Posts Tagged ‘Things To Do’

100 days of summer: homemade ice cream fun & tortilla pizzas

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Our summer has technically just begun this week. Last week I got my last week of solo time with my little girl. It is hard to believe that she will be off to kindergarten next year. My heart aches a lot over that. She truly is my best little buddy and we lived it up this week with Chinese food (with chopsticks, of course), fancy haircuts, and lots of fun in the sun with our friends.  I am so excited to have both the kids home and as I shared last week, we will be documenting our summer through mobile uploading fun and sharing what projects we are working on.

We had a celebration dinner to celebrate the start of our summer together!  We love our pizza night and decided to try the tortilla pizzas featured on Living Locurto courtesy of Tidy Mom, for a fun dinner treat. These were so easy to pull together and I loved that everyone could have their own toppings on these. I have a different pizza in mind than the rest of the family and mine was oozing with fresh mozzarella, spinach, and mushrooms. These were crisp and delicious! Everyone really seemed to like them and it was a great way to keep the kitchen cool in the sweltering heat that we have been having here.

We made not one, but two different kinds of ice cream this week. I can’t say that purchasing an ice cream maker will be good for my figure, but the kids are loving it and I am loving experimenting with a new food.  We made a cake batter ice cream from Annie’s Eats that was the absolute favorite of everyone in our family. It really did taste just like cake batter. It was rich and way better than any vanilla ice cream.

We also tried a dreamy creamy strawberry ice cream that was also from Annie’s Eats. That tasted just like a piece of strawberry cheesecake. The sour cream added so much flavor and it was a great way to use some berries that I found on sale at the supermarket.

I think we have our summer off to a fantastic start. I am looking forward to sharing more on our summer adventures and am all stocked up on craft supplies for a few projects next week!

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Stumped for ideas this summer? Have no fear! I have you covered this year with our 100 Days of Summer Pinterest Board.  There are 100 ideas for crafting, eating, and creating with your children of all ages.  We promise to keep it carefree on Tuesdays and share what we tackle through our mobile uploads and you can even follow our adventures in real time through Instagram or on Twitter (my name is momadvice).

Our family is on the move and we want you to be on the move too.

Do something cool together this week.

Your kids will love you for it.

What did you do this week from your summer list?

Father’s Day Gift Basket: A Power Pack for Your Super-Dad!

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Where would we be without wonderful fathers in our life?  Father’s Day gifts are always a challenge for me because I want something that shows our dads how special they are to us, but I can’t always think of the best way to show how much we love them.  This year I decided to make two gift baskets for our dads that are a breeze to pull together, are personalized to each of our dads, and happen to be awfully affordable.

This month’s DIY challenge for Walmart was to create a Father’s Day gift using items purchased from the store.  Head on over to your store to pick up the supplies for these fun gift baskets for your dads. I promise you that these gifts will be a big hit.

For our first Father’s Day gift, we have a sporty dad in our life. Ryan’s dad is passionate about biking and spends a lot of time clocking the miles on his bike. We thought we would make a power pack for our favorite superhero dad with snacks and drinks that he can take on the road with him.

Start with a basket or tub. I found this party tub over with the outdoor supplies for $4.57. This is a deep tub and  will be perfect for on the patio after dad is done using it for his gift.

On the bottom of the tub, put a layer of newspaper to fill out the tub. We don’t want to waste our budget on fillers for the basket and this is a great way to make the basket look fuller for less.

Now that we have filled out the bottom, you can add cute shredded paper, tissue paper, or anything else you might have in your wrapping supplies. Fill it out just enough that it looks full and hides the newspaper bottom.

Now it is time to fill it with power foods. I got Powerade and power protein bars for our dad. Feel free to add your own spin on the power foods. In my opinion, coffee and chocolate are power foods that would fit very nicely into this theme. Explore the grocery aisles for your own dad’s favorite power foods.

Next I had my kids pose for pictures in their superhero capes. Feel free to make your own spin on this though. You could also have your children do strong man poses or lift weights, put on a sweatband and leg warmers, whatever you think says power. Your dads will really get a kick out of this.

