productivity.

(Free. Available for the iPad or iPhone.)

8MM Vintage Camera

Capturing my children on-the–go is one of the main reasons I decided to get an iPhone. While I rely heavily on Instagram for capturing still images of our family from day-to-day I also love to capture movies of them.  Although we have many fancy camcorders laying around our house, the one recorder I always have with me is my phone. I am a huge fan of vintage looking film and pictures so I have found that the  8MM vintage camera app is a fun way to add a little vintage to our family’s most precious recorded moments.

($1.99. Available for the iPad or iPhone)

What are your favorite apps for keeping your family organized? Chime in here and share your family’s favorite tools!

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How to Organize Board Games

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Now that Christmas is behind us, I find myself inspired to get my home organized again. One area in our home that always needs attention is our disorganized board game collection. Organizing your board games  and card games is easier than you think, it just requires a few organizing tools, a little patience, and the ability to let go of the things that are taking up valuable space to make space for the good stuff in your home.

My project challenge this month with Walmart was to pick one area in our house and freshen it up with some organizational solutions from the store. I have a feeling you are going to love this one and will be running out to your store to replicate this.

In full disclosure, here is my SCARY before picture. This was supposed to be a beautiful little closet for my kid’s toys, our games, and our art supplies. Each time the closet was open, I covered my head. I am a very petite woman so when I would reach for a game, I would find a leaning tower of games attacking me and often found myself in an avalanche of games and toys. 

I decided to do some research to see if I could find some ideas from other bloggers on how to rectify this situation. Although there were a lot of great magazine ideas, I didn’t find very many real family solutions until I happened upon this great post on board game organization from Raising Lemons. I used that as a template to get started and then headed to my store to create my own solutions for our problematic areas.

Here are some pictures of the items that I picked up at our Walmart store (feel free to click on them to expand).

Sterlite Large Three Drawer Units ($12.97 each)

Sterlite Medium Three Drawer Unites ($8.47)

Document Boxes ($7.92)- available in the office supplies section of the store

Avery Labels ($1.00)

Rubber Bands ($.67)

Snap-It Storage Container ($9.97)

Ziploc Freezer Bags ($4.38

All games were removed from their boxes and then each game went into a designated drawer. Larger games that had a lot of parts to it (like Blokus, Rummikub, or Monopoly) fit well into the large Sterlite drawers.

Smaller kid’s games fit easily into the medium Sterlite drawers as well as games where the board would not fit into either container (more on that soon). For really small games like Memory or Rush Hour, we found one drawer could fit two or three games, which helped to maximize this storage solution.

For larger board games, I labeled boards that we wouldn’t easily be able to figure out what they were, and set those to the side along with a couple of those irregularly shaped games (like Operation, our deluxe Scrabble, and our Hungry, Hungry Hippos). By removing the useless boxes, this tiny little pile of boards really doesn’t take up very much of our space.

We had oodles of card games, many that were dusty and had been forgotten on that top shelf, so I used two Document Boxes that I found over in the office supplies to create storage for these games. This was a great place to not only store these games neatly, but I also dedicated a little section to the odds & ends pieces that we might need for future games. The odds & ends spot houses marbles, a few extra game pieces, decks of cards, and several dice.

Large games like Apples to Apples had to use two spots, but it still beats having the boxes. I like that all of these odds and ends are concealed neatly, and it will make taking a box of games a lot more fun since there are several in just one box!

Our puzzle collection had also gotten out of control. I found a Snap-It organizer (over by the drawers/plastic bins) that has a handy handle and it all snaps together for easy toting. We divided our puzzles into two categories (holiday & other). It will make finding our Christmas collection a little easier. I cut the front of the boxes and labeled heavy-duty freezer bags with the puzzle name or description so we could locate them easily.

Since I was on a roll in that closet, I decided to get the rest of the kid’s stuff organized. I whittled their toy collection down to half and organized their art supplies into the same drawer organizers (these were all things we already owned). I had old-fashioned labels in my craft supplies so I hung fresh labels with a little bakers twine and labeled our canvas bins so the kids knew exactly what they were pulling down.

