Posts Tagged ‘Shopping’

Great Gifts When You Are Five & a Girl

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

It has been so much fun sharing with you all of our ideas for celebrating our daughter this year!  If you haven’t been here for that, I encourage you to take a peek at our DIY Barbie Doll Cake, our step-by-step tutorial for tissue paper pom poms, & and our tips & recipes for an inexpensive winter party.

I am not big on promoting buying things, but I do think it is fun to see what other people are giving their children for their birthdays so I can get inspired with great gift ideas for my child. We do not spend a lot on Christmas or on birthdays. For Christmas we do the four gifts for each child (Want, Need, Wear, & Read-inspired giving) and then for birthdays I typically give the kids two or three gifts that I think they will really love. We are blessed with a big family of generous givers so my children never feel our more simple gifts are not enough for them.

I wanted to share with you Emily’s favorite gifts that she received for her birthday & Christmas this year!  I try to wait awhile before I share what our favorites are so you can know that they are really hits if they have been loved long past the excitement of their birthday and holiday festivities.

Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems

It is is no secret that I am an avid reader so it should come as no surprise that my children love to read too! We are longtime fans of Mo Willems and the Knuffle Bunny series is my daughter’s favorite book series by him. The book series is about a little girl who loves her bunny and Emily is a bunny-loving fool who carries her own bunny everywhere she goes. I am sure you can see the appeal of this book series to her!

Mo Willems brings to life a little girl who has a habit of leaving her Knuffle Bunny everywhere and the books chronicle her adventures to get her Knuffle Bunny back. We loved the character of Trixie when she was a baby and left her bunny at the laundromat, but couldn’t tell her daddy why she was so upset when he was left. We sympathized with Trixie when there was a case of mistaken identity and she brought home the wrong one-of-a-kind Knuffle Bunny after a show & share at school where another girl had brought the same exact bunny…making him sooo not one-of a kind.

In Knuffle Bunny Free, Trixie is older now, but she still loves her bunny. When they take a flight to Holland to visit her grandparents, Trixie accidentally leaves her bunny on the airplane where her daddy just can’t get him back for her. Your heart breaks a little bit inside as Trixie realizes that she really is old enough to go without him. Try to have your tissues handy for this one. I simply can’t get through the last part as I look at my own little girl and how big she is getting, clutching her own bunny tight in her fist. This book is beautifully written, beautifully illustrated, and offers comedic writing that adults will truly love.

Knuffle Bunny Plush Toy

Now that you know that we are Knuffle Bunny groupies, it will make sense why Emily was so thrilled to receive her very own Knuffle Bunny to go along with the books. Some kids are into plush toys (like my daughter) and some kids never really get into them (like my son). If your children are into plush toys, this is a wonderful one to pair with the book series.  This Knuffle Bunny is super soft and squishy with long ears that are perfect for clutching and dragging around the house.  Knuffle Bunny has been hitting the road with Emily every day and I find her snuggled up in bed with him every night.  Although I thought this was a little expensive for a simple plush toy, he has gotten $20 of love out of him already! If you have a Knuffle bunny lover in your house, this makes a wonderful gift!

Ladybug Girl at the Beach by David Soman

Another series that our daughter has been a fan of for a very long time is the Ladybug Girl book series. Lulu reminds me so much of my own spunky Emily with her own fashion sense and spirit for adventure, that this book series seems to echo they way our Emily thinks.  Lulu is the type of girl that your daughters can look to as a role model because she is very brave, she uses her imagination, and she is a friend to others.

We loved Lulu when we were first introduced to her and she finds her alter-ego, “Ladybug Girl,” who can do anything. We loved when Ladybug Girl found a friend on the playground and fought crime together as the Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy duo. Now Lulu is making her very first trip to the beach and she finds that there is so much to love at the beach, but also finds that she is a little fearful too of the water. You can watch Lulu overcome her fear of the water and discover that Ladybug Girl can even brave the ocean- she truly can do anything!

Lana the Ladybug Groovy Girl

We came into collecting Groovy Girl Dolls completely by accident.  I bought a doll for Emily at a gift shop on a trip and she absolutely loved it. She slept with her every night and I loved her yarn hair, rag doll style exterior, and that she was so wholesome.  I wanted to find another one like her for Emily and discovered there are actually many Groovy Girls out there and accessories to go with the dolls.

Since Ladybug Girl is such a superhero in our house, Lana the Ladybug Groovy Girl was absolutely perfect for Emily!  These dolls are so adorable and Emily loves playing with them for hours on end! Ladybug Girl was the perfect addition to our accidental collection!

