Posts Tagged ‘Entertainment’

Great Reads for Moms: February ’10 Edition & a Giveaway

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Sorry! This giveaway is now closed! We would like to congratulate Jodi (Commenter #3) on winning this great prize from BookSwim. Happy reading, Jodi!

I am so excited to share about another month of great reading for moms and to also get the opportunity to couple it with a giveaway on our blog. Despite our life being in constant chaos last month, I still got a chance to read five great books to share with all of you. I am sure having the television being inoperable for three weeks definitely helped boost more reading time for me!

These days, you will find me in the evening with some decaf coffee in my little French press and a library book in my hands. There is no better way to spend an evening than with a big stack of library books and a warm drink.

I am really looking forward to the weather warming up so I can spend it wrapped in a blanket and sitting outside in a wicker chair by our little fire pit. Spring just can’t come soon enough to Indiana!

Without further adieu, here are the wonderful books that I read this last month and ideas for you to add to your to-be-read piles!

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee-

I can admit that I was not exposed to a lot of classical literature. In my English classes, we were exposed to only excerpts of the classics, but not the full books. Maybe that is why, as an adult, I have an interest in exploring the classics for the first time. When I spotted an entire table of Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” at our local library, I grabbed a copy to attempt to read it!

Those that live in the Michiana area can participate in a unique opportunity called, “One Book, One Michiana.” They are encouraging everyone to read this classic and then will have community-centered activities and events surrounding this book. I am excited to participate in this and excited for any opportunity that encourages me to step out of my comfort zone when it comes to literature.

To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the 1930’s in the Deep South where race and social standings are of great importance within the Maycomb community. When lawyer, Atticus Finch, is the assigned defense to an African American charged with raping a white woman, he compromises his social standing by defending his case before the court. The entire story is told through the eyes of Atticus’ children as they try to understand what it means to be white during a time of great racism.

The story opens with Jem & Scout, Atticus’ two children, spying on their neighbor who is a town recluse and never leaves his home. The story of Boo Radley is how the children keep themselves entertained during those long summer days and Boo’s story is interwoven through the book. They are simple children that just love to fight, to play in the dirt, and who love to play pretend games with their neighbor boy.

Their entire world changes when Atticus is assigned the defense of an African American man who is accused of raping Mayella Ewell. While the Ewell family are the lowest in the white class, they are still accepted and believed more than Tom Robinson who has always been an honest and kind family man.

Everyone is against Tom even when all of the evidence points somewhere else and Atticus has to defend the toughest case of his career to a jury of white men.

The court scenes were riveting, the twists in the plot added depth to the story and characters, and telling the entire story through a child’s eyes was priceless to the story. The characters in this novel are so rich and beautifully written that a piece of yourself can identify with so many of them. Admittedly, I had a hard time with some of the racist language and derogatory terms that were used towards African Americans during that time, but it shapes the story and makes you realize how horrible these times were.

I can’t rave enough about this book and wish I could share more in my review, but I don’t want to give away the beautiful plot, twists, and turns that you would experience as a reader if you haven’t read it!

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton-

Wednesday Sisters was a gem of a book that was reminiscent of some of my favorite books about friendship and the bonds that women have. The story followed along the vein of some of my favorite girlfriend literature like, “Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons,” and “The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood Club.” It is a book about friendship that spans the decades and shows the power of great girlfriends and the power that the written word has!

The book takes place in the 1960’s and tells the story of five different women who meet in the park one day and find a mutual interest in literature. Deciding to go against the obvious and form a book club, they decide to challenge each other and start a Wednesday Sisters group, where they would meet each Wednesday morning and share stories they had written with one another. Some take the writing assignment as a fun outlet, while others have ambitious dreams of being published and known for their writing.

While starting a writing club in this decade wouldn’t seem like a big deal, it was revolutionary in its own way because women were left with caring for the home, caring for the children, and caring for their man. Women with ambitious dreams and lofty goals were not the norm, yet as the book progresses each of these women finds their own voice and their own purpose in life.

It deals with some of the tough topics of the decade- racism, feelings about beauty pageants, women in the workplace, protests against government, and the stand-by-your-man philosophy that so many women were encouraged to do even in the face of adultery from their spouse.

As someone who writes, I found their journey through writing endearing and touching. When the women reached specific writing milestones, my heart would leap a bit knowing how each of them discovered themselves and their own potential for their lives.

While the beginning started a little slow for me, the beautiful story that developed held me to the beautiful ending and made me want to start a little writing club of my own.

More importantly though, it made me so thankful for my girlfriends and the power that women have to encourage one another toward our goals, to celebrate life’s great accomplishments, and to hold each other up when we face challenges.

Peony In Love by Lisa See-

I will admit that this book was nothing like I had ever expected and like no other book of Lisa See’s that I have ever read.

The story surrounds a self-centered Peony who has always been cared for and had everything provided for her. She has quickly approached the age of marriage and, as is customary, has been betrothed in marriage to a man that she does not know. She knows that it is her daughterly and wifely duty to be a good wife to him and has no trouble with this arrangement until the evening that she meets her true heart’s desire.

She meets this handsome poet one night during the performing of her favorite opera, “The Peony Pavilion.” She knows that it is wrong for her to even speak to the man, yet they arrange a meeting each night of the opera and she feels, for the first time, the feelings of true love. At the tender age of sixteen, these meetings are all that can she think about and she knows that she should marry this man.

In the days leading up to her wedding day, thinking of this man causes her to become sick, weak, and obsessed knowing that she cannot be with her true love. Much like the ill-fated lovers in The Peony Pavilion, her life takes a turn that the reader will never expect and her life mirrors the story told in this opera.

I wish I could say more, but to say more would reveal the twists and turn in the plot that makes this book an unexpectedly different read than what I had anticipated. It is a true look inside the ancient rituals surrounding what happens in the afterlife and how the Chinese view the importance of their ancestral heritage.

I encourage you to read the author’s notes after which helps to explain why this story must be told and the importance for all women to be able to tell their stories and poems to the world!

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline-

Jodi Picoult fans will appreciate this suspenseful book by Lisa Scottoline that gives us a glimpse into an adoptive mother’s worst nightmare. What if you found out that everything you thought about your perfectly legal adoption was wrong?

