Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Day Recap


I have to say that even though I hosted and it was a lot of work, this was probably one of my most favorite Thanksgiving Days ever. It was so wonderful to have both sides of our family with us at our home and to celebrate with everyone at one time. Even though our space was limited, I managed to get everyone on one level so that we could all eat together. That was really important to me. It was so fun to see the grandmas from each side sitting together and the families all mixed together. It was just what I envisioned for our day.


All of the food turned out wonderfully. I had made ten pounds of these make-ahead mashed potatoes and I began to panic as I poured them into my slow cooker. They had separated and looked a lot like soup. I said a little prayer, put the slow cooker on low and they thickened up within a couple of hours. They were so delicious, although I made far too much of them, and no one could believe that they came out of my freezer. I will be repeating this recipe often for our family get togethers.

The other hit from the party, my cranberry spread with crackers. I put this out on a cake stand at one of the tables and no one could stop eating it. This dip is highly addictive! I had extra cranberries leftover and those got thrown into the stuffing with more celery and garlic. It was heavenly and I can't wait to eat the leftovers.

My turkey was my biggest worry although I had great guidance from Chef Lee. I had never made a turkey before and was very worried that it wouldn't turn out. I cooked it in a turkey bag and stuffed it with celery, sage, and garlic. I stuck butter underneath the skin and let the bird roast all morning. It turned out wonderfully, although the pop-up timer popped a little later than it probably should have as part of the turkey was a little dry. This was remedied with a little chicken stock poured over the turkey to make it nice and juicy again.


We all headed out to our backyard to get a family picture. In hindsight, we should have done this FIRST before the children were too tired and grumpy. Emily was kicking, screaming, and crying throughout the picture taking. Pictured here is my side of the family!

Here is my husband's side of the family. At this point, it is hysterical because Emily is screaming bloody murder and everyone is cheering and trying to get Emily to smile on the other side of the camera.
And here is my most favorite picture of all. Me with my super handsome husband- aren't I the luckiest girl in the world?

How did everyone's Thanksgiving turn out? What dishes were a hit? What flopped? I can't wait to hear your stories!

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Freebie Friday: November 28, 2008

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I know our own family really enjoyed the holiday and I survived my first year of hosting both sides of the family and it went really well! I hope those of you that are braving the crowds today find all the deals you are looking for and those of us that are less ambitious, enjoy another great day with your family.

A big thank you to Heather, from Freebies 4 Mom, for helping us with our freebie list this week. Heather has a great guest post from Ginger, at Attention Target Shoppers, on shopping safely this holiday season. Be sure to read Heather's post on the latest news from Walmart too!


Health & Beauty


Hairband from Crest (for current and new Vocalpoint members)
Pantene (the Mystery Shampoo sample revealed)
Airborne Original Zesty Orange
Food

Sun Crystals Natural Sweetener
Dunkin Donuts Dark Coffee

Entertainment

Robb Report Magazine (1 free issue from StartSampling)

Home & Garden

Shopping List from Marie Callender's (restocked by Walmart)
Glad ForceFlex Trash Bags

Upcoming Freebie Events:

Nov. 29 & 30 Santa Photos at Walmart 10am - 2pm
Dec. 6 Make an Art Easel at Home Depot 9 - Noon
Dec. 6 & 7 Santa Photos at Walmart 10am-2pm
Dec. 13 Make a Gingerbread House (out of wood) at Lowe's 10 - 11am

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Don't forget to enter this week's giveaways. You can win a year's worth of toilet paper & paper towels, Clorox 2 laundry detergent, and Klutz Holiday Activity Packs! Find out the scoop on all the giveaways here! Consider it our holiday gift to you!

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I will be taking a break today to enjoy some wonderful time with my precious family. Our Notebook & Notebook Experiments will be on hiatus this week and I encourage you to really focus on all that you are thankful for this year!

I know I have so much to be thankful for. God has been so very good to our family. I am also thankful for you, my special readers, for helping our site grow by sharing it with your friends and loved ones. Without your continued support, I wouldn't have this wonderful platform to share with you. Thank you for all you do and for continuing to make this a regular blogging read. It means the world to me!

I wanted to post this wonderful reminder for what this season is all about. I have been seeing it circulate on a few blogs and it just really resonated with me. I actually cried a little when I watched this because it was such an incredible reminder of what we are trying to do this year. A change in focus, a switch in attitude, a little love for those in need- I hope you can do the same this year.

Blessings to each of you!

xoxo,
Amy

(Photo Credit: Tom Olliver)



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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

5 Tips for Great Photography Straight From A Pro

I was excited to have found an old friend of mine from high school through Facebook. As I paged through my friend Daniel's info and pictures, I couldn't believe how incredible his photography was and had to find out what he was up to. It was no surprise, after seeing his amazing photography, that he was running his own business and doing quite well with it.

I asked if I could interview him for our website so I could share tips for great photography with our moms and was so thrilled when he accepted. He was happy to share with our readers just a little glimpse into the world of great photography and I hope that this information will help you as you venture into taking pictures of your children.

Best of all, he shares his secrets for getting that perfect family photo and just in time for those fun holiday pictures for those photo cards!


Can you offer some insight on choosing the best photography equipment for a young family? What is one good investment that is totally worth the splurge?

Sure! I can talk cameras and gear all day and night, but I'll try to keep it brief. The main thing to keep in mind is that expensive gear doesn't make great photographs. Expensive tools are nice, but more important is the knowledge of how and when to use the tools you've got. With that in mind, remember that digital photography equipment is very rapidly evolving. For example, the big camera manufacturers have a history of announcing new SLR camera bodies every 18 months or less! So the one solid investment to make in digital photography is in glass (lenses). Spend your money on the best glass you can afford, keep it forever, and then look for a camera body within your remaining budget.

If the SLR world of bodies and interchangable lenses is entirely out of your budget from the start, then don't forget that truly great photographs are made every single day with cameras in the Point & Shoot (P&S) category. In general, P&S cameras will range from being completely automatic to having the ability to shoot fully manual. An automatic camera can be convenient and may serve your purposes well. However, in my experience, most people taking photographs of their kids will eventually want at least some amount of manual control over their camera's settings. The danger in letting an auto-camera do all the thinking for you is that there will be situations involving lighting, motion, white balance and selective focus that will require at least some amount of manual control to capture. I don't want to get too much into recommending specific brands or models, but the P&S camera I take with me when I scuba dive is a Canon G9, which can be as "auto" or as "manual" as I need it to be. I use 2 SLR bodies and a variety of lenses when shooting above the water!

If readers would like more specific recommendations with regard to brand/model, they are more than welcome to contact me directly. I'm happy to help! So, quick re-cap: spend your money on good lenses first if going the SLR route or spend your money on getting some manual control if going with a P&S camera.

When trying to capture pictures of children, what are a few quick tips for good photography?

First, remember that photography is about light and without good light on your children, their smiles, laughs and actions will likely go uncaptured! So, position yourself in relation to your children so that their faces are well lit and worry about lighting in other areas of the frame as secondary importance. With that in mind, harsh sunlight isn't very flattering in most situations and finding some shade under an overhang or next to a building will generally improve the quality of your light. Think about light in at least two different ways; there is a quantity of light and also a quality of light, which are very different from one another. Try to avoid shooting under tree leaves as you'll end up with "broken light" on your children from the sun shooting between the leaves of the tree. You'll end up with bright spots and shadow areas right next to one another on their faces, creating a "giraffe skin effect" on your kiddos!

Of course, with kids, the harder you try to pose them, the worse the situation becomes, and very quickly! Most parents with younger children would have no trouble agreeing with that! So, let children be children. Don't impose too much, hang around close enough to capture your photographs, gently inserting mild directives when possible, but try not to intrude. If you do need to pose children in a more formal manner, do it quickly, with lots of praise and by showing them examples of what you want, etc. Get the shot immediately and then set them free to go play! In general, I try not to keep the little ones 'posing' for me any longer than 30 seconds to a minute before giving them a play break. Of course, during their play break, I'm still shooting from a distance!

Young children are constantly in motion, what settings work best for energetic toddlers?

Great question! I tend to think of child photography as being similar to sports photography in many ways. Two things have to happen; 1. your shutter speed has to be fast enough to 'freeze' the child's motion and 2. your focus must be constantly adjusting as the child moves and the distance changes between the child and your camera. A slower shutter speed will let in more light of course, but motion will also be blurred (which can be a cool effect). However, I find that a sharp, crisp, and in-focus photo of a moving toddler will typically require a shutter speed of 1/80s or faster depending on how fast they are moving and depending on the lens you are using. A longer (telephoto) lens requires faster shutter speeds to avoid camera shake. Many cameras have several focusing modes. If your camera has a mode that allows you to track movement, sometimes called AI Servo or AI Focus among other names, this usually works better than pre-focusing and trying to anticipate a child's movement. So, quick shutter and tracking focus for kids on the go!

What editing software would you recommend for a mom who is just starting out with photo editing?