Midnight Star Groovy Girl Horse

In our house there is lots of talk about sparkle, glitter, horses, and unicorns. Imagine, Emily’s delight when Grandma & Grandpa got her this sparkled and bedazzled Groovy Girl horse to go with her dolls! Yes, this horse has been making quite a few pony rides around our house and offers a lot of entertainment & imaginative play for Emily.

This toy is really well-made and includes lots of little extras that Emily really loves. There are reigns that the dolls hands can go into and stirrups for the doll’s legs. Since it has all of these stirrups and reigns the dolls can actually ride on this horse and have adventures without her having to hold on it. I am not a big fan of toys that make noise (I know, I am such an old, grumpy mom) and we discovered that this horse makes horse sounds when you press a little button on the side. Luckily, it is a very quiet horse that gives just the right volume without being annoying.

Loving Family Fisher Price Dollhouse

Last Christmas we decided to buy Emily a dollhouse and asked that everyone buy her accessories to go into her house for a gift. I didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg on a dollhouse, but I did want something that would last. We decided to get her the Loving Family Fisher Price house because it was relatively affordable for a dollhouse (about $75) and it offered lots of fun accessories to go with it.

We got almost the whole collection last year, but she didn’t have any bedrooms for the dollhouse. She would make the dolls lie down on the floor with tiny rugs and would  sigh deeply at me, pointing to the absence of beds in her house. This year we added a little girl’s bedroom set and the parent’s bedroom set to her collection. All the dolls seem more well-rested and Emily is very happy to have a place for her dolls to sleep now.

This is a bit of an investment piece, but she plays for at least an hour in this house every single day. I love anything that helps her to use her imagination and when her friends come over, they park themselves in front of the dollhouse and play house for hours on end. It really is the perfect gift for a little girl with a big imagination!

Barbie & the Diamond Castle Princess Liana

You can’t have a Barbie party and not get a few Barbies for your birthday. It was a Barbie-filled extravaganza at our house filled with tons of Barbies and accessories. Everyone brought the coolest Barbies, fanciest clothes, and we even got a Barbie car for them to ride in!  We have been playing with and brushing Barbie hair nonstop since her birthday.

Of all the Barbies that Emily got, this Diamond Castle Barbie is Emily’s most favorite.  You turn a little dial on the back of her and her dress transforms into a different colored dress with a magical sound. She also sings…she sings an awful lot in our house. Emily ran her batteries out after three weeks of nonstop signing and I couldn’t get the song out of my head if I tried.  She is magical though because I still let her keep her even though she sang all the time.

This Barbie is from the Barbie & the Diamond Castle movie which she also got for birthday. We love all the Barbie movies, but I think this one is Emily’s favorite because it is about two friends. If you haven’t seen the Barbie movies, they are truly awesome. I am not a fan of the recent ones, but The Nutcracker, Barbie & the Twelve Dancing Princesses, & Swan Lake are just beautiful. Your daughter would love them and you will love the pretty music!

Barbie Tote

We are new to the Barbie scene. Boy, do we have so much to learn about navigating the Barbie world! My sister found this Barbie tote to put all of our Barbie accessories in and Emily really loves this bag for taking her Barbies everywhere. There is a zipper on the inside for tiny Barbie accessories and clothing. The bag size is generous, unlike some of the other totes on the market. All of her collection fits comfortably in this and the outside is a plastic exterior, making it easy to clean. I love this gift as much as Emily and we hang it on our playroom door so we can play with our Barbie’s or take them with us for fun on the go.

Search & Win

For Christmas and birthday gifts I do try to horde my Swagbucks rewards and use my points to buy Amazon gift cards. To begin earning rewards, all you need to do is use as your search engine tool instead of your usual route with Google. It pulls the same results, but when you are surfing, you can earn points just by making it your search engine tool. These points are then deposited into your account and can be redeemed for your rewards.

I put my points towards Amazon gift cards which has been a fantastic way to enjoy a little shopping without dipping into my bank account. Not only has it covered birthday gifts, but I also have ordered countless books for my Kindle and other fun little extras in my life.

I rarely use affiliate programs, but can’t recommend Swagbucks enough. If you start now, it is quite possible that you could have a free (or discounted)  Christmas in your future! Every little bit helps in this tough economy and the best part is that it is free tool to assist with your shopping needs.

Disclosure: All of the links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate the products quickly and easily. Feel free to order what you need, but we encourage wise spending & buying things you & your family will truly love and appreciate.  We promise though to only refer you to products that we are really loving and using. We also bought each of these fair and square- no one asked me to promote them or gave me anything. Don’t you like people who disclose far too much information? That is me! Enjoy!

Do you have any girl gifts that were a hit this Christmas? Please feel free to share your daughter’s favorite gifts! We will be back next week with great boy gifts to give!

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!

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!

