Posts Tagged ‘Things To Do’

How to Paint a Kitchen Table: Our Kitchen Table Makeover

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015

Originally posted in 2011, I thought this would be perfect for our Transforming Your Space M Challenge since it was a fairly simple project (after I learned a lesson!) that made a huge difference. I love paint and it’s power to transform!

How to Paint a Kitchen Table

I never dreamed that I would ever paint my kitchen table when we bought it. For ten years though we abused it daily, it survived a brutal move with a terrible moving company, and the polyurethane coating never did look right after it was damaged in route to our house on the day we bought it. The table was loved to pieces, literally, and that is why we had to paint it.

Passing through our kitchen, you might not have noticed the table’s beat-up appearance. From far away or cleverly covered with a tablecloth when it got really embarrassing, the table just didn’t look that bad.

Upon closer inspection though, your eyes are assaulted with the damage that has happened to it. The polyurethane coating was flaking away, the ends were terribly damaged on the table, and a huge gash went right through the center of it that I never thought the table would ever recover from.

We decided that we would stain the table and restore the tabletop with a nice deep and rich color. We bought lots of supplies to stain the table and I couldn’t wait to get started.

For two days I sanded the table to within an inch of its poor little life. The polyurethane coating remained. I bought polyurethane stripper and left it on the table for twenty-four hours. The polyurethane remained. I sanded the table more. The polyurethane remained.

I cried.

I rocked in the fetal position.

I kicked myself for starting a project that I didn’t feel as confident in.

I gave up.

We ate at a sad folding table and chairs for an entire week, only to discover this staining would not happen at my novice level of furniture staining.

At this point, I had nothing to lose.

We decided to paint the kitchen table.

The chairs were in good condition other than a quick reupholster to the tired fabric that had been on them. The table legs also happened to be in decent condition so we made the decision to leave the table legs and chairs in their natural wood color (partly out of laziness and partly because we needed our kitchen table back) which definitely cut down on the work.

I am no expert on painting furniture so I consulted with my best friend who has been painting her furniture recently and the ever amazing and wildly talented Kate, from Centsational Girl, who has this amazing tutorial on how to paint furniture. Between the two of them, I felt a tad more confident than I did before.

Once the table was sanded and wood filled in the spots that were really rough on the table, we applied two coats of the Zinsser Cover Stain Primer over the table. Between each coat, once the tabletop was fully dry, I gave it another good sanding and wiped it clean with a cloth. I had to admit, even with just the primer, the table was already looking better.

Once the primer was dry, I applied two coats of paint to the tabletop. We wanted our tabletop to match our kitchen cabinets so we chose Valspar Blanched Pine (7005-15) for the shade of white we were looking for. Two coats of paint were applied to it. The first coat was applied with a brush and then the second coat, I used a roller and then used a brush to smooth out any roller marks.

I did take Kate’s recommendation and added Floetrol to the paint (as directed on the packaging) which really did seem to help cut down on the mistakes that I usually make when painting. This paint conditioner will definitely be used again when I tackle another painting project.

After the paint was dry, we then applied two heavy coats of polyurethane to the tabletop with an angled brush. We allowed the polyurethane to set on the tabletop for four days with no use. I think this was one of the hardest parts about the process, but we wanted to make sure that the tabletop would really be able to withstand our daily abuse once we brought it inside.

The table legs were reattached, the new-to-me chairs were slid under it. We were in business.

Here is our newly painted kitchen tabletop.  It is not perfect, but we truly did the best we could to improve upon something we already owned.

I am so happy to have a tabletop that I don’t have to cover with a tablecloth and my husband is thankful I am done with this project, I am thankful to have reclaimed the garage, and we are all thankful that we didn’t have to purchase a new set of furniture for this room.

Six Easy Ways to Save on That Weekend Getaway

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Note: I’m reposting this article in honor of our Travel M Challenge with a new header and format that highlights these great travel saving tips that we continue to use to take short trips and stay on budget.

6 Easy Ways to Save on Weekend Getaways

When my husband and I celebrated nine years of marriage, we wanted to celebrate our anniversary in a special way so we decided to take a little trip to Traverse City, Michigan and enjoy a weekend getaway for just the two of us. My husband’s family was kind of enough to take care of the kids and we were off for two days of sightseeing, window shopping, and delicious eating.

We remained true to our budget through careful planning and research and I wanted to share with you a few ways we found to save on our memorable weekend getaway!

6 Ways to Save on Weekend Getaways

1. Research Hotel Rates

There were tons of great places to stay in Traverse City and I wanted the place where we stayed to be close to downtown shopping to be a fun getaway for us. We checked Kayak for room rates and found the Grand Traverse Resort to be approximately the same price as the other hotels, but it had many amenities. The reviews on the hotel were great and we were thrilled to find a rate that saved us about $70 a night versus the hotel rates.

