Posts Tagged ‘Frugal’

Quick Frugal Tip: Leggings Refashioned

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

My daughter has an unbelievable collection of leggings that we have relied upon all year, since she loves wearing a dress almost every day. Now that summer season is finally here, our legging collection has gotten a little short and a little worn out. I hated to give these a toss though and just knew there had to be a good purpose to these.

With a set of scissors, I cut these off just below the knee. Now we have a perfect pair of shorts that can be worn underneath our sun dresses! Leggings that were too short and leggings with worn out knees,  have a fresh new purpose in our wardrobe.

Cute, chic, ladylike, and frugal.

Revealed: 30 Day Cut the Clutter Challenge Results

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Last month I decided to challenge myself to cut the clutter in our home over the course of thirty days. My house and my life has been feeling chaotic these days and I knew that a thirty day challenge is just what I needed to get back to the roots of the organization in my home. If you have been a long time reader, you may remember the results from my clutter challenge last year. I am finding by making this clutter challenge a yearly one that it helps bring me back to center again in my home.

The closet, pictured above, is representative of what my home has been looking like. The bones of organization are there, but they are hiding amidst the overflowing drawers, shelves, and cupboards of endless amounts of unnecessary items. I planned to get rid of four car loads of items from my home and challenged myself to a weekly stop at Goodwill.

Pictured here are my first three drops to Goodwill. I have another round of items leftover from our home renovation to take over to the ReStore that are currently sitting in my garage. Once our weather finally warms up, my husband & I have a Saturday date planned with our cluttered garage.  All in all, I removed FIFTEEN garbage bags and three totes of random uselessness from our home. In these bags you would find books that we will never read, toys that the children have outgrown, clothing that is too small, a bazillion plastic containers that I do not need, bedding & blankets that are never used, shoes, & items from household projects that have been abandoned.

Can I say,  I was not sad to see any of these items leave our home?

Maybe when you see some of the corners of my home now, you will know why!

There is still much more clutter to be conquered in our home, but these corners that I have worked on really have me reassured that having our home organized is an attainable goal. If I was going to offer any advice on tackling the clutter in  your home, I would say this:

Start Small…Really Small- When I would survey my house as a whole, I could immediately become defeated. There is so much to do and my to-do list on any given day is enormous. Adding on trying to organize my house to the list and it just did not even seem like a feasible goal. Instead, start with one small spot in your home that has been bothering you. It could be as small as the kid’s bath toys, a junk drawer that could give under its weight of uselessness, or simply a single shelf in your home office.  I found that once I began a junk drawer, for example, I would then start moving into the drawer below it, and then I would move to the next drawer. Most of the time it is just getting the momentum to climb that cluttered hill that holds us back from achieving a little organization that is the hardest part.

You Don’t Need Another Basket, But You Might Need Another Donation Bag- I remember when I first began organizing my home, I considered home organization to be about buying organizers, storage containers, and pretty baskets to house everything. All of a sudden my home was filled with a dozen baskets of items I didn’t need or never used. Instead of thinking of how to make the items you have more attractive, consider if you really need the items themselves. If you don’t really and truly love or use them, get rid of them!

Sentimentality & “This Was So Expensive” Has To Be Set Aside- Two things get in the way of me letting the items go in my home. The first is the sentimental feelings that I have about things in our house. Usually it is a gift, an item that was special to my children when they were small, or something that was special to me that I would like to push my children into also loving. The other thing that gets in the way is my, “This Was So Expensive,” feeling about items that we spent too much money on, but no longer have love for.  If I could get rid of these two feelings about things, I could almost gather another car load of items. Instead, I have dedicated one tote in our basement that is specifically for sentimental mementos and we are working on passing on the gadgets in our life that we don’t use on to others that can use them.

Your feelings about items might be different than mine and it may take some time to figure out what holds you back from letting things go in your life. When you feel an attachment to an item, try to address where that attachment is coming from and if there is a way that you can manage those attachments to achieve the space you desire.

Embrace Your Power to Live Small- The more I cut the clutter in my home, the more I find that I have just the amount of space that I need in my home. When my closets began to feel too small, when the cupboards are bursting at the seams, when the basement is overflowing…those are the times when I think how nice it would be to move to a bigger home. Each time I cut the clutter in those spaces, I rediscover how perfect our home is for us. Basically, I save myself from a heftier mortgage payment AND I find a renewed sense of commitment to stay right where we are.

Our story of giving things away didn’t end there though, in fact, this is a story about the coolest thing that I have ever gotten to give away.  My husband had his ’99 Ford Focus for almost eight years and it was very good to us over the years. For the last five years though, he had been price researching his dream car and dreaming of the day that he could own a Lexus.  At the end of this month, his dream car dropped below the price of my Subaru wagon and with some serious negotiating and a couple of hours in the hot seat at the dealership, he drove that car home.

We talked a lot about what we wanted to do with our Ford Focus. While we could have gotten a little money to trade it in, we knew we could make my brother’s whole year if we gave him our old car. That very day we bought our new car, his car began to leak gas and he had no idea how he was going to get around. Later that afternoon I called to tell him that we had a birthday present for him.

I felt a little like Oprah handing over those keys.

He told me he felt like he won the lottery.

We both couldn’t stop grinning.

I don’t say this to brag, but to showcase how wonderful it can be to pass on the things we have in our lives to others. No matter how much or how little you have, you can always give with your whole heart. Look for creative ways to give back to your community, pass the items on that you no longer use to someone in need, use your talents to bless someone else in your life, and live a life of great thankfulness for all that you have.

If you have taken the clutter challenge, feel free to link up below and share some of the spots in your home that have been transformed or what you plan to work on this month. I can’t wait to see your projects and hear what you have learned from this experience!