Each child now has their own coloring book drawer and all of the random boxes of markers, crayons, and pencils were all condensed into one drawer organizer.

After losing countless library books because they are mixed in with their own books, we now have one basket designated. The other books were moved down to our downstairs game cabinet because (you won’t believe this!) all of the games from our downstairs cabinet all fit in our upstairs cabinet so I could turn the other cabinet into a spot for all of their books. That is a huge storage bonus for us!

It feels like Christmas all over here again. We have loads of fun things to do, we can find them, and (in my son’s words) “We don’t have to move so many things around to get to the good stuff.” You know it, kid!

The big question is, “Do you miss the boxes?” I can’t say I do! For the games we travel with to our friend’s house (Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, etc..) we have a couple of boxes stored in the basement. The rest of the games stay at home and this solution is so ideal for our space and offers oodles of visual appeal. 

Have any tips for organizing your game collection or toy closet for the New Year? I would love to hear them!

I am a part of the Walmart Moms program, and Walmart has provided me with compensation for these posts  My participation is voluntary and opinions are always my own.

 

 

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Giving Back In Our Own Community

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

If there is one thing we have been embracing this year, it is the power of giving to others. I shared with you last week our tutorial on how to make homeless care packages (complete with free printables for buying your supplies for your own kits and a community resource list).

This month Walmart gave our family a chance to select charities in our own town that we are  passionate about for the holidays and showcase how families could recreate a giving project in their own homes. As I always disclose, I am compensated for my writing, BUT instead of accepting the compensation, we invested what I would have earned along with the gift card budget Walmart gave me to give back to a couple of special organizations in our town. 

The first thing we did with our funds was head to Walmart and stock up on canned peas, boxes of macaroni, and cans of tuna that were being requested for a Kids Helping Kids food drive that was happening over at our church. The Faithworks program had a drive to help area kids who would be on Christmas Break. They had a goal of providing a meal to 1,400 students at a couple of our area schools and giving each of these kids a bag of food to take home. 

Emily was my assistant and helped me count up the donations. We were able to provide 76 kids with a meal which was so exciting for both of us to do and to get the opportunity to share. None of those three items cost more than $.68 so for less than $3, we were able to provide a meal to one child. 

The other project that we selected was at our own school this year. They had a hat and glove tree set up in the lobby for students that needed hats and gloves for the winter season. Emily and I selected hats and gloves in all different colors for the students. If you are looking for an inexpensive spot to pick up donations, Walmart carries Faded Glory hats and gloves for a mere $.97! If you choose plain gloves, you can get them 2 for $.97! 

We were able to grab enough for 25 of the students and I had fun decorating the tree with all of these cold weather accessories. We hope it keeps a few more students warm on the playground this year.

Thank you to Walmart for giving us the opportunity to give back in our own community this year. We feel so blessed to get to pay it forward to those in need around the holidays!

I am a part of the Walmart Moms program, and Walmart has provided me with compensation for these posts. For this project, all compensation was invested in aiding our community.  My participation is voluntary and opinions are always my own.

Top Ten Christmas Ideas For The Family

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

This week you will find me blogging over at the Snackpicks site sharing my top ten Christmas ideas for the family.

If you are looking for some fun family time ideas complete with great recipes and crafts, you will want to visit this post to read more! I am sharing a few of our favorite Christmas recipes and some great ways we celebrate the holidays without spending a lot of money.

The best part is all of the points you will score for all of the time you spend with your kids during this busy season! Who could argue with that? See you there!

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Great Family Traditions to Celebrate the Holidays in a MEANINGFUL Way

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Christmas is my favorite time of year, but I know it can be a difficult time of year when finances are tight. I want to share with you how you can celebrate Christmas in a big way by shifting your focus towards great family traditions.

I have been getting a lot of questions on how families can celebrate the holidays when they don’t have the money to have the Christmas that they have been dreaming of. It can be stressful as a parent to not be able to have the holiday that you envision for your children, but a change in perception for the holidays can go a long way. You see, regardless of the economic turmoil, the holidays will never change for our family because our focus has turned to traditions rather than gifts.