Well, there are just so many good options for editing photos anymore, many of them free and I'd be happy to recommend a few of my favorites. However, I want to emphasize how important it is that good photographs be made in-camera, not 'fixed' in post processing. With tools like Photoshop we can do some really amazing things to a digital image, but it's always obvious when a photograph has been 'saved' in photoshop. There's a saying to this effect amongst many photographers, "garbage in, garbage out." My point being that you should spend more of your time working on getting great photos with your camera than working on trying to edit them into great photos .

However, in my opinion all digital photos do require at least a little post-processing in the way of white balance, saturation, curves and sharpness and one of my favorite tools for, say a mom just starting out, is Google's Picasa. It's free, has a very easy interface, offers many web and sharing options and likely isn't going away any time soon! Honestly, my 6 year old uses Picasa with her digital photos. It's very user-friendly. For those who may be ready to get into a little more serious editing, but want to maintain the 'free' aspect, I'd recommend the application, Gimp.

There are also many free web-based applications for those times when you might not be at your own computer, but need to quickly upload and edit a handful of images: Picnik, Pixenate, Fotoflexer, LunaPic, flauntr, picture2life, phixr, and easyphotoresize. Personally, I do the majority of my editing for the weddings and portraits I that I shoot in Adobe Lightroom and a little bit still in Photoshop.


When getting family portraits done, I am always stumped how to dress the family. Do you have any suggestions for getting that perfect family picture?

Sure! In general, I like families to feel comfortable above all else. Good photographs are about capturing a family's personality and it's always very obvious when subjects are uncomfortable in their own clothing. Additionally, I tend to like solid colors on top and either jeans or khaki pants. In the Fall, I prefer solid black or white tops. In the Spring and Summer, I really like bright bold solid colors on top. Bright, bold colors in the snow for winter portraits can really be fun too! It's usually best to avoid busy patterns, horizontal stripes, and clothes that have never been worn before. So, be comfy, be yourselves and do your best to NOT stress out about getting your family portraits done. One thing I can say for sure, is that stress always shows in photographs and stiff, posed portraits are just not my style at all. So, when considering getting your own family portraits done keep comfort and personality in mind. In general, you want your family to look like your family in your portraits, not a stiff, posed and stressed version of your family!

I have to ask, what is your favorite photograph that you have ever taken and why is it special to you?

Definitely the hardest question to answer, Amy! It's so tough to say. On one hand, there are so many photographs that I am really pleased with and on the other hand, one is always very critical of his own work.

One thing I do every year in December is put together a collection of what I feel are some of my best photographs for that calendar year and publish them as a free video podcast, which can be found in iTunes by doing a search for "dgmphotography" or "Daniel G. McNulty" in the iTunes store. Subscribing to this video podcast portfolio is free of course. I also regularly put many of my personal favorites on my blog in more of an informal format. That said, I think I'd have to choose a favorite in multiple categories (weddings, children, families, landscape, etc), but if I were forced to choose one photograph to keep for the rest of my life and never look at another, it would probably be this one, mostly because they are my daughters and loving the beach and loving each other as I do!




General Info
About Daniel G. McNulty Photography:
Website: www.dgmphotography.net
email: daniel@dgmphotography.net
Blog: www.dgmphotography.blogspot.com/
iTunes Link


A big round of applause to Daniel for helping us with this piece. What is your biggest dilemma with capturing pictures and what would you like us to feature more of in this category?

Please be sure to leave a comment and thank Daniel for his time in helping us supply these amazing tips!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Rainy Day (or Snowy Day) Scarf




This is one of my latest knitting projects that I have been working on for a holiday gift. Isn't it beautiful? This is the Rainy Day Scarf, but in my case it was the snowy day and sore throat kind of scarf. I think I am going to finish it with some ribbon and yarn tassels in various colors. The yarn was on sale for $2.99 at Michael's and I was planning to pair it with a tin of my homemade vanilla chai tea as a gift. Don't you think these would be cute wrapped up and tied with ribbon together? I can't wait to finish this project and crank out some more of these. This is definitely a wonderful holiday gift on a budget! Best of all, the pattern is easy and can be done parked in front of the television. You have to love that! You can follow my holiday projects by joining me on Ravelry. I have a few projects up my sleeve for the holidays so be sure to join the community and add me as your friend! My login name is "momadvice."

As a side note, can I brag just a little? Don't these photos look so much better? My husband and I worked together on putting together a little light box for me and I have to say I am so pleased with the results. I am still fiddling with my camera and figuring out settings, but this light box will help make my day much easier. I have wasted so much of my day trying to take pictures in good lighting and this will definitely help with my still photography. I used this tutorial to put it together that my friend Janel had shared with me. It was a small investment for a lot of peace. Just imagine holding the entire dinner hour up trying to find the perfect lighting to shoot your food in. Then imagine eating cold food because it took sixty shots to get one decent picture. Obviously, something had to be done.

So, here's to snowy day scarves and fabulous little light boxes! Cheers!

What holiday projects are you working on?

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Monday, November 24, 2008

An Apron Full of Giveaways 11.25.08

An Apron Full of Giveaways will be offered each week starting today. It is a way to tie my two obsessions together- awesome aprons and loads of free loot. Each week a giveaway will be sponsored by a new apron and in each post will be a load of great free stuff you can enter in to win. I thought this would be a great way to help my fellow work-at-home friends and give you some eye candy while entering your giveaways. To kick off this feature, we will be offering four giveaways to our readers this week.

If you would like to host an apron giveaway, please send me an email at amy@momadvice.com. Until we get some sponsors, these will be just some eye-candy while you enter the giveaways. I am hoping we will get sponsors though and can enter to win these contests!

Today's apron is called "Dots on Cocoa" print and is a hostess apron. It can be purchased for $29 through Fancy Boutique. I just love the style and print of this one and who can resist a brown apron with bright polka dots on it? I am a girl who loves a full apron because I am a disaster in the kitchen. Can anyone else relate to this statement?

Not only do we have four giveaways to offer our readers this week we also have two giveaways that will be closing up at 8PM (EST) Tuesday evening. Included within our giveaway list for this week- a personalized photo necklace, free Clorox 2 laundry detergent, Klutz Christmas Activity Books and a year's worth of Scott's paper towels and toilet paper.

Be watching for more giveaways periodically throughout the week! I am doing my best to make your Christmas a little brighter and help relieve some of that financial strain that plagues us all around the holidays

Below are the contest links-if you are hosting a contest please link it up below. Please put your site name and then what type of contest you are hosting. For example, "MomAdvice (Christmas Movies)."

Please let me know if you have any questions and good luck to each of you!


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Redbox Code 11. 24.08

Today's free code for a Redbox movie is 2MNC92. This code is good for one free movie and you can use it until midnight tonight. Enjoy a free family movie together!

Side Notes:

- If you want to rent more than one movie for free, bring more than one credit/debit card. You can use the same promotional code, you just will need different cards to charge it to. The charge will be zero as long as you return your movie on time for the next day.

- When entering in your free movie code, you need to enter it FIRST before picking the movie. On the very first screen, click the, "Rent with Promo." Enter in the above code and then make your selection- the amount should then total zero.

Looking for some movie recommendations? Check out Scribbit's recent list of movie rental ideas (or ones to avoid!)

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Give your child the ultimate Christmas gift with this collection of holiday favorites - Thomas & Friends: Ultimate Christmas, The Happy Elf, Santa Claus: The Movie and Eloise: Little Miss Christmas. To enter this giveaway head over to The MotherLoot and please leave a comment by Tuesday (11/25) at 8PM (EST).

Lands' End wants our readers to enjoy shopping with them for the holidays. They are offering three of their holiday favorites as a choice for you should you win this giveaway- a cashmere sweater, a down vest, or a sleeping bag set. Put your entry in by Tuesday (11/25) at 8PM (EST).

Check out all the giveaways each and every Tuesday- enjoy!

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My Christmas Wish List This Year

Reader Q: What is on your Christmas list this year?

I love making Christmas lists for my children, but I dread making them for myself. I feel like I have so much that I don't really need anything. I know how fun it is to see other people's holiday lists though because it can help you in creating your own lists. Without further adieu, here is my wish list for this year!

The first thing on my list is that people make a donation to our Big Give this year. I have been working so hard on this and want to really give our local homeless shelter a really great Christmas this year. Our family does charitable giving in lieu of gift exchanges so I look forward to putting money in for good causes this year. I encourage you all to do the same or request that charitable gifts be made instead of getting something on your Christmas list.

One of the gifts that I received as an early Christmas gift was a Kindle. I get to do some traveling with my work and I am an avid reader. On my last trip, I was toting four library books to keep me entertained. While I was out of town, Oprah had the Kindle on her show and my husband ordered one for me at the special discount price. It was the best gift he could have ever got me, although a little extravagant for our usual "only buy for the kids" Christmas. I absolutely love it and am asking for Amazon gift cards so I can download books on it for reading. I am a gadget girl and the convenience of having all of my books on this little reader is such a special treat. You can download newspapers, books, and blogs into it and keep your reading in one little spot.