Favorite Coffee Snack: Light Snickerdoodle Biscotti

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

If you have been a reader here for awhile, you will have no doubt that coffee is my ultimate weakness. Coffee plus coffee treats…well, where do I sign up for that? After having such a blast participating in the Better Homes & Gardens cook-off, I was asked if I would like to participate in another fun contest where our readers could vote on their favorite coffee snack. Better Homes & Gardens sent me their new Stand Mixer ($129) , a Grind & Brew Coffeemaker($99), and a 5 Piece Nonstick Bakeware Set ($34.97), (all exclusively available at Walmart) to create my snack.

Considering I severely burnt the bottom of my cookie sheet, I am a coffee addict, and my stand mixer chose that week to kick the can…I couldn’t wait to create some treats with some fresh new kitchen accessories.

If you can make cookies, you can make biscotti! Biscotti is basically a twice baked cookie that is perfect for coffee dunking. In your mixing bowl, whisk or stir on low your flour, sugar, cream of tarter, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.

In a second bowl you will mix together your wet ingredients. In this bowl will be your egg, vegetable oil (only two tablespoons), and vanilla extract.

Turn on your mixer to low and add your wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Here is the new BHG stand mixer that they sent. As someone who bakes a lot, I really love how quiet this mixer is, the thoughtful attachments that are included, and the rubber suction cups on the bottom so your mixer doesn’t hop around. I am sure it is going to get a lot of love in our kitchen! I am also doubly impressed that it is a mere $129, which is a steal in the stand mixer world.

After it is done mixing, it will look like this… a big crumbly mess. You are going to be scratching your head wondering if you did something wrong. I promise you didn’t, it will all pull together.

Grab a small bowl and fill it with water. You are going to want to dip your hands in the water and then with wet hands, start kneading the dough and pulling it together.  It will take a bit of work, but eventually it will look just like that dough ball pictured above.

Line your cookie sheets with some parchment paper. This will make clean-up a breeze! I love the silicone handles on these cookie sheets and how easily they do come clean. I am not much of a cookie baker, I will admit, so if my cookies fly off a cookie sheet and turn out looking like a cookie…I am super impressed.

Divide your dough into two equal parts and then flatten the dough until it is roughly 8 inches in length, with about a 1 inch thickness. Make sure that the two balls have enough space to grow when they are baking. In two small bowls, you will have the final ingredients to dress the biscotti. In one bowl, mix cinnamon & sugar, in the other add one egg white. Brush the biscotti with the egg white and then shake on cinnamon & sugar (very liberally) to the top. Slide in a 350 degree oven for a half hour.

Now you will have a half an hour to do whatever suits you best…coffee happens to suit me best. Please ignore my travesty of a look this morning. Daylight Savings Time could nearly kill a mom. I was very happy to wake up to freshly ground and brewed coffee. I have never had fresh coffee beans or had coffee that was freshly ground.  This coffeemaker is unbelievable- you can program it to grind & brew before you even wake up.

Remind me to tell you about my embarassing story about buying coffee beans. Apparently, I didn’t understand what buying in bulk was and couldn’t understand what idiot wouldn’t fill the bag all the way to the top when it had little markings on the bag. I figured I would get all the beans I was paying for and filled that bag until it was practically bursting.

Costly mistake, my friends, costly mistake. Wow, I really feel like we are sharing over coffee together today.

Pull the delicious biscotti from the oven. Now patiently wait and drink more coffee for ten more minutes before slicing it.

With a very sharp knife, cut your biscotti on a slight angle, into roughly fifteen pieces for each dough ball. Lay them flat and slide them back into an oven that has been lowered to 325 degrees for ten minutes. Drink more coffee while you wait and eat all the crumbs that fell off. Purposely break and crumble a few because you can’t stand how good they smell and you are impatient. And you had to get up an hour early. And your kids have no mercy on you because you are tired.

For the final step, flip the biscotti and then bake the flipped side for ten more minutes. Allow them to cool and then store in an airtight container.

Eat or share with a friend! Packaged with pretty ribbon and in a clear bag, these would make a wonderful gift for someone you love. I hope you will love them as much as I do! It really is the ultimate little coffee treat!

Snickerdoodle Biscotti (adapted from Cooking Light Magazine)

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 large egg white

Preheat Oven to 350. Measure flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cream of tartar in a large mixing bow bowl. Mix Oil Vanilla and whole eggs in a small bowl and add to the large bowl, your dough will be dry and quite crumbly. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until it pulls together into a ball. Divide in half. Shape each portion into a roll about 8 inches long, and place them six or so inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Flatten each roll to 1 inch thick. Combine the 2 tablespoons Sugar and cinnamon, then gently brush the tops of the rolls with the egg white and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Remove from the sheet and cool for 15 minutes. Cut diagonally into 1/2 inch slices and lay them cut sides down on the cookie sheet again. Reduce oven temp to 325 and then bake 10 more minutes, turn over and bake 10 more. They’ll be soft in the middle but will harden as they cool. Cool completely on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.
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This recipe is a contest submission for Better Homes & Gardens Favorite Coffee Snack contest. The contest will go live tomorrow and you can vote for your favorite snack between now and March 30th. The person with the most votes will get three sets of bakeware and a $100 Walmart gift card to giveaway to their readers. Check tomorrow and throw in a vote if you love my biscotti! I was provided the bakeware sets, stand mixer, and coffeemaker to complete my submission. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

What is your favorite coffee snack at your  house? Do you have any fun tips for a coffee experience at home? We would love to hear them!