When you make the switch to focusing on family traditions, there is a lot less stress in your life worrying about the gifts under the tree. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are all about? For me, it is all about family, about creating memories for my children that they will never forget, and it is about the love that they feel from us as parents.

Here are some of the ways we have have simplified the giving process and our family traditions that have shifted our family focus during this financially stressful season. 

Image source: pinterest (unknown)

Simplify Your Gift Giving

Several years ago I ran across an idea for buying four gifts for your kids in the specific categories of something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. It has been a tradition that has stuck and I hope that my kids will continue the tradition with their own children someday.  The kids love getting to help in the selection of the gifts from these four categories and I love the simplicity of shopping for these gifts We are blessed with a big family of generous givers so my children never have expressed disappointment that there are not enough gifts for them. In fact, this year they struggled to come up with four gifts that they really wanted.

Next year, we plan to give our children a Choose Your Own Adventure gift where they can select one fun family experience or a learning experience. Art classes, dance classes, a trip to a local museum, going to a fun show in town, going to a restaurant and a movie with mom or dad, or another coveted outing will be on the list.

We do this often with money gifted by relatives (last year was a family outing to the Nutcracker and cocoa at the local chocolate shop) to cut down on the excess in our home and to create a purposeful experience with our kids.

  Create Meaningful Traditions in the Kitchen

Christmas to me is all about the food and traditions that can be created (and consumed) in our house.Some of our favorite traditions happen to be making a batch of our favorite sugar cookies to decorate, baking up gingerbread donuts for a surprise treat, or consuming gallons of hot cocoa with homemade peppermint marshmallows on cold wintry mornings.

In our family, each Friday night in December, we make a homemade pizza and bundle our children up for an evening of looking at the holiday lights in the neighborhoods. We blast the Christmas carols on the radio and bring along popcorn for them to snack on while they enjoy all the beauty of the Christmas lights. To make it more fun, we let them pick their favorite pajamas to wear and they think this is hilarious to get to wear their pajamas in the car. This year I am also looking forward to a little Christmas Lights Scavenger Hunting on our tour of the lights.

On Christmas morning, I make cocoa and gingerbread waffles for the kids. As a special treat, I shape the tubes of store-bought cinnamon rolls into a Christmas tree shape and tint the icing green for the tree. We eat this together after we open the presents and the kids look forward to it each year.

While these traditions might not sound like much, our children look forward to them each year and we get just as excited as them for these special meals.

Caring for Others

Instead of focusing on ourselves, we try to do things for others around the holidays. This year our family’s holiday project was to create homeless care packages for the homeless in our town. It was such a great experience to do with our children that I hope to repeat a project like this each year with them.

Even if you are short on funds there are so many ways to give back that don’t cost a lot. Gather items for a donation to your local shelter, serve a meal to those in need, use your talent for crafting to benefit someone in your community, or take a peek at these painless ways to give back this season.

When my son was  small we would take them to the fire station with a box full of goodies. I loved seeing the faces of the firefighters light up when they saw our treats, but more importantly, is the light in your children’s eyes when they take them around to show them the fire engines. This is one of the best days of playing Santa I had ever had.

Filling the Stockings with Love

On the first day of December, I try to set out a basket and small slips of paper. Each person in the family is supposed to write something about someone else in the family that they appreciate about them and stick it in each other’s stockings. On Christmas morning, we have something fun to look forward to opening, which centers on family rather than gifts. If you have smaller children, have them draw pictures for each family member and jot down the sweet things they say about their family members. It is truly a highlight of my Christmas morning and brings us all closer together.

Countdown to Christmas

We have always counted down the holidays in fun ways with our kids. When my children were small we did a Christmas Jar full of fun activities for each day of December. We would fill it with fun and free activities- making a snowman, watching a holiday show on television, making a holiday ornament- anything that is inexpensive and fun for us to do together as a family.