All of that being said, it seemed because we had booked this discount rate, we also got the discount room. Our room was the one without the view, on the ground floor, and smelled like a smoking room. We also had no idea that they would charge a resort fee of $9.95 a day for all of those amenities that we did not use.

We still did score a great rate, but realized that the amount of time we spent in our room was not worth the grandeur and we will find a less expensive place next time!

2. Request A Visitor Packet

While the visitor packet for this town lacked coupons, it did give us some ideas for good places to visit and offered great historical information on the places we planned to visit. Through this packet of information, I was able to jot down some ideas for places to eat and see while we were in the town.

3. Find the Best Places to Eat

I wanted to eat at the coolest spots in town and we were able to do that with just a little research on my part. I hopped on Chow and checked through the forums for information on the town we were visiting. People offered honest opinions on the best spots in town and we decided to eat at two of the restaurants that had been recommended.

The first restaurant we ate at was called Trattoria Stella – a fantastic Italian place in a renovated insane asylum. No, I am not joking! My husband, who watches many of those ghost-chasing shows, was thoroughly creeped out and it made for great conversation with our waiter. The food and wine choices relied heavily on local farmers and local wines which made for a fresh and delicious dinner.

The other recommendation was for Don’s Drive-In, which was absolutely everything that I adore about diner food. Greasy burgers, giant shakes, and the best fried mushrooms ever. We took our shakes to go and drove near the water for a view. It was far too cold to sit too long, but we prided ourselves on making the most of our two day getaway!

4. Talk to Locals

When someone comes to my town, I love to be a local authority. Isn’t it fun to share all of the hidden gems of your town? We talked to anyone who would chat with us and they shared their special places to eat, shop, and their favorite wineries to visit in town. People just love sharing about their home and that is how we were able to discover an out-of-the-way winery that was not listed on maps. It had closed by the time we arrived, but we were able to take some wonderful pictures of the view.

5. Put Together Your Own Tours & Packages

The Grand Traverse Resort offered a room package that included a tour of local wineries. The package included a two night stay and a tour of three wineries. The price? A whopping $224.50 per person. Since the tour wineries were listed on their website, I jotted them down and we decided to do our own tour. The price for us to do our own wine tour? Gas plus $3-5 per tasting at the wineries. With the money saved, we were able to take home a bottle of wine from each of the three wineries as a memento of our special anniversary! The two highlights for us were Shady Lane & Black Star Farms.

We saved ourselves even more time and money by trying wines at the restaurant and even picking up a bottle at the gas station. Through their wines, we discovered what wineries were not worth visiting and which ones we could not wait to enjoy at their winery.

5b. Put Your GPS/Phone Maps to Good Use for Your Tour

Using first a car GPS, and now our smartphone maps, has saved us so much money in gas and an inevitable divorce because we always get lost. It has been one of the best investments for our family- I truly could go on and on!

Program your device with all of the places that you would like to go before heading on your trip. I visited all of the sites of the restaurants, our hotel, even the downtown shops that I wanted to hit so all of the information was right at our fingertips. We enjoyed a scenic view to the town and we were able to navigate our way around without any problems to all of the places we wanted to see.

6. Stick To Window Shopping

I won’t say we didn’t make any purchases (I’ve already mentioned the wine…), but the majority of the trip was spent window shopping and picture-taking. I was able to take pictures of all the beautiful windows and antiques that we saw and that seemed to satisfy any urge I had to shop. We did enjoy oodles of free food samples downtown and shared a slice of pizza on a park bench to people watch over our lunch.

It was a happy anniversary that celebrated almost 15 years of being together! And staying on budget made it that much sweeter.

Do you have any weekend getaways planned? What is your favorite way to save on your vacation travels? Please share!

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10 Ways to Make the Holidays Meaningful for Your Kids

Monday, December 1st, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Making the Holidays Meaningful

We took our girls to get their picture taken with Santa the weekend before Thanksgiving. And just like that, the race was on. I’d already liked and shared a local mom blog’s list of holiday events around the city, and don’t even get me started on my mental debate about Christmas cards.

Every year I swear I’m going to do less; I swear off holiday bucket lists. I vow to focus on what’s really important, to truly take to heart the idea that being present is so much more valuable than any present I could make or buy or wrap in pretty, pretty paper.

And every year I still manage to drive myself – and my family, at times – a little bit crazy anyway.

Despite my tendency to go a little haywire during the holidays, I keep trying. I have to! It matters too much to quit. I know the importance of meaningful holiday experiences, and even more than desiring them for myself, I want to create them for my children. So today I sat down with my seven-year-old, and we brainstormed a few ways to turn this wish list into reality.

Here are 10 Ways to Make the Holidays Meaningful for Your Kids:

1. Remember (or research) the meaning of the holiday.
Read the Christmas story from the Bible (or the story of the holiday you celebrate). In the past couple of years, we’ve loved learning about the origins of lots of the holiday traditions celebrated during Christmas and Hanukkah by watching Why Do We Call It Christmas, a video with funny puppets and catchy tunes.