Giveaway & Returning to the Original Curly-Haired Amy

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

When I was a little girl, I was blessed with beautiful Shirley Temple ringlets that my mom could wrap around her finger, let go, and a perfect ringlet would stand to attention and hold it’s shape. My mom said that people would stop her on the streets and ask her how she got my hair to do that, and my mom would admit that she did nothing except wrap the curls around her fingers. My children, sadly, were not blessed with mommy’s curly-haired genes, but I always wish that I could do this to my own daughter’s hair.

Fast forward about thirty years and you will discover a girl who has beaten her curls into wild submission with product, blow dryers, metal brushes, and hair straighteners. I fight frizz and wave with pure aggression and as much heat as my hair can stand. If I try to do a day with wave in it, the waves will barely perk up, hanging limp and weighed down by forty products intended to curl boost.

Years ago, I discovered a book at the library called Curly Girl that changed my life. I applied the Curly Girl philosophy to my hair for awhile with fabulous results, and then decided that I wanted a more polished look and headed back to the straightener. I admit that I feel less confident with my wild curls and wonder if people think I rolled out of bed instead of paying attention to my hair.

My hair is starting to show the strains of abuse though and I decided to head back to the Curly Girl way of life after witnessing my girlfriend who rediscovered her curls again after picking up the book. For a curly girl, the philosophy is curl-changing…a total game changer for girls who have relied on hair products to pull their curls together.

Want to return to your baby curls? The Curly Girl philosophy is frugal and easy to start!

1. Wash your hair with a non-sulfate clarifying shampoo to remove all of the gunk and product build-up from your hair.

2. Get your ends trimmed on your hair to give you a fresh start to your new curls.

3. Don’t ever use a brush on your hair. You will need a wide-toothed comb or you can use your fingers to comb through your curls in the shower and when your hair is wet.

4. Don’t use shampoo on your hair and only use conditioner on your hair. Shampoo has harsh chemicals in it that dry out and damage your curls.  Instead, use conditioner and give your scalp a nice massage and rub the conditioner into the scalp. Apply the conditioner to the rest of your hair and let it set in on your hair for four minutes and condition your curls. I comb my conditioner through with my hands and don’t even use a comb on my hair. Finish by rinsing your hair with a cool rinse.  Even if you are not washing with shampoo, there is no need to do this daily, some girls can even go once a week! I rinse mine with conditioner three days a week and that seems to work well with my hair.

5. Apply product to your hair while it is still wet (you can use an additional frizz cream and gel) and Scrunch your curls or wrap individual curls around your fingers to shape them.

6. Allow your curls to air dry or use a diffuser to dry them. Never use a towel on your curls because they can bruise and frizz your curls up. Instead, use a microfiber towel or even an old t-shirt to dry your hair. These instructions explain the drying process well.

7. Allow your hair two to six weeks to adjust to your new routine.  I found it takes me about two weeks for my hair to look good, but it depends on how much abuse your hair has suffered!

I am on week one again of letting my curls all hang out. Again, I feel unpolished and crazy, but here is where I am at right now:

This is actually the second day without washing my hair (in week one)  and all I had to do was use a little water to scrunch everything back up again.  I am working on being comfortable with my original look, but I definitely am getting used to these crazy old curls again. I can’t wait to see what my curls look like after six weeks of this treatment!

I had been planning to blog about this and they reissued the Curly Girl book and asked if I wanted to host a giveaway for my readers. Since it is something I am using in my own life, I am excited to share it with another girl fighting her natural beauty and curls! I am looking forward to getting my hands on my own copy of this book since I have worn the library book out to pieces!

Today I am giving away a copy of the new CURLY GIRL: The Handbook and a DevaCurl Travel Kit of products to care for your curls. Three additional winners will win a copy of the Curly Girl Book! That means four girls will be rocking their original curls this year thanks to MomAdvice!

To enter, leave a comment below letting me know why you need this book for yourself (or for someone  you love!) Please submit your entries by Tuesday (03/01) at 8PM EST.  Our winner will be drawn at random. Good luck, everyone!

MomAdvice Giveaway Guidelines: Want to know more about how things are handled here at MomAdvice? Be sure to read our Disclaimer which clearly states how things work and know that we will always offer only the best reviews and giveaways to our readers. In full disclosure, the email addresses that are collected for this giveaway will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner(s), and will never be sold or given to anyone. This giveaway is only open to residents of the United States who are 18 years of age or older. Entries that do not follow the above criterion will automatically be disqualified. This giveaway will close Tuesday, March 1st at 8PM (EST). I’ll announce the first name of the winner(s) that will be added to the top of this current giveaway post and contact the winner(s) by email. I will draw the names of the winner(s) by using the random number generator at Random.org from the eligible entries received. If a winner does not contact me within 72 hours by email, I will draw a new winner. The winner(s) will receive their prize from the PR agency/company  responsible for this giveaway. The above link(s)  are an affiliate link and provided for reference for our readers.

Poor Man’s Date Night: Linguine With White Clam Sauce

Monday, February 21st, 2011

There was a time in our married life when even an inexpensive steak dinner was far from something we could afford. When the grandparents would offer to take the kids for us for a date night, we would run to the supermarket and buy ingredients for a date night at home. At the time, it wasn’t because I was such a great cook and because we loved to be home so much, but it was because we had no money to spend on a night on the town.

I really did try to do what I could to make our life feel special, no matter how much or how little money we had. Through that effort, we began a tradition of making Linguine With White Clam Sauce for our fancy dinner  together, and it became a tradition to make that every time we wanted a date night at home. We would indulge in a loaf of artisan bread and bakery cupcakes for dessert and then indulge all week long in the leftovers.

To be honest, I had never thought to serve it to the kids, but one night the pantry was bare except for a few ingredients for that dish. I decided to go ahead and make it for the kids and had a back-up plan of eggs and toast if it didn’t work out. To my amazement, my kids went nuts for mommy’s linguine and have been begging for it every day since.

