Posts Tagged ‘Frugal’

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!


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!


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.


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
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!
  • 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)
  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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Holiday Crafting Inspiration or the Amy Clark Craft Factory of 2010

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

There has been a lot of holiday crafting happening this year and I can’t wait to show you some of the things I have been working on! First up, is this beautiful yarn ball wreath! Does anybody remember seeing this one in our notebook? I thought this would be the perfect craft to do a little stash busting in my yarn collection and a great wreath that would look cute even after the holidays.

day one

four hours later, off to bed with glitter in my hair and third degree burns.

the next day, three more hours of gluing to go!

I did not anticipate how long this wreath would take, the amount of supplies that I would need, or the cost of all those ornaments and Styrofoam balls.  It took about seven hours of hot gluing with lots of time spent making the little yarn balls.  It also took about twice the amount of supplies that I had anticipated. That said, isn’t it stunning and worth every ounce of effort?

Looking for more holiday wreath ideas? I have hung my beautiful Kimba-inspired wreaths for the holidays again. When spring comes my little sugared lemon drop wreath will be hung again for another year on my front door. What can I say? Handmade wreaths make me so happy!

I am so proud of how the wreath turned out and a huge thank you to life through the lens for the crafting inspiration.

I had my best friend over for a holiday craft night and we cranked out dozens of these rolled rosette hair accessories and felted loopy flowers that were featured in our notebook. I bought a little fabric for these, but also decided to use fabric from Emily’s worn out and stained summer dresses from last year. The same idea could be applied with fabric from thrift store finds that don’t fit your child, but would be the perfect material for a cute embellishment in her hair.

I made her a few headbands, but we soon found out that headbands and glasses don’t go together so good, especially the wide headbands I bought for her hair.  They are cute enough though that I just might have to wear the headbands for myself. I decided to use some of the clips I had leftover from my hair bow making days and apply them to those instead. They worked out beautifully. I was able to make a few of these to go with her holiday dresses this year.

Thanks to Happy Together for helping us look a little fancier this holiday season!

We also cranked out tons of these easy No-Slip Bookmarks for gift-giving this year that were also featured in the notebook. I use my bookmark daily and I have to say that it truly holds the pages of my book well without wrinkling my books.  It helps to have a friend that can operate a sewing machine too since I am a sewing school drop-out.

These would make beautiful stocking stuffers or are a perfect gift to keep on hand for last minute giving. I gave these to the kids I read to each week with a book for the holidays. These are so fast to make and are a great way to use up any leftover ribbon you might have laying around.  The most expensive part are the cute buttons, but they are a fun way to personalize these bookmarks.

Thanks to Maryjanes and Galoshes for this easy craft that has added a little something special to my gift-giving this year!

I made this beautiful red scarf for my brother who had gotten a new gray winter coat this year. I am going to have to cast another one on the knitting needles for my husband who was so kind to model it for me.  For more pattern inspiration, be sure to check out my Knitting Trendy Gifts of Warmth.

Merci Scarf

Pattern: Merci Scarf by Susan Rainey

Needle Size: US 8 Needles (I used size US 9 needles, which created a little bit wider scarf, but you could use the US 8’s that are recommended)

Yarn: Premier Yarns Serenity Chunky Weight in Molten Lava (2.5 skeins)

Notes: This scarf is so simple and fast to whip up that it would make the perfect gift to give to any man in your life. The pattern is one that you can complete while watching your favorite shows on television and is almost impossible to get off track.  This yarn was also perfect for creating a really warm scarf, perfect for our Midwest winters.  This pattern is perfect for a beginning knitter or for a last minute gift for someone special in your life!

I knitted two more ruffled scarves and another Republic Hat for gift-giving. I forgot to take a picture of the hat and other ruffled scarf, but they did turn out so pretty! These ruffled scarves are definitely a statement piece, meant to add a punch of femininity to your winter coat! I made one in this light gray for my best friend and then one in a charcoal gray for my sister.  Now I want to make one in a couple other colors for myself!

Beautifully Ruffled Lace Scarves

Pattern: Ruffle Lace Scarf by Suzie Blackman

Needle Size: US 10 Needles (40″ circulars)

Yarn: Caron Simply Soft in Heather Gray

Notes: If you want a scarf that is wildly impressive, can be created with a single ball of yarn, and looks like a million bucks than this would be the perfect gift to give this holiday season. It is a very mindless knit, but is an INSANE amount of stitches, especially in the last two rows (over one thousand stitches!). The beauty of this scarf though is that you only need to know how to knit, purl, and yarn over to create it.