Newspaper reporter Ellen Gleeson became the adoptive mother of her little boy Will after covering a story about the sick little boy who was abandoned by his mother because of numerous health problems. The mother did not feel she could care for him and decides to make the heart wrenching decision to give him up. After his surgery though, the hospital discovers that his health problems were resolved and Ellen finds herself in love with this little boy and decides to adopt him and make him her own.

When she picks up the mail one day two years later though, she notices a missing child flier that has a little boy that looks exactly like her son. Even though her adoption is perfectly legal and the mother has signed off on all of the papers, could this little boy be the exact same little boy as the one in the flier?

Being an investigative journalist, she can’t shake the feeling that something may have been wrong with her adoption and decides to seek legal counsel to find out if she has any parental rights. When she finds that her adoption lawyer, a happy mother of three, has supposedly committed suicide she begins to wonder if something more sinister is to blame.

Ellen is sent spiraling into mysterious deaths, a fascination with the family that has lost their only son, and clues that lead the reader through this mysterious thriller. It makes you wonder as a mother what you would do if you were faced with the moral dilemma of turning the information in to the authorities and giving up what is most precious to you or harboring the secret so you can selfishly keep your little boy as your own.

It was a good solid read although, at times, very predictable. It was my first novel by Lisa Scottoline and was chosen because it was a new Target book club pick and I have never been lead astray by their choices. It was a really quick read that would be fun to take to the beach or on a family trip.

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah-

Winter Garden is a wonderful heart wrenching and riveting read from Kristin Hannah that her fans will really and truly love. If you have not read Kristin Hannah before, this is a standout read that will have you spending a little time with your tissues and even giggling out loud at the dynamics of sisterhood and family.

The book is about two sisters who are as different as two sisters can be. The sensible Meredith has taken over the duties of the family business and remains the rock for her family. Her sister Nina, on the other hand, chooses to be a traveling photographer who finds great joy in the travel and the inconsistency of her life.

When their father brings the two sisters together on his deathbed, he makes them promise to take care of their seemingly unemotional and detached mother and to listen to one of her Russian fairy tales in its entirety. Neither daughter has a true relationship with their mother and both find spending time with her to be difficult.

Meredith is left to care for her mother, Anya, and quickly discovers that the task will not be an easy one. Her mother is becoming frustrated, confused, and her behavior is becoming more and more bizarre. As Meredith’s marriage and job are becoming more demanding, she is forced to put her mother in a nursing home to help her with the duties.

When Nina returns home and finds her mother in the nursing home, she insists that she is brought home where she can care for her. Nina forces Anya, a woman that neither daughter really knows, to share about herself each night through the fairytale that their father has requested that she share.

This fairytale takes the three women on a journey that none of them expect. What starts as an innocent story about a girl being swept off of her feet by a handsome prince becomes altogether too real as the story begins to unfold. It will leave the reader with her heart in her throat and shows the fragility of life and the heart of the human spirit.

Not enough great reads for you? Be sure to visit my past book highlights to add to your to-be-read pile:

Me Time: Making Your Reading Time a Priority

How to Get Back in the Groove of Reading (December ’09 Reading)

January ’10 Reads

October ’09 Reading

Disclosure: All of the links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate the books quickly and easily. Feel free to order a book, but we encourage utilizing the library system and buying me a latte instead.  Then we both would be really happy and we could have our own little book club together! Wouldn’t that just be so much more lovely? Happy Reading!


What if I told you that you could read all of these books for free? Well, today we are offering a fun reader giveaway for the avid reader in you! There is a great innovative book program out there called BookSwim that is a book rental program to help feed the bookworms in your family.

For the past few months, I was given a trial membership to share with you the details of how it works. The best way I can describe it is that it is just like Netflix. They send you a stack of books that you can read, you read and keep them as long as you want, and then you drop them back in the mail to return them to the company. They will then ship your next round of books for you to enjoy and the process goes on from there. The plans start at $9.95 a month and up, which is exactly the same price you might be paying for a movie club.

For me, the rental plan would not make sense. My library is the mecca of brand new books and (it seems) has unlimited amount of copies of the bestsellers. When I lived in Massachusetts and had a dated library that was never stocked with current books, I would have given my left arm to have a membership to BookSwim.

Here’s who it makes sense to for me:

1. My readers with small children who don’t have time to enjoy a leisurely visit to the library and are instead keeping their children well-read rather than themselves.

2. My readers who don’t have a great library system or access to great free books.

3. My readers who want to switch out their movie club membership for a book membership that they can enjoy with their whole family.

Lucky for you, I am giving away a free membership to BookSwim to one lucky reader. We will be giving one reader a three month subscription on their 3-at-a-time book plan!

To enter to win, please do one or all of the following:

1. Leave a comment and tell me one great read you have read so far this year or why you would like to make reading a priority.

2.  Please subscribe to my blog. We are offering our readership full feed access into the blog daily and I would love to have our site becoming part of your daily routine. Leave an additional comment to let me know that you have subscribed!

3. Tell us one thing you would like to see offered on the site. I do my best to appeal to all of our readers, but if there is something special you would like to see, please let me know!

Entries will be taken through Tuesday (03/23) at 8PM EST. Our winner will be drawn at random. Good luck, everyone!

Red Carpet Bunco & a Cast of Great Recipes

Monday, January 25th, 2010

I can admit that Bunco, for me, is one of life’s delicious little pleasures! Our group has been rolling the dice for years now and every year we add more fun girls and make the most of this one day together each month.

When I think about it, I get a little misty-eyed. We have lost members as they have moved to other areas, we have gained new friends as we add new people to the group, our children have grown, new babies have been added to the mix, we celebrate each other and our accomplishments, and love each other when things are not going well. These women have been one of those steady things in my life that I know I can count on and I feel blessed to love each of them. Whether we are rocking it out in our old bridesmaid dresses, enjoying a night of 70’s fun, having tea for charity, or being decked out as retro housewives, we find a way to celebrate together once a month!

When Degree contacted me to see if I would be interested in hosting a red carpet evening for the SAG Awards, I immediately thought of my Bunco Babes and how we could make this a fun night together.

I feel so spoiled with my site sometimes and I feel so blessed to get opportunities like these. I look forward to spoiling my friends and family when I can incorporate them into these events and I invited my Bunco Babes group over for a night of pampering and fun.

Degree gave us $100 for our food and drinks, a $100 Macy’s gift card for a red carpet dress for myself, another $100 Macy’s gift card to raffle off to my girlfriends, and scheduled a manicurist to come to our event and give us all manicures. We truly got the red carpet treatment!