Upload your photo to Picnik. Under the CREATE tab,  select EFFECTS, then select the LOCOMO-ISH option to change your picture to a a brighter image. Use the scale to slide down the color on it so it looks bright and fun, but not flourescent. While still under the CREATE tab, select the option for TEXT. Once you are in text, put in your message for your dad. Make sure not to put your text all of the way to the edge of the photo because it may cut it off when you print it. It is better to get it a little further in to assure that you don’t waste ink, paper, or your time!

You can choose from a variety of fonts and colors. The font I choose for these images was Lexographer. You can do all of this with a free membership to Picnik.

Save your image once you have finished it. If you have a photo printer, you can print these out at home. I printed mine on 4×6 Kodak paper with my photo printer. If you don’t have a photo printer, Walmart offers one hour prints. The cards themselves are almost as awesome as what is inside your baskets.

Tape this image to the front of your party tub. I also stuck another picture on the other side of the tub of my daughter with her extremely scary power pose.

If you would like, you can include a small denominator gift card in your basket for some power tunes for the iPod or even a powerful book that dad could read.  I tied this with ribbon and attached it with this superhero card to let him know that this gift was for additional power.

This is a gift that I know your dad would love and the kids will have a blast creating it with you! I will be back tomorrow with one more quick gift basket idea and I hope that this will give a few of you a little last minute inspiration!

What gifts do you have up your sleeve for you dads this year? What gift has been the biggest hit? I would love to hear your ideas!

I am a part of the Walmart Moms program, and Walmart has provided me with compensation for these posts. My participation is voluntary and opinions are always my own.

100 Days of Summer: Inspiration for Your Summer Break

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

There will be no cries of boredom in our house this summer because I am prepared this year. I have come up with 100 activities to do this summer and I am sharing my list of 100 activities to do with you through Pinterest. We have everything from hot air balloon making, to Netflix origami, to breakfast in bed, to making individual pizzas on the grill, to making the world’s largest bubbles, to creating your very own water park. The possibilities are endless and the majority of the activities cost next to nothing to create.

I am not a crafty parent. I can be crafty on my own, but not always the craftiest with my kids. I really, really try, but I find that crafting with my kids is a challenge. I want to overcome that challenge this summer and be the cool mom for once. Many times I find myself at my computer typing these ideas for others, but not trying any ideas myself.

This summer is going to be different.

Instead of just coming up with ideas for our readers, I am looking forward to actually tackling our summer list.  I still will be sharing a weekly recipe, our apron full of giveaways, and our notebook of inspiration. I won’t ever quit you, MomAdvice friends!

On Tuesdays though, I will be sharing what we are working on from our summer list through mobile pictures and quick notes on what fun activities we are doing at our house. I am hoping it will be an inspiration to you to get out and enjoy the summer with your children. I can’t say we will tackle a hundred activities, but I will be awfully proud if we do one cool activity a week. You can catch me on Instagram, fellow iPhone users, where I am documenting our summer with my new phone. My name is momadvice.

I hope you will enjoy our laid-back inspiration this summer!  I want to enjoy every moment I have with these two kids- my time with them feels fleeting and precious.

Next school year, I will have whole days to type away.

This summer, I am loving my mom job all day with them.

What are your favorite summer activities? How do you get inspired for summer fun? And, hey, what do you think of our summer list?

Quick Frugal Tip: Leggings Refashioned

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

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

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

Cute, chic, ladylike, and frugal.

Oh, Baby: Sweet Knitted Baby Hats

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011
Photo Credit: Nancy Lary Studios

Baby hats are my latest knitted obsession since they are so easy to create and to give. I admit, I used to lovingly knit baby blanket after baby blanket for my friends. Those, unfortunately, require a lot of sweet love and endless amounts of free time. I decided I wanted gifts that could be knit in a couple evenings worth of television shows and that their mommies could actually use instead of storing them away. Hats really seem to fit the bill and their are endless patterns for adorable baby patterns out there.