The twisting is created by knitting the scarf length-wise, rather than width-wise and through the series of yarn overs. As pictures above, you can see that it is really hard to see your stitches, let alone if it is actually going to twist. The good news is, as you cast off, you will see that scarf naturally twists, making that beautiful ruffled twist.

This one is definitely a statement piece and is also a statement of your absolute love for whoever you might make it for!

I followed the pattern that is linked above, but added four more rows to give the scarf a fuller appearance. I repeated rows 11-14 two times before I started rows 15-16. I am really glad I did and love the lush fullness of this scarf.

Here are the finished teacher scarves that I made! Each one had a $5 Starbucks gift card tucked into the pocket that was created in the scarflet. Next time I make this, I will have to write on the label though that these were scarfs. The teachers thought they might be hats…which I guess you could do too!  Regardless, I got such wonderful compliments and tried to make each of them unique with flower embellishments or different unique buttons and colored embroidery threads on each one. We also made one for our babysitter who has been a true Godsend to my family and helped me manage the day-to-day of my site by caring for Emily one afternoon a week. She is my secret weapon of productivity on the site. I wish you all could have a Miss Janie for Christmas!

Anthropologie-Inspired Scarflets

Pattern: Anthro-Inspired Scarflet (available as a free Ravelry download with your free Ravelry membership) by Kim Seio & Lydia Flowers (optional, for embellishment) or cute buttons.

Needle Size: US 8 Needles (straight) for both the flowers and the scarflet

Yarn: Premier Yarns Chunky Weight in Pristine (scarf) & Yarn Bee Boucle Traditions in Black

Notes: I followed the sizing and increases that ilikecookies(another Ravelry member)  had shared in her pattern. She said, “Increased until 30 stitches, worked 15 rows even until ribbed section and knit 15 rows of ribbing to make a slightly larger scarflet.”

I added a black Lydia Flower (size small) with a red button center to finish it or colorful buttons with contrasting embroidery thread to finish! For more pictures of these, please visit this post.

I finished all of my knitted gifts with these homemade gift tags. I used my Silhouette Craft Cutter and used the rounded rectangle template to make these simple tags out of ivory cardstock that I had leftover from our treasure boxes we made this year. As a holiday treat to myself, I bought myself a personalized stamp from Babyjewels (an Etsy seller) and I have to say, it really added that professional touch to my gifts!  They have one for knitters and one for crocheters too. She is on holiday vacation, but you can be emailed when she comes back.

Here the gifts are all lined up. Next year I will have to do a video tutorial on my signature bow. Every gift should have signature bow on them and I have perfected my signature bow over the years. When I ran out of ribbon this year my husband proclaimed a “state of emergency.” He sure is a funny guy.

The gift factory is closed until next season!  I hope you have had great success crafting your own gifts and are continuing to get lots of handmade inspiration on MomAdvice for your holiday giving needs!

Giveaway Results: Cheer brightCLEAN Detergent for One Year

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Thank you all for your entries! We would like to congratulate Michelle S. (Commenter #202) on winning our Cheer for a Year Giveaway! Happy Holidays to you all!

Editor’s Note- Don’t forget to enter our Tassimo T20 Coffeemaker Giveaway from Monday (valued at $139),  our $1,300 Prize Pack from The Talk, and our Nintendo Wii with Family Game Night 3 Giveaway. Check back tomorrow for more!!

Over the last few months I have had the incredible opportunity to work as the spokesperson for Cheer brightCLEAN detergent which has been a fun and exciting opportunity for our entire family. I have been working hard to share with moms easy ways to keep their clothes looking great for the back-to-school season, but my work doesn’t end there since a mom’s work with laundry and clothing is never done!

Today I wanted to share with you some easy tips for organizing your closet in under 30 minutes. If you are limited on closet space, like me, or you simply like to organize your clothes by season, I have a few easy tips to incorporate in your life to help keep your closets organized and fresh!

Pull All of the Clothing Out of the Closet- To begin organizing your closet, you really need to know what is in it. Begin pulling all of the clothing out of the closet and eliminate any items that have not been worn in the last six months, clothing that no longer fits, clothing that is no longer in season, or clothes that are no longer in style.