I love getting ready for the parties and pulling everything together for our theme. We set up a manicure station on the lower level with oodles of magazines and cream puffs so that the girls could truly be pampered while they had their manicures.

The upper level was decorated with fresh flower bouquets, a red tablecloth (that I already owned), and a little bit of sparkle from the Valentine’s section of a local superstore.

We are usually chasing after our dice since the tables can be slippery so I found pieces of felt for a quarter and attached a little chipboard saying to each of them that could be centered on each table. These will be traveling to the next house and kept with our Bunco kit of supplies for the hostess. I was pretty proud of those.

I had no success at Macy’s finding the perfect red dress for the event so I opted for my favorite little black dress and found a red shrug to go over it. These flats were perfect since I was on my feet fielding the ladies down to the manicurist and subbing for everyone while they got their nails done. I found these at Marshall’s for $24.99 and thought they would be practical and fashionable while hosting the event!

We all loved our manicures and felt so glamorous after our red carpet nail treatment. All of the ladies got to choose a different shade of red for the evening.

This ring (pictured above) got more compliments than my dress and was a $4.20 purchase over at Forever 21. I love how it adds a little sparkle to my hand without breaking the bank.

Bunco is all about the food and I did take a little store-bought help since I had a food budget. I bought two trays of meat lasagnas ($10.99 each) and two large boxes of cream puffs for the manicure station and dessert table ($14.99 each).  Everything else was homemade though and everyone really seemed to enjoy the food.

In the spirit of red carpet deliciousness, these were the award-winning, red carpet-worthy dishes that rounded out the menu!

Roasted Green Beans

2 pounds fresh green beans (or a bag of frozen fancy green beans)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic (I use the bottled garlic to save a little time)
Salt & Pepper
Zest from one lemon (save the juice for later)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Grab a jelly roll pan and dump green beans on the pan. Sprinkle seasonings, lemon zest, and garlic over the green beans. Drizzle the olive oil over the green beans and then toss with your hands until they are all coated with the seasonings and zest. Spread out in a single layer and slide your cookie sheet into the oven. Roast fresh green beans for 20-25 minutes and roast frozen green beans for an additional 10-15 minutes. When they are done, pull from the oven and put them on a serving platter. Squeeze the lemon juice over the top (from the lemon you zested) and serve.

Spunky Spinach Dip (courtesy of Gooseberry Patch Cookbook)

2 cups salsa (approximately one standard size jar)
2 cups Monterey Jack cheese
8 oz low-fat or fat-free cream cheese, softened and cubed
10 oz frozen chopped spinach (thawed and drained)

Mix ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Stir well. Place in a microwave-safe bowl and heat until cooked through. If baking, cook at 350 for 20-25 minutes (double your cooking time for a double batch) in an oven-safe bowl (covered). Serve with your favorite dipper! I served this with fresh celery sticks and fresh carrots to balance out the heaviness of the lasagna.

Bacon & Ranch Cheese Ball

2 (8 ounce) packages of low-fat cream cheese, softened
1 package of Ranch dressing mix
1 cup cheddar cheese
5-7 strips of bacon cooked and crumbled (or buy prepackaged crumbled bacon)

Mix all of the ingredients together with a mixer until they are incorporated. Shape into a ball and roll in a plate of shredded cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours. I served this with assorted pretzel crackers.

Classic Orange Chiffon Cake (Courtesy of The Cake Doctor)

5 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 package yellow cake mix

3 large egg yolks

3/4 cup orange juice

1/2 cup vegetable oil such as canola, corn, safflower, soybean, or sunflower (I used canola oil)

1/4 cup thawed frozen orange juice concentrate

1 teaspoon grated orange zest


2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

3 tablespoons orange juice (I had to use 5 so you may need to increase this)

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Set aside an ungreased 10″ tube pan. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a medium mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Set the bowl aside. Place the cake mix, egg yolks, orange juice concentrate, oil, and orange zest in a large mixing bowl, and with the same beaters used to beat the egg whites, blend with the electric mixer on low speed for one minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer to medium and beat for two more minutes, scraping the sides again if needed. The batter should look well blended.

Turn the beaten egg whites out on top of the batter and with the spatula, fold the egg whites into the batter until the mixture is light but well combined. Pour into the pan and place int he oven.

Bake until it is golden brown and springs back when pressed with your finger for 48-52 minutes (Mine took 48 minutes).  Remove the pan and immediately turn it upside down over the neck of a glass bottle to cool for one hour. Run a knife around the edge and invert it onto a rack and then invert it again on a serving platter so it is right side up.

For the glaze, place the confectioners’ sugar and orange juice in a medium mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for one minute. Spread the glaze over the top and side of the cake. Let the glaze set for 20 minutes and then serve.

Side Note- After you measure out 1/4 cup of the thawed orange juice concentrate, prepare orange juice with the remaining concentrate by adding half as much water as the package directs. Use this orange juice in your cake batter and glaze.

Bunco Punch

Orange slices
Lemon slices
Lime slices
Maraschino cherries
Cherry juice or red food coloring
Metal ring mold

SIMPLE SYRUP (Prepare ahead) :
3 c. water
3 c. sugar
Combine, boil and cool.

Simple syrup, chilled
4 c. chilled cranberry juice
3 c. chilled bottled lemon juice
2 c. chilled orange juice
2 c. chilled unsweetened pineapple juice
2 qt. chilled ginger ale
16 oz. rum or vodka or wine or champagne

Create your ice ring by throwing in the citrus fruit slices and then pouring in the jar of cherries (juice and all) Top the bundt pan off with water and then freeze overnight.

To serve: Unmold ice ring into punch bowl; add juices and liquor; add ginger ale.

This makes approximately 30 (6 ounce) servings.

The very famous radio superstar, Amy Watson from Cat Country, won the raffle for the $100 Macy’s gift card. She is having a baby next month so I can think of no one who deserves a little pampering and fun shopping more than her!

It was such a fantastic night of fun and a great kick-off to another great year of Bunco with my girlfriends!

Degree  is offering cool prizes daily and a chance to snag product coupons. Be sure to visit their site for more information and a recap of the red carpet fashion that was spotted at the SAG awards.

In the Book Basket: October ’09 Reading

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

I can’t say that my challenge to eat breakfast each morning has been going very good, but I have definitely made reading time a priority this month. I hope that you also are squeezing in some great time to read especially with the holiday festivities quickly approaching. Your me time is more important than ever!