Once you get the hang of knitting in the round, baby hats are a piece of cake! I will share with you my new favorite patterns and a few tools that can help you achieve baby hat success when knitting!  I usually try to highlight only free patterns, but these were a few that I did pay for. I do promise that the patterns are well-written and are the type that can be  made over and over again for gifts. I hope that this post will still inspire and give you a fun new gift to knit for a special little one in your life.

If you are a knitter, I would love for you to be my friend on Ravelry. My username is momadvice and I try to keep my little notebook updated with the current projects.


Photo Credit: Nancy Lary Studios

cherry tomato hat (in red) & sprout hat (in green)

Pattern: Greenleaf Baby Hat by Evelyn Uyemura (available for $1.00 as a Ravelry Download- join Ravelry.com to access the pattern)

Needle Size: US 8 (I purchased this set of 12″ circulars for these hats)

Yarn: Naturally Caron Country (Claret) & Caron Simply Soft in Dark Sage for stem. The green hat is done only in Caron Simply Soft in Dark Sage

Notes: If you are looking for a great beginner pattern for making hats then this is the perfect pattern for you. This simple roll brim hat is simply knit in the round until you get to the top and then you create a basic i-cord to create the stem of the flower.  An easy set of increases and then decreases creates the leaf at the tip of the hat.

I did the roll brim pattern and made the i-cord about a 1/2” longer than the pattern specified. I also knit this hat on size 8 needles (for a 0-6 month size versus the newborn size).

This pattern could be knit into a variety of cute fruits and vegetables or in a solid color as I did for the second hat pictured above. Fall hats could be created into pumpkins, red and green would look adorable for a Christmas baby, and I can’t wait to try other fun additions to this adorable pattern.

The beautiful model in these photos is my sweet friend Andrea’s beautiful baby girl, Evey. She was so kind to let me share her photos on the blog. I could not have asked for a prettier model to model them!

Photo Credit: Nancy Lary Studios

brunhilde hat

Pattern: Viking Girl Hat by Sara Fama; Pattern is $7.50, but you can use a coupon code (“Ravelry10″) to receive 10% off the pattern. Pattern kits can also be ordered with the yarn used in the pattern, but I was able to find similar colors of yarn at our local craft shop.  The pattern included the pattern for the boy hat as well as the hat in different sizes.

Needle Size: US 6 (I purchased this set of 12″ circulars for these hats)

Yarn: (Charcoal), Loops & Threads Charisma (Yellow), Hobby Lobby I Love This Cotton! (Ivory)

Notes: Ever since I learned how to knit, I have been dying to make this hat. This has literally been bookmarked for over a year, in hopes that one day I would feel brave enough to knit it. A baby shower gift was the perfect opportunity to splurge on the pattern and give it a try. I can’t begin to tell you how much pride I had making this hat.

This hat really taught me a lot of new techniques, but the piecing of it was a little tedious. Beginning knitters will need to know how to knit bobbles (brief description is available in the pattern), create i-cords, knit on dpn’s, and knit in the round. Luckily, YouTube offers great video tutorials on these techniques to make creating this a little easier.

I made the Brunhilde pattern, but once I made the little wings for the hat, I did not think they looked like a Viking hat. It may have been to the stretch and give of the cotton yarn, but they just did not stand to attention like I had hoped. I opted to make the boy version of the horns and liked them much better. These were whip stitched in the same cream color).

The braids were really fun to knit and are knitted in three separate i-cords (attached by two rows of knitting at the top). I finished them with tightly knotted yarn and then grosgrain hot pink ribbon bows from my craft suppplies.

There is a lot of freedom with this pattern and it was written well, with a lot of comedic style and fun mixed into it. I am really proud of how this hat turned out and still can’t believe I actually made it!

purple pom pom hat & pom pom gray baby bear hat

Pattern: Pompom Bear by Amanda Keeys; I purchased this Baby Beanies Book to get the pattern. This is one of only three knitting books I own- I promise, it was a worthy investment if you are looking for easy hats to knit for baby gifts.  I have already knitted four hats from it and plan to knit many more patterns in this one.