Organize Clothing by Color- Next put your items back into the closet and organize it by color and then by type. For example, put all of the black clothing together and then organize it by style of shirt (knit, blazer, sweater, cardigan, etc..) I have used this advice over the years,  that was offered to me by my closest fashion confidant, Kathy Friend. Sorting items by color makes it easier to find what you need quickly and also discover what areas in the color scheme needed a boost and what areas need some scaling back.

Repeat these steps above for your children’s closets and I am sure you will notice a true difference in how easy for you all to get ready in the morning!

Store Your Out-of-Season Clothing- Storage depends truly on the size of home you have and the space that you can use to tuck your out-of-season items away. In our house, Rubbermaid totes are our clothing storage option and I keep my personal (freshly washed)  out-of-season items tucked away in the basement, while the kids have two bins going all of the time in each of their closets.

With my children, one bin of clothing that they are outgrowing is stored throughout the year and can be added to as items are outgrown. I have been lucky enough to have a “bin exchange” program with my best friend and we trade bins of clothing with each other for our children. When a bin is filled, I pass it on to her in exchange for a bin of her clothing. With this exchange system, I can probably count on one hand the amount of items that I have had to buy my daughter this year. It is great if you can work something like this out with a friend and by keeping a bin on hand, it helps to keep your closets tidy and organized.

The other bin of clothing that is housed in their closet contains items that they will soon be growing into, sometime in that next year. This bins helps serve as a reminder to me on how much or how little I really need to buy for the upcoming year or season. If you do a lot of thrift shopping, consignment shopping, or hit the garage sales for your children’s clothing, an itemized list of items you have on hand and sizing can help reduce the amount of duplicate purchases.

Implement a Free-For-All Drawer for Kids- Maintaining organization in your house, let alone your closet, with small children is practically impossible. I have learned over the years to choose our battles, but I never knew what battles were until I met my strong-willed and wildly independent little girl.

It is because of her that I have developed the, “Free-For-All,” drawer. This nightstand is my daughter’s drawer that she can organize and do exactly what she pleases with it. Each day we were battling her about what she could or could not wear for school. Now we have compromised and this drawer is filled with all of her favorite nightgowns and pajamas. At the end of the day, she can do whatever she wants and where whatever she wants from this drawer, provided we are spending the day at home!

Make sure that if you have a drawer for your children, that it is the lowest one or a safe one to access. When my daughter began climbing on a chair to grab her favorite nightgowns and toppled the drawers on herself, we knew that she needed a drawer that she could access with a few of her favorite things in a safe location.

Donate Often- Make donating to your local thrift store or shelter a part of your weekly routine and just imagine how much space you can reclaim in your closet and home. I like to keep a bag or bin going all week long and add as I see items that we no longer need or have outgrown, that can be passed on to someone else. It is amazing how these little things really add up over the course of the week, and how much simpler my life has become thanks to ridding myself of clutter. Make it a part of your routine just like paying the bills and caring for your home each week and you will begin to see the power you have in transforming those cluttered corners and closets.

Switch to a Wallet-Friendly Detergent- Before storing those clothes for next season and when caring for those clothes for this season, be sure to look for a wallet friendly detergent to care for them with that will keep your clothes looking fresh and bright for this season (and many seasons to come).  Do a price comparison on the detergents in your store and I am sure you will find that Cheer brightCLEAN detergent is  not only inexpensive, but that it performs just as well as the more expensive detergents.

At only $.15 a load though, it is great to know that if you need to buy it, that this detergent is very budget-friendly and they offer different (including unscented) varieties to choose from! It is a product that I am using for my own family and one that I would love to share with you! The best part though is that it will remove the day’s dinginess from your clothing and brighten the clothes you already have at a fraction of the price. Who wouldn’t want a little of that in their life…or perhaps, a year’s worth of that!

I don’t want to just talk about how much you will save by using Cheer brightCLEAN detergent, I actually want to give it to you and save you that expense for an entire year! Cheer brightCLEAN™ detergent has graciously offered to give to one of our lucky readers a year’s supply of laundry detergent. Imagine not having to pay for detergent for an entire year and what you could do with that money.

Today we are offering one lucky reader a year’s supply of Cheer brightCLEAN Detergent to help inspire you to get your closet organized with fresh clean clothes with Cheer brightCLEAN Detergent!