At the beginning of each month, I will share with you some of the great reads that I have been working on. If you want to add me to your Goodreads friend list, you can find me listed under “momadvice.”

My dear friend and fellow bookworm, Beth, also keeps a great book blog called, “Beth’s Book-Nook Blog,” where she shares some really fantastic reviews and ideas for great reading! Be sure to check her out!

This month I dove into these great reads that I would love to share with you!

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

This is the first novel I have read by Lisa See so I can’t offer any comparison on this versus her other novels. What I can tell you is that this book takes you on a journey that is beautifully told of the time in China and in the US during the Japanese invasion of Shanghai.

Pearl & May are sisters who deal with many of the insecurities and rivalry that most sisters endure. Pearl is studious and responsible while May is beautiful and has the ability to get her way in any type of situation. Both girls are living a life of privilege and are unaware of the poor and less fortunate. The girls enjoy the good life and are able to afford their lifestyle thanks to modeling for advertisements that help afford them what their family needs.

This all takes a turn when they discover that their father is in deep debt. In order to pay off his debts, he arranges for a marriage and marries off the girls to a set of brothers residing in the United States. They are expected to make the journey to the US and fulfill their father’s debts.

Getting to the United States proves to be more challenging than either sister bargained for as the invasion of Shanghai happens at the same time they are to be heading on the boat.

To say that this journey to the United States is epic, would be a small understatement. The girls endure incredible tragedy, untold brutality, and a journey that they never dreamed they would ever endure.

The story, above all else, is about sisters. Sisters that love each other in spite of it all…and sisters that would do anything for one another.

The ending could have been brought together better, but that was the only thing missing for me. I felt as though I had been on the journey with these sisters and the ending left me wondering if a sequel could follow.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Anyone else a huge fan of The Time Traveler’s Wife? This was one of my favorite books of all time. It was so good, in fact, that my husband found me sobbing in a corner with snot dripping down my face because I was so moved to tears. Perhaps that is why I really, really wanted to love this next book by this author.

This story is about two sets of twins- Elspeth & Edie and Edie’s daughters Julie & Valentina. Elspeth passes away and bequeaths all of her estate and belongings to her nieces, Julie & Valentina. There is only one way to cash in on their inheritance though and it is to live in her old apartment for one year and their family is not allowed to enter.

The girls head to London to live in the flat and find that Elspeth is still residing there…in ghostly form. She is unable to pass into the next life and her soul is trapped in the house.

The girls get to know their neighbors like Robert, who is Elspeth’s former lover, and Martin, a man left by his wife because of his debilitating OCD. The story follows them as the girls explore London and Elspeth’s home.

Valentina begins to want to separate herself from her twin and become an individual while her sister craves the sameness that they have always had. In order to become independent, Valentina makes a decision that leads to consequences the reader will never expect.

While I enjoyed the book, it was nothing like what I had expected. I had a little difficulty following all of the different stories and characters that were woven into this story and I found the ending to have a great twist, but not one I could relate to or as believable as I would hope.

Regardless, it was a great read with a great deal of creativity and the history of London weaved in. This is definitely for someone looking for a dark read with a lot of great historical information about London.

Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon

I devoured this book in one day and could not put it down. I have never read this author before, but if this is any indication of her work, then I am completely hooked.

The book is about a group of four art students who form a group called the Compassionate Dismantlers. Their fearless leader, Suze, encourages them to commit petty crimes and vandalize with their motto being, “To understand the nature of a thing, it must be taken apart.”

The book flash forwards to ten years later and Henry & Tess, two people that were in the group, are now married and have a child together. They have been living with a secret for ten years of a prank that has gone horribly wrong and both seem haunted by the crime. It is pulling them away from their m
arriage and neither can seem to get over what has happened.

Their daughter is anti-social and has created an imaginary friend who is helping her to bring her parents together. She finds an old journal and pictures and sends a postcard to all of the former members of her parent’s group with their motto on it.

The postcard triggers a suicide and a chain of twists and turns that are as horrifying and thrilling as any good horror movie.

The book kept me up at night until the shocking conclusion that will lead you on a crazy roller coaster.

Just as a disclosure, this book had rough language in it!

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I can’t say enough about how much of a literary treasure this book is! It is rare that a book sticks with me and that I think about it long after I have put it down, but The Help is one of those books that does just that.

The book tells the story of the post-Civil Rights movement through the eyes of three different women. It is told through the eyes of Aibileen & Minny, two African American maids, and Skeeter, a young white woman.

Aibileen is a gentle soul that is intent on offering the best care that she can give to the white children that she cares for. She feels it is her duty to make them feel as special and loved because she knows many of the mothers do not give their children the love they need. Her tender spirit and soft motherly ways instantly makes you feel like she is an old friend.

Minny is a spunky character who has trouble acting as a maid because she doesn’t really like to be bossed around. She has so much spunk and humor that you can’t wait to see what kind of trouble she will get into and how endearing she truly is as you get acquainted with her own difficult home life.

Skeeter is a young woman who desperately wants to become a writer. She gets the idea to write an anonymous book with anonymous maids who could share their story and struggles as an African American woman acting as a maid and (often) being treated unfairly by their white bosses.

When these three characters come together it is pure magic!

After reading it, there were two things that I couldn’t believe:

1) The author was a white woman. To document the African American struggles of the post- Civil Rights movement was so authentically documented and the voice so “true” that I found it surprising and a tribute to a skilled author to capture that voice. It never felt false and the prose was simply beautiful to read.

2) That this was Kathryn Stockett’s first book. The skill of the writing in three different voices and the way she captured that era was something that you don’t normally see out of a first time novelist.

What can I say about this book? It is one that made me laugh out loud, it made me cry tears for the struggles and unkindness that so many had to endure, and I became so attached to the characters that it will be hard to let them go. I wish that the story would go on and that a sequel could tell what happened to these three women as they began the new adventures that each of these women will go on.

If you read anything this year, let it be this book!

What was in your book basket this past month? Any book recommendations you would like to share?

Me Time: Making Your Reading Time a Priority

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

I have been really trying to devote more time to reading in the evening instead of watching television. I have the tendency to become a television junkie when the new fall season starts, but this year, I seem more interested in reading. We have a fantastic library system and I am definitely cashing in and spending some time under my favorite cozy quilt to get some reading done.