2. Take time to give back to others.
For the past few years my daughter and I have enjoyed shopping for items to fill an Operation Christmas Child shoebox. But there are plenty of different ways you can give during the holiday season. Whether you buy gifts for a child in foster care or drop a handful of change in the red Salvation Army bucket outside the store, serve dinner at a homeless shelter or buy an extra set of blocks for Toys for Tots, giving to those in need is always going to help us remember both to be grateful for what we have and to focus on others instead of ourselves.

3. Change the kind of gifts you give.
For me, giving gifts is one of the most fun parts of the holiday season. I love finding the perfect present for the people I love. But I realize that sometimes more is not better if my goal is to make the holidays meaningful for the young people I love!

Several of my friends have chosen to only give each of their children four gifts: something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. I love that! I’ve also seen floating around Pinterest lots of non-toy gifts. Beauty and Bedlam and Raising Memories have great lists of ideas!

4. Decorate with intention.
This was my daughter’s idea! When I asked her for ways to make our holidays meaningful, she said, “Well, Mommy, holidays aren’t all about decorating…but decorations are nice. So…maybe if we decorated with Jesus things??”

She recently received her first nativity set from my parents and is excited to find the perfect spot to place it in her room. So she might be a little biased with her advice, but she still has a good point. I don’t have anything against ceramic Santas or Frosty mugs, but I also love pulling out my own nativity sets and placing them in a place of prominence in our home. And anytime I have a chance to use my Jesus is the Reason for the Season platter, I take it!

5. Add meaning to your countdown with an Advent calendar.
A simple activity each day in December can keep your focus on what’s most important to you and your family. Whether that’s reading a Bible verse, performing an act of kindness, or completing a craft project (or a coloring sheet, for the less-crafty moms like me), taking time out of the holiday craziness can remind kids and grownups alike why we’re celebrating in the first place.

My daughter and I love doing Truth in the Tinsel, which incorporates crafts and scripture to create meaningful conversations and experiences. You can find a 12-day schedule for Truth in the Tinsel here, and the ebook also includes four alternate schedules as well: Just the Basics (with 6 activities), By Book of the Bible (6+ activities), Characters (10 activities) and Prophecy (7 activities). (And if you’d rather not tackle craft projects during this busy season, you can also buy the printable ornaments. Easy peasy!)

Read Christmas books together

6. Read a book a day.
Speaking of a simple daily activity…we tried this one a couple years ago, and it was a blast! I wrapped Christmas books – from our own collection and from the library – and we opened one each night. And this is one you can start at any point during the season.

7. Plan a family date.
For as long as I can remember, my parents have made a point to plan a Christmas date for our family. Even as adults, we made room in our calendar for this outing for years. These days, my daughters have taken over as their designated Christmas dates, but that’s okay. My husband and I are excited to start this tradition with our own family, planning an outing with our girls. (Probably a trip to see Santa and a stop for hot chocolate this year. Nothing fancy, but still special for the season.)

8. Plan a family night in.
Christmas movies. Slice and bake cookies or a bag of microwave popcorn. Sticking label and stamps on the holiday cards. Trying on new, matching pajamas and playing Uno. In a season of busyness, a night at home with the people you love most is a gift in itself and just might do the trick to center your minds and hearts on that meaning we’re all longing for.

9. Consider your calendar carefully.
I try to stick to one “festivity” during the week and one during the weekend in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For my small, easily overwhelmed family, that’s just about all the extra fun we can handle. Others might be able to do more, while some families might be better off cramming everything into one crazy week. You can’t do everything, so consider your calendar – and capacity – carefully when making your plans.

10. Just say no.
Whether this is your last resort or your go-to response, saying “no” is an option – even during the holidays. We can say no. We can! We can say no to the light display or the homemade goodies or the elaborate countdown rituals or the open house at your house or the cookie swap at someone else’s. We can say no to the expectations and the demands and the stress. Whatever doesn’t work for your family, whatever takes your focus too far from the true meaning of our holidays – you can say no to it. Go ahead, give it a try!

How do YOU make the holidays meaningful for your family?


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When Mom Needs a Timeout

Monday, April 14th, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

When Mom Needs a Timeout |

“Mom? What’s for lunch? Mom? MOM! Hey! MOMMMMMMMMMMM! What. Are. WE. Doing. FOR. Lunch?!”

Before she could ask – or say my name – One. More. Time, I said, carefully and through gritted teeth, “I can’t talk to you right now. I do not have anything nice to say.”

We were driving home after church, after a week full of fighting and talking back and directly disobeying every big and little thing. We were headed home (by way of Taco Bell), after a morning full of arguing and interrupting the grown-up talk and smarting off in front of the pastor.