Leave one comment for each item that you complete to enter:

  • First Entry: Leave a comment and let us know one tip you use to get your closet and out-of-season clothing organized in your house or one tip that you have discovered through this post that would really help your family!
  • Additional Entry: Let us know you are a fan of MomAdvice and join the Fan Club today on Facebook.
  • Additonal Entry: Follow me on Twitter and get an early scoop on all of our giveaways and articles that we are formulating for the year!
  • Additional Entries: Subscribe to my feeds and never miss another thing on our site again! We have a landing page where it makes it easy to subscribe to our blogsFor each one you subscribe to, leave one additional comment.

One winner, chosen at random, will receive a year’s supply of Cheer brightCLEAN™ Detergent . Please submit your entries by Wednesday (12/22)  at 8PM EST.  Our winner will be drawn at random. Good luck, everyone!

Please check out this video below where I share more great tips on organizing your closet in 30 minutes or less!

I am a spokesperson for Cheer brightCLEAN™ Detergent and have a relationship with the company. 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 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 Wednesday, December 22 at 8PM (EST). I’ll anneounce 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 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 responsible for this giveaway. There is no guarantee that this item will be received by Christmas.

How to Create an Advent Calendar Out of Common Household Items

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

It is that time of year again and that means another Advent season. Today I wanted to share with you a “use what you have” Advent calendar that we created last year. It was such a hit that I plan to make another one for this year! This requires no pricey materials and is based around what the holiday season should be all about… being together!

In the years past, we have always had a Christmas Jar of activities. Each day we would randomly draw from a set number of activities and enjoy a holiday activity together as a family. This year, our life with our two children has become increasingly busy and scheduled. We have two school schedules, extracurricular activities, homework, holiday programs, holiday family events, and so much more going on. Our life of leisure seems to have taken a detour and I have had to be more thoughtful in our approach towards carving time out for what we would hope to accomplish this year.

I wanted to create our own countdown to Christmas in a creative way, but I didn’t want to spend any money on it. I decided to use what I had to create our homemade Advent filled with fun activities and wanted to share with you what we created!

Homemade Advent Calendar

Supplies needed:

A large circle punch (in scrapbook supplies at craft store) or a jar or glass for tracing
Scrapbook or festive holiday gift wrap
2 Muffin Tins
A picture frame stand or a place to prop your finished tins

I began this project by punching out 48 circles. On half of these write the numbers 1-24 and on the other half you can write fun activities to do with your children in anticipation of the big day.

Stick your holiday activity folded up inside of each muffin tin and then attach the numbered circles to each individual muffin tin. Secure with tape on both sides to hold your activities in securely.

Break out your trusty calendar and jot down the activities for each day to remind yourself what you need to plan for and what supplies will need to be purchased to accomplish the activities.

Add a little festive ribbon to the top of your muffin tin. Display the muffin tin by using a picture frame stand or finding a sturdy wall to prop it up with. Have your child draw an activity each morning to complete as a family.

Our Activity List

1. Decorate the Christmas tree.
2. Big bubble baths with holiday music playing.
3. Going to the library to pick out holiday books.
4. Special popcorn and hot cocoa snack (possible visit for the tree lighting ceremony in town).
5. Going to a Christmas Concert.
6. Decorating gingerbread houses.
7. Make Christmas cards for our special friends.
8. Watch a holiday movie.
9. Color a holiday coloring page.
10. Bake Christmas cookies.
11. Go see holiday lights.
12. Go see Santa and a trolley ride through downtown.
13. Write a letter to Santa.
14. Pop popcorn & play a board game together.
15. Host an ornament decorating party.
16. Color a holiday picture.
17. Holiday party to attend.
18. Go to the dollar theater and see a movie.
19. Go see the Christmas lights.
20. Deliver holiday treats to our friends & the firefighters in town.
21. Big bubble bath with holiday music.
22. Open one gift early.
23. Watch a holiday movie.
24. Celebrate our family Christmas.

Total cost for this project was zero and very little money will be spent to do these activities together. The memories I hope to create with my children though, I hope those will be priceless!

Do you do an Advent calendar or have a special way your family celebrates the countdown to Christmas? I would love to hear your ideas!