It seems those kids are always teaching me a lesson about my own inhibitions towards foods when I was young, and this linguine is now not only a date night treat, but a fabulous treat for them too. Your kids might be different than mine, but it is always worth a shot!

Gather all of the ingredients you will need to make your Linguine with Clam Sauce for your fun weeknight dinner (or poor man’s date night). You will need butter, olive oil, garlic (fresh or bottled minced), one or two lemons, white wine (I love boxed wine for this dish), two or three cans of whole baby clams, linguine noodles, and fresh parsley.

Now you can certainly subsitute with real baby clams, but I live in Indiana where it is harder to get the real deal anymore and they add a lot of expense to the dish here. They have a couple of varieties of clams on the shelf and you definitely want to go with the fancy whole baby clams over the minced clams that come in the smaller cans. Trust me, your dish will taste much better with the whole clams then those smaller clam pieces.

Heat a large pot of boiling water for your linguine noodles. Meanwhile, chop, chop, chop up a generous amount of fresh parsley to be mixed into the linguine and for garnish on top of your dish.

In the bottom of your pot, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter. You like how well-seasoned my dutch oven is? Yeah, should probably pay more attention to it, but I think it showcases how loved it is in our house.

Add the olive oil and quickly saute your garlic. You want to make sure your pot isn’t too hot or your garlic will burn.  Next add your white wine, the juice from the canned clams, and the zest of one or two lemons. Allow this to cook for a few minutes to cook off the alcohol and season generously with a little salt and pepper.

Once your noodles are about done, you will want to add the baby clams to your sauce.

Squeeze in the juice of one or two lemons, depending on how much you love lemon flavor.

Finish with your generous handfuls of fresh parsley. Don’t skimp on the parsley since it adds so much fresh flavor to those canned ingredients.

Add your drained linguine noodles and toss everything together, incorporating all of those delicious flavors. Add a little bit more salt and pepper, seasoning the dish to your own personal taste.

The final touch to bring everything together is a generous amount of freshly grated Parmesan Cheese. Don’t skimp on this, it really is what brings the sauce together and makes the sauce hug the noodles.

Finally, revel in being the cheapest date in town as you bask in the glory of the compliments from your significant other.

Sweet.


Linguine with White Clam Sauce

1 pound linguine
Salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
4 cloves garlic, chopped,
1/2 cup wine
Juice and zest from one or two lemons
2-3  (15-ounce) can whole baby clams, with their juice
Handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and the linguine and cook as directed or until al dente. The linguine will continue to cook in sauce, later. To a large skillet heated over medium heat, add oil, butter, garlic. Cook together. Add wine, the juice from the clams to the pan, and the zest of one or two lemons. Finally, add the clams and the juice from one or two lemons. Drain pasta and add it to the clam sauce. Toss and coat the pasta in sauce with clams until the pasta absorbs the flavor and juices, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt, add parsley and serve with a loaf of crusty bread.

Do you attempt fancy date night dinners at home? What is your favorite frugal date with your significant other?

The Power of Living Small

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Miniature

Small space living comes with many challenges, but the rewards for a family on a budget are great. For a long time I considered our smaller home a temporary means to get us by until we could afford more.  As the years have gone by though, I have truly discovered the power of living in a smaller house and making the most of what we have been given. I will admit that it is all about our approach towards making our space our own, more than it is about the amount of square footage in our house.

Small space is all relative, of course, isn’t it? In full discretion, our home is 1,500 square feet for our family of four. While that may sound like a lot or a little, the space is made smaller and more challenging with a tri-level floor plan. If it was spread on one or two levels, I am sure it would feel much larger. I think it is the floor plan that is more of a challenge than the square footage of our home. Regardless, spatial challenges have existed and we have learned a lot from working through them.

Regardless of your square footage though, I wanted to share with you a few ideas for learning to embrace the power of living in the space you are in right now. There is so much that I have learned over the years about making our home the best that we can and I wanted to share with you some ideas on how to make the most of the space you are in right now.

Reconsider Your Furniture

Furniture can truly make a room feel larger or smaller depending on the size of it and the purpose it serves in your home. Our larger furniture that we purchased for our previous home was not well-suited for the home we had now, but replacing it was not a cost that we could really afford.

Instead, consider scaling back on the amount of furniture you have in your rooms. Do you truly use the side tables in your home? Is the coffee table really needed or would your space benefit from an ottoman that could serve as dual storage? Try removing pieces of furniture from the room and see if they make the flow of the space feel bigger.

When you do replace furniture, try buying items that could serve as a dual purpose or could maximize your smaller rooms. When my son needed a new bed, we opted for a loft bed that would allow him to have a desk underneath, one piece of furniture that he would truly need and one that would not have fitted with any other piece of furniture.

Cut the Clutter in Half

The best part about living in a smaller space is that it has forced me to edit the belongings I have and has kept me from buying as much as I would in a larger space. If your home closets that are small, if you don’t have a basement, if there is no garage…then these situations can truly work for you as a way to keep your clutter naturally under control.

Lately I have been trying to live my life by the infamous quote from William Morris, “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful.” If it is not bringing beauty or usefulness to my space, then I can feel good about passing those items on to someone else in need.  Suddenly, my kitchen counters feel spacious, the basement really does have a spot for everything in storage, and the house really does have enough space for us all.

Consider making a weekly date with yourself to devote an hour towards improving one spot in your home that you struggle with. If it is a drawer that never opens, an office that is filled with useless papers, a basement that has become an avalanche of misplaced items, spend your hour making those spots in your home better. Make it a goal to cut the clutter in half in these spots to make them more livable and enjoyable.

Make Wise Renovation Investments

Renovating your home can be costly, but it is usually not as costly as it is to buy a new home. If there is a particular area in your home you want to improve, consider getting an estimate to make your space more livable. Many homes have unused corners and smaller spaces that could be improved upon to make the home more livable.