Setting up a book basket in our front room just for me has been a great way to incorporate reading back into my life. I visit the library for a little me time every other week and stock up on great reads. With borrowing from the library, there is no guilt if I decide that I don’t like a book… I just return it for the next unfortunate soul.

Many times I hear from people that they don’t have time to read. I have found that I can usually carve a little time out for just about anything in my life, but I have to make it a priority in order to make the time for it.

Take advantage of reading windows- Reading for me is carved into that tiny window of time between getting one child off to school and then the other. I find a window when we have time with the television off and the kids are spending their quiet time reading or drawing. Another window is generously given to me by my husband when he completes the kid’s evening routine and I disappear on the couch. These tiny pockets of time are how it works for me now. I look forward to having bigger windows of opportunity in the future, but I crave these little pockets of time for me!

Join or start a book club- My book club has been the biggest motivator to read at least one book each month. Being in a group can challenge you to read books that you would have never read before. I look forward to my book club each month and I love the books that I have totally loved that would have never made my reading list.

Turn the television and computer off- I know it is hard, but if I keep the television and computer off in the evening, I know that I can spend that time reading instead. Find a quiet space in your home that is television and computer free and designate that as your reading spot. Encourage your other family members to do the same!

My scaled down social networking probably has not boosted traffic to the site or made me the social media maven I sometimes wish I could be, but boy, do I feel a sense of satisfaction when I read a book!

Create your own book basket- Who says book baskets are just for kids? Fill a basket up for yourself and make a regularly scheduled date with yourself to visit the library. Put it on the calendar and savor those moments of peace choosing great books to read.

Do it for your kids- When my kids see me digging into my book basket, they want to dig into theirs too. Think of what an incredible example you are when you are showing them how much fun it is to read. It is through your example that they will learn a love of reading!

Read what you want- 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!

What if you don’t have a great library system? Well, there are some great reading alternatives out there! Here are a few book resources that I have gathered for the book lovers of the world:

GoodReads or Shelfari- I use GoodReads to keep track of all of the things that I am reading or plan to read. I am not good about remembering the books I have read or that I would like to read in the future. This site helps me keep track of my impressions of books and keep my bookshelves fully stocked with the books I am really interested in reading. I love to keep a pad of paper with me in my purse or make notes into my cell phone when I am at the bookstore so if I happen upon a book I am interested in, I can jot down a note so I can pick it up at my local library.

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.

Frugal Reader, Paperback Swap, & Bookmooch- Just three 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.

Bookins- This is another great site where you can not only swap books, but also movies. Their system will automatically arrange for shipments from you to one member and from a third member back to you, and so on. You never have to contact anyone, there is no bidding, and there are no hassles of dealing with different traders and personalities for each exchange. The shipping charges are always a flat $4.49 for the service. You can keep what you get or exchange it again when you are done.

SwapSimple- This is a site where you can list textbooks, books, games or DVDs. Begin by listing what you have to be available to others. Right when you list an item, they will figure out what it’s current market value is, and award you 20% of it’s value up front for your use. You g
et the remaining 80% when you send your item to another swapper. This means you can list items, and get items immediately!

Amazon’s Free Kindle Downloads- For those that have moved towards the electronic books, Amazon has books available to download for free through February 28th. Be sure to snag these books and save!

I challenge you to bring reading back into your life- even if it is the teeniest pane of a window and even if the literature is lighthearted and non-award-worthy!

These are a few of the books that I have been working on these last two months…

The Penny Pinchers Club by Sarah Strohmeyer

I absolutely adored this book. If you are a Sophie Kinsella fan, you will really love this book and the hilarity that ensues.

Kat is an assistant to an interior designer barely making any money at all. She doesn’t seem to notice that she is spending more money than she has until she is faced with the stunned resolution that her marriage is falling apart.

On the advice of her lawyer, Kat is advised to begin saving a minimum of $500 a week to build a nest egg for herself so that she can handle the financial blow of the divorce and beginning to live on her own.

She joins the local Penny Pinchers Club and vows to stop shopping and start saving to reach her financial goals. She learns important lessons in bulk shopping, saving on her electric bill, and how much sweet rewards are savored when only enjoyed occasionally.

The life lessons build up to a great finish where Kat makes a discovery about herself and who she can be through her penny pinching efforts.
The Pretend Wife by Bridget Asher

This was a really great chick lit book about a woman who offers to be a pretend wife to her old college flame. Elliott’s mother is passing away and she is worried that her son will not be taken care of when she dies.

In a drunken pact, Gwen and her husband Peter, decide she can be his pretend wife for one weekend for his mother.

Of course, the old feelings resurface and Gwen has to choose between her predictably normal marriage and falling in love with her whole heart.

There is a great little twist at the end and it is a fast read that I devoured in two days!
The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne

It has been a long time since a book kept me up all night, but I could not put this book down. Just as a warning, the book does have rough language and abuse in it. If you can’t handle that sort of thing, just skip over this one!

“The Last Bridge,” jumps back and forth from the past and the present, sharing the difficult life of the main character Cat. Cat suffers through terrible emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of her father and escapes by sketching a comic book version of herself escaping “The Hand” of abuse.

She begins a relationship with a boy named Addison who loves her unconditionally. Although Addison cannot protect her from the abuse of her father, he makes her feel beautiful and loved. There love is a secret one as her father’s abusive reign will not allow anyone else to love his daughter.

She escapes town, leaving with a huge secret, and returns as a grown women after learning of her mother’s suicide. She is faced with all of the people from her past and her life is falling apart from alcoholism and the year’s of brutal abuse she has endured. She is now faced with discovering a cryptic goodbye note from her mother, the demons of her childhood, and all of the people who could not help her out of that abuse.

I don’t want to give away any of the plot because what makes this book so great is the many twists and turns that I did not expect. If you are a Jodi Picoult fan, I think you will appreciate the unexpected twists and the descriptive use of language that Coyne uses. Her knack for storytelling will immediately suck you in.

I felt like I was on a roller coaster ride, but I had to know how it would all turn out. An excellent read and I can’t wait to read more from this author!

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain

I have never read a book by Diane Chamberlain, but if this is any indication of her writing style, I am permanently hooked on this author.

This book focuses on a sixteen year old girl who has lost her mother and seems to be very alone in the world. She works as a waitress and waits on the table of a handsome young man who sweeps her off of her feet. Despite their age difference, he seems to be very taken with her and she is head over heels in love with him.