Though my newborn has started sleeping for a few more hours in a row overnight, I still feel like a stiff wind could knock me over – or at least lull me into a nap – most days. So fighting against a strong-willed six-year-old had worn me down.

This mama needed a time-out!

Wouldn’t it be nice if, every time we feel overwhelmed, we could escape to a place like that beach up there? {You know, like maybe the week after spring break? Or on snow day #472?}

Unfortunately, a beach vacay isn’t really in the cards every time I feel like pulling out my hair.

When Mom Needs a Timeout |

Last summer I wrote about wanting to run away. Just for a bit, just long enough to refill my emotional tank so I could face whatever chaos or challenge waited for me at home. On that particular day, I had dropped off my daughter at the babysitter’s house and driven straight to a diner, where I sat – alone – eating pancakes and avoiding a small-but-maddening kitchen renovation at home.

But even that feels luxurious – and impossible – some days. Sometimes you can get away, but sometimes you’re stuck in the house or without extra money or a babysitter or a couple hours to spend on yourself. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a break.

When you need a timeout and want to run away, here are a few things – some more luxurious than others! – you might try:

  • Light a candle. The one that smells so pretty and makes you breathe deeply and your shoulders relax, just a bit? Yep, put it way up high and out of reach of little hands if you must, but light that candle.
  • Schedule a manicure. Or a pedicure. Or a haircut. And then go to the appointment. Turn off your phone if you can stand it and just enjoy being pampered. Even if I’m using a coupon to get my hair trimmed at a discount salon, those two minutes of having someone else wash my hair seem awfully close to that beach paradise I long for!
  • Go to lunch. Call a friend – maybe one you haven’t seen in a while – and make plans for lunch. A little grown-up conversation can do wonders for the soul. (Or, if you’d rather, go eat that lunch on your own. Take a good book or your iPod, and enjoy the alone time!)
  • Go to the bathroom. Yes, I said it. I’m not telling you what you need to do in there! But if you can escape the kids for five minutes, walk into the bathroom and shut the door. Yeah, all the way closed.
  • Take a shower. What? You’re offended that I assume you didn’t already do this? Well, fine, you are a better woman than me! Seriously, I know that mom showers often get shorter and less regular during some phases of life. These days – living with a newborn – I feel good if I manage one every other day. But when I finally do step under the hot water, even if it only lasts for four minutes and 27 seconds? It. Is. Wonderful.
  • Take time for a quick workout. Or a chapter in that book you’ve been dying to read. Or the latest episode of your favorite show. And do it in the middle of the day. GASP! I know! Can you BELIEVE I said that? But seriously – despite our collective understanding that we should sleep when the baby sleeps and work our tails off when the toddlers nap, sometimes a mom just needs a break. Take yours.
  • Go shopping. Swing into Target and peruse the dollar spot. Or the clearance racks. You don’t have to buy anything. Sometimes just wandering around and looking at the pretty, clean, new things is enough to clear my mind. Likewise, much as grocery shopping can be a chore, doing it alone? Can feel like a two-week vacation.
  • Take the long way home. Sometimes after I drop off one daughter at school and the other at the babysitter, I don’t rush right home to begin working. Deadlines are pressing and emails are waiting for replies, but driving the long way home – while blaring something that is not children’s music – is what I need to decompress from a rough morning. On the flip side, I’ve been known to scoop up my daughter on non-work days, drive through Sonic for a cherry limeade during happy hour and sit in the kindergarten carpool line for an extra 15 minutes as my car-sleepy baby gives me a break.

What do YOU do when you need a timeout?

{Photo sources: johnmichaelmayer and miamism}


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Rainy Day Summertime Activities

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Since we’ve been having a run of rainy weather where we live, I thought it would be a great idea to pull together some fun rainy day summertime activities (and even one outdoor project that uses rain!) to help get you through those inevitable wet, summer days.

Rainy Day Activities:

You’ll find a few kid-friendly recipes, some projects to give to others, and fun classic indoor games and activities to inspire you to take advantage of summer’s rainy days.

The best part? This is only the tip of the iceberg of summertime activities – both indoor and outdoor! You’ll find oh, so much more on our 100 Days of Summer Pinterest Board – 2013 edition. And if that weren’t enough, there’s the 2012 and the 2011 editions of 100 Days of Summer boards, too. So, no excuses – take some time to have fun with your kids and make some memories!

Here are some MomAdvice classics:


Create a Kid’s Cookbook

whole wheat toaster tart

Make Whole Wheat Toaster Tarts


Create a Homeless Care Package and give it away.


Wow the kids with our famous diy Glow in the Dark Jello.


Cook up some cute Spaghetti Cupcakes.

And here are some more way cool activities to help beat the wet weather boredom (please be sure to pin from the original source I’ve provided- thanks!).