Capturing Your Children Through Photography

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

One thing that people have been asking me to share about is how to get fantastic pictures of your little ones. It was a request that I felt weird about accepting. I am just a mom who loves to take pictures. I have no formal training, no accolades, no studio, no professionalism at all…  In all seriousness, it feels strange to speak with authority on the subject.

Here is what I want you to know though! In this day and age, anyone can be a great photographer. We have more equipment, more free tools, more books, and more resources than ever before.  Unfortunately, the key to becoming great at something is good old-fashioned practice, reading, hard work, and more practice. It is not necessarily spending more money and buying more equipment. It means, simply, getting familiar with what you already have at your disposal and being the best that you can be with what you have already in your hands.

That being said, my Mother’s Day gift last year was the Canon Rebel T1i, which has been a fantastic entry-level camera into the world of DSLR cameras. It was such an incredibly big deal to me to have something so glamorous and so fancy. It is something that I would never have bought myself because I can not bear to part with money. I am sure if you read me regularly, you are nodding your head at this statement.

Even if you do not have an DSLR camera, there are so many things you can do to make your photos just as spectacular with just a few tricks up your sleeve.

Shift Your Focus- So many times it is easy to plop everything dead into the center of a picture. It feels natural to do it that way, doesn’t it?  This has been a really bad habit of mine that I have been working really hard to break. Shift your camera a little to the right, shift it a little to the left and see if you can tell a better story without having everything dead on in the center. Technically speaking, I learned the rule of thirds in a fantastic tutorial hosted by Sony and from the very famous photographer Me Ra Koh. The beauty of this simple trick is that anyone can do it with any type of equipment that you might have. Try thinking of your photos differently and shifting your perspective to tell the story!

It’s All in the Details of the Story- Look through your camera with an artist’s eye and start capturing those small and hidden details of a story. My friends refer to this (sometimes annoying) habit of mine  as my “artsy shots,” where I am taking shots of those often missed and hidden details that I want to remember about my children or about a particular place, event, or tradition that we have created together.

For example, baking a cake with your child and taking pictures of you making it together are wonderful and great. Imagine though if you took a picture of her hands stirring the batter for you, the feet that are pulled up on the stool, the snack that is shared while baking. Suddenly, you are telling a story of a family moment that will conjure up not only the special cake that you made together, but how small her hands were, that tradition of the chair pulled to the counter, the beauty of the batter that was poured, the picture of the anticipation as she peeked in the window of the oven for the cake to get done, the first slice, the crumbs left on an empty plate… Try becoming a storyteller and capturing the details that you *think* you will remember and that are sadly forgotten. These pictures are always my favorite and are my most-treasured photos in our family collection.

Sometimes It is About the Big Picture- Now that you are taking beautiful detailed shots of your children, it is also great to think about the BIG picture too.  Big shots can tell a great big story too and I love to zoom in on one picture and then zoom out (even on the same shot) and see if the bigger picture can tell a great story.

Vacation photos are a really great time to practice this. Often where you are at for a vacation is a beautiful place with much to see and much to photograph. Focus your camera on your child, but zoom it out to show how little they are as they are walking around a large museum instead of just a shot of your child in front of one small display. It helps to showcase the wonderment and the beauty of being small.

My favorite wide shot remains the one of my daughter pictured in her dance class. If I had zoomed in on her, you would have missed the irony of her movement. She was in her element, a free spirit and wildly dramatic. With the shot nice and wide, you can see that my daughter was doing her very own little routine while the other kids were following the instructor. That is what I love about my daughter and it is now perfectly captured for our family.

Turn Off the Flash- This may require a bit of reading in your camera manual, but your pictures will be a thousand times better if you can turn the flash on your camera off.  The only times that I do turn my flash on is when it is absolutely necessary (which is not often, if you can believe it) because in most situations going without the flash will create a much better picture.

Practice taking pictures in different areas of your home to find the one spot in your house where the lighting is the best and try to plant the kids there for portrait shots. Take your children outdoors (shaded spots work the best) and take photos outside instead of indoors, when visiting places (even if it is just a local restaurant) and snap pictures there. In most scenarios, you will find that taking a picture without the flash will make your pictures much more beautiful!

If I know that I am going to be in a low-light situation or I am looking for ways to get that perfect shot (capturing Christmas lights, fireworks, a child blowing out a candle, etc..) I will Google search for tips and practice with my camera before I go somewhere. Because I am Type-A like that.

Edit. But Edit Wisely.- Once I have taken my photos for the day, I put them in Picnik and spend time editing them. I did pay for a premium membership, but it has been worth every penny ($24.95 per year) for editing my photos. I don’t use anything more fancy than this although someday I hope to learn Photoshop or Lightroom. For now, it is just what I need to help give my pictures a little pop. Try saturating the color in your pictures, switching them to black-and-white, or adding a little bit of softening to them.