As they have gotten older, our “use what you have” advent calendar still gives us the opportunity to do these fun activities, but fits a little bit better around our busy life. I wanted to create our own countdown to Christmas in a creative way, but I didn’t want to spend any money on it. I decided to use what I had to create our homemade Advent filled with fun activities and you can grab an idea list for activities over here.

Wrapping It Up With An Inexpensive Bow

These are just a few of our suggestions for ways to make the holiday more special and more focused on your family rather than a store-bought Christmas tied up with an expensive bow.

Whatever you decide to do, don’t forget to document these memories in some way so you can share them with your children. I started a holiday journal for the children and tucked in a copy of their sweet letters to Santa, their favorite holiday recipes, our holiday photo each year, and jotted down their favorite memories from the year.

My goal is to only leave my children a legacy of holiday memories, not a legacy of stuff under the tree.

 

5.0 from 1 reviews
Gingerbread Waffles
Author: 
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
These gingerbread waffles are a fun treat to share on Christmas morning and taste just like a gingerbread cookie. Top them with festive sprinkles and whipped cream for a fun breakfast treat!
Ingredients
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • ⅔ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1¼ cups milk
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ½ cup (1 stick) melted butter, plus some to butter the iron
  • Syrup, whipped cream or fresh fruits for topping, to pass at table
Instructions
  1. Preheat waffles iron. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. In a medium bowl, beat eggs and brown sugar until fluffy, then beat in pumpkin, milk, molasses and melted butter. Stir the wet into dry until just moist. Do not overstir the waffle batter. Brush the iron with a little melted butter and cook 4 waffles, 4 sections each. Serve with toppings of choice.


What are your favorite ways inexpensive ways to celebrate the holidays? I would love to hear about your family’s traditions!

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How to Make a Homeless Care Package (Free Printable Supplies List)

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

One thing that you may not know about our family is that we are really passionate about caring for the homeless. Creating a homeless care package can be one fantastic way that your entire family can be involved in caring for the homeless. Today we want to provide a checklist of supplies for the homeless, a local resources sheet you can print out (if you are in our area), and some tips for involving the whole family in this project.

This month Walmart let me choose a project that I was passionate about for the holidays and showcase how families could recreate it in their own homes. As I always disclose, I am compensated for my writing, BUT instead of accepting the compensation, we invested what I would have earned along with the gift card budget Walmart gave me to give back to the homeless in our community. 

These homeless care packages can be prepared for your local homeless shelters or kept tucked away in the trunk of your car for those you may see on the street looking for your help. I love feeling armed in these situations and these kits are a simple way to show how much you care.

I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t tell you that my husband inspires me every day with his giving heart. Last winter, he was coming home late from work because he would see people in need and run to stores to get them supplies and gift cards.

That is his heart.

That is why I love him.

If there is one thing I firmly believe in, it is that giving should be a family affair. We have to lead our children by our example. I want my children to remember that what made our family special is that we always gave with our whole hearts.  

My kids assisted in every aspect of this project. My son came with me and did the number crunching on a good old-fashioned calculator, my daughter helped sort and organize all of the items we bought, and both kids helped fill the bags with all of the necessary items.

Here Are My 3 Essential Elements to a Great Homeless Care Package

Feed Their Needs- One of the greatest gifts you can give to someone who is homeless is personal hygiene items and food to nourish their bodies. Begin by picking up items that will satisfy this area in their life first. Simple items like shampoo, a razor, deodorant, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a comb, a bar of soap, and tissues are great items to keep on hand.

Food like granola bars, crackers with peanut butter, trail mixes, dried fruits, and a bottle of water are also great items to tuck into your bags. If you have the funds, small denominator gift cards (we did $5 Walmart gift cards) can also be great to give so that they can pick up a meal or item(s) they might need.

Provide Warmth- We live in Indiana and the winters here are brutal. I can’t imagine how cold it would be to stand on the streets without the proper items I need for warmth. Add items like thermal boot socks, gloves, scarves, and hats to your gift bags. Items like these may seem out of your financial reach, but I found all of these at the dollar store and the sets of gloves were a mere $.50 each.