Paint in the Rain @Housing a Forest


Paper Butterfly Garland @ My Poppet


Balloon Powered Lego Car @ The Crafty Mummy


Build an Indoor Zoo @ No Time for Flash Cards

duct tape bag

Duct Tape Tote Bag @ Little Birdie Secrets

glowing rainbow rice sensory play 08

Glowing Rice Sensory Play @ Growing a Jeweled Rose

DIY bath paint

DIY Bath Paint @ Kristan Lynn

Recycled necklaces

Colorful Recycled Necklaces @ Captain Crafty

spoon puppets

Spoon Puppet Theater @ Creative Jewish Mom

washitape car track

Washi Tape Car Track @ Le jardin de Juliette

indoor hopscotch

Indoor Hopscotch @ Giver’s Log

indoor obstacle

Indoor Obstacle Course @ Crumb Bums

indoor car wash

Indoor Car Wash @ What Do We Do All Day?

Kid easy embroidery

Easy kid-friendly embroidery idea @ Anna Maria Horner

Remember to visit our 100 Days of Summer Pinterest Boards for tons more ideas for your summer fun!

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22 Spring Break Boredom Busters

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

It’s that time of the year again – over the next month it will be Spring Break somewhere in the US and MomAdvice has you covered with Spring Break Boredom Busters for your kids. No need to worry about how to fill those days when you have fun and free Spring Break activities to do at home.

If you’re anything like me, you’re looking for some quick, clever, and kid-tested ways to fill some of those school-less hours. How about a list of twenty-two awesome Spring Break Boredom Buster Ideas I found – everything from classics like homemade playdough, fun foods, and games to a “how’d you make that?” activity such as glow-in-the-dark jello?

Here are six Mom Advice classics:


Homemade Playdough

World’s Greatest Homemade Bubbles

How to Make Car S’Mores

Make Glow-In-The-Dark Jello

Homemade Butterbeer Lattes

Shower Curtain Art Canvas

Easy Coffee Filter Flowers
And sixteen more fun boredom busters:

Fizzing Sidewalk Paint @ Kid’s Activities Blog

Food Coloring Art @ B-Inspired Mama

Make the always popular Gak-Slime @ Skip To My Lou

DIY Indoor Obstacle Course @ Crumb Bums

Ladybug Spots Game @ Piikea Street
Lego Capes

Duct Tape Lego Capes @ Busy Kids Happy Mom

DIY Painted Rock Garden Markers @ Mom Endeavors
pretzel letters

Easy, Soft Pretzel Letters and Shapes @ An Oregon Cottage
Scribble Card

Tape-resist Scribble Card @ Lines Across

Rice Rainbow @ Kid Spot

Sandpaper-Print T-Shirt @ Alpha Mom
tp birdseed feeder

TP Tube Bird Feeder @ Juggling With Kids

Pretend Bird’s Nest @ My Nearest and Dearest

Custom Tortilla Chips @ Martha Stewart

Create a Tornado @ KC Adventures

Do you have any tried-and-true activities you like to do on Spring Break?

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Our Top 11 Posts of 2011

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

What a wonderful year 2011 was for our site and our family. I am so happy that our readership continues to grow and this year I wanted to highlight our top 11 posts from 2011.  Thanks to a little thing called Pinterest, I am finding recipes and projects are being shared in a really big way and that makes my heart so happy.

Thank you for sharing our site with others.

Thank you for your continued support.

Thank you for your comments.

I can’t tell you what they mean to me.

Here are the top 11 posts that happened on MomAdvice this year:


1. Homemade Salted Caramel Mocha Latte

There was a latte of latte loving this year as I tried to recreate every possible coffee creation that I loved from Starbucks. Apparently, you all were looking for a few homemade creations of your own. This is some yummy stuff and lots of helpful comments on this entry to customize your Salted Caramel Mocha Latte to your own level of latte perfection.


2. Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

The latte loving all began with this drink and recreating my favorite pumpkin treat at Starbucks. I can happily say that I rarely ordered one of these this fall thanks to this handy little recipe. It’s nice to know when Starbucks pulls a drink off of their menu, I can still get my midday fix.

3. DIY Tissue Paper Pom Poms

I love homemade decorations for my parties and these tissue paper pom poms were a big hit at our parties this year. What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t show you how to do it yourself? These are unbelievably easy and so inexpensive to create. Visit our picture-by-picture tutorial for the scoop.


4. 36 Handmade Gift Ideas

I am pretty proud of the assortment of inexpensive and beautiful gifts we create over here.  This round-up of just 36 of my favorites was a hit this holiday season as everyone was hunting for unique gifts to give this year.  I am excited to add many more handmade gift options to our site in 2012. For now, I hope you can create a few of these for upcoming gift exchanges.