Taking a Little Store-Bought Help in the Kitchen for the Holidays

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

If you have been reading the site long enough, I am sure you know that I am one of those people that prefers to make everything from scratch to cut down on our grocery budget. We have big eaters in our family though and often convenience foods leaving us feeling unsatisfied and ready for snacking within an hour. Since those foods don’t seem to fill us up, the nights that I don’t feel like cooking we usually end up opting for dining out which costs a lot, even for our little family of four!

I doubt I am alone in saying that my calendar is overflowing with an unbelievable amount of obligations right now. We have holiday concerts, appointments, work commitments, volunteer opportunities…  and it is only going to get worse as the holiday season gets closer.

See that little “No,” sign in the corner of my calendar?

This is supposed to be offering a memory trigger to myself that there is no need to say yes to everything.

Now view my calendar.

I think I must be having a disconnect these days.

Fortunately, Walmart reached out to me to see if we would like to sample some of their Marketside brand items that are sold over by their deli area in the store. These items are of gourmet quality, but offered at a lower price.  The line includes bagged salads, gourmet soups, fun dips for entertaining, take-and-bake pizzas, veggie steamers, artisan breads, and fresh gourmet pastas.

After sampling all of the items, you can be assured that they are delicious and every bit as fancy as dining out.  The soups and bread rivaled our Panera Bread and the veggies were crisp and delicious.  The fresh dips (which included vanilla bean fruit dips, fresh guacamole, and a variety of ranch dressings) would be perfect to keep on hand for all of those holiday potlucks and gatherings!

Of course, adding my own homemade spin to these great convenience items allowed us to pull together a delicious dinner every night last week on a week where our calendar was jam-packed with activities (see the calendar above). With the busy holiday season upon us, I wanted to share a few ways to take those store-bought ingredients to a new level as the calendar fills up.

Veggie steamers are an easy way to incorporate great veggies into your diet in a quick way.  Look for these stir fry medleys over in your local Walmart’s cooler and take these home for a quick & healthy dinner. I love dressing up veggie steamers with a little of my favorite sauce from our favorite Chicken Lo Mein recipe.

Quick Weeknight Stir Fry

1 bag of stir fry medley veggies
1 chicken breast diced (Optional. I use this roasting method once a week to keep chicken on hand)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon ketchup

Cook veggies as directed. In a separate mixing bow, add soy sauce, vinegar, and ketchup. Stir to combine. Add cooked veggies and serve immediately over baked brown rice.


Fresh pasta is one of life’s little luxuries that I love to keep on hand for a quick weeknight dinner. Marketside offers so many fun varieties for the meat-eaters in the family as well as the vegetarians. These delicious pastas can transform your usual spaghetti night into a dinner that rivals your favorite Italian bistro. They also offer fresh pesto and sauces to decorate your pasta without any effort.  Here are a few ways to use their pasta on a busy weeknight!

Pesto Tortellini Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans petite diced tomatoes (14.5 ounces)
8 cups chicken broth
1 pound  tortellini of your choice (I love a chicken or sausage stuffed, but cheese is always a crowd pleaser!)
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!

Serve with a bag of salad and a loaf of crusty bread for an easy weeknight meal!


Ravioli With Pesto Cream Sauce

1 pound ravioli or tortellini (I love a mushroom-stuffed variety)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (we used skim milk)
1 pinch salt
1 pinch pepper
1 1/2 cups grated Romano cheese
1 cup prepared pesto

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook as directed and drain. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in garlic and butter, and saute until garlic is soft and fragrant, about 1 minute. Dissolve flour in milk, then stir in. Season with salt and pepper, and simmer 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Add cheese, and stir until melted. Stir in pesto. Dish ravioli on plates and then drizzle the pesto cream sauce over it. Garnish with a little fresh basil or chopped parsley.

Serve with a bag of salad and a loaf of crusty bread for an easy weeknight meal!


Ravioli With Homemade Red Sauce

1# package of ravioli
3/4 cup chopped onion (we omitted because we don’t like onions)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 (28 ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes (do not drain)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook as directed and drain. Saute onion and garlic in 1/4 cup olive oil until onion is translucent in another pot. Stir in tomatoes, salt, and sugar. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer one hour and thirty minutes. Stir in tomato paste, basil, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and meatballs and simmer thirty more minutes. Gently break apart the tomatoes with the back of your wooden spoon.  Serve over a big plate of your favorite ravioli.