Our little house got a much needed renovation this past year to make our space work for us for many years to come. With one wall knocked out and putting unused basement storage to work, our home was renovated into a spacious family room and a quiet home office in the basement.

Begin really thinking about the space you are in and how you could make it work for your family. Look for guidance in home magazines or consider spending the money on having an architect coming to evaluate your home to draw up a plan for making more out of the space you are currently in. You may be surprised to discover how much more square footage you might have right where you already are.

Make Your Space Feel Permanent

If you look at your home as a temporary place until you find something better, you might be overlooking the chance to really make the space you are in work for your family. I found that when I finally told myself that this was my home (whether I liked it or not) and put the elbow grease into it, it transformed not only the space…but my attitude towards it.  As with all things in life, it is what you make it and I am choosing to make it the best that I truly can!

If you are living in a smaller home or apartment, just remember to consider your blessings. Not only do you have a mortgage or monthly payment that you can afford, but you have less of a home to clean, a natural way to edit the excess from your life, and more importantly….cozier quarters that force your family to always be together. What could be better for a family than that?

First Photo Credit: mricon

How have you learned to embrace the space you are in right now?

Tips & Recipes for Pulling Off a Great Winter Party

Monday, January 10th, 2011

If there is one thing that I feel I do really well, it is pulling off a budget-friendly and wonderful birthday party for my children. The truth about pulling off a great party  though is that it takes a lot of planning and preparation to make a wonderful party come together. Now that I have shown you how to make your own DIY Barbie Cake and elegant tissue paper pom poms to hang over your party table, I wanted to share with you our menu from this party!

We decided to host the party on a Friday evening since that seemed to work with everyone’s schedule the best.  With seventeen people in our immediate family, it makes for a big party even for just a family birthday party.  In the dead of winter, I wanted food that would warm everyone up, would be relatively easy to assemble (since the cake did require a bit of effort this year), and that would also make great leftovers.

Homemade party subs are so inexpensive to make and can be a fun addition to any party. Walmart sells french bread loaves for $1.50 each and turkey breast meat (behind the deli counter) is only $3.99 per pound.  Each sub was loaded with almost an entire pound of meat, a layer of cheddar cheese (only bought inexpensively behind the deli counter), and then sliced and assembled on cookie sheets. Condiments were gathered on trays and fresh tomato and lettuce was cut the day before to pull out for the big party. These took about fifteen minutes to pull together, serve eight people each, and cost less than $8 each to make yourself (even with the cost of condiments included).

If you have any sandwiches leftover, store them covered in the fridge and the next day they will make fabulous paninis to serve with your leftover soup. As an aside, I make these almost every grocery day for my family as a quick meal when I am too tired to cook from shopping.   It is my special treat after getting the shopping done and the kids go bonkers over these subs.

I made a double batch of our Pesto Chicken Tortellini Soup to go along with our sub sandwiches. Bowls and a creamer full of spoons were set out for our guest to dish their soup. I also set out a hunk of Parmesan cheese that could be grated over the bowls of soup to add even more flavor to it. To save on the cost of the soup, buy the pesto over in the pasta aisle (rather than the refrigerated pesto in the dairy cooler) and feel free to substitute the fresh tortellini with the cheese tortellini found in the freezer aisle.

No party is complete in our house without a punch bowl brimming over with some delicious punch. This new punch recipe that I pulled together is the new favorite with strawberry soda, cranberry juice, strawberry lemonade, and cherry 7-up. The cranberry really added a hint of tartness to the punch and this punch bowl was drained in record time this year.  I have to say that my thrift store punch bowl is one of our most used party items and has served us well over the years!

In addition to punch, the coffeemaker was preset for hot coffee to go with the dessert portion of the evening.

I rounded out the party table with a couple of easy appetizers that I made the day before.  My cheese ball and spinach dip went perfectly with our soup and sandwich theme, and gave guests something to munch on before and after the dinner hour.

Party supplies can really burn through a girl’s budget, but I strive to keep the paper products to a minimum. To incorporate the Barbie theme though, I did find a cute tiara and reuseable Barbie themed cup & plate for the party girl that cost only $5 total.  This made the party theme fun for her, but kept my party budget right on track. Our regular dishes were used for everyone else and last year’s vinyl tablecloth made another appearance this year at Emily’s birthday party. With our inexpensive tissue paper pom poms, it still looked like a fabulous party without the need for excessive party themed plates and one-time use decorations!

Here are a few recipes that can be used at your next party!

This tortellini soup brought together all of the flavors that my family loves, but is a versatile recipe that could be created with what is at your supermarket that day or what your family loves to eat. For our vegetarian readers, the chicken tortellini and chicken broth can easily be switched to a cheese-filled tortellini with vegetable broth instead. I used basil pesto in this, but you could also try a sun-dried tomato pesto or omit the pesto altogether if it is not a favorite of your family. Versatility is the beauty of a good soup recipe  and this recipe is quite versatile!

Pesto Chicken Tortellini Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans petite diced tomatoes (14.5 ounces)
8 cups chicken broth
1 pound chicken herb tortellini or tortellini of your choice (I used the refrigerated kind, but you can also use the dried pasta)
9 ounces spinach, chopped roughly
1/4 cup basil pesto

In a large pot, saute the garlic in the olive oil. After a minute or so, add the diced tomatoes and chicken broth to the pot. Bring the broth to a rolling boil and then add in your tortellini. Cook tortellini as directed on package. In the last minute of cooking time, mix in your roughly chopped spinach and stir in the 1/4 cup of basil pesto. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese on top. Side Note: When reheating, feel free to add some additional chicken broth to thin the soup, as the tortellini will absorb the liquid!