He makes a confession that he is on a mission to release his sister from jail for a wrongfully accused crime. He asks her to partner with him and his brother to free their sister from jail. All she will have to do is to sit with the senator’s wife, whom they plan to kidnap, as bait to get the local senator to agree to release their sister.

The crime goes completely wrong and forever alters the path of CeeCee Wilkes. She is forced to change her identity and lives with a horrible secret of what has happened during that fateful night that she assisted with the kidnapping.

This one had me on the edge of my seat and I could not put it down until I knew what had happened. It is one of the best books that I have read in a long time and I would highly recommend it!

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

Two families awaken to find their daughters missing in a small Iowa town. The girls are inseparable best friends, both vanishing into the early morning light without a trace.

The two girls become fast friends as Calli suffers from mutism that is brought on by a traumatic event from her childhood. While Calli is unable to talk she finds her voice at school through her best friend Petra.

When the girls go missing, both family’s lives are intertwined as they search for their daughters and a case of the whodunit leaves you guessing throughout the book.

Do you make time to read? What are some books you have read lately that you could recommend?

Family Game Nights Reign Supreme

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

As my children get older and the years go by, we seem to be continually adding to our board game collection. I love board games because it is one way to bring us all together and focus on aspects of teamwork and family that we really need to focus our efforts on.

The calendar seems to be overflowing with activities as my kids get older and these commitments can sometimes pull us away from each other. I remember my own parents enforcing a strict Family Night on our calendar each week where we were not allowed to go anywhere or do anything except spend a night together as a family. Our night together included fun food and a great sitcom. There may have been weeks I acted as though I resented it, particularly in those middle school years, but now I look back on that time together fondly. It was important and essential to our parents and I looked forward to it just as much as they did.

To steal a line from Iron Chef, “Board games reign supreme,” in our house. Family nights usually include a homemade pizza, a board game, and a fun family movie together. We all look forward to it and I love sharing these precious moments with my children.

Board games not only help promote togetherness with our children, but also togetherness as a couple. A board game with your spouse is the ultimate in frugal date nights and I can think of no better way to spend an evening together than dusting off an old board game and just being kids again!

I try to get our board games at our local thrift store because it is a great way for me to try them out without making a huge investment. Sometimes I buy games and we discover that it isn’t something we would want to play over and over again. When they cost us only $1.50, it makes it much easier to donate it back and try something else out.

You might be able to do this without even making a small investment by checking with your local library. Our library actually has games and toys that you can rent for your children. We were able to try some games out for our son and found that he either didn’t like them or they were way too advanced by just checking them out for a week. We were able to return them and then try them at a later date with him, when they were more age-appropriate.

Starting your own game collection does not have to be expensive. If you don’t have somewhere that you can buy them secondhand, ask for these as a family Christmas gift or ask for them for your children as birthday gifts. Some of the best childhood games are Candy Land, Chutes & Ladders, Memory, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Life, and Clue.

Games are a great way to bond with your family and are an inexpensive “date night” with your spouse. We try and devote (at least) one night a week towards playing a game together and enjoy playing these games on the weekend.

Twister Hopscotch- Twister Hopscotch is a great game to keep in your collection for rainy days because it is still a physical activity, but can be done indoors instead of out. The game consists of different colors of rings that can be made into a formation. Just like regular old Twister, you give it a spin to figure out your color, hop to your circle, and then do the required “silly” activity… at least I think this is the rules. In our family, we hand the kids the box and let them discover whatever it is they would like to create or do. It is a great game for preschoolers because they can create patterns, it helps with color recognition, and coordination. We really love this game and I think your kids would too! (Age Recommendations- 4 and up)

Disney DVD Bingo- This game was given to us as a birthday gift from a friend and it is one of the most used games in our collection. Each card has characters from the Disney movies on each of the Bingo spots. You pop in the DVD and choose the style of Bingo game you would like to play. For younger kids, you can stick to the basic Bingo, but older kids will enjoy the challenge that some of the other games offer. The DVD tells you what numbers are being called and occasionally there are very short Disney movie sequences that are shown. Both of my children love this game and paired with a big bowl of popcorn, they are entertained for at least an hour. Make it more challenging by adding extra cards for each child to increase the difficulty. This is a great game for recognizing numbers, colors, and patterns. (Age Recommendations- 4 and up)

Apples to Apples- If you have not played Apples to Apples before, you are really missing out on a treat. It is my new favorite game to tote around to all of our family functions and any opportunity where I can get a few friends together. Simply deal the cards out to each player and one person gets to be the judge. The judge will share a card and you select from your cards the best match to that card. Once everyone has given their card to the judge, the judge decides which card best fits the card they shared.

The fun is in the variety of unexpected comparisons people make, sometimes apt, funny, creative, or simply absurd. For example: people might match “Awkward” with “Oil Spills,” “My First Kiss,” “Dandruff,” and “Gold Chains. ” Or: “Painful” with “High School Reunions” and “Regis Philben. ” Strategy comes into play since, because each player takes turns being the judge, you begin to pick up on the preferences of each player and tailor your choices accordingly.

Honestly, if you find yourself hosting a dinner party where you are worried about conversation or a family gathering that you don’t have very much in common with, this is the game to break out to get through those awkward silences. Kid v
ersions of this game are also available. (Age Recommendations- 12 and up)

Trouble- Trouble is a great game for younger kids because it is a very simple concept and the playing time is perfect for shorter attention spans. Adults may remember this great game from their childhood. With this game, you just move your four pegs around the board and put them into the finish spots. If you land on an opponents peg while going around the board though, you can boot them back to the beginning and make their piece start all over again. Instead of rolling dice, you push the “Pop-o-matic,” in the center which throws the dice for you. My kids really love this game and you will too! (Age Recommendations- Ages 4-9)

Connect Four- Connect Four is one of our favorite games and both the kids really enjoy it. The game is a vertical version of tic-tac-toe. Each player has a color and you drop the pieces in and try to get four in a row. The other player can block your moves with their pieces and this is a great game for strategy building to see if you can outsmart your opponent. This is another game that is short and sweet so it is perfect for children with short attention spans or for a quick game before bedtime.

Rummikub: This is a game that my husband loved to play when he was growing up, and now he has me addicted to it too! The game is intended for ages eight and up and can be played with two or more players. With rules similar to gin rummy, Rummikub is a classic tile game that’s guaranteed to get at least a million kid-hours of use in any family. Players take 14 numbered tiles and try to get rid of them as fast as possible by creating runs (for example, 7-8-9) and sets (7-7-7). The link provided is for their deluxe edition (which we do not have). This deluxe edition is cleverly designed so that the four plastic tile racks fit together to form a carrying case for the game. Junior editions of this game are also available.