Truly though, it is fun to edit, but the real beauty is the picture that is taken before the editing. Concentrate your efforts on taking a great photo and use a program to help add a little razzle dazzle to the great picture that you already have. Just remember that sometimes one can get carried away with the editing and you have pictures with all sorts of crazy fluorescent people at a party or unnatural weirdness to your photos. I hope that wasn’t too technical for you all.

Here are the most FAQ questions that people have asked me about taking pictures…

Q: How do you get everything to blur in the background of your photos?

A: One of the most exciting things to me about getting a new camera was the capability that I had to get sharp focus with a blurred background in my pictures. The way to do this is to change the aperture (or f-stop) on your camera. Aperture is the size of the opening of the lens when a picture is taken. One thing that is often very confusing is  that large apertures (where lots of light gets through) are given f/stop smaller numbers and smaller apertures (where less light gets through) have larger f-stop numbers. So f/2.8 is in fact a much larger aperture than f/22.

To change your aperture, consult your camera manual to see what setting you will need to set your camera to. For my Canon camera, it means switching the dial to Av and then using the dial to turn it to the number that I wanted. I usually try to shoot in f/2.8 for most of my pictures, f/5.6 for much of my portrait photography, and f/22 for beautiful landscape shots with everything in sharp focus. For this shot of the flowers, I used f/2.8 to get just the front flowers in focus.

Q: How do you get the blurred edge on your photos?

A: The blurred edge is just something I add in Picnik. I just go under the Create tab and I select Vignette. Then I slide the slider down to almost nothing on the size of it. This adds just a tiny edge to the photo that is nice for online viewing, but not noticeable when printing them out or loading them on a digital frame. What can I say, it is my little signature move!  You can do that with a free membership to Picnik, you definitely do not have to pay anything for that one!

Q: What equipment do you recommend and what do you have?

A:  Again, I am not an expert on buying camera equipment, but I can tell you what I do know about it. I have always heard that it is much wiser to spend your money on your lens than the body of your camera. That is not to say to totally skimp on the body, but the body of cameras is constantly changing and being improved upon. I just got my camera this past summer and they have already come out with the Canon Rebel 2Ti, if you can believe it, and it costs quite a bit more than my already antique and outdated camera! The truth is, I will never stay current with the body of my camera because within a few months, a new one will already be replacing my ancient equipment.

If you are on a budget and are looking for a great point-and-shoot camera that has the same functionality as the DSLR, but you don’t have to buy lenses and make a huge investment, I loved my Canon PowerShot (the link takes you to the current model). I am a Canon girl and was really happy with this point-and-shoot camera. It is the camera that I recommend to my friends and I have always heard how happy my girlfriends are with their Canon PowerShots. Agonizing amounts of research were done before I selected that camera and I was very happy with it!

If you are still on a budget, but want to make a long-term investment and are just looking to shoot pictures of your family…then I will tell you what I have. As an aside, we found our lens on eBay from a photographer who was upgrading his equipment, but I am linking through Amazon for convenience sake. I have the Canon Rebel T1i and we bought the Canon EF-S 17-55 mm lens.  They have kit lenses that are around $100 or more each and I have seen people take great pictures with these, but we made the investment in one really good lens that would do just about everything for me for the rest of my life and until I die amen. This lens is all I really need in most situations.

I don’t use my flash often, but for  our recipe section and for some our evening events, I wanted to have an external flash. That was my anniversary/Mother’s Day/You Work Hard Sometimes gift and I got the Canon Speedlite 270EX Flash. If you don’t need something this fancy, I did really well with my Gary Fong Puffer Pop-Up Flash Diffuser (around $20) which really seemed to help my evening shots and didn’t take up a lot of room in my camera bag.

The most important thing to buy though is a lens filter to protect your lens. If for some reason you scratch your lens or something happens to the outside of it, this $10-$20 filter will protect the lens and be what breaks instead of your $100-$1,000 investment. Trust me, you will thank me later if you have this!

Q: Do you have any good books or websites to visit that can help me learn more about photography?

I am a HUGE fan of Scott Kelby and his Digital Photography Books 1, 2, & 3. See if your library has these and check them out for smartly written, witty, and down-to-earth tutorials on how to use your camera. I love that he says, “If you want a good portrait, turn you dial to this,” instead of high-brow photography terms that, as a mom,  I just don’t understand.  I just want someone to tell me what to do, not make me feel stupid!

For reading, I definitely recommend Digital Photography School for tutorials and Shutter Sisters for photography inspiration!  I also love to see what Secret Agent Mama, Mooshy in Indy, I Should be Folding Laundry, I Heart Faces, and Me Ra Koh are doing with their cameras. The best part about them…humbleness and willingness to share.