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You can never go wrong with a good spinach dip and this one is my absolute favorite because of the unexpected flavor that the salsa adds to the dish. You can make it as mild or as spicy as you like! I opt for a mild salsa and serve it with pita chips, tortilla chips, or fresh veggies for a little lighter fare!

Spunky Spinach Dip

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)

Make Ahead: Mix ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Place in an oven-safe bowl and tuck in the fridge for Thanksgiving Day.

Party  Day: 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 blue corn tortilla chips, but you could also serve with fresh celery sticks and fresh carrots to balance out the heaviness of your party day food!

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These cheese ball is so embarrassingly easy, but is always a showstopper when I bring it to holiday get togethers. Put the ingredients for this recipe on your grocery list and relish the joy in ease of the preparation and the compliments that come from it!

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)

Make Ahead: Mix all of the ingredients together with a mixer until they are incorporated. Mold into a ball  and wrap in plastic wrap,

Party Day: Roll in a plate of shredded cheese. Serve with assorted crackers.

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No get together in our family is complete without a big punch bowl that is overflowing. This punch is always a hit and it can be ready when everyone arrives. It is loved by kids and adults alike. The addition of cranberry juice adds a delicious tartness to your punch that balances out the sweetness of the strawberry soda and lemonade.

Christmas Cranberry Punch

2 liter bottle strawberry-flavored soda (I found this at Walmart)
2 liter Cherry 7-Up
1 (12 ounce) can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 container of cranberry juice

Mix all the ingredients together for the punch. This will fill one large punch bowl or two smaller ones.

What is one idea you incorporate into your parties to keep your birthday parties on budget?

New Year’s Goals: Embracing a New Workout Routine

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Over the next few weeks, I will be republishing a few of the posts that I did last year on goals for the New Year.  This year I decided to take the plunge and get a gym membership in town, now that my daughter is a little older and enjoys going with mommy so she can exercise. A recent writing gig is paying for my gym membership and has afforded me the luxury of indulging in new classes and ways to stay fit.   You can learn more about my fitness confessions and how staying healthy has transformed my own life here.

I have great motivation to keep a healthy lifestyle which is what fuels me to continue to exercise and keep up with my active lifestyle. My motivators might be different from yours, but I am sure there is something that motivates you. For me, I find myself less depressed when I exercise, the aches and pains that I have seem to subside with regular exercise, I am trying to avoid the health problems that have plagued my family,  but most of all… I have the energy to keep up with my two energetic children.

I used to attend the gym regularly before I had children. On my lunch hours, I would head to the gym and take difficult kickboxing classes, pilates, power yoga, and aerobics classes. I had college weight to lose and the time to think about just me. The longer and the harder the class, the more I loved it! I would spend my afternoons at the gym and the evenings doing community theater and just thinking about me. It was just all about me all the time and it was glorious.

Those days seem a lifetime ago. My workouts have to be quick and effective,  crammed between two kid’s extracurricular activities, homework, laundry, and daily life.  I find myself trying to figure out how I can just find twenty minutes to myself. In fact, my workout routines are mixed in with children trying to exercise rightwithme and a cat that insists on rubbing against me while I am doing my ab work. Kids are crying for computer time or needing help in the bathroom and I am pausing the DVD and running back, hoping to continue my little burst in energy. What a far cry from an hour at the gym for just me.

That being said, I wouldn’t have it any other way and as the kids see me exercise, I know that I am modeling for them the importance of taking care of the body that God gave you. I could join a gym, but I have found that driving over to a gym takes more time and more energy than popping in a DVD or using the workout equipment we own at home. That being said, it requires a great deal of discipline to maintain a workout routine on your own. Thankfully, interacting online with my real life friends and internet friends keeps me motivated enough to do it all on my own.

What I have discovered is that moms need to find a solution that works best for them. The gym might be for some, but it might not be for you. Workout equipment at home might not be helpful to you, but for others they find motivation in having what they need right at their fingertips. Realize that as long as you are moving, you are doing exactly what your body is intended to do.

1.    Make it quick and convenient. Try aiming for just twenty minute sessions and do what fits best with your schedule. If going to the gym doesn’t work for you right now, stick to a workout DVD. If you can’t manage either, try a brisk walk around your neighborhood. Whatever you do, make it something that is easily doable and can be done in a short period of time.

2.    Make an appointment with yourself. Find the times that work best for you and do it every single day. If something gets in your time slot, push it back, but do not push it off.

3.    Schedule your workouts when it is best for you, not when you think you should workout. I can admit it; I am not a morning person. I have tried being a morning person and I just can’t do it. I will no longer apologize for not being a morning person and will understand that maybe I will come to a stage in my life where morning workouts work better for me, but for now I am content on being groggy in the morning and doing afternoon workouts instead.

4.    Get pumped up. Find what motivates you to get moving and incorporate that. Music is a powerful motivator for me and I love to get music from the local library and play that or load fresh music into my iPod for working out.

Others are pumped by community sites that help them track and login their workout times. SparkPeople is one resource where you can track your caloric content and exercise schedule while chatting with others through forums. Others are motivated by having a workout buddy or making a daily date with a girlfriend at the gym. Whatever it is, find what motivates you and get your body moving.

5. Challenge your spouse. My husband and I decided to challenge each other one month to an exercise challenge. I did a workout routine for 30 days straight and he did did sit-ups every single day. Both of our bodies were transformed by the experience and so was our mindset. Adding an element of competition encouraged me that I could totally take him on and added another level to my workout routine. Adding a little trash-talking in our dinner conversation also helped with our friendly competition that not only ended up rewarding ourselves with a more active lifestyle, but even added a little bit of spark back into our relationship!