Scrabble- What is not to love about this game? Intended for two players or more and recommended for ages eight to ninety-nine, you can play this game for years with your children. The game has been improved with a swivel board (less stretching required!), raised holders to rest the tiles into, and a bag to store all of the tiles. This is one of my personal favorites and we play this a lot in our house. Don’t forget to purchase a copy of the Scrabble Dictionary and store it with your game board. Take some time to study some words and really beat your opponents! Want to see what Scrabble obsession looks like? Rent the movie, “Word Wars.” It is all about the Scrabble championships that are held and people who attempt to make a living from this sport. Junior editions of this game are also available.

Upwords- Along the same vein, this is another fabulous word puzzle game, but with a twist. You build words just like Scrabble, but you can build up and up (five letters high) to change words into new words. The more you stack, the more points you earn. I think it is more challenging than Scrabble, but the scoring is much easier to do. This game is for two players or more and recommended for ages eight and up. This game can be a powerful tool when your children are beginning to read because it can help teach them how to change words using different letters. Consider it a cheap version of “Hooked on Phonics” and a game that they can enjoy for years after they have learned to read!
Skip-Bo- This was my favorite game growing up and my sister & I would play this for hours and hours. Created by the makers of UNO, this card game is a delight for anyone of all ages. The game is a sequencing game of skill and strategy intended for two players or more and ages seven and up. Players create sequential stacks with cards on the board, the first player to use all the cards in their stack wins. The deluxe edition has a board wi
th placeholders for all of the stacks of cards and score sheets to keep tabs of the winners. I love this game because it is easy to still have conversations while playing, making it a great game to socialize with other couples.
Yahtzee- A classic game of dice that has been around since 1956 and is still played in millions of homes today. You can play alone (which I don’t think would be as much fun) or with more players. The ultimate in

this game is to actually get Yahtzee or five of a kind. This game is so much fun and also a great teaching tool for children. Children can learn basic addition and subtraction, as well as sequential ordering.

Monopoly- I had never played this game until high school, and I can honestly say that my husband is always the winner, which is why we don’t play it as much! This game is a great teaching tool in

money-management and in buying real estate. We have a couple of different versions of this game, but my favorite is the Dot Com Monopoly, which we purchased when Dot Coms were ruling the world. Few of the companies on the board exist anymore, which makes for interesting conversation and fond memories before the dot com bomb hit for computer nerds and geeks alike!

We have many more games in our collection and the last time I hit the thrift store, I picked up another stack of new ones. Our collection keeps growing and we hope to have a game collection that our kids will enjoy someday with their friends. In a day of technological bliss, game nights now seem “retro.” Why play on a board when you can just grab your game system or play a computer game online? I hope that board games will last the test of time because they can be an essential part of family bonding and creating a family night to remember!

What are your favorite games? Any new games that I should be adding to our collection?

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Movie Review

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

I had the unique experience of attending a fantastic movie premiere of a great family film that I know you are going to want to see! I was given the opportunity to have a round table discussion with the stars and directors of “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” and earned a small place of honor on the red carpet to interview and photograph the stars.

Sony hosted a wonderful event for bloggers to learn more about their products and offer in-depth photography tutorials from the amazing Me Ra Koh. For someone who is still figuring out the world of photography, I was more than willing to participate in such a fun event. We got to take our cameras out on the Sony Studio Lot and even gained a little behind-the-scenes access on sets that were being built for future movies.

All that being said, I really want to focus on what a wonderful movie this was for children and adults alike.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is about an aspiring inventor, Flint Lockwood, who is the socially awkward genius behind some pretty bizarre contraptions. His inventions include everything from a pair of spray-on shoes to a monkey thought translator. Flint is determined though to create something that will make people happy.

When Flint’s latest machine, designed to turn water into food, accidentally destroys the town square and rockets up into the clouds, he thinks his inventing career is over. Until something amazing happens… cheeseburgers begin raining from the sky.

Unfortunately, the people in the town become increasingly more greedy and the mayor decides to change what the town was once famous for (sardines) to a town that is famous for raining food. The greed and demands from the people force the machine to begin making more and more food and the town is threatened to become buried in a food avalanche. To save his town and reputation, Flint has to figure out a way to stop it and save them from certain disaster.

The movie is a delight for the eyes and will make you hungry just watching it. The animation is superb and food highlights include the raining cheeseburgers and a fantastic animation sequence with orange Jell-O. In other words, be sure to have lots of popcorn to feed your children or suffer through the whining for food through the entire show!

Anna Faris
Mr. T
Neil Patrick Harris

The film features the voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, Mr. T, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, Al Roker, Lauren Graham, and Will Forte. The film is written for the screen and directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller.

The directors were fantastic and truly kid’s at heart. Sitting down with them and hearing the excitement in their voices was contagious. It was truly a delight to see the pride that they felt about this project and see their favorite childhood book in animation form.

What Parents Need to Know:

- The character of Sam Sparks will be a winner for your daughters. Sam Sparks, played by Anna Faris, is the local weather girl who is hiding just how intelligent she is. This movie will show your little girls that it is totally cool to embrace your inner geek and that you should never hide how smart you are for anyone.

- There are no death scenes. Many children’s movies have death scenes which frighten my small children. The mother is in a scene in the beginning of the movie and then it is later said that she has passed away, but no heart wrenching scenes that you wish had to fast forward through. Of course, no death is ideal, but Flint’s sequence with his mother is an important one and shapes the character of Flint.

- This movie is timeless. The directors purposefully decided to create a movie that could be enjoyed years and years down the road so they omitted pop culture and anything that would not be enjoyed for years to come.

- Your whole family will love this movie. I appreciated the funny sense of humor and comedic timing in the scenes. I know that my hubby will appreciate the fantastic graphics that can truly be appreciated with those 3-D glasses, and I know my kids will love just how cool it is to be smart!

Catch this flick with your entire family when it premieres on September 18th! In the meantime, be watching for some great reviews and information from the other participants at this event:

Alli Worthington @ Blissfully Domestic (Represented by Cassie Boorn)
Beth Blecherman @ Techmamas
Darcy Cruwys @ Mommy Pie
Karen Bodkin @ Karen Sugarpants
Kimberley Blaine @ The Go-To Mom
Kristina Sauerwein @ MOMformation
Melinda Roberts @ The Mommy Blog
Monica Villa @ The Online Mom

I give this two mommy thumbs up for fun entertainment and a thoughtful discussion about how cool it is to be smart and believing in yourself!