Although this wasn’t included in my Marketside feast, I recently discovered the beauty and flavors of their rotisserie chickens for my weeknight chicken noodle soup. This soup is being made again this week for a fast & delicious soup that will leave people wondering how the heck you could pull it off on a busy school night.

Quick Weeknight Chicken Noodle Soup

2-3 cups egg noodles (I like the Ream’s brand in the frozen foods section)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
12 cups low-sodium chicken broth
salt & pepper to taste
2 stalks chopped celery
3 chopped carrots
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1 rotisserie chicken

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add egg noodles and cook until tender. Drain, and rinse under cool running water. Meanwhile, in  a large saucepan or Dutch oven, saute the carrots and celery in two tablespoons of olive oil for five minutes to start your soup base or you can skip this step and proceed as directed, if you desire a crunchier vegetable.  Heat up broth and bring it to a simmer. Stir in celery and carrot. Gently add your rotisserie chicken and all of the drippings from the pan and put a lid on your pot.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and water together until cornstarch is completely dissolved. Pull out your chicken and set aside to dice.  Gradually add the cornstarch to soup, stirring constantly. Stir in noodles and diced rotisserie  chicken, and heat through. Toss in a handful of fresh chopped parsley and ladle into bowls.
Of course when all else fails, there ain’t no shame in taking home a take-and-bake pizza and calling it a night! My favorite variety is the Primo Pizza with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, & black olives. Every mom deserves a night off from the kitchen once in awhile!
I am a participant in the Walmart Moms program.  Marketside provided me with meals last week in exchange for my honest feedback.  Participation in this program is voluntary. All opinions are my own. check out the other Walmart Moms had to say about Marketside. (prices may vary from store to store)
What store-bought items do you like to keep on hand for quick weeknight meals or for a night off in the kitchen? Please share!

A Real Mom’s Review of Drugstore Shopping Simplified

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Since becoming a mother, I have become much more strategic with my shopping time. Ideally, it is time spent after my husband gets home and I can shop by myself without two wildly crazy children distracting me from my list of tasks. Let’s face it though, the idea of spending all of my evenings in a store sounds mind-numbingly boring and I would much rather spend my time with a good book or with my family.

In past articles I have shared ideas for fantastic places to online shop including those dreaded trips to the grocery store and wholesale club. Today I want to share with you my new favorite place to shop for my drugstore deals. It is a little website called that has simplified my shopping time and has still allowed me to get great deals.

You see, there was a time when I coupon clipped, organized rebate forms, saved those drugstore receipts with money back, and horded a large wall full of toothpaste for our family of four. You could say that I have gotten lazier in my old age or that I realized that I was spending too much money and time in our local drugstores, but I knew that something in my life had to change. I realized that I was buying items just because they were “free,” but the items really weren’t free when I thought of all of the impulse splurges and the space that they took up in my home. has provided me with online access to managing my household items and supplies online. You basically tell Alice what you typically buy and Alice (yes, your very own Alice just like the Brady Bunch) goes to work for you. The site organize all of your products, finds coupons and deals for you, reminds you when you might be running low, and helps you order just the items you need so you can avoid that trip to the corner drugstore or the big-box store.