5.    Get some workout gear. I don’t know why, but I have a hard time spending money on workout gear. The year 1997 called though and they wanted their workout clothes back so I knew it was time to make an investment. Buy a few good workout pieces for yourself and try washing your tennis shoes to freshen them up. Just slip off the laces and throw the shoes in the washer. Wash them on a warm setting with a little laundry detergent. After they are done, stuff the interior of the shoes with newspaper (to help hold its shape and also to absorb any lingering odors) and let them dry outside in the sunshine. Fresh workout gear can make all the difference in how you feel about yourself and can help you commit more to making exercise a priority.

6. Reward yourself. Rewards to myself are exactly what keep me motivated and what you might find keeps you motivated too. It could be something simple like a glass of wine in the evening, a bubble bath with a good book, a new pair of jeans after reaching a certain weight, a new DVD that will keep inspiring you to workout,  or a protein-packed smoothie that can only be drank if a workout is complete.

7. Switch it up. I need new routines each day to keep things fresh and keep myself motivated. I love to visit our local library and check out workout DVD’s for free and add variety to my workout routines without spending any money. If your library doesn’t offer a great selection, try pooling your workout DVD’s with friends and trading with one another to add different elements to your workout routine. If you have a movie membership, use that for a workout DVD instead of another couch potato night.

Dust off that old treadmill, use the Wii Fit that you told your hubby you would use regularly, but quickly gathered dust in your family room, grab those DVD’s that you just had to have to keep your workouts fresh, and put those five pound weights and mat that are still wrapped in their packages to work.

Do it for you, do it for your kids, do it for your spouse, do it for your body,  do it because YOU DESERVE TO BE HEALTHY! Do it for whatever motives you, but DO IT!

This is my motivation. I want to see them go to high school. I want to watch them at graduation. I want to meet the loves of their life. I want to watch them walk down the aisle. I want to hold my grandchildren.  I want to hold my great-grandchildren. I don’t want to miss a moment of any of it. I know I can do all of that if  I take care of myself and the body that God gave me.

(I am continuing to work on getting happier this year through the help of, “The Happiness Project,” by Gretchen Rubin I recommend you read it too!)

What motivates you to exercise? What routines have you found to be effective for your busy lifestyle?

DIY: Tissue Paper Pom Poms Tutorial

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Decorating for birthday parties can be expensive and it is one area that I am always searching for cute ideas that don’t cost a lot. My girlfriend had a birthday party recently and made the Martha Stewart Tissue Paper Pom Poms to decorate above her daughter’s party table. I loved it so much that I promptly stole it for Emily’s Barbie birthday party.

These pom poms are so easy to make, but add a lot of impact to the party decorations. Each one took about ten minutes and I was so proud when my husband came home and asked me where I bought them. We loved them so much that they have been moved to her room to hang above her dollhouse. The best part is that they only cost $1-2 to make (depending on how full you make these) so they will fit easily into your party budget.

To make the tissue paper pom poms:

1. Purchase tissue paper in your desired colors to match your party scheme. You can use one package (ideally 7-9 sheets) or you can use two packs, depending on how full you would like your flowers to be. The dark pink flower that I created used two packs of tissue paper, while the lighter pink ones only used one package of tissue paper.

2. Stack your paper and fold it accordion style (1 1/2″ wide). The crisper your folds the better the look of your flower so fold it as best as you can.

3. Secure the center of your flower with a little floral wire.

4. With your scissors, trim the corners either into rounded corners (as I did) or into points (for a star shape).

5. Do the same on the opposite end.

6. Very gently and carefully, separate the layers of tissue paper from one another and begin pulling them apart and shaping them. The fuller your flower, the longer this will take. Once your flower has been properly poofed (a highly technical term, I am sure), you can hang them with yarn, ribbon, or whatever else you might have on hand.

For more detailed instructions or other creative ideas for your pom poms, visit this tutorial from Martha Stewart.

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The Perfect Pink Barbie Cake Tutorial

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Over the month of December we celebrated Emily’s 5th birthday.  This was the year of the Barbie which thrilled me to no end as I had envisioned a Barbie cake for my little girl long before she was even a twinkle in our eye.  Barbie cakes are a true labor of love by the mothers who create them and this cake was a testament to my undying love for my daughter.

Today I wanted to share with you how we created our Barbie cake and some tips for creating this cake for your own little princess! The week will be filled with oodles of tutorials and ideas for making your Barbie party special and I hope to add a little inspiration to your own Barbie-inspired party!

For this cake you will need a white cake mix, strawberry gelatin dessert, eggs, milk, canola oil, a package of fresh strawberries, and your doll.

The doll that is pictured in this tutorial ended up not being used because the cake was not tall enough to form her dress and stand her upright. Doll toppers can be purchased specifically for cake decorating at Michael’s for $3.99 (you can also use on of those 40% off coupons on that purchase to save) or you can ask your bakery if they will sell you a doll that you can use for roughly the same amount. Cakes can also be improvised as Monica, from The Homespun Heart discovered, by making your cake taller to fit a Barbie. My girlfriend also found a shorter generic one that could be found at the dollar store because the generic ones are not as tall as the real Barbies.

My best friend broke the legs of her Barbie for my cake.  May you all have a super awesome mafia friend like me who is willing to donate her legless Barbie for your project.

This cake is an easy mix and dump cake, but you will need to finely chop your strawberries to mix into the cake. I used my food chopper to chop these up evenly and fine for the cake. Once you have done that, you have the brunt of the cake mixing portion done.

Dump all of the ingredients into your mixer, including those finely chopped berries, and give it a good mix.  I let it run for a good minute or two while my oven was preheating to 350 degrees.