Really though, the best thing you can do for yourself is to read your manual. Discover. Play with your settings. Practice. Read the manual again. Try new things. Be unafraid to fail. Become a human sponge and learn. Display those pictures creatively. Be the treasure keeper. Live your life fully, which will in turn,  will create natural and picture-worthy moments. Love.

Questions and comments are welcomed and appreciated!

Disclosure: All of the links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate your camera equipment and tools easily. Feel free to order through our site, but we always encourage shopping around for the best bang for your buck! Happy picture-taking!

Gift Giving: Putting Your Own Spin on Photo Journals

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

I could not wait to show you guys what I made for my moms for Mother’s Day this year.  Unfortunately, to keep it a secret, I had to wait until the holiday was over to show them to you. That being said, these photo books would be perfect for just about any occasion, including the fast approaching Father’s Day holiday!

I know that many people are fans of the photo albums that you can create online, but I had never done one before. I adore taking pictures of my family, but I am not very good about printing them out and sharing them the way I should. I thought it might be neat to share with our moms this year a brag book that that they could enjoy for years to come. I admit that I prefer to make handmade gifts for these occasions (I doubt either mom will ever forget our infamous ping pong wreaths last year), but I knew that there could be a way that I could put a unique spin on these photo albums and add my own homemade touch.

I first weeded through all of the pictures and tried to get a good representation of both of the children as well as pictures of them with the other family members. After selecting my pictures and template (through the photo site I used), I then went to Quote Garden and tried to find a quote for each page of the photo album that would fit the pictures that I had selected. All in all, the process took four hours because of my own admitted perfectionism. I chose a soft-back cover (to save money) and I also visited Coupon Cabin to find a coupon code that I could use towards my purchase. These each cost roughly $16…and it was worth every penny.

These were a few of my favorite photos and quotes that were chosen:

“Everything is beautiful at the ballet” A Chorus Line

“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” Katherine Hepburn

“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of  a child. There are seven million.” Walt Streightiff

“I have the same goal I’ve had since I was a girl. I want to rule the world.” Madonna

“Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet.” Vietnamese Proverb

“There’s no place like home.” Wizard of Oz

“The Force is strong with this one.” Darth Vadar

“A boy’s story is the best that is ever told.” Charles Dickens

“Grandmas hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever.” Author Unknown

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Confucius

“And thank you for a house full of people I love. Amen.” Terri Guillemets

I can honestly say that my copy of this book has already become lovingly worn as I have placed it on my coffee table and glance through it almost daily. Each time, I walk a way a little misty-eyed, a little more thankful, and really proud of my amazing kids.

As the gifts were given, there were a few tears and a whole lot of pride radiating from our proud grandma and nana. It is the perfect gift for purse-toting and brag sessions. From what I hear, they have already made the rounds in their workplaces and churches. To me, that is when you know that a gift is a total success..when it just must be shared!

Just a few quick tips:

- Don’t forget to check for coupon codes through whatever photo book publishing site you use. There are usually multiple coupons available. Be sure to compare which coupon will offer you the most bang for your buck. My 20% off coupon, for example, was less than the shipping cost so make sure you crunch those numbers before ordering. Just Google, “Photo company’s coupon code”  and you should get plenty of codes to use towards your purchase.

- I found it easiest to sort my pictures by date first so I could group pictures together on pages easier. Sorting by date also helps to allow the flow into the different seasons of the year and pictures to flow a little more naturally.

- Choose a template with a neutral palette, that will compliment and not detract away from the beauty of your photos.

- Edit your photos before putting them into your book. I use Picnik for my photo editing needs and I absolutely love it. You don’t need to get carried away with the editing (unless you just love to), but it can be a great tool for saturating the color, adjusting color temperature, switching to black-and-white, or adjusting the exposure or contrast in a photo.

Looking for some added Father’s Day inspiration? These crafty bottles brimming over with treats were a hit with my hubby last year.  Our dads also really loved our movie gifts and handmade photo compact disc jackets filled with great music in years past.


Ironically, I had some great timing on this post because today is the last day to enter for a $50 Snapfish gift card for Father’s Day. Please head over there and get your entry in today! And yes, I actually had to pay for all of those photo books so I am extremely jealous you can get one for free!! Entries are due by 8PM eastern time tonight! Good luck, friends

What did you do for Mother’s Day gifts this year? What is up your sleeve for Father’s Day? Please share!

All I Want for Christmas…The ’09 Edition

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Isn’t it fun to peek into someone else’s holiday wish list? I wanted to share with you my Christmas wish list for this year and hear what is on your list!