Feed Their Souls- I am sure it goes without saying, but feeding someone’s soul is just as important as feeding their needs. You can feed their souls in a variety of ways depending on your families beliefs and resources. We created a local resources list (available for local residents to download) that they can tap into for further resources in our town. A note that lets them know that they are on your prayer list, a note of encouragement by your children, or a scripture that you find comforting can also be excellent additions.

God has been so good to us, but 10 years ago we were in a very different place than where we are now.  My husband was unemployed for almost an entire year, our financial situation was a house of cards, and my heart was in a bad place. Although I don’t like to admit it, I wondered what my purpose on this earth even was. I never have forgotten that dark place and it is why we still try to be so careful with the resources we have been given and why I have such a tender place in my heart for those who are struggling.

Being careful though doesn’t mean that you can’t be a giver. There are fantastic ways to give, both big and small, around the holidays. Be sure to check our list of ten painless ways to give back to charities to help you get started.  I call these smaller ways to give the, “scraps of life giving.”  I have talked a lot about that with my partnership with Pure Charity this month as well! 

One more thing, did you know today just so happens to be GIVING TUESDAY? It is the perfect day to start a giving project with your family! 

We want to help you give back to your community! Here are some resources to do just that!

Grab our Free Homeless Supply Checklist for your your care packages. Don’t just click on the picture, head to this link to grab a full-size PDF version!

Grab our Local Resources List for your care packages (if you don’t live in Michiana, you can use this as a template for your own sheet)!  Don’t just click on the picture, head to this link to grab a full-size PDF version!

 

How do you give back in your community? How do you teach your kids to be givers?

 

I am a part of the Walmart Moms program, and Walmart has provided me with compensation for these posts. For this project, all compensation was invested in aiding our area homeless.  My participation is voluntary and opinions are always my own.

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How to Entertain the Kids on Thanksgiving Day

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

It has been so much fun preparing for the holidays with all of you. Today I am concluding our post series with Pure Charity with some fun ideas for keeping your kids entertained on Thanksgiving morning while you are busy preparing all of that Thanksgiving food…or just preparing for all of that fun with those relatives.

If you haven’t been following along the past three weeks, I have been sharing about a great site called Pure Charity and how your holiday shopping can make an impact on the organizations you are most passionate about. Did I mention signing up for this account is free and easy! I really encourage you to join in!

What is Pure Charity?

Pure Charity is a simple, but awesome concept for giving back to those causes you care most about. Basically, you install a simple toolbar into your web browser and then it alerts you with a small banner at the top when a store you are shopping with has a partnership with Pure Charity. Click on that little button and you are making a percentage deposit into your Giving Fund. Your Giving Fund can then be applied to the charities that are important to you and that you have a desire to support.

The first week we discussed some elegant and simple ways to create the perfect Thanksgiving table. I love that these ideas incorporated elements of nature, along with thoughtfully purchased items to mix into your everyday items, and a thankful chalkboard where the kids can jot down what they are most thankful for in their lives.
Next we created the Perfect Pumpkin Pie for our Thanksgiving dessert. I found beautiful tools to create a detailed crust and serve ware that made the pie look like a little piece of art through the Pure Charity partner sites.
Thanksgiving happens to be one of my favorite holidays and I love to make these holidays special and memorable for my kids. Pure Charity asked me to show everyone what could be done via their partners and gave me a small budget to pick out some items that I would recommend for keeping the whole family entertained on Thanksgiving Day.

 

Play Classic Board Games- If there is one thing our family loves, it is board games. You will often find our family spending our evenings playing board games together. Thanksgiving is a great time to break out the board games for the young and old alike. Group games like Apples to Apples, Jenga, or an adult round of Taboo can be a great way to keep your family laughing and spending time together. Hungry Hungry Hippos is always a great game to play with the kids and can be a fun way to keep the cousins entertained while the food is being prepared.  (Purchased through Target)

 

Watch A Classic Thanksgiving Movie- Our family’s favorite Thanksgiving movie is, “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” Of course, any movie with Charlie Brown and the gang in it is always a guaranteed winner in our family.  (Purchase through Best Buy)