Pour your batter into a greased mixing bowl. The mixing bowl I used for this project is the Pampered Chef Classic Batter Bowl that I had in my kitchen. Many years ago when I bought it, the consultant had shared with me that it would make the perfect Barbie cake. It doesn’t have to be a Pampered Chef bowl though, any two quart ovenproof  glass mixing bowl should do the job!

Now let Barbie sit back and take a little nap while her dress bakes. Because of the depth of the cake, this cake will take roughly an hour and ten minutes to bake. You want to make sure that the rack is not too high on your oven or it will really brown the top of your cake. You will also want to keep an eye on it and test the center after an hour to see how it is doing. Mine took the full hour and ten minutes for this cake though.

Once the cake is done baking, you can pull it out and let it rest for at least fifteen minutes. Invert your cake on a cooling rack and let it cool for three hours before decorating.

I prefer to make my cakes in a two day process so I went ahead and wrapped the cooled Barbie cake in plastic wrap and rested it on top of a dish, then covered the whole thing in foil.  When the cake is frozen it is much easier to decorate and I have a lot less crumbs to have to work around.  That little tip came courtesy of a Michael’s cake decorating course I took and has served me well over the years of making and decorating special occasion cakes.

Now it is time to make the frosting. You can definitely skip this step and just use two 16 ounce containers of vanilla frosting (tinted to your favorite cake dress color), but the jarred frosting won’t give you the stiffness you need if you want to decorate and embellish the dress. This buttercream decorator’s frosting uses the confectioner’s sugar, shortening, milk, clear butter flavor (pictured above and purchased at Michael’s) and a little Meringue Powder (pictured above and purchased at Michael’s) that gives it a yummy whipped and buttered taste without adding any off-colors to your frosting.

Making frosting is a messy, messy job and is one of my least favorite parts about cake decorating. One way you can really cut down on the mess is to dampen a kitchen towel and drape it over your mixer while you are whipping up your frosting. This will cut down on the confectioner’s sugar dust clouds that you will find all over the kitchen and you can wipe down your mixer when you are all done.

Really try hard to resist eating this frosting. You really will need all of it to decorate your cake. Doesn’t it look delicious though? Tint the frosting in your desired color. In our case it was Emily’s two favorites…pink and dark pink.

Now it is time to frost your cake. I frost my cakes frozen and they turn out beautifully. You just want to give your decorated cake a few hours to thaw before the guest arrive, but frozen cake frosting is so darn easy that you will never go back. Frost it the best you can and remember that you can add as many details as you need to and that will cover up any of the imperfect parts.

To get the surface even smoother, dip your clean spatula in hot water and run it across the surface of the cake in long strokes. This will melt the frosting slightly to help remove stroke marks. Wipe the spatula clean and dip it in the hot water before each stroke.

Once your cake is smooth (ish), you are ready to add your embellishments to decorate your dress. I used Wilton Tips #2D to make swirl flowers and my zigzag border, tip 3 to make the centers of the flowers and added dots to her dresses, and tip 21 for the shell borders and little loops on her dress.

You can add whatever details you prefer on your cake, that is the beauty of making your own Barbie cake. Embrace your inner-fashionista and have a blast making Barbie’s party dress!

Here is our finished cake. I left the top of Barbie’s dress on and tried to incorporate the lower half into looking like a continuation of her top. Her hair was tied with a little leftover grosgrain ribbon. If your Barbie has legs, you can wrap her in plastic before inserting her.  After Barbie was done with this party, I put her dress top in the dishwasher and it came out clean and perfect. Barbie just got a good wash in the sink and I put her away…just in case we might need her next year.

4.0 from 1 reviews

The Perfect Pink Barbie Cake With Buttercream Frosting
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 10
 
This cake is so moist and full of strawberry flavor.  The color from the gelatin adds a vivid pink hue and the flecks of fresh berry take these pantry ingredients to another level.  If a Barbie cake isn’t your thing, wait for your post next week where these are transformed into a grown-up cupcake complete with a Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting. While buttercream icing is not my favorite tasting frosting, this frosting is ideal for decorating and piping beautiful decorations on your Barbie cake. The butter flavor really adds a lot of richness to this frosting. This recipe creates a batch and a half (or approximately five cups of frosting). This will likely be more than you need, but I would rather have extra frosting than not enough and make it all over again. Extra frosting can also be used to decorate a batch of cupcakes for the adults!
Ingredients
  • 1 package (18.25 ounces) plain white cake mix
  • 1 package (3 ounces) strawberry gelatin
  • 1 cup finely chopped fresh strawberries with juice (approximately 1½ cups whole berries)
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¾ cup canola oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • For Buttercream Icing (Medium Consistency): 1½ cups solid white shortening
  • 1½ teaspoons Wiilton Butter Flavor
  • 4-5 tablespoons milk
  • 6 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1½ tablespoon Wilton Meringue Powder
  • Pinch of Salt (optional)
Instructions
  1. Place your oven rack into the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare a 2 quart oven-safe batter bowl by greasing heavily with cooking spray.
  3. Place the cake mix, gelatin strawberries and their juice,  milk, oil, and eggs in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for thirty seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat two more minutes.
  5. Pour batter carefully into your prepared batter bowl.
  6. Bake for 1 hour and ten minutes or until the cake springs back when pressed with your finger and a cake tester comes out clean.
  7. Cool for fifteen minutes and then invert your cake on a cooling rack. Allow the cake to cool for a minimum of three hours before decorating. For more tips see the post above.
  8. For icing: Cream shortening flavoring, and water.
  9. Add dry ingredients and mix on medium speed until all ingredients have been thoroughly mixed together. Blend an additional minute or so until creamy.
  10. Tint as desired.

Disclosure: The Amazon links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate the books & supplies for your project quickly and easily.
Have any cake decorating tips? What was your proudest birthday cake moment? Feel free to share them here!

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