HOT TIP: Get a FREE movie ticket to watch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs when you purchase any Spot Shot product! Great deal, there’s even a $1 printable coupon you can use on your purcha
se. (Courtesy of Heather at Freebies 4 Mom!

(Disclosure- My travel and airfare were covered by the Sony team. To read more about how things are handled by, be sure to read our full disclosure.)

Images From Our Summer List

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009
Making Our Summer List

had a pizza and a movie night

made milkshakes

went to soccer camp for a week

ran through the sprinklers (and lounged by them too)

went to the (stinky) zoo

planted our garden

had a campfire night with marshmallows

Also accomplished: went to the movies * ice cream sundae night * attended VBS * went to the library * sleepover at Grandma & Grandpa’s * made homemade slushies

I realize that many of you have just recently got out of school, but we have been out since May so our summer will be coming to a close in August. We are trucking through our list and looking forward to lots more fun stuff this summer.

I hope you are having a fantastic summer too and spending lots of quality time with your sweet children! I am hoping the sun will be shining more here so we can do more water activities. In the meantime, we are having a blast and enjoying these precious moments together. I am trying to store each of these moments in my heart and treasuring these lazy summer days as much as I can for I know they end way too soon! Happy summer!

In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them. ~Aldo Leopold

Notebook Experiments: Can I Craft Some Bath Toys?

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

I apologize for all of our technical difficulties! As we are frantically trying to repair all that has been occurring, I share with you one of our favorite crafts. Now that my son is turning seven, I have a feeling that he would take great joy in creating some toys for future baths in our house. This is a quick and easy craft that brought many hours of enjoyment for my children.

Experiment: Can I Craft Some Bath Toys?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 06.26.08

Materials Needed: Please see plumpudding for the full instructions on this task. I hit our local dollar store and picked up a ten pack of craft foam to use for this project. The craft foam is thin enough that you can cut these with plain old scissors or you could break out your zig-zag scissors from your scrapbooking materials.

I am not very good at free-hand drawing so I went ahead and looked for a template where I could stencil some really cute shapes out of my foam. I found this handy template from the Martha Stewart website and whipped up several fishes, flowers, and hearts for the kids. These were very easy to trace and took only a few minutes to whip up. My husband also put together some that he drew for the kids.

The kids absolutely loved these and didn’t want to get out of the bathtub. I also saved a few sheets of foam for the kids to do finger-painting on. I am planning to use these foam sheets with some of our homemade pudding paints (with only enough water to make a finger-paint consistency instead of a water paint consistency) and then I will just rinse the sheets off when they are done so that they can make brand new creations!

I would recommend making sure to soak the foam before you begin sticking it on walls. The pink color did bleed onto the walls and left a pink shade that is going to take some serious scrubbing to get out. None of the other colors caused this problem, but giving them a good soaking first should prevent this problem.

Conclusion: One package of foam can keep my children entertained for many baths and I can’t wait to whip up some more of these for them to play with. I am thinking that these would make excellent stocking stuffers this year and you can’t beat the price! Thanks plumpudding for your creative idea!

I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Thursday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster’s blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can’t wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

Summer Activity: A Visit to the Fire Station

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

It has been a tradition in our family to visit the fire station at Christmas and make special treats for the firefighters. This year our mom’s group had it on the calendar to make a summer visit and the kids were so excited to visit the fire station again. I don’t know why I had not thought to do this in the summer before!

I get a lot of promotional stuff from different companies and I had saved this tin (with a company logo on it) and recovered it with a bit of wallpaper from the thrift store and a little glue. Ethan worked hard on a thank you card for the firefighters and I whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookie bars. We packaged it in tissue and we were off for our visit to the fire station.

Don’t you love those orange fire engines? I was sucked into taking pictures of the fire station and completely was not paying attention to my kids. There were just so many cool things to see there that I had a hard time capturing all of it.

Thank you to the firefighters at Harris Township Fire Station #2 for sharing all about your job and how things work at the fire station. My children could not have enjoyed the day more and we are so thankful we have such great people protecting us!

I encourage you to read Michelle’s post, at Leaving Excess, on how important our firefighters are and what you can do to show your thankfulness to them!

What are some ways you thank those that serve or care for your family? I would love to get some new ideas for teaching our children thankfulness!

Play it Again, Momma: Sponge Ball Fun

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

It is that time of year again and I will be making another batch of these little sponge balls for the kids. If you don’t have a clothesline, these are fun to just squish in a bucket of water or play with in your child’s water activity table.

My once-a-year Martha Moment is here! These sponge balls are courtesy of Martha Stewart Kids Magazine (and a double inspiration from Betz White who was featured in one of my notebook entries).

I hit the Dollar Tree and got two packages of sponges to make our creations. I followed the instructions and cut two sponges into fours and then stacked the two sponges on top of one another with alternating colors. If you buy two packages, you will have enough alternating colors to make six sponges with different colors in each. Then, simply tie the sponges off with a long piece of floss and knot it a few times to keep it in place.

Here is my plastic ice bucket filled with these sponges. The colors are so beautiful that I wanted to spend an afternoon photographing this pail of sponges. Do we stop there and let the kids play with them like this though? NO!

You could say that I am even more inventive than Martha this time! Now take an old drop cloth or sheet and use painter’s tape, a permanent marker, or paint to make your bull’s-eye. Squares are much easier with the painter’s tape so we have a nice square bull’s-eye for the kids.

Now hang your game up on the clothesline (or wherever else you can find). We weighed the bottom of the sheet down with clothespins. This sheet is also folded in half to give it a little more weight. Of course, when the wind starts blowing, give the kids extra points if they can still hit it.

Not challenging enough? Have one of your kids stand in front and block it.

For some reason, that was one roadblock too many for this toddler.

You can also grab two at a time or a whole handful of them. Make it more challenging by backing the kids up further from the mark. Our point system was 10, 20, and 30 points depending on the size of the square they hit. (PS- I promise I feed my children, they just have extremely high metabolism)

An afternoon of water fun cost us $2 in sponges, but this is a game that I hope we can play many more times together.

What is one of your favorite frugal summer activities?