5. A Yarn Wreath For All Seasons

This year I started working with Walmart working on their DIY channel and sharing projects you can create from their store. I have always wanted a yarn wreath you could enjoy all year long and this was my brainchild for homes with small storage (like mine!). I can’t wait to gussy her up for Valentine’s Day and share how you can continue to accessorize this wreath for your door. For now, find out how to make one of these easy creations for your home!

6. The Perfect Pink Barbie Cake Tutorial

This past year was the year of the Barbie at our house. I won’t lie. I was pretty pumped about this party. Before she was a twinkle in my eye, I wanted to do a Barbie cake and I finally got my chance. This tutorial documents how to create a really fun pink Barbie birthday cake for a special little girl in your life.

PS- This picture is still one of my absolute favorites of all time of her. Isn’t she the cutest?

7. Homemade Gingerbread Latte

I really thought this was going to be the year of the donuts on the site, but you proved me wrong.  This Homemade Gingerbread Latte was a big hit for the holiday season and just think about how much money you save every time you make one of these at home. The best part was sipping this and never getting out of my pajamas. You can’t beat that!

8. Homemade Peppermint Mocha

Truth be told, the Peppermint Mocha is still one of my all-time favorite drinks at Starbucks…but… once I started making these at home,  I am not loving the Starbucks version as much as my homemade version. This post offers a recipe for a simple peppermint syrup that you can add to your drinks and keep on hand in your fridge whenever the Peppermint Mocha Latte urge hits you.  These are so delicious and one of my favorite recipes on our site.

9. Grilled Ground Beef Gyros

All I have to say to this is that you have some very good taste. These grilled ground beef gyros are as good as my favorite gyro joint and I even share a few secrets for making those pitas in your bread machine. I am thrilled to see that these made the top eleven posts on our site.

10. Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt Brownies

I am excited to see that I am not the only one enjoying the sweet and salty combinations that are trending in the food world this year. These dark chocolate & sea salt brownies may have made me famous in some small circles. These are absolutely heavenly and are one of my favorite creations I made in the kitchen this year.

11. 100 Days of Summer

I was inspired to share with you 100 activities you could do with your children over the summer break this year. The response to this board was overwhelming and it was so fun to see everyone gaining summer inspiration through this board. We actually used the board ourselves and documented our summer through Instagram.

I was excited to do this for me, but also for my kids. It was a fun way to share with you our summer in a more informal manner. I am so glad you loved this one as much as we did!

(First Photo Credit: Nancy Lary Studios)


What would you like to see happen on MomAdvice in 2012? I look to you for my inspiration!










Hello Kitty Birthday Party Fun

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

We had an exciting week this week as we celebrated my daughter’s sixth birthday with a fun Hello Kitty birthday party. I wanted to keep the party simple and sweet with her closest girlfriends for her special day.  I didn’t spend a lot on this Hello Kitty party at all, but it made me smile to hear the girl’s remarking that it was, “the best part ever.”

Just in case you are thinking about spending a lot of money, for five and six year-old girls the best party ever need only include pink things to eat, glittered nail polish, tiaras, and a Barbie movie.

Here are a few of the fun projects we did for her birthday party:

1. Tissue Paper Pom Poms in Pinks & Purples to go over her party table. I did buy a package of Hello Kitty napkins and paper plates this year to match her theme and then used all of our past party supplies to bring our pink-themed party together.

2. Hot Cocoa Filling Station- I found inexpensive holiday mugs at Michael’s Craft Store. I added a batch of our homemade cocoa mix, whipped cream, homemade pink peppermint marshmallows, and lots of sprinkles for the cocoa. Each girl got to personalize her mug with her favorite additions.

3. Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes- Emily’s favorite show is, “Cupcake Wars,” so I knew that I needed to make a spectacular cupcake for my big girl. I made these cupcakes adorned with pink buttercream frosting and a shake of pink sprinkles. Each cupcake was topped with a Hello Kitty ring (that had lip gloss tucked inside). The rings were just $.50 each, but the girls really loved them.

4.  Getting Glamorous- I bought four different colors of nail polish (including clear glitter) and a package of nail stickers to do the girl’s nails. Each girl got fancy nails and a Hello Kitty tiara to wear home with them ($2.99 each plus a 20% off coupon).

5. Movies & Popcorn- We ended our birthday fun watching, “Barbie Princess Charm School,” and munching on popcorn. The girls loved this movie and thanks to a tip from my best friend, I managed to DVR the movie on Nick Jr., saving me the cost of the rental.

My sweet Emily is the type of girl that captures the heart of anyone who meets her. Her sense of style is stellar and she has just this incredible independence that sometimes makes my jaw drop to the ground. I was never as fiercely independent as her.

Most days  I shake my head and think, “How is SHE mine?” I was never that cool.

Happy birthday to our beautiful girl- we love you so much!