Here are some ideas for how to shop on a budget with

  • Say goodbye to those paper inserts, scissors, and wasted time clipping coupons. One of the best things about Alice is that there is no coupon clipping involved. If there is a coupon available on the product, it will automatically be applied to your order… no clipping necessary. Alice also has relationships with the manufacturer’s and many times offers coupons that aren’t available in your newspaper’s coupon insert. It is important to note though, that they offer a specific amount of coupons on each product. For example, your favorite shampoo may have only fifteen coupons available. You will need to snag that coupon before the coupons are no longer offered to get the savings.
  • Shipping is free on your first order, regardless of the number of items that you buy. After that first order, there is no minimum amount of spending that you need to do to qualify for the free shipping,but you do have to have six items in your cart for the free shipping. This can easily be met with smaller items like toothbrushes, dental floss, or other “filler” items if you are unable to meet the six item requirement.
  • You always know if you are getting the best deal. Comparison shopping in fliers can be time-consuming, but Alice will actually tell you who has the best deal on the product you are looking at with comparisons between,, Peapod, Safeway, Walgreens, Amazon Fresh, and This can be found by scrolling below the item you are looking at and clicking on the, “Price Comparison,” link. You could also use this price comparison when doing your local shopping without ever leaving the comfort of your home.
  • Shopping for the best deals is easy to do if you familiarize yourself with the website. Under the, “Other Ways to Shop,” category, you will find a, “Shop the Best Deals,” link. That link will direct you to the top fifty deals that the site is currently running with the coupon prices included. Sticking to the top fifty deals will insure that you get the very best deal for your money. These deals also will be great to add as filler items or for donation items for the local homeless shelter and charitable giving.
  • Orders are fulfilled very quickly. The official amount of time that Alice will give you is between one to six business days. I have placed three orders with the company and they have all arrived the next day (if I placed the order before noon eastern time) or two days later if I happen to order in the afternoon. Lucky for me, I live in the Midwest and Alice is Midwest-based so orders are shipped very quickly here.
  • You will no longer have to worry about embarrassing drugstore shopping. I thought when I became a grown-up I would no longer care about what was in my drugstore cart. Thanks to living in a small town, there are few moments of privacy shopping anywhere. To top it off, I now have two inquisitive children asking loudly at the checkout counter what I am buying. I love that I can now buy those items with confidence, in the privacy of my own home, and not face the embarrassment about those unmentionable items.  The items all arrive in a beautifully packed blue Alice box with minimal packaging that reminds me a lot of the great packing strategies that uses.
  • The site offers great reminder features. Just like any smart business, the company wants to insure that you will be a repeat customer for them and they do it through a targeted email that reminds you when you are getting low on an item. When you order an item, you can tell Alice how often you buy that item and an automatic reminder will be sent out when you are getting low. That doesn’t mean that it will be automatically ordered for you, it just means that a reminder will be sent to have you come back and reorder. Thanks to this feature, there are no more late night runs to the drugstore for forgotten items… At least, they are fewer and farther between!

I am now a super fan of Alice and love having the time to spend with family and not having another item on my list of errands to do. I hope you can check it out and consider giving online drugstore shopping a try!

If you would like to give Alice a try, feel free to visit through our link.  In full discretion, this is an affiliate link, but we rarely ever refer you to anything ever unless we truly and actually embrace or use a product or service! We love our readers and aim to only offer the best information on saving money that we possibly can!

Have you ever tried or any other online shopping service? We want to hear what your thoughts are and how you choose to shop to save your family time or money! Please share here!

The Summer of Knitted Hats

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Each year it seems that I have a theme to my knitting and this year was the summer of chemo caps as I shared in our Scraps of Life Giving entry on inexpensive ways to give back to your community. I started the summer out by spending about $25 in supplies and then tried to work my way through some of the yarn in my stash combined with super soft yarn that I thought would help keep cold heads warm and not be itchy.

My intention had been to knit with frantic fury and get as many cranked out as I could.  I managed to knit about fifteen hats this summer, in total, and distributed them to a couple of friends who were in need and the rest will be headed for the Patternworks drive at the end of the month. Although a bit short of the goal that I had hoped, I am still really proud and will continue to try and keep charity projects like this on my knitting needles as much as I can.

I was inspired by my mother-in-law and her mom, who always are doing some type of charity knitting and never cease to amaze me with their capacity to give what is on their knitting needles. If you are not a knitter, a knitted hat takes me about four hours of knitting (including the knitted embellishments) so it is a true labor of love to give something knitted to others.   They are always giving these precious gifts away and my mother-in-law shared the Patternworks charity with me so I could assist with the giving too.

Each hat was uniquely different and accessorized with what I had hoped would be a little bit of fashionable accessories. Emily gladly posed in each hat for me, but as the summer grew to a close, I could tell she was getting a little impatient for her turn. Even poor Ethan was recruited to try on girl hats for mama to get appropriate sizing for older kid’s heads and loudly complained about the itchy hat that he had from last year.

I had only learned to knit hats a year ago and had knitted a cute little Cupcake Hat for Emily and had attempted to knit a patterned hat for Ethan…which was horribly flawed. Even though I messed up a huge spot on it, he wore it all winter, wearing my big old flaw right in the front. Every. Single. Time.  It pained me.

This week, I made it my goal to get the children in newly knitted hats before the cold weather hit. Here are their sweet little hats that I made and some information about those patterns.