40″ circular knitting needle set- I have been hearing a lot about magic loop knitting and I have some circular scarves that I would like to attempt knitting… not to mention my 2-at-a-time sock knitting that I want to try! This set of needles would put off my procrastination on learning this new technique and would be a perfectly cozy activity to do over the winter ($19.99)

lavender & vanilla pillow mist- If I have trouble sleeping, I spray a little lavender pillow mist on my pillow to help me conk out. I have had the same bottle for years, but I am down to my last sprays. I know my husband will never buy this for me as he finds the process of me spraying my pillows annoying. To which I simply say…whatever. There is nothing more soothing and I am hoping someone out there will replenish my supply ($10.00)
6-slice waffle iron- This is a very expensive gift therefore making it very unlikely I will receive it, but I am dying to get a waffle iron that produces more than a single waffle at a time. I make waffles every single Saturday for the entire week and this six slice waffle iron would give me the opportunity to sit and eat with my family instead of eating a waffle alone… Wait, no more eating alone? Maybe it is better that we keep our current arrangement! ($79.95)

Norah Jones & Imogen Heap music- I am a huge, huge, huge music lover and there were so many good albums that came out this year that I would love to have wrapped under my tree. Norah Jones & Imogen Heap are my top two requests this year and would definitely help round out my music collection ($11.99)

new calendar- I am writing activities in the margins of my current planner and can’t wait to get a fresh new one to fill with our activities. This is my favorite calendar of all and I have bought it the last two years and it is one of my most used items in my house. It is the perfect size to tuck in my purse and has pockets for business cards and random receipts. It is also durable and has survived all sorts of spill horrors and messes because of the waterproof cover. ($14.95)

perfume- Every girl should have a signature scent. I want my signature scent to be this Falling in Love perfume. I just need to convince my husband that a signature scent is important to me. Even the teeniest little spray bottle would make me happy and it sure would make those poor saleswomen at Sephora happy too. I don’t have to keep requesting little samples to stick in my purse and could finally get a bottle for myself. It is an extravagant luxury though so we shall see what Santa will bring ($15-60)

cookbooks- My cookbook collection could use a little updating and this year I have asked for the America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book< /a> and Cake Doctor cookbooks. These are two that I would like to stop paying fines on at the library because I check them out so often. The new Pioneer Woman Cookbook would also be a fantastic addition underneath the Christmas tree. ($10.37-$19.57)

What made your Christmas list this year?

3 Budget-Friendly Boy Gifts That Rock

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

My son celebrated his seventh birthday in July and has been playing with his favorite birthday gifts ever since. I wanted to wait on sharing his favorite gifts until we discovered which ones continued to be played with long after the party was over. After all, the sign of a truly loved toy is one that lasts way past that party!

Ultra Stomp Rocket- My son’s favorite gift of the summer was definitely the stomp rockets that he received. The kids would play for hours with these and would work as a team to gather the rockets and then take turns stomping. The stomp rockets come with a launch pad and four foam rockets. Your child jumps on a little air pad and the air travels through the hose of the air pad all the way through the launch pad, which sends your rockets shooting up. The rockets can travel up to 200 feet in the air depending on how hard you jump.

These rockets get five stars for great entertainment, in fact, adults can’t resist taking a turn jumping with the kids. For durability, I would give the rockets three stars because most of our rockets are already beaten up and torn from abuse from younger children.

The good news is that once you buy the launch pad though, you can buy replacement rockets for another summer of fun! Overall, this is one of our favorite toys of the year and provided hours of entertainment for my kids and their friends! (Pricing- $12.30)

Scribbles: A Really Giant Drawing & Coloring Book- One of our absolute favorite gifts that we got our son was the Scribbles Coloring Book. I had asked around on Twitter for recommendations and this came highly recommended from another parent.

If you want to encourage imagination in your child, this is the best coloring book ever. Instead of having you simply color, each page tells you something that it would like you to draw. One page will tell him that the alligator is angry and have him fill in his face. Other pictures are exactly alike, but may request colors and patterns to make each of the pictures different. My favorite series is a simple line that is drawn and then it asks you to draw different animals all sitting on the pole. It is truly the best drawing book I have ever come across for allowing children to use their own creativity and imagination to fill in and create pictures.

The book is very durable and it is truly giant. My son still has many more pages to do and with the durability factor, I plan to tuck this away with his age on it as a keepsake of his creative talent at this age. Because the child is doing all of the drawing, you could buy the same book again another year and see what different things they come up with. (Suggested Price- $13.59)

Razor A Scooter- When I was little it took me awhile to master riding a bike, but I loved riding on my scooter. It seems my son is a lot like me and this little scooter has been a fantastic investment for our son. It has a little switch to fold the scooter flat and even the handles on it fold down for easy storage. We keep this in the trunk of our car and take it with us when we go to the park for another fun activity to do.