Tips for Your Next Disney Magic Kingdom Trip & Ideas for Capturing the Magic

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Our family spent our Thanksgiving holiday in Florida this year.  It was our first real family trip and our first time heading to the Magic Kingdom. I am a Disney newbie although I had the incredible opportunity to see many Florida sites with the Orlando Visitor’s Bureau with my son last year as a trip for just the two of us.

I will admit it, I was nervous about it all. I wanted to surprise them, I wanted the day to be magical, I wanted the weather to cooperate, I wanted the crowds to be minimal, I wanted us all to have the best time of our life.

Is that too much to ask?

Lucky for us, all of these things really did happen and we had a magical day at the Magic Kingdom.

Accommodations were provided by the grandparents as well as a cooler filled with drinks and snacks for us to take on the road and a few to nestle in a bag that I carried with me.  The truth is, we went into it knowing it was going to be an expensive day. We also went into it prepared financially for this day and I worked some extra freelance jobs to cover the expense.

Here is what we learned from our experience at Disney:

Preparation is Key

Financial Preparation- Whenever our family is tackling a big financial project, we set aside money into a separate savings account to prepare for whatever that financial goal might be. Consider talking with your bank about opening accounts for your Disney trip. Have an automatic transfer made for $25 or more each month put into this account all year long and then you will have the money saved when it is time to make your family trip.

Savings can be had when booking your travel through places like AAA and additional savings can be found while visiting in Orlando by printing a free Orlando Magicard to take with you when visiting restaurants and attractions while you are in Orlando.

Safety Preparation- I don’t need to tell you that Disney is a big place and safety is very important when visiting theme parks.  Each child was assigned a buddy to be their partner throughout the days and they were to hold their buddy’s hand while we were there.  We took additional safety precautions by printing out recent pictures of our children to keep in our wallet and bags just in case something should happen and they were separated from us. With a handy Sharpie, I wrote my cell phone number on their arms so if they were separated from us, someone could call us and reunite us quickly.

Meal Preparation- You can bring snacks and drinks into the park with no problems. We packed fruit snacks, granola bars, and bottles of water for our day in a bag with no objections. Rely on these snacks and bottles of water to help cut some of the costs. I recommend visiting this MouseSavers page to find the best cheap eats while you are at the parks.  We did get table service for the evening, but you want to call ahead since reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance of your vacation. Since we called the reservation number that morning when we arrived, we ended up at the Plaza. The table service was about twelve dollars more than the fast food service in the park and quite a bit better with a lot more food included with our meal. If you want to explore the menus before you go, you can view all the menus for the parks here.

Souvenir Preparation-  Souvenirs are a big expense and children can be plagued with horrible cases of what our family lovingly calls, “a case of the gimmies.” At the same time, I remember the amazing souvenir ears I got and how much I wanted those items when I went to Disney.  I hit the Disney store for t-shirts and small toys which were a third of the price as they were in the shops and a girlfriend recommended picking up ears at a local party store (only $5.99 each). The kids were thrilled with their ears and shirts which they wore throughout the park and they did not even ask for anything while we walked through thanks to this little bit of preparation.

Navigation Preparation- When you pick up your tickets, you can pick up a handy map of the park. Thanks to my iPhone I was able to get some reinforcement on the map with Disney’s Magic Kingdom Tour Guide GPS+ from CXI Gaming (cost was $1.99) and helped us navigate the parks easily and find what we needed quickly. We also had everything in our GPS before we left for getting to the park and how to get back to where we were lodging.

Getting the Most Out of Your Ride Time

Make a Plan of Attack- Along with your Navigation Preparation, discuss as a family what rides are most important to you and order them in a list of importance. The rides with the longest wait times we rode first so that we could make sure that we got those out of the way before the crowds and wait times got really long.  If you aren’t’ sure what rides would be best for the age group of your kids, I do recommend buying the Disney’s Magic Kingdom Tour Guide GPS+ from CXI Gaming (cost was $1.99) because this actually gave you a plan for your day based upon your age group. They have tour plans for adults & teens, parents of preschool children, parents with children ages 4-8, and senior Disney lovers.  It gave us a great starting point for deciding how to make the most of our day.

Use FASTPASS to Make the Most of Your Day-FASTPASS isn’t anything you need to sign up for, it is simply a way to place a reservation on rides with long wait times. On your map that you receive when you come in, it will have a FASTPASS icon next to the rides that you can FASTPASS. In the Magic Kingdom, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Jungle Cruise, Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, & Peter Pan’s Flight are the rides you can FASTPASS. Head to those rides and a machine will be available to insert your ticket and a receipt will print out when you can come back to the ride with a one hour window that you can cash in on. Head to other rides with shorter wait times and then come back at the designated time to go through a faster line.

Add a free Wait Time App to Your Mobile Phone- No need to invest in a pricey Wait Time App, just the free Disney World Wait Times app will work perfectly since all wait time information is user generated. Check the wait times on the rides and use that to help decide which rides you want to go on.