Needle Size: US 8 (I purchased this set of 12″ circulars for these hats)

Yarn: Caron Simply Soft in Heather Gray (for the boy version) & Naturally Caron Country in Dark Purple (for the girl version)

Notes: This hat is so fun to knit and is as cute as could be. In fact, each time I make this hat, I get an order request from another friend who wants one for her own little one. The hat has an easy ribbed edge and then is made into a garter stitch from there by just alternating rows of knitting and purling in the round.

It really is the most perfect hat for a beginning knitter because you don’t have to ever decrease this hat or use double-pointed needles to finish it. It is made even easier with a three needle bind off….which has changed my knitting world. I will link to a tutorial on this to help explain it, but if there is ever an opportunity for a three needle bind off in any of my projects, I am doing this. I used the circulars as though they were two straight needles and then used a DPN to knit them together and then bind of the stitches.

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

3 Things That Helped Me With Making Wee Baby Hats

1.Bamboo 12″ circulars- Here is the honest truth. If you are super coordinated with double pointed needles, you can skip buying these and knit the wee baby hats in the round. I have found that knitting baby hats in the round was more of a challenge than I expected, and my mother-in-law recommended purchasing 12″ circulars so the hats do not have to be started on the DPN’s. These were a lifesaver and I will always use these for starting my hats. They do require a bit of coordination since they are shorter & smaller than your normal circulars, but they are worth the effort.  I applied my Swagbucks towards Amazon gift cards to help reduce the cost on these.

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

3. A Good Ring Marker- I was using the kind that you just slipped over the needles and was finding that I was losing my starting stitch marker for knitting in the round. Look for ones that will slip onto the yarn and put that at the beginning of my round. It will really help you not lose your pace and keep you on track with your knitting.

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

What craft projects have you been working on? Feel free to share any links to what you are working on and be sure to friend me on Ravelry if you happen to be a knitter too! Access all of our craft fun on MomAdvice by visiting our Craft Section. Happy crafting, friends!

Sweet & Simple Mother’s Day Gift

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

I hope everyone had a wonderful Mother’s Day. We really celebrated simply this year and it was still just as perfect. This year I decided to drop the Mother’s Day gifts the day before Mother’s Day so I could really enjoy a day to myself too this year. I don’t know about you, but there is nothing like a fresh bouquet of flowers bought just for me. I know our moms love them just as much so I headed over to the store to pick up a pretty  bouquet for each of them.

Supermarket bouquets can sometimes not feel as special as the fancy florist so I love to add my own little touches to the bouquets to make them a little more special. You can find rolls of tulle over in the craft section of your superstores or in the wedding section of large craft stores. Cut off a long strip of it to tie an elegant bow on your bouquet.

This bouquet was wrapped in pink and I thought this bow matched it perfectly.  Sometimes the smaller bouquets are wrapped in plain plastic. I love to fill the plastic out with colored tissue paper on the outside or have the floral department wrap the flowers for me.  Don’t forget to take those price tag stickers off the outside. After all, don’t we prefer if people don’t know how cheap we really are?

We made little personalized cards that we printed on 4×6 photo paper. I slipped these between the plastic layers and I am sure the little cards were saved as refrigerator mementos, as all personalized cards are. Just like the teacher cards that I made last week, start by uploading your photo to Picnik. Under the CREATE tab,  select EFFECTS, then select the BLACK & WHITE option to change your picture to a black & white image. While still under the CREATE tab, select the option for TEXT. Once you are in text, put in your message for your mother. Make sure not to put your text all of the way to the edge of the photo because it may cut it off when you print it. It is better to get it a little further in to assure that you don’t waste ink, paper, or your time!  The font I choose for these images was Pupcat. You can do all of this with a free membership to Picnik.