Even though it is compact, it still has a built-in brake and is extremely sturdy and stable. The fold down feature is great for traveling and this can be a fun way to get your children from point A to point B. (Suggested Price- $28.99)

Search & Win

The best part about these three gifts is that I ended up buying all of my son’s birthday gifts for free this year! I have been using Swagbucks ever since April when I did a podcast with Heather, from Freebies 4 Mom, on what a great program Swagbucks is.

I average between 50-100 points each week just by using Swagbucks as my search engine and sharing it with others. To begin earning rewards, all you need to do is use as your search engine tool instead of your usual route with Google. It pulls the same results, but when you are surfing, you can earn points just by making it your search engine tool. These points are then deposited into your account and can be redeemed for your rewards.

I put my points towards Amazon gift cards which has been a fantastic way to enjoy a little shopping without dipping into my bank account. Not only has it covered my son’s birthday gifts, but I also have ordered countless books for my Kindle and purchased new exercise DVD’s to keep me motivated and moving.

I rarely use affiliate programs, but can’t recommend Swagbucks enough. If you start now, it is quite possible that you could have a free Christmas in your future! Every little bit helps in this tough economy and the best part is that it is free tool to assist with your shopping needs.

What are your favorite budget-friendly boy gifts? Do you use Swagbucks? What is the best thing you have scored with this free search engine program?

Chari-Tea Bunco Cause Party

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Recently multi-platinum, Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter, Ashanti teamed up with Johnson’s Body Care to launch a new charitable program that enables real women across the country to support local charities through simply hosting get-togethers with friends.

I was given the opportunity to host one of these “cause parties” where I could kick back with my girlfriends, pamper ourselves with Johnson’s new line of lotions and body washes and help raise money for a local charity.

Lucky for me, it happened to be my turn to host our monthly Bunco so I decided to partner these opportunities together and host a Chari-Tea Bunco night at my house.

My guests were asked to bring monetary and/or food donations to support the St Joseph County Food Bank. Everyone also agreed that the winnings would be given to the food bank instead of divided among ourselves for the event and Johnson’s gave us $100 to start the charitable pot for our charity.

By hosting this event with Johnson’s they gave us the money to put towards the food and drinks for our event so I truly got to pamper my girlfriends in style because no one had to bring a single dish to share.
I still kept to a thrifty budget, but tried to add some special touches for our group. Our centerpiece was a bouquet of flowers displayed in a teapot with a variety of special teas in my china teacups for our table. These beautiful bouquets of flowers were purchased at Sam’s Club for less than $5.

Here are some pictures of the great food that we got to eat. I wanted to stick with the tea party food and dishes that would be easy to handle while playing our game.

I got a huge croissant sandwich tray that served 18 for $32 at Sam’s Club. I cut these sandwiches in half and then added colored toothpicks to hold them together so people could sample different varieties of sandwiches and to make them a little more bite-sized.

For side dishes, I purchased two huge vegetable trays for $9.87 each that were prepared by Sam’s Club. I made a delicous pesto pasta salad from my new favorite cookbook, “The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen,” which you must check out! I then bought a variety of fruit and made fruit kabobs by skewering them for our guests out of pineapple, grapes, and strawberries. These fruit kabobs were thrown into a pretty wine bucket for everyone to grab.

For dessert, I purchased two boxes of mini creme puffs that I served on cake platters with a decaf coffee to finish out the meal.

The star of the party though was the Bunco punch that I made that was a delicious summery drink to go with our food. We also had a box of the Black Box Cabernet which was another surprising hit with many of my friends who had not had the pleasure of trying boxed wines before. Sam’s Club had the best price on this with a box that was equivalent to four bottles for only $18.32. I have to say, these boxed wines are an affordable way to entertain on a budget.

On my lower level, we had a little welcome desk where my guests could sign in and my coffee table got taken over by all of the great food donations.

Each guest got to take home a really cute reusable bag filled with Johnson’s products to sample and share with their friends as a thank you for their charitable efforts. Each bag contained their 24 Hour Moisturizer, 24 Hour Moisturizing Body Wash, & their Be Radiant Cocoa & Shea Butter Lotions. These products were just for us, not for our kiddos, and they smell and feel great. My favorite is definitely the Be Radiant Cocoa & Shea Butter Lotion- it smells divine!

We had the biggest turn out for Bunco ever with seventeen great women in attendance and we were so excited about all we could do for our community. With the donation made by Johnson’s plus our own donations, we were able to donate $205 to the St Joseph County Food Bank and an entire car full of food donations for the cause.

With the job loss in our area, our food banks and shelters are in critical need right now and if you are able to give anything at all, I encourage you to take the time to do it.