Capturing the Magic

It is the most magical day of our kid’s lives and the last thing I wanted was terrible pictures that didn’t showcase just how amazing our day was.  My parents have this great picture of me when I was a little girl wearing my mouse ears, posing with the characters, sunburned and freckled cheeks, grinning with the biggest toothless grin at five that is still one of my favorite pictures from my childhood.

Capture Their View-  When Emily saw the castle for the first time…well, I could start bawling just thinking about it. I wanted to see that moment over and over so I captured her first gaze at the castle and then got to her eye level and took a picture at her level at exactly what she was seeing.  Having pictures both of them seeing this magical beauty and the magical beauty itself are captures that your family will never forget.

Capture the Movement- How can you capture the hilarious and dizzy feeling of some of those rides without movement in the picture.  Capturing motion in photography is so much fun especially when riding on the teacups. I focused on the bag in this picture as we spun around and and around.  I recommend this article if you are looking for more tips on how to capture motion blur in your pictures.

Take Fun Pictures on the Go-  My camera equipment can get awfully heavy so we took turns with the big camera and I relied on my mobile phone when I wanted to capture details quickly and easily. I love Camera+ and Instagram for sharing fun pictures on the go. It is such a fun way to take a quick photo, add an effect, and send it to family and friends to keep them updated on how your day is going.

Get a Family Photo- I will admit that I looked for someone who had a camera like ours to take our family picture. If you have a point-and-shoot,  finding someone to snap a picture should be really easy.

When I handed off my camera I switched it to Aperture Mode (Av on my Canon) and changed the Aperture to f/7.1. I was really worried we would be out of focus and Disney is a very busy place. I then used Picnik to crop as many of the background people out of our picture.

They have people all over the parks taking pictures and you can have them snap your picture for their portrait and then ask them to take one with your camera too. They know the best spots with good lighting and backgrounds for your family photos. Best of all, they know how to work cameras.

Capture the Nighttime Magic- Nighttime magic was tricky to photograph and may require a little research on your part. When I took pictures of the castle I was so disappointed. The colors were off and lights were blurry. It was not the magical pictures I had hoped for.

Over dinner, I went on this Disney Photography Blog and found this information how to capture the nighttime parade. I took test shots after our dinner until I was happy with the lighting and able to capture some of the nighttime beauty at Disney.

What are your best tips for doing Disney on a budget? Do you have any tips for making the most of your time at the parks? Please share!


Below is our big reveal to our children when we told them they were heading to Disney. It was the thrill of a lifetime to get to surprise them with the news that they would be seeing the Magic Kingdom for the very first time. It still brings tears to my eyes that we got to have such an incredibly magical day with them!

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36 Handmade Gift Ideas

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

The holidays are here and for me that means lots of holiday crafting, baking, knitting, and creating.  Today I wanted to share with you 36 handmade gift ideas that you can create for gifts this year. It can be a challenge to come up with great handmade gifts year after year so I hope that these 36 handmade gift ideas will give you some inspiration this holiday season as you tackle your own holiday crafts.

Of course, all month long will be dedicated to baking, crafting, and knitting as we prepare for the holidays. After this month, we will get back to tackling the organizing and caring for our homes after the holiday aftermath.

For now, I am looking forward to reveling in a lot of one on one time with my glue gun and baking in the kitchen with you.

Let’s get crafting!

36 Handmade Gift Ideas

1. Knitted Anthropologie-Inspired Scarflet
2. Coffee Filter Wreaths
3. Close to My Heart Barrette
4. Honey Nut Granola
5. Treasure Chests (For a Boy or Girl)
6. Yarn Wreath For All Seasons
7. Cinnamon Delight Bread
8. Cabled Knitted Headband
9. Personalized CD
10 Light Banana Oat Bread
11. Waffle Stitch Fingerless Gloves
12. Peppermint Syrup (for Homemade Peppermint Mochas)
13. Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt Brownies
14. Gap-Tastic Cowl
15. Hot Cocoa Mix
16. Knitted Dishcloths (Part One)
17. Knitted Ruffled Scarf
18. Knitted Dishcloths (Part Two)
19. Oreo Biscotti
20. Movie Lover’s Gift Basket
21. Hand Painted Mugs (DIY Painted Pottery Day)
22. Spiced Pumpkin Bread
23. Vanilla Scented Granola
24. Gorgeous Gathered Scarfs
25. Merci Scarf
26. Photo Journals With a Unique Spin
27. Vanilla Chai Mix
28. Shades of Gray Knitted Headband
29. Yarn Ball Wreaths
30. Cozy Knitted Fingerless Gloves
31. Oatmeal Cookes & Milk Bath Soak
32. Stretchy Ribbon Bookmarks
33. Rolled Rosette Rings
34. Snickerdoodle Biscotti
35. Candy Cane Bath Salts
36. Knitted Prayer Shawls

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