We also framed our favorite picture from Easter and then tied it with another tulle bow. I found inexpensive frames for each of our grandmas and I printed out the photos on my photo printer. We knew these would be a real hit with our grandmas. After all, what kind of grandmas would we have if she didn’t love our pictures?

Then we shocked them with our elegant flower deliveries. I don’t know who enjoyed that part more.

Happy Mother’s Day to our moms. We love you both!

I had a fantastic Mother’s Day. We went to church, I mixed up the waffle batter, then climbed back into my bed to be served. The kids loved serving breakfast to me in my bed and were very professional about checking on me often to see if anything else might be needed. I finished a library book, climbed out of bed for a half price frappe at Starbucks, and then climbed back in bed for the rest of the day. I got lots of hugs, kisses, storytelling, and tickles in with my children. I did not cook anything all day. I did not do one chore. I did not move from my bed hardly at all. It was perfect. It cost $2.22 for the whole day. It was just what I needed.


What did you do for Mother’s Day? Tell me what you did to celebrate YOUR day and Mother’s Day for your family & friends?


Oreo Biscotti Gifts For Your Favorite Teachers

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Hurray! Hurray! Hurray! Three cheers for our favorite teachers! We have had truly some of the best teachers this year and this is the official Teacher Appreciation Week to really show your admiration for all that they do.  After volunteering in my son’s classroom, I know that I would not have the patience or endurance to do a job like that. I so admire the infinite patience, love, and knowledge that our teachers possess.

Both of my children have blossomed this year. With the teachers that they have, I can certainly see why!

Today I wanted to showcase an easy and fun gift that you can give to the teachers in your life. This Oreo Biscotti recipe is a dream to make and to eat. If you can make cookies, you can make biscotti! Biscotti is basically a twice baked cookie that is perfect for coffee dunking. You can find everything you need to complete this project at your local Walmart store.

Just as an aside, if I was a teacher, I would be drinking a whole heck of a lot of coffee.

Let’s shower them with cookies that they can dunk in all of that coffee today!

In your stand mixer, mix together melted butter, eggs, vanilla extract, and sugar.

In a separate bowl whisk together your flour, baking powder, and salt. Add these dry ingredients to your wet ingredients in your stand mixer and mix just until the ingredients are incorporated.

Now it is time to add the star to the biscotti show! Grab a bag of Oreo cookies (feel free to save money and substitute with the store brand on these). Use a rolling pin to break up the cookies so that you can get a bite of Oreo in each bite of your biscotti.

Add the cookies to your batter and then give the mixer a quick spin. It should look a little like cookies and cream ice cream. Resist the urge to eat the entire bowl of batter. It will be tough- this smells so good!

Dump the batter on a parchment lined cookie sheet. This dough is so easy to work with that you don’t even need to flour your hands. Divide your dough into two equal parts and then flatten the dough until it is roughly 8 inches in length, with about a 1 inch thickness. Make sure that the two balls have enough space to grow when they are baking.

Bake the biscotti at 350 for 25-30 minutes until the dough is cooked through and the edges are golden. Let the biscotti rest for ten minutes before you cut into it.  Then with a very sharp knife, cut your biscotti on a slight angle, into roughly fifteen pieces for each dough ball. Lay them flat and slide them back into an oven for eight minutes. Pull them out and flip them again. Bake an additional eight minutes on the flip-side of the cookie. Finally, let them cool while you put the rest of your gift together.

Find a cute mug for your teacher over in the aisle with all of the lunchbox supplies or even over by the coffeemakers themselves.  Cute reusable mugs are an inexpensive addition to your gift and can be found for anywhere between $4-10 depending on your budget. Fill the bottom with colored shredded paper or a little colored tissue paper. Nestle your biscotti in a clear plastic treat bags on top of your cute mug.