Here are some of the items the Food Bank of Northern Indiana critically needs:

Cereal — hot and cold
Meat, chicken or tuna
Mac/cheese, dry pasta
Potato flakes
Spaghetti O’s, stews
Pork & Beans
Chicken Helper
Family-sized soups
Dry soup mixes
Juice boxes
Beans — baked, refried
Pancake, waffle mix
Plastic containers

Individuals, clubs, churches, civic groups and local businesses can all conduct food drives. Donated food is a much needed commodity in their fight against hunger. They accept donated food between the hours of 8:00 am and 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday, at their location on 702 S. Chapin Street, South Bend, IN. If this location is not convenient to you, there are many other drop off points including all of the Martin’s Supermarket grocery stores. For more information please visit The Food Bank of Northern Indiana to find out how you can help.

Throwing a cause party was such a fun girl’s night out and I encourage you to do the same with your girlfriends! It is a fun and easy way to give back to charities in your community and I am so thankful that Johnson’s helped us support such a great cause in our own community!

Here are the star recipes from our fabulous Chari-Tea Bunco night that you could replicate for a charity night at your house!

Pesto Pasta Salad (courtesy of “The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen“) and you can visit The Farm Chicks Blog too!

3 cups bowtie pasta (about 8 oz)
1/4 cup pesto (Sam’s Club has pesto for really cheap, if your garden isn’t ready for pesto-making yet)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (about two medium)
1/2 cup halved pitted black olives
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts (optional)

Cook pasta as directed. Drain and rinse under cold running water and let cool. Place in a salad bowl. In another bowl, mix the pesto and sour cream together and add to the pasta, tossing to coat. Add the tomatoes, olives, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts and toss to mix. Serve.

Bunco Punch

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

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

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

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

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

This makes approximately 30 (6 ounce) servings.

What are some fun charitable activities you do with your friends and/or family? I would love for you to share how you make charity a priority in your house?

Related Links:

Good Cheap Fun: Bunco

Retro Housewife Bunco

Kentucky Derby Bunco

’70’s Bunco Style

Day Old Bread Gets A Makeover…Or Four

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

One of our favorite sandwich shops in town is Jimmy John’s. If you haven’t sampled one of their yummy gourmet subs, you must run out and get one. My husband loves these so much that this is where he wanted to meet us for his birthday lunch. The two of us spent many a late night over their subs at Purdue University. Now as parents, our children love them just as much as we do!

When chatting with my friend Jessica, whose husband happens to own and operate our local Jimmy John’s, she shared with me that they offer their “day old” bread for a deeply discounted price. Day old simply means that the bread is more than five hours old and so they can no longer use it to make the sandwiches. I never realized that they offered this and was anxious to find out the price and if they would have any the next time I went.

After church on Sunday, we headed over to the restaurant to grab some lunch and I asked if they had any day old bread to spare. Stacked high on the counter were many loaves of bread offered at a discounted rate. For $.48 a loaf, I grabbed four loaves to see what I could invent in the kitchen with this inexpensive bread. That is right, only $.48 a loaf, far cheaper than even the discounted bakery cart at Walmart!

That evening, I worked on a beautiful roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and baby peas for a delicious Sunday dinner. The chicken had a yummy lemon sauce and we used the bread to mop up the sauce. We quickly polished off the first loaf that night. No need to change anything when the bread is fresh and a perfect side to any dinner hour.

I called my mother-in-law to see if she would like to come over for dinner the following night. For $.48 a loaf, I can afford to entertain! The second loaf of bread is reinvented into my favorite overnight breakfast casserole. We served this with orange juice, coffee, and a fresh loaf of my banana oat bread. Everyone left the table will full bellies and smiles on their face.

That evening, I cut the last two loaves into squares, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled them with garlic salt and threw them in the oven to make homemade croutons. The bread was still soft, but a little stale so this was a great way to use up what was left.

The next morning we had a playgroup to attend and we had to pack our lunches. My yummy lunch was a grilled chicken salad topped with those homemade croutons and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

When I got home that night, I still had to make our dinner. Lucky for me, I have plenty of croutons so I gave them a spin in my food processor.

Poured them into my favorite thrifted tin platter.

I gave my chicken a little dip in some egg and then the breadcrumbs.

They were baked into my new new favorite Chicken Parmesan recipe, served with pasta, and a little wine. As everyone happily munched away, I brought up the bread that we had bought several days before. “This is the best you have ever made!” my husband proclaimed. I batted my eyes and said, “It must be that day old bread from Jimmy John’s that makes it so good.” His look of surprise was priceless.

I still have enough leftover to make a batch of meatballs and bread our pork chops this week.

As a frugal homemaker, I don’t think I reinvent the wheel of frugality… but I sure know how to beat a dead horse!

What are some of your proudest money-saving moments? Do you have a “beat the dead horse” approach towards using what you have?