Pattern: Basic Roll-Brim Hat (Courtesy of Knitting for Peace book, a favorite in my book collection)

Needle Size: US 5 Needles

Yarn: Caron Simply Soft in Grey Heather (marked down to a mere $2.50 per skein)

Notes: This basic hat pattern was the first pattern that my mother-in-law used to teach us how to knit in the round. The hat originally calls for a US 7 size needle, but I have found that I am a very loose knitter and usually have to go down about two needle sizes for the sizing to fit on my hats.

This pattern is perfect for a beginner because once you have gotten your stitches cast on and made sure that nothing is twisted, all you do is knit around and around and it naturally creates the brim rolling that you see above. This basic hat pattern can be dressed up for a girl with simple embellishments or different styles of yarn or it can be done simply sweet and plain for a little boy.

Ethan pronounces this hat as awesome and we have it tucked in his bag for those cool days of fall and winter. This inexpensive yarn was perfect for a washable and soft hat that he can enjoy all year long.

Pattern: Toddler Republic Hat (free pattern) & Lydia Flowers (free pattern), the medium and small flowers only for a toddler hat

Needle Size: US 5 Needles (three sizes down from what the original pattern called for as I knit very loosely)

Yarn: Caron Simply Soft in Grey Heather (marked down to a mere $2.50 per skein & I was able to make this second one out of the same skein from her brother’s hat) & scrap Cotton Tots yarn in baby pink for the flower.

Notes: The Republic Hat pattern (adult version available in the side bar as a free PDF) is still my favorite pattern of all and I was so excited when I happened upon this Toddler Republic Hat version to make a mini-me version for my daughter. It truly is a dream pattern for anyone just beginning to create hats because the two inch brim is not knit in the round and then, after a small amount of binding off, you begin knitting in the round after the two inch brim. By creating a brim that is not knit in the round, it reduces your chances of getting your hat twisted on the circular needles and makes the whole process so much easier.

The Lydia Flower is my favorite knitted embellishment ever created because it adds that beautiful knitted touch to all of our hats. I noticed in the shops that hats that look handmade are adorned with knitted flowers and I am thrilled that I can actually make my own! Do I even have to mention the savings? Two beautiful hats for my kids made out of $2.50 worth of supplies? That is a huge savings!

Emily is in love with her hat. She is so in love with her hat that she wore it all day at school after I gave it to her and refused to take it off except for her school pictures that day. I fear what her hair looked like for that picture, but was feeling quite proud that I made something that she was so excited to show off.

The hat trend will continue because it is finally my turn! At the beginning of the summer, I visited The Yarn Gourmet in town to buy myself two beautiful skeins of fancy yarn. This is the first time I have ever bought “real” yarn and I treated myself as a reward after I made all the hats for everyone this summer. Just as the kids have felt a little impatient about getting a turn, I couldn’t wait to indulge in a turn for myself.

I am so excited to show you what I do with this yarn and then it will be back to the knitting agenda of creating handmade holiday gifts for family & friends.


If you are just beginning the world of hats, these are the three things that really helped me have success getting comfortable with double-pointed needles and knitting in the round.

3 Things That Helped Me With Making Hats

1. Bamboo 16″ Circular Needles- These are an off-brand of bamboo needles, but had a wider cord than the kind that you buy in the store. This helped me so my stitches didn’t get twisted. Circular needles are expensive in the store ($8.50 per needle set). These were $24.98 for all of the sizes 0-15! What a steal! I applied my Swagbucks towa
rds Amazon gift cards to score these for free.

2. Bamboo 9″ Double Pointed Needles- Again, these are an off-brand needle and they were extremely rough so they held my stitches really well. As a beginner on these, these rough double pointed needles were key for me to get the hang of it without dropping stitches. It was a lot cheaper to buy these as a set and I did apply my Swagbucks towards the Amazon gift cards so I didn’t have to dip in my pocket to pay for them.

3. A Better Ring Marker- I was using the kind that you just slipped over the needles and was finding that I was losing my starting stitch marker for knitting in the round. My mother-in-law gave me the kind that slip onto the yarn and I put that at the beginning of my round. It was key to not losing my place and helped me stay on track with my pattern!


Disclosure: The links to books and supplies are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate what you need quickly and easily. Feel free to order a book, but we encourage utilizing the library system and buying me some yarn instead.  Wouldn’t that just be so much more lovely?

What crafts have you been working on? Feel free to share those links to your projects.