Editor’s Note: Now that Picnik has shut down, you can do the same edits through PicMonkey instead! Follow the directions below:

Look through pictures that you have of your child and see if you can find a picture where you can add a little text to your photo. Upload your photo to Picnik. Under the CREATE tab,  select EFFECTS, then select the BLACK & WHITE option to change your picture to a black & white image. While still under the CREATE tab, select the option for TEXT. Once you are in text, put in your message for your teacher. Make sure not to put your text all of the way to the edge of the photo because it may cut it off when you print it. It is better to get it a little further in to assure that you don’t waste ink, paper, or your time!

You can choose from a variety of fonts and colors. The font I choose for these images was Pupcat. You can do all of this with a free membership to Picnik. Additional fonts are available with a membership, but I find that the free fonts are equally fantastic!

Save your image once you have finished it. If you have a photo printer, you can print these out at home. I printed mine on 5×7 Kodak paper with my photo printer. If you don’t have a photo printer, Walmart offers one hour prints (for a 5×7) for $.58. The cards themselves are almost as awesome as the biscotti!

Whatever you do, I hope that this adds a little inspiration to your gift-giving this year. These not only would make a great teacher gift, but I can see this being made into a perfect Mother’s Day gift for a special mom in your life too.

Homemade Oreo Biscotti

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup  butter, melted
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 Oreo cookies, coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. Add flour, baking powder and salt; mix well. Stir in chopped cookies. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into 8″ loaf on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Remove from oven; cool 10 minutes. Cut each loaf diagonally into 15 (1/2-inch-thick) slices. Place slices, cut sides up, on same baking sheet. Bake an additional 8-10 minutes on each side or until lightly toasted on both sides. Cool completely on wire rack.

Recipe Source: Kraft Food & Family Magazine

What gifts do you have up your sleeve for you teachers this year? What gift has been the biggest hit? I would love to hear your ideas!

I am a part of the Walmart Moms program, and Walmart has provided me with compensation for these posts. My participation is voluntary and opinions are always my own.

Revealed: 30 Day Cut the Clutter Challenge Results

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I felt a little like Oprah handing over those keys.

He told me he felt like he won the lottery.

We both couldn’t stop grinning.

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

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

Crafting Fun: Marbleized Easter Eggs

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

One of our favorite Easter activities is decorating Easter eggs. Every year we try to do something new with our eggs. The first year I ditched the boxes of Easter egg dyes and created our own out of pantry ingredients. Last year we had a blast trying Kool-Aid egg dying which really made beautiful and vibrant eggs without any effort.

This year I ran across a fun idea for creating marbleized eggs from common items in the pantry. If you have food coloring, vinegar, and olive oil…you have the makings for beautifully marbled eggs. Pictured above are the eggs that my children created this year. This was a lot of fun because each egg could be so different and unique!

1. Hard boil your eggs as desired. In shallow bowls, mix together three cups of warm water with two tablespoons of vinegar and ten drops of food coloring. I used the Betty Crocker Neon Food Coloring that I found in the baking aisle. Whisk the ingredients together well.

2. Submerge your eggs and leave them in there until they reach the desired color. One thing we learned is that it is better to have a lighter color as the base color so the second layer of color will take well on your eggs.

3. Dry your eggs with a paper towel.

4. Repeat the process with the rest of the eggs. Rest them gently on your inverted egg carton to allow them to dry.

5. To the dye that you have already prepared, add one tablespoon of olive oil and then, using a fork, run your fork through the oil to break the oil into pieces to create the solution to roll your eggs. As the oil swirls, roll your egg once through a contrasting color. Allow the oil to pick up & create another round of color on your eggs. Blot gently with paper towels. (Editor’s Note: Many apologies for the lack of pictures after this point. We just really got into it and it was getting a little crazy with eggs dropping rolling)

6. Admire your beautiful eggs!

Don’t forget to turn those eggs into delicious deviled eggs for a fun addition to your family dinner!

What is your favorite Easter tradition?  Are you trying anything new and exciting with egg dying this year? Would love to hear what Easter crafts you are working on!

Favorite Coffee Snack: Light Snickerdoodle Biscotti

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snickerdoodle Biscotti (adapted from Cooking Light Magazine)

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 large egg white

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

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