As a Christmas gift to my husband, this Mighty Bright clip-on light would be great so he could sleep at night while I am reading. I drive him crazy reading in bed so this would be a great gift for both of us. This gift would be only $13, but would add a lot of sleep value for my husband.
A makeup brush set is top priority on my list this year. This set from Ulta is only $19.99. Why might I ask for this? Well, my daughter managed to find a lemonade packet from our kitchen and decided to mix up a batch of lemonade in the toilet. With no spoons within toddler-level, mommy's make-up bag came in handy and she used my brushes as her official stirrers. Nothing like swiping a damp brush across your face to make you wonder how it got so wet? Evidence of pink residue and other fine handiwork led me to the conclusion that I should get a fresh set of brushes.

Another item on my list was the Apples to Apples game. Our family loves board games and this is one that I would really like to add to our family collection. I absolutely love this game and it is a great game to play when we have friends over.


I have a wine opener on our list because ours has kicked the can. I prefer the Rabbit style of wine opener. I am not into the wine opening sets because they require more space in my limited kitchen cupboard space. This Houdini Lever Style Wine Opener is a steal in the black color for a little over $20!

I would like to get a dry erase calendar with a set of colored markers to get our family organized for the new year. This jumbo calendar is what I have in mind for our kitchen so we can get everyone's schedule in one spot. This calendar is only $14.99 through the Container Store.
One thing that I have not bought for myself in years and years is perfume. A little known fact about my husband is that he has no sense of smell. I seem to not make the extra effort with things like this because I know it is wasted, but I love a good perfume so I would love to have some even if it is for only my own benefit. One of my favorites is Clinique Happy perfume. Just a teeny bottle would be great for those special occasions.

I would love one of these mother's necklaces with my kid's names on it. I can already see this necklace around my neck. This one is sold by Moppets Closets and is $27. I love that it says blessed on it with the names surrounding it because that is exactly how I feel as a mom.

I love bamboo placemats and we have had these on our table for years. They are easy to clean and can be rolled up and stored when we want to throw a tablecloth on our table. After eight years though,they are showing their age and are falling apart. I love these bamboo placemats in black because they wouldn't show any food stains. These are $14.90 for four.

I really would love an oilcloth tablecloth for my table and I think this color would be perfect in my kitchen:

Chalkydoodles makes custom ones with a gingham border that would be a wonderful and useful splurge in my kitchen. If I get holiday money this year, I am putting it towards this. For my table size it is a splurge at $44, but would be used for a long time. Oilcloth appeals to me with two messy kids so I would love to have one of these in my kitchen.

My French Press broke so I would love to get another one to replace it. I found my first one at a thrift store, but is rare you find one with all the working parts on it. This Bonjour Hugo accommodates three cups of coffee (or one Amy cup) and is unbreakable. You have to be careful with the glass ones and this one could stand my abuse a little more. Best of all, it is priced at $12.90.

I got the first Digital Photography book by Scott Kelby last year for Christmas and absolutely fell in love with this book. I would love to get this Digital Photography 2 book as a holiday gift. I would recommend these books to anyone who is trying to understand photography without a lot of mumbo jumbo language. These books are absolutely great for beginners.


Other things that will always make the list are-

  • Michael's or Hobby Lobby gift cards to help feed my crafting addictions. I was also thinking I would like to take the next level to cake decorating so those could also go towards my supplies.
  • Candles, but they have to be food-related scents and I love holiday-ish scented stuff.
  • Starbuck's gift cards to splurge on my favorite coffee drinks.
  • Babysitting- We love anyone who offers to help us with the kids so we can have a date night. Even the gift of time during the day so I can whip the house back into shape is always a hit!
  • A maid- If I can't get the babysitter, I could really use a maid to help me with my house.
What is on your holiday wish list this year?

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Blogging for the Right@Home Team

I am excited to let you all know that over the next couple of months, I will be guest blogging for the Right@Home website. The SC Johnson company contacted me to see if I would be interested in sharing for their Family section and I am very excited to be included. I, along with a few other great bloggers, will be sharing some creative tips for families and look forward to sharing these articles with you too!

Here are some of the other wonderful ladies you will find on the site- I do hope you will visit them and add them to your blog reading!


Kristen from Dine and Dish

Kristen's posts are food-and-family focused, pairing a family story/experience with a recipe. She is a 34 year old mom of three children. She has one son who is 6 and two daughters ages 4 and 2. Besides her family, Kristen is passionate about cooking, entertaining, photography, reading and shopping.

Sarah from Organize Your Life

Sarah pens this blog as a stay-at-home-mom of 2-year-old Maddie. She has been married to her husband, Trevor, for six years. She is the co-creator of the Daily Home Planner, the only software program designed by a mom to help other moms get their families organized, and also manages www.organizedmom.net .

Cathe from Just Something I Made

Cathe writes and works from home in Petaluma, California as a graphic designer, mother of three and wife. Cathe blog, "Just Something I Made" is about one of her biggest passions, crafting for the home. Cathe has also appeared on Design Mom as a guest blogger.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Freebie Friday: November 21, 2008

A big thank you to Heather for helping us with our Freebie Friday list this week. This week on Freebies 4 Mom, you can print out this week's coupons for your grocery needs and find out how Heather scored a free sweater from Victoria Secret. Now that is a smart shopper!

Happy Freebie Friday, everyone!


Health & Beauty

Dove Shine Therapy
Kotex Lightdays Thin (Walmart)
Gas-X Thin Strips

Food

The Republic of Tea (catalog includes sample)
Del Monte Tomatoes (sign-up for Del Monte Dish)

Entertainment


Jib Jab (free bobble-head style e-cards)

Home & Garden


Sunmaid Recipe Booklets
Lowe's Creative Ideas Magazines

Upcoming Freebie Events:

NOVEMBER
22 -
Lowe's Kids Workshop , make a Football Goal
NOVEMBER 23-
Free Dr. Pepper

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Give your child the ultimate Christmas gift with this collection of holiday favorites - Thomas & Friends: Ultimate Christmas, The Happy Elf, Santa Claus: The Movie and Eloise: Little Miss Christmas. To enter this giveaway head over to The MotherLoot and please leave a comment by Tuesday (11/25) at 8PM (EST).

Lands' End wants our readers to enjoy shopping with them for the holidays. They are offering three of their holiday favorites as a choice for you should you win this giveaway- a cashmere sweater, a down vest, or a sleeping bag set. Put your entry in by Tuesday (11/25) at 8PM (EST).

Check out all the giveaways each and every Tuesday- enjoy!

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Notebook Experiments: Can I Make Restaurant-Worthy Chicken Parmesan?

Experiment: Can I make a restaurant-worthy Chicken Parmesan?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 09.25.08

Materials Needed: Please see Divine Domesticity for the full instructions. I followed the instructions exactly.


Results: Every time we go out to an Italian place for dinner, my husband always orders Chicken Parmesan. I have been wanting to make it from home, but wasn't motivated until I saw this recipe to try it. I loved the idea of using garlic & cheese croutons as the breading for the chicken and I also loved that this just required a quick flip in the pan and then was baked in the oven to complete the cooking.

I will admit, I have a hard time not flipping things before they are ready. I need to learn patience, but I am always afraid I am burning something so I flip them too soon. Despite my impatience and early flipping, these still came out beautifully.

The garlic & cheese croutons combined with the cheesy topping was absolutely perfect. Best of all, the chicken was perfectly tender and juicy. I worry about chicken breasts getting too overcooked, but the timing on this dish resulted in a great tasting piece of chicken.

Conclusion: The entire family agreed that this is a recipe worth repeating over and over again. The fact that I absolutely adore Ali and have a special place in my heart just for her...well, that made serving it at my dinner table just a little more special. If you haven't added Divine Domesticity to your regular blog reading, I hope you will carve some time out for her!

In conclusion, this is totally restaurant-worthy! Thanks, Ali!

********************

I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Thursday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

PLEASE NOTE- Mr. Linky is currently not working (11/19, 9:30PM). If you completed a notebook experiment, please make a small url and post it by leaving a comment below. Once Mr. Linky is working, I will line everybody up back in the form!

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Amy's Notebook 11.20.08


I just love this uniquely different handprint turkey (@ Bella Dia)

This aromatic garland would really make a statement (@ Skip to My Lou)

I bet my children would love Cheerios marshmallow treats (@ Let's Explore)

These baby mocs are the cutest things ever (@ The Purl Bee)

These acorn magnets are really wonderful for fall (@ Make & Takes)

I am trying to work on conquering my clutter (@ zenhabits)

This is a great round-up of bag, pouches, & purses (@ whip up)

I want to try these cheese muffins (@ The Pioneer Woman Cooks)

I love this round-up of knitting tips & tricks (@ down to earth)

I am going to have to use these tips for the perfect Thanksgiving turkey since this is my first year hosting (@ dinner tonight)

I love this list of homemade gifts (@ Storybook Woods)

I love these tips for raising thankful children (@ Parent Dish)

I will have to try this recipe for DIY instant oatmeal (@ The Kitchn)

I want to make these Oreo Turkey Cookies (@ Flickr)

I want to knit some slippers (@ Salt and Chocolate)

These pumpkin muffins would be a hit in our house (@ plumpudding)

These tiny birthday cakes would be a cute idea for my daughter's birthday party (@ Chocolate on My Cranium)

I love this round-up of holiday gift ideas (@ not martha)

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Inspiring Moms: Alli from Mrs. Fussypants Guide to Life

Thank you all for entering our contest! I had to do the random number generator to choose our winner this time because all of the entries were so worthy. I would like to congratulate our winner, Andrea from Mommy Snacks, and we hope that this little gift will make her family's holiday a little brighter. Andrea said this:

"I would give this to my mom. My father passed 3 years ago and there is a beautiful pic of the two of them that she keeps around - you can immediately sense his personality when you see that picture. Mom hasn't taken off her wedding ring, not sure she will, not sure that's easy to do. But, with this necklace, this pic will be close to her heart everyday and she'll know - ring or not - he is with her :-)"

Thank you again to everyone who entered and check back each week for new giveaways!



I am such a fan of you, Alli, why did you decide to start blogging over at Mrs. Fussypants Guide to Life?


Thank you, Amy. And I, of you. I discovered blogs about a year and a half ago when I researching homeschool resources. I fell in love with blogs instantly. I wanted a site that would reflect me and be a collection of little bits of my personality. What I didn't know is how blogging would change my life through all the amazing women I have met and grown to love through their words.

I try to keep in mind that my site is my time capsule. My sons, my grandchildren, and 25 generations to come will know of me through what I write. Hopefully someone will say, "Ol' Great Granny Alli, she sure was a funny lady back then." I love that thought.


I am the editor for your Family Bliss Channel for Blissfully Domestic so you know I am already a super fan. Can you tell our readers a little bit about what Blissfully Domestic is and what you hope to provide with your site?


Blissfully Domestic is an wonderful group of talented women who have joined together as the 'Domestic Divas'. There are 14 channels and over 250 women who contribute.

My vision for Blissfully Domestic was to provide a platform for women to show off their wisdom. As a mother of little kids, I used to get lost in that role. It wasn't until I discovered blogging and began sharing my thoughts with the world, that I realized I had more and more wisdom to share. I believe every woman has knowledge to share with the world!

Blissfully Domestic is different than most online magazines because we are 100% real women. I founded the site with $27 and a few friends sharing their wisdom in weekly articles. The success has been humbling and I am very honored to be at the helm of a magazine that is packed with meaningful, useful articles. I hope we are a blessing to all who write for the site and who read.

You threw your first blogger bash, Blissdom '08 recently and are planning another event in February. What are you hoping to offer with this event and what makes it unique?

BlissDom was a celebration of the power and wonderful voice of female bloggers. We shared our secrets, our tips and our motivation. It was an amazing experience.

In February, I hope to bring more aspects of Blissfully Domestic in to BlissDom. My vision is a retreat weekend for women. I hope to incorporate Blissful Style, Blissful Home, Inspired Bliss, Family Bliss and more.

You know, I hear Family Bliss is a huge hit. {winks}

As a mother of a zillion children (just kidding), how do you balance motherhood with running your site?

I do have a whole bunch of boys! I have 5 sons, the youngest is 5 months and the oldest is 10. Balancing motherhood and my sites is a constant challenge. This year, after homeschooling my sons for years, I enrolled them in a small church school. I knew it was time to focus on my sites as a business and make sure the boys were getting what they needed. Now I work with a two year old playing cars around me and nursing the baby. Thank goodness for my wireless laptop.


Can you share one tip for a blogger who is just getting started?

Join Twitter and meet new friends. Keep your writing pithy, your pictures pretty and never use auto music.

Blogging, just like life is not a zero-sum game. Supporting the successes of others is very important. It is important to treat others in a respectful way and never be underhanded or cruel online. Online reputations are of utmost importance. Our circles are small and every single thing we do is public.

When building a blog, a brand or a large network- you will get back what you give. When you work with a passion and make it your goal to support others as well as yourself, others will be drawn for the right reasons.

In her free time, Alli works very hard at Fussypants Designs creating beautiful photo heirloom jewelry. Browse around her site and look at all of the beautiful choices and find out how to order them here for the holidays. Remember, it is always good to support our fabulous work-at-home mommas!


Alli has generously offered our readers the chance to win one of her amazing pieces of work. We will be giving one winner one of these beautiful necklaces. To enter, please leave a comment here by Wednesday (11/26) at 8PM (EST) and tell me who you would give this necklace to and why. The best answer to this question will win so please be creative with your responses. Be sure to sign in to your Blogger account so your name is clickable or leave your email address in the comments if you are signing in anonymously. I will need to be able to contact you if you win! Good luck, everyone!

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The MotherLoot Tuesday Giveaways 11.18.08


Two contests are ending tonight and I don't want you to miss them!

Enter to win a free quarterly membership to ListPlanIt.com along with a free holiday e-planner. This would be a great contest to enter if you are needing help with getting your family organized this year or even to get your small business paperwork in order. Be sure to head over to The MotherLoot and get your entry in. This contest will end at 8PM (EST) on Tuesday (11/18). Good luck to each of you!

The next giveaway is for a $50 Walmart Gift Card. Walmart is partnering with us to give our readers the chance to score one of these for the holidays. Scoot over to The MotherLoot right now and submit your entry today. This giveaway will end on Tuesday (11/18) at 8PM.

We also have two new contests starting today!

Give your child the ultimate Christmas gift with this collection of holiday favorites - Thomas & Friends: Ultimate Christmas, The Happy Elf, Santa Claus: The Movie and Eloise: Little Miss Christmas. To enter this giveaway head over to The MotherLoot and please leave a comment by Tuesday (11/25) at 8PM (EST).

Lands' End wants our readers to enjoy shopping with them for the holidays. They are offering three of their holiday favorites as a choice for you should you win this giveaway- a cashmere sweater, a down vest, or a sleeping bag set. Put your entry in by Tuesday (11/25) at 8PM (EST).

Are you running a contest that you would like our readers to know about? Feel free to link it up and spread the contest love around!




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Great Budget-Friendly Gifts for Men

(Image Credit: Craig)

I don't know what it is about men, but it seems that people are always looking for gift ideas for them. I have never really had a problem with buying for guys, in particular, but struggle more for those people in my life who seem to have everything. Buying gifts for the guys in your life doesn't have to be difficult and I want to arm you with some of my favorite gifts for guys that are always a hit.

Give the Gift of Music- I am a big music-lover and the men in my life are music lovers too. Music is always a great gift to give because it is something that can be enjoyed for a very long time. I love to make a "mixed tape" of great music and then follow these instructions for making a very personalized CD cover with pictures that I know the recipient would like. Print the covers on heavy card stock and add a personal message to the recipient.

If the man in your life is more into the digital music, why not give him an iTunes gift card that can be redeemed for picking his own favorite music? These gift cards start at just $15, which would make a great gift for any music lover.

Give the Gift of Movies- One of the best gifts I have ever given has to be the gift of movies. Netflix offers a wide range of plans that you can choose from and you can purchase a month or two for your recipient for very little money. Their plans start at $4.99 and you can present the subscription in a fun way or even tuck the gift in with a popcorn tub and and some movie theater snacks.

Give the Gift of Reading- Guys love magazine subscriptions and I have found that magazine subscriptions can be bought very inexpensively off of eBay. Make your own card and tell your guy that the gift is redeemable for any magazine of his choice (except those filthy magazines which will never be purchased for your guy thankyouverymuch) and that you will get him a gift subscription. I have found subscriptions to magazines for $3 or $4 for an entire year versus the newsstand prices. If it is in your budget, you could subscribe to two or three without breaking the bank and let him think you spent a mint on him.

Give the Gift of Food & Drink- They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach and I have found this is absolutely true. Whip up a special batch of his favorite snack and pair it with some of his favorite coffee. You could make him a batch of these sugar and spice nuts and pair it with a little bucket of his favorite beer. By pairing your homemade specialty with a store-bought favorite drink, you have a great combination for a perfectly budget-friendly gift.

If you want to extend the gift further, wrap up his favorite snack and give him coupons to redeem the snacks for later. This is especially effective with college-aged guys and we have made more than a few college students happy with our boxes of goodies. You can download and print our free college coupon template and mount these to card stock for holiday gift-giving.

Give the Gift of Accessories- Just like women love a good handbag, a pretty scarf, or a hot pair of shoes, men have a desire for accessories too... just not the same kind as us. If your man is into gadgets and already has them, why not supply him with some accessories for the items he already has? For example, if he has a Nintendo Wii, you could give him some Wii points to put towards one of his favorite old Mario Brothers games. Likewise, if he uses any other game system, you could buy an extra controller or a different style of controller so he could play with more of his friends. If he has a Kindle you could give him a gift certificate to Amazon to buy some book downloads. Is he into computers? Why not try and find some computer software that he could put to good use by taking advantage of those rebate offers from the office supplies stores. We often forget to reload the tech gadgets we already have so this is a cost-effective way of building upon investments that have already been made.

There are the other accessories in life too so take a peek at his belt, his wallet, his hat, his scarf, his planner. While not maybe as much fun as some of the other gifts on the list, upgrading your man's accessories can be very thoughtful and will be used for years to come. I love to go to stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall's to find these accessories because they are so deeply discounted and you can get some really great brand-names for an affordable price.

Give the Gift of Believing In Your Man- I know how much I appreciate it when someone believes in me and what I do so why not try and make that into a gift for someone you love? Are they self-employed or trying to start their own side business? Why not place an order for business cards for them? VistaPrint offers very affordable prices on business cards and think how much that would mean to someone who is trying to start their own business. You could pair that with a business card case that has been engraved with his initials which would make the gift even more personal.

Does the man in your life have a hobby that he is passionate about? Why not get him a book, a tool, or some items off of his wish list to support that hobby. Make these gifts more personal with a note that tells them that you are proud of them and give him a free pass to watch the children so he can go and pursue his hobby for the day... with no flack from you. Men value their alone time just as much as women so give him permission to go hit a few of those golf balls that are wrapped under the tree and enjoy some of your own quality time alone with the kids.

Give the Gift of Memories- Do you know something about the man in your life that you could use as a creative gift? Think of their favorite book as a child or think of a gift that he said he always wanted, but never got when he was young. Try and find those items on eBay and write a personal message to them about how you always remembered that this was special to them. You don't have to pay to get a first-edition of the item, remember that the thought is there and he will appreciate that you remembered that about him.

Another way to capture those memories is by finding an old picture that would have significant memories for him and have it printed up through a photo place and frame it for his desk at work. Maybe it is a picture of you with your father? Maybe it is a picture of you and your spouse on your honeymoon? Maybe it is a picture of your grandfather with his grandkids? Frame it and give it to them as a way of remembering all of those wonderful memories.

Whatever you do, just remember to make the gift as personal as you can. Wrap your gift creatively and tuck in a letter of what that person means to you. Everyone wants to feel loved and appreciated and nothing says appreciation like a little time invested into a personal gift. Don't just give him the supplies to wash the car, give him a coupon that says it is good for one car wash done by you. Don't just give him a magazine subscription. Buy one magazine to wrap that says that it is good for the subscription and then tag the magazine with sticky notes with funny notes from yourself. Don't give him a generic coffee mug, have the children create one with you and fill it with his favorite snack. Make it as personal as possible and your gift will say a lot more than any expensive gift that is wrapped under the tree.

I hope these ideas have helped since this was a topic our readers really wanted to see!

Please share-what do you like to give to the men in your life? Have you done any of these ideas from this list?

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Storage for Thanksgiving Leftovers


I am saving all of my yogurt, sour cream, and whipped topping containers for our Thanksgiving feast. I found a bunch of them in my fridge with a scoop of this and a dab of that in them.

These were run through the dishwasher and are now waiting for all of those Thanksgiving leftovers. I am sure our guests will want to take home some of the leftovers from our feast so I am making sure we are prepared this year. No one likes the burden of returning a dish so these will make the perfect containers to send home all of the goodies without the hassle. Best of all, we are putting these containers to good use rather than adding them to the recycle bin.

If you were feeling ambitious, you could cover them with scrapbook paper. I, however, feel hosting Thanksgiving dinner is ambitious enough and I hope our guests will appreciate the thoughtful gesture of having these containers to enjoy a little of the feasting in their own home.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Join the MomAdvice.com Fan Club

I have finally joined Facebook as another way to connect to my readers. I hope that you will join me and you can even become a member of our very official MomAdvice.com Fan Club. In this club, you can set up your own topics and conversations, catch up on the latest articles for MomAdvice, and follow our events & happenings. This will be updated regularly and will give us another place where we can hang out! I realize not everyone is into Twitter so I hope that I can connect with some of you that are using Facebook instead!

If you do use Twitter though, you can find me as @momadvice on there as well! I will happily be your friend and will look forward to chatting with each of you!

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Redbox Code 11.17.08

Sorry- I forgot to post this! Today's free code for a Redbox movie is 57DRW3. This code is good for one free movie and you can use it until midnight tonight. Enjoy a free family movie together!

Side Notes:

- If you want to rent more than one movie for free, bring more than one credit/debit card. You can use the same promotional code, you just will need different cards to charge it to. The charge will be zero as long as you return your movie on time for the next day.

- When entering in your free movie code, you need to enter it FIRST before picking the movie. On the very first screen, click the, "Rent with Promo." Enter in the above code and then make your selection- the amount should then total zero.

Here is an updated list of new releases:

Get Smart
Unless by smart, they mean intelligent! The hilarious Steve Carrell plays the world's favorite bumbling, stumbling agent in this remake of the 1960s TV hit. The movie's sex appeal and muscle are added by, respectively, Anne Hathaway and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

Transsiberian
It all starts with a train ride through the snowy terrain between Moscow and China. If that isn't that perfect backdrop for mystery and deception, then redbox doesn't know what is. Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer play an American couple whose cross-continental train trip derails when they meet two strangers.

Journey to the Center of the Earth
Back from last week, Brendan Fraser takes sci-fi comedy movie lovers on yet another huge thrillride. This time, he plays a professor whose search for his missing brother takes him downward – to the center of the earth. Josh Hutcherson and Anita Brium co-star.

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Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes


This will be my first year hosting the family Thanksgiving dinner so I am working on putting our food together to pop in the freezer so I can enjoy the day free from worries about everything getting done. What is one of my least favorite things to make? Mashed potatoes! I find them to be a little labor-intensive and they can dirty a lot of pots. It is a Thanksgiving staple though so I thought I would figure out how I could make them ahead of time.

I had found a recipe for mashed potatoes that not only freeze beautifully, but they also can be reheated on low in the slow cooker. Both of these qualities make them a winner because I can keep the oven freed up for the other dishes and I can make them early.

Here is my recipe, adapted to our personal taste, perfect for any holiday get together! These are creamy and have a hint of tang to them from the sour cream. Sprinkle with a little paprika, if you so desire, and enjoy the convenience of pulling these out of your freezer for this holiday season.


Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes
Serves 15

5 pounds of potatoes
1 block (8 oz) of low-fat cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup low fat sour cream
4 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup milk (or more if desired)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Peel potatoes and cut into small cubes. Throw the potatoes in a large pot filled with cold water. Cook for 25 minutes or until fork-tender. Drain the potatoes and put them back into the hot pot. Add cream cheese, butter, milk, and salt. Mash with a potato masher or use a hand mixer to whip the potatoes. Spoon mixture into a freezer-safe container and label.

Thanksgiving Day: Put potatoes in the fridge 1-2 days before to allow them to completely thaw. Spray slow cooker with cooking spray and put potatoes in the slow cooker. Brush the top of the potatoes with a tablespoon of butter and sprinkle with paprika. Cook on low for two to four hours.

If you would rather bake these, bake the potatoes at 350 degrees for thirty to forty minutes or until completely hot.

This side dish was entered in the Frugal Thanksgiving Mini-Series hosted by Frugal Upstate. Be sure to visit for more great Thanksgiving meal ideas!

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Freebie Friday: November 14, 2008

A big thanks to Heather, at Freebies 4 Mom, for assisting me with this week's freebies. Heather is my favorite resource to visit to pick up freebies all week long and on Fridays we compile a big list of freebies so you can do your applying for freebies in one day. Of course, you can check her great site every single day for oodles of freebies so you never miss anything throughout the week. Did I mention she inspires me? Be sure to always check her site for the best coupons and get the latest in coupon goodies for this week!

Happy Freebie Friday!


Health & Beauty


Kirkland Diaper (do not need to be a Costco member)
Christina Aguilera Inspire fragrance

Food

Country Bob's Sauce
NutraSweet 3 Flavors
Benefiber On-the-Go (Walmart)
Lactaid (Sam's Club)

Entertainment

The Secret Life Season 2 House Party
Faceoff Hockey Magazine
Tennis Magazine
Automobile Magazine
Kids Corner Advent Calendar (request by mail or download)
Sheryl Crow "Hello My Friend Hello" download- Enter Code HMKSC08
Sara Bareilles "Love Song" download- Enter Code T3UBERKQPPNXD29
Antiques Magazine

Home & Garden

$5 Donation to K.I.D.S. by Robeez for each eCard sent
Marie Callender Shopping List (scroll down to bottom)


Upcoming Freebie Events:

NOVEMBER

15 - Ocean Spray Sampling at Walmart
22 - Lowe's Kids Workshop, make a Football Goal
23 - Free Dr. Pepper

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Be sure to enter to win a free quarterly membership to ListPlanIt.com along with a free holiday e-planner. This would be a great contest to enter if you are needing help with getting your family organized this year or even to get your small business paperwork in order. Be sure to head over to The MotherLoot and get your entry in. This contest will end at 8PM (EST) on Tuesday (11/18). Good luck to each of you!

The final giveaway, for this week, is for a $50 Walmart Gift Card. Walmart is partnering with us to give our readers the chance to score one of these for the holidays. Scoot over to The MotherLoot right now and submit your entry today. This giveaway will end on Tuesday (11/18) at 8PM.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Notebook Experiments: Can I Make a Juicy Turkey Burger?

Experiment: Can I make a juicy turkey burger?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 10.23.08

Materials Needed: Please see Serious Eats for the full instructions. I followed the instructions exactly and made my turkey burgers in my stainless steel cookware because it is was roomier than the cast iron skillet I have.

Results: I was really excited to try this turkey burger recipe because every turkey burger I have ever tried seems to come out really dry. I was really intrigued by the ingredient list and that there were no eggs or milk involved (as my past recipes) and instead the only binding agent was ricotta cheese.

I am really not a fan of ricotta cheese, but I was willing to give this a try. I was very worried the ricotta would add a gritty texture to my burger (especially with 1/2 a cup of ricotta in there) and I was also worried how it would go over with the rest of the family.

I prepared the burgers as instructed and cooked them for four minutes on each side. I then reduced the heat with the lid cracked for ten minutes and then served them up on bakery buns with a slice of cheese and ketchup.

These were the best turkey burgers I have ever eaten in my life. They were moist and flavorful all the way through. Even the protesters in my family who said they would not eat one of my burgers finally relented and ate everything on their plate.

We all agreed that we could not taste the ricotta at all, but could only taste the meat and a hint of mustard that was incorporated in the mix.

Conclusion:I will be making these over and over again for my family. It was a great quick meal to put together and served with apple slices, it was a great meal for the entire family. Thanks to Serious Eats for sharing this recipe idea!

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I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Thursday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Amy's Notebook 11.13.08

I am loving this bag made out of plastic bags (@ Coco Knits)

This flower garland made from catalogs would be festive in greens & reds for the holidays (@ zakka life)

Another great recycling project, a mobile made from cereal boxes (@ plumpudding)

These binder clips are adorable (@ jane's apron)

I love these pressed leaves to decorate the house for fall (@ Make & Takes)

This slow cooker breakfast casserole would be great for a morning brunch with friends (@ 4 Reluctant Entertainers)

I love this article on Thanksgiving desserts that freeze well (@ NY Times)

I want to try this silky smooth pumpkin pie (@ Smitten Kitchen)

I would also love to try this pumpkin chiffon cake (@ Baking Bites)

This monogrammed wreath would really make a statement on my door (@ Purple Lemon Designs)

This recipe for fluffy pumpkin pie sounds so interesting (@ Divine Domesticity)

This classic apple pie sounds delicious (@ The Kitchn)

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Inspiring Moms: Jeannie from MeArt.com

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting our next inspiring mom at the American Baby Faire and just knew she would be an inspiration to moms who are trying to start a business. Jeannie & I chatted like old friends about the ins and outs of starting a business and I found what she was doing to be not only unique, but such a creative way to use her background. I hope you will enjoy this interview as much as I do and that it will inspire you to make your own work-at-home dreams happen!


Can you tell me a little bit about your business and how you got started?


Lets face it. We’re all artists at heart. Meart.com, lets you be an artist. We turn personal photos of you, a loved one, a friend or even a pet into one-of-a-kind, custom works of art. You choose the design, style and color scheme. You can even add a name or sentiment. Each piece of Me Art is printed on fine art paper or canvas, which is stretched and ready to hang.

It all started when I was looking for the perfect piece of artwork to decorate my first son’s nursery. Everything I found was so generic. I wanted something truly unique and that would have personal meaning as well. So, I took a photo of him and turned it into Me Art.

My friends started asking me to make them one and before I knew it Me Art was born. It became my passion project.


Was it a hard decision leaving the workforce to begin working from home?

I had no intention of leaving my job. I was a V.P Creative Director at Leo Burnett in Chicago and I absolutely loved it. Me Art was just a side project that wasn’t getting the attention it needed.

After I had my third son, Drew wrapped his precious little finger around me and said, “mom, please don’t leave.” So, I didn’t. He’s 10 months now and it seemed like something I was supposed to do. The boys were growing up fast and I didn’t want to miss out on anymore special moments. It seemed like an opportunity to develop my passion project into a business while spending more time with the boys.

Since you are a work-at-home mom, can you share one time-saving tip that has helped you get your work accomplished and also manage the daily activities in your house?

- Make lists. They help you stay organized amidst the chaos and accomplished at the end of the day.

- Don’t be a work-a-holic. Schedule your work and playtime with the kids. When it blends together you start to feel like you’re not doing either well.


Do you have any tips/recommendations for someone who wants to pursue working from home?

- Create everyday. Whether it is an idea, a simple drawing with your kids, a new recipe, an imaginary friend or game. Letting your creative spirit out opens your mind. It frees you and puts smiles on everyone’s face. Which we all need when juggling work and kids.

- Treasure nap time. When naps phase out turn it into “quiet time”. Get your most important work done during this time.


What is the most meaningful piece of art in your own home?

Our home is filled with artwork. Art makes me smile, it brings back memories of where it was discovered and the exact emotion felt when enjoying the piece. It’s difficult to choose one. There is a piece I turn to, for inspiration that my mother gave me. The artist is Brian Andreas and it reminds me that our imagination is one of our greatest gifts. Believe in it and who knows where it could take you.

Thank you, Jeannie, for answering all of my questions. Be sure to swing by MeArt.com to see Jeannie's amazing handiwork!

Wanna put in a nomination for an inspiring mom? Leave me a comment and nominate someone to be featured here!

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Play It Again,Momma: Make Ahead Thanksgiving Appetizers

Thanksgiving isn't far away, but you don't have to wait until the night before to get your Thanksgiving meal ready. Many recipes can be prepared in advance and they can be waiting for you when the big day arrives.

This year I am trying something different. Instead of the frantic cooking the night before (or the morning of), I am going to try and prepare as much as I can in advance for the big day. I am not sure who is planning on hosting our dinners this year, but even if I am not hosting myself, I try to do my part to help with the meal. I thought it would be so nice to have the food waiting for me instead of me waiting for it.

First, let's began with the appetizer portion of the meal. I think it is so nice to have some dishes for people to munch on while they are waiting for the meal to be prepared. Here are some fun recipes that you can prepare for the big day and store in your freezer until the day before. Double or triple these recipes for a large crowd!

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Appetizers


Cranberry Spread


16 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 c. orange juice

Do-Ahead: Mix all of the ingredients together and mold into a ball or leave loose as a spread. Wrap in plastic wrap, then wrap in foil, and store in a freezer bag. Make sure to label your bag so that you can find it again.

Thanksgiving Day: Let the spread thaw in the refrigerator 1-2 days before Thanksgiving. Place dip in a bowl (or on a platter if it has been molded into a ball) and serve with gingersnaps or crackers.

Italian Meatballs

1 pound lean ground turkey
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg beaten

Do-Ahead: In a large bowl, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, garlic powder and beaten egg. Shape into small meatballs and place on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 400 degree oven for fifteen to twenty minutes. Allow them to completely cool and then place meatballs in a labeled freezer bag.

Thanksgiving Day: Allow meatballs to thaw overnight. In the morning, throw meatballs in your slow cooker and dump a jar of spaghetti sauce on top. Cook on low for two to four hours, or until the meatballs are warmed through.

Spinach Balls

2- 10 oz packages frozen spinach
1 package chicken-flavored stuffing mix
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
6 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup butter, melted
Salt & pepper to taste

Do-Ahead: Cook spinach according to instructions, drain in a sieve, use back of a wooden spoon to press the spinach against the sieve to get as much moisture as possible out In a bowl combine the spinach, stuffing mix,cheese, eggs, butter, salt& pepper Mix thoroughly& roll into small balls 3/4 to 1" size. Place on a cookie sheet and freeze.

Thanksgiving Day:
To serve place frozen balls on a cookie sheet and bake at 350F 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned If you are doing them fresh or thawed only bake for 7-10 minutes. Serve hot.

Pine Cone Cheese Ball

1 package cream cheese, softened
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Do-Ahead: Mix cream cheese, shredded cheese, and Dijon mustard in a food processor until blended. Shape into a ball and store in your freezer.

Thanksgiving Day:
The day before- remove from freezer and allow it to thaw. Shape cheese into a pine cone shape. Stick almond slivers into the cone-shaped cheese in rows, until the ball is completely covered. Cover and refrigerate. Serve with crackers.

Bonus Additions: On the big day you can also add a veggie tray and shrimp cocktail to have out for your guests.

(Image Source: Muffet)




Do you do appetizers for Thanksgiving Day? Feel free to share your recipes here!

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Big Giveaways & Big Give Updates


We are currently running not one, not two, but three contests for our readers right now. I am trying to give away as much loot as I can for the holiday season so be sure to get your entries in!

Our first giveaway is ending TODAY. You can swing by The MotherLoot and enter our giveaway of four Nintendo DS games. If you have a DS or are planning to give one for Christmas, this would be a great giveaway to sign up for. Leave your comments over here by 11/11 (Tuesday) at 8PM (Eastern time) and we will enter your name into the drawing.

Our second giveaway is for a free quarterly membership to ListPlanIt.com along with a free holiday e-planner. This would be a great contest to enter if you are needing help with getting your family organized this year or even to get your small business paperwork in order. Be sure to head over to The MotherLoot and get your entry in. This contest will end at 8PM (EST) on Tuesday (11/18). Good luck to each of you!

The final giveaway is for a $50 Walmart Gift Card. Walmart is partnering with us to give our readers the chance to score one of these for the holidays. Scoot over to The MotherLoot right now and submit your entry today. This giveaway will end on Tuesday (11/18) at 8PM.

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We want to thank all of our supporters for their help with the Big Give. As a reminder, Jennifer, from Sisterly Savings, contacted me to see how she could support our BIG Give. You can read more about what she is doing and if you leave her a comment, Boston Market has agreed to make a $.10 donation (up to $100) for our cause. This is a great way to help with our give without even having to reach in your pocket to do it.

I am also very thankful to Rachel, at Modern Mommyhood, for offering to donate her advertising money this week to our Big Give. Please head over to Rachel's site and let her know that you are reading what she is writing. I have had the privilege of working on Family Bliss with Rachel and she has lots of great ideas on ways to save money. Please read about what big give efforts she is working on and I hope it inspires you in your own giving this year. Thank you, Rachel!

It is not too late to sign up and be part of the giving. What could be more rewarding than helping others? Please join us!

We are continuing to look for sponsors to help us so please email me at amy@momadvice.com and tell me what you can help with. Remember that with your donation, you will receive a month's worth of free advertising for the entire month of January!
I am putting it all out there- that is 160K hits each month that will see your company and all the great things you are doing.

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Holiday Photo Cards: Who Has the Best Deals?





















We love to give photo cards for the holidays because the card itself feels like giving a gift. We have family all over and loved ones who don't see our children regularly so photo cards just made sense for us.

Photo cards can be expensive though and when you are doing mass quantities of something, you need to really make sure you are getting the best deal possible. Shopping around and utilizing coupon codes are your best bet when it comes to purchasing your cards online.

Here is some general information on pricing for this year's photo cards. To keep it simple, I am sticking to a basic 4x8 card with a single photo. There are many different variations on the cards now that can add to the cost of your cards so be sure to check the pricing when shopping around and remember all of those extra frills often end up in someone's trash or recycle bin. Splurge on the things that really count!

Winkflash-

I was surprised to see the current pricing for Winkflash on their cards, but in a totally good way. They offer a one day turnaround and a money-back guarantee on their cards. Best of all, this online store requires no minimum order and a flat $.23 per card for their current sale. No sneaky pricing deals and you gotta love that! It does say to take advantage of the $.23 rate you need to use the coupon code GREATCARD8 and the offer ends November 16th! That is 40% off their normal pricing listed, but even with the normal prices it is still a great deal!

I bet you can guess where I will be ordering from this year!

Pricing on 50- $11.50 (sale price)
Pricing on 100- $23.00 (sale price)

Sam's Club-

Of all the brick and mortar places I have explored, Sam's Club wins on price overall. I have ordered through them for a couple of years now and I have yet to be disappointed by the quality of the cards. One downfall with shopping through them is that they are going to be more limited on the backgrounds, but if you take a really great picture of your kids, that is all that really matters in the end.

Pricing on 50- $14.50
Pricing on 100- $25.00

Walmart-

If you don't have access to a Sam's Club, Walmart also offers photo cards for a great price. They also have more backgrounds available. The nice thing about Walmart is that you don't have to make a large quantity commitment, as many websites do require you to buy a minimum of 25. If you just wanted to do photo cards for close family members, you could order your cards individually. They also offer more templates to pick from so you do have more of a variety than you would through Sam's Club.

Pricing on 50- $16.50
Pricing on 100- $33.00

Shutterfly-
One advantage of shopping through an online resource is that you can cash in on great coupon codes that aren't often available with the brick and mortar stores. Shutterfly also takes you through a fun three question "card style finder" process where you can pick pictures that have represented the holidays to you and helps you chose a template that fits you best. The templates are amazing,but the prices are going to range widely because they have so many options. The pricing we have pulled is for one of their more basic templates.

Pricing on 50- $26.00
Pricing on 100- $44.00

Walgreens-

Walgreens offers their card quantities in twenty to a box for your ordering needs. They offer a wide range on selection and are rewarding their early bird customers (ordering before November 15th) using coupon code WRAP33 with a 33% discount on your photo order.

Pricing on 40- $19.98
Pricing on 60- $29.97
Pricing on 100- $49.95

Snapfish-

Snapfish is one of the more affordable online retailers for photo cards and offer a wide selection of holiday backgrounds. Pricing is said to be around $.29, but that is only if a quantity of 240 cards is ordered. I used the basic paper, standard 4x8, with no frills for this pricing scenario. Pricing will vary based on the extras.

Pricing on 40- $22.00
Pricing on 60- $33.00
Pricing on 100- $45.00


CVS Photo Center-

CVS offers a larger selection with 94 holiday backgrounds to choose from. These cards come in boxes of twenty and can be ordered online and can be picked up at your local CVS location. The pricing, however, is not as good as the superstores, but they do tend to offer coupon codes that can be redeemed towards your order.

Pricing on 40- $26.99
Pricing on 60- $35.99
Pricing on 100- $53.99

Photoworks-

Photoworks is a little sneakier with the pricing system. When you click on a card that says it is $.36, that number is really only acheived by ordering nine or more boxes of 25 cards. I may be in the minority, but I doubt I would need that many cards for one holiday mailing. I picked a basic card with one basic picture and came up with this rough pricing amount.

Pricing on 50- $33.00
Pricing on 100- $66.00



How do you save on those photo cards?

- Order early- Now is the time to start jumping on early bird specials. Online stores tend to reward their early customers with really great coupon codes so take advantage of those lower prices and stage a photo session with your kids that will work for the holiday season.

- Look for coupon codes- Try to cash in on those discounts and take advantage of things like free shipping or companies that are offering a free photo gift that could be use for the holiday gift-giving season.

- Buy larger quantities to redeem the bigger discounts on card pricing, but only if you will be able to use the cards that you are ordering. Make your card list first to decide quantities and then order your cards to make it the most cost-effective for your family.

- Try buying a template and then having them printed at an inexpensive printing place or printing them yourself, if you have a photo printer. You can still have a very personalized design, but pay a flat fee for the template. My friend, Simple Mom, is offering a discount to those who order early at Chickpea Designs.

- Shop through a rewards shopping site like Ebates. I am a huge fan of the company and try to do the majority of my shopping through them. You can sign up and get $5 automatically in your account and companies like Shutterfly, for example, offer 8% back on your shopping order. The site will also list coupon codes that you can use towards your order. I would love if you used this referral link because those sign-ups help with our Christmas shopping for the year.

(Photo Source: Eszter Hargittai)



Do you do photo cards? Where do you order from and how do you keep the cost low on your cards? Another fun question- how many cards do you send out? I am always curious about that!

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Redbox Code 11.10.08

Today's free code for a Redbox movie is LK43CE. This code is good for one free movie and you can use it until midnight tonight. Enjoy a free family movie together!

Side Notes:

- If you want to rent more than one movie for free, bring more than one credit/debit card. You can use the same promotional code, you just will need different cards to charge it to. The charge will be zero as long as you return your movie on time for the next day.

- When entering in your free movie code, you need to enter it FIRST before picking the movie. On the very first screen, click the, "Rent with Promo." Enter in the above code and then make your selection- the amount should then total zero.

Here is an updated list of new releases:

Get Smart
Unless by smart, they mean intelligent! The hilarious Steve Carrell plays the world's favorite bumbling, stumbling agent in this remake of the 1960s TV hit. The movie's sex appeal and muscle are added by, respectively, Anne Hathaway and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

Transsiberian
It all starts with a train ride through the snowy terrain between Moscow and China. If that isn't that perfect backdrop for mystery and deception, then redbox doesn't know what is. Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer play an American couple whose cross-continental train trip derails when they meet two strangers.

Journey to the Center of the Earth
Back from last week, Brendan Fraser takes sci-fi comedy movie lovers on yet another huge thrillride. This time, he plays a professor whose search for his missing brother takes him downward – to the center of the earth. Josh Hutcherson and Anita Brium co-star.

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Homemade Vanilla Chai Tea

It was cold and rainy today. The leaves have fallen off of the trees and the cold weather has come on with a vengeance. As soon as the weather starts turning, I start thinking of all the things that I love about autumn. The crisp leaves, the cool air, my cozy slippers, flannel sheets, and warm drinks.

My favorite warm drink is chai tea. The drink mixes are expensive, but mixing up a batch of this yourself can help to keep your pockets nice and warm with a little extra money. Most of the spices, dry creamer, and dry milk are already stocked in my pantry. The only additions I usually have to run out and get is the instant tea and powdered vanilla creamer.

To make the batch more smooth, instead of gritty, I process everything through my blender. I first mix all of the white ingredients in my blender (milk, sugar, creamer, vanilla creamer). I dump those in a plastic container and then I mix up all the brown ingredients (tea and spices). I pour this on top in the plastic container, seal the lid and give it a good shaking to incorporate or mix it up with a spoon. If you have a large food processor, you may be able to process it all together, but if you have a blender it is best to do this in divided batches.

Not only is this drink mix wonderful for yourself, but mixing up a batch of this and tucking some of it in a mug would be a wonderful gift to give to someone special in your life.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!

Homemade Vanilla Chai Tea Mix

1 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 cup powdered non-dairy creamer
1 cup French vanilla powdered non-dairy creamer
2 ½ cups white sugar
1 ½ cups unsweetened instant tea
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
¼ tsp white pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until it is a fine powder. Add two-three tablespoons of mix to 8 ounces of hot water or milk.

What is your favorite autumn/winter drink? Do you have any recipes to share for drink mixes?

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Freebie Friday: November 7, 2008

It is definitely my favorite day of the week! Happy Freebie Friday, everyone! Each Friday we feature all the free loot you can get on the internet and all this is made possible through my partnership with Heather, from Freebies 4 Mom. Take some time today to browse Heather's amazing freebie site and be sure to check out her list of baby, toddler, & kid freebies! What mom doesn't love opening her mailbox and finding her free stuff inside?


Health & Beauty


Mystery Shampoo/Conditioner from P&G and Walmart
Huggies Diaper (Walmart)
Tena
Food

Orville Redenbacher's Lime & Salt Popcorn (Walmart)
Ensure Shakes
Betty Crocker Potatoes
Fruit Roll-Up

Entertainment

Walgreens 8x10 use coupon code FREEPIC (free if you pick it up in-store)
Diabetes Self-Management Magazine

Home & Garden

Glad Storage Bags (Walmart)
Ziploc Home & Holidays Gift Pack

Pet Care

Pedigree Good Bites

Upcoming Freebie Events:

NOVEMBER

8 - Barbie Cares noon to 3 pm, get a free photo w/Barbie
8 - Kohl's National Beauty Day free sampling event
8 - Lowe's Kids Workshop, make a Semi Truck
22 - Lowe's Kids Workshop, make a Football Goal
23 - Free Dr. Pepper

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HUGE giveaway on The MotherLoot perfect for your holiday gift-giving. We are giving away FOUR Nintendo DS games to one lucky winner. To enter this contest, you need to head to The MotherLoot and leave your comment by 11/11 (Tuesday) at 8PM (Eastern time) and we will enter your name into the drawing. Only entries that follow the directions for commenting will be included in our giveaway. Thanks so much for entering & good luck to each of you!

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

BIG Give Makes Big Strides

Lots of behind the scenes activity is happening with our BIG Give and I just want to thank you all for your support. It is not too late to sign up and be part of this movement of community giving. I am so excited to see our list growing each day and learning more about your own projects.

This week I had a truly great thing happen. Jennifer, from Sisterly Savings, contacted me to see how she could support our BIG Give. She came to me with great enthusiasm to help support us in any way she could and began by finding sponsors for our give to Faith Mission. You can read more about what she is doing and if you leave her a comment, Boston Market has agreed to make a $.10 donation (up to $100) for our cause. This is a great way to help with our give without even having to reach in your pocket to do it.

We are continuing to look for sponsors to help us so please email me at amy@momadvice.com and tell me what you can help with. Remember that with your donation, you will receive a month's worth of free advertising for the entire month of January!
I am putting it all out there- that is 160K hits each month that will see your company and all the great things you are doing.

Here is what else is happening:

- Kenmore has agreed to help with our appliance donation! They were very excited and willing to help us with what we were doing and I am so thankful to be working for an amazing company like that. I sent over specifications for the appliances and we have a target date of getting these to Faith Mission by the end of the month.
- Lands' End will be donating two dozen towels, blankets, pillows, and hats & gloves for the charity. This was all in thanks to Jennifer at Sisterly Savings.
- We have received over $200 in cash donations.
- I will be presenting to the Elkhart Rotary Club next Thursday and seeing what assistance they can offer. This is all thanks to my friend Kathy Strukel at Perfect Party Solutions. Kathy is also working with me to get me in front of other Elkhart companies to get more donations for our cause.
- We have a donation of 50 toothbrushes and 100 toothpastes coming from North Main Dentistry. This donation was arranged by my dear friend and local fashionista, Kathy Friend.
- We scored a surprise interview with Cat Country 99.9 on Monday morning and got to share about what we are planning for Faith Mission. A big thank you to my true blue friend, Amy Watson, for helping us spread the word.
- We were featured a second time in the Elkhart Truth this week for our involvement with Faith Mission.
- We have received boxes of donations from other bloggers to help with our Welcome Kits. Thank you to each of you for being so generous.
- We have many, many more things in the works that have yet to be finalized. I have hope that we will reach our goals!

I am proud of what we have accomplished in such a short time and am confident that we are going to make Faith Mission's Christmas a little brighter.

If you want to sign up to be a part of our BIG Give or if you want to make a monetary donation, please click here for more information.

I am anxious to hear the progress on the other projects out there. Be brave- tell us what you need and where to find what you are doing!

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Notebook Experiments: Can I Make Oatmeal in the Slow Cooker?


Experiment: Can I make oatmeal in my slow cooker?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 02.14.07

Materials Needed: Please see Tip Nut for the full instructions. I decided to attempt cooking the oatmeal in my slow cooker and followed the instructions exactly except I substituted the steel cut oats for regular rolled oats because that is what I had in my pantry. I wanted to see if the experiment worked well before heading to the store. My slow cooker is the standard size and I poured the ingredients in there. I was really intrigued by the water to oats ratio because it just seemed like far too much water. I flipped the slow cooker on and let it cook for eight hours.

Results: I programmed my coffeemaker for the same exact time and woke up to a steaming bowl of oatmeal and hot coffee this morning. The oatmeal still seemed a little thin, but I let it set up for a minute or two before I tried it. Within minutes, it thickened up and I had a perfect bowl of oatmeal.

This oatmeal is extremely creamy and tastes delicious! It tastes more on par with restaurant oatmeal because of the great consistency of it. With a lump of brown sugar and some dried fruits, it would make a wonderful way to start the day.

Conclusion: I will definitely be buying the steel cut oatmeal to eat this again. It was a wonderful way to walk up and motivated me to have breakfast which is very hard to do! Thanks Tip Nut for sharing all of your tips with your readers!

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I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Thursday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Amy's Notebook 11.06.08

These patriotic cookies are so neat (@ Pepper Paints)

I love the idea of starting a parent journal (@ Camp Creek Blog)

I am loving these fingerless gloves (@ Purl Bee)

I loved this post on recycling your pumpkins (@ Junk Mail Gems)

I think these Thanks & Giving trees would be a hit in our house (@ Chocolate on My Cranium)

I want to try this sugar cookie recipe (@ Skip to My Lou)

I love these tips for maximizing your kitchen space (@ Smitten Kitchen)

I want to attempt making a pie crust (@ The Kitchn)

This all-purpose holiday cake looks delicious (@ Joy the Baker)

This pumpkin bread pudding would be a fun dish to entertain with (@ Genesis of a Cook)

I might have to try these spiced pumpkin pancakes (@ Baking and Books)

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Halloween Fun







This was a fun year for us as parents because both of our kids finally "got" all the trick-or-treating fun. We kept our costumes fun & frugal this year. Emily was a bumblebee, which was a costume hand-me-down from her big brother. Ethan also kept changing his mind until the very last minute so I waited until Target marked the Halloween costumes down to 30% off and got his super cool ninja costume at a little lower price than I would have gotten it normally.

We tried to keep Emily out of the candy, but she managed to get into and suck on a purple sucker while we went door to door. The evening ended with a sucker stuck to her hair & bumblebee costume so that will require a good washing this week.

We loved going around and seeing all of our great neighbors and showing off how big our children were. We have plans to put the costumes on again this week to go see all of the grandparents since we weren't able to squeeze that in with me heading out of town in the morning. Any excuse to wear the costume again and get more of our money's worth out of it seems like a smart plan to me!

I hope you enjoyed the festivities, whatever they may have been, with your families!

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Vote & Get Your Free Stuff

Today you can swing by The MotherLoot and enter our giveaway of four DS games. If you have a