 
Bring Out Their Inner Artist-
If there is one thing my kids go through quickly it is art supplies. Items like colored pencils, construction paper, coloring and doodle books that inspire creativity in my children, and pre-made art kits can all be fun ways to get those creative juices flowing. I was able to find some amazing coloring books like, “The Fashion Coloring Book,” and “The Coloring Book,” that provide great prompts for your child’s imagination. Even better, I was able to find two Kid Made Modern Comic Book Kits so that each of my kids can create their very own comic books.  (All Purchased Through Target)

 

Just Dance It Out- A well-known fact about our family is that the Clark family is basically its own dance crew. If there is one thing we love to do it is to dance our troubles away. Just Dance 4 and Just Dance Disney games are two fun ways to get your kids moving after that big Thanksgiving feast and work off that sluggish, “I ate too much turkey,” feeling in a fun way.
If your family is anything like ours though,  you might not let those kids even get a chance to play any of their own games. You will simply be too busy dance battling each other to give anyone else the opportunity to do anything else (*ahem*).  (Purchased through Best Buy).

 

Play a Round of Thanksgiving Bingo- One thing that I love to do for my kids is to print out a simple Thanksgiving Bingo game to keep them entertained while I am preparing the food. This is a fun and free way to keep them entertained and there are six Bingo cards to print and choose from. Pop a bag of popcorn and let them use the popcorn as their markers to mark their Bingo squares. Once they get tired of that game, print out another round of cards and have them do Thanksgiving Football Bingo instead. (Printable available for free through Spoonful).
 
After these purchases to entertain the kids on Thanksgiving Day, I was able to  bank $5.63 in my Giving Fund for my favorite charities through Pure Charity

I am working with Pure Charity, and Pure Charity has provided me with compensation for these posts. My participation is voluntary and opinions are always my own.

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Fun Halloween Costume Ideas For the Whole Family

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012






We are looking forward to another fun Halloween! I wanted to show you our Halloween costumes this year. Outfitting the whole family in costumes can be a challenge, but we tend to embrace it with a lot of enthusiasm.

Emily’s masquerade ballroom gown has to be one of my favorite costumes we have ever gotten her. I found it at Marshall’s for $24.99. I hate spending more than $20 on a costume, but this is one she is planning to use for dress-up play and it is so beautifully made that I am sure we will find many uses for this elegant dress (complete with a hoop skirt, cameo necklace and little masquerade mask).

We found Ethan’s knight costume inexpensively online and I was excited that their requests coordinated this year. Of course, we always manage to make it coordinate for photos, even if it doesn’t always really work!







For a couple that doesn’t really watch a lot of television, we embraced the television themes this year with our costumes. Our favorite show happens to be, “Glee.” I might be alone in this one, but I can’t get enough of that show!  For our couple costume this year, we gleeked it out with a Glee cheerleader costume for me and my husband pulled off the Coach Sue Sylvester costume far better than I could ever imagine.

We partied it up in these hilarious costumes and every time I saw this man out of the corner of my eye, it put me in a fit of giggles. Of course, following this year’s rocking costume party, we were already brainstorming what we would wear next year.

I was able to find these costumes on clearance for $10 each. My best friend altered the costume a bit for me (because one size does NOT fit all). What a rock star best friend to sew my cheap polyester costume for me!


Our Bunco theme this month was also Halloween themed so my best friend and I schemed a costume from our other favorite show, “New Girl,” I have a serious girl crush on Zooey and her character, “Jess,” on this show. For this costume, I just raided my own little retro wardrobe, threw on my nerdy glasses, curled my hair and slipped on a pair of ballet flats. I had the picture frame in my craft supplies and use that like she does in the intro of the show.

Becky went as Cece, Jess’ supermodel bestie  on the show.  Of course she just straightened her hair and wore her most awesome model clothes from her own wardrobe with a killer pair of heels.

You have to love a costume you can create from found items in your closet.

Looking for more last minute Halloween costume inspiration? Be sure to visit my Scary Deals on Halloween Costumes and our easy DIY Halloween Costume round-up with eight great costumes for the whole family. Happy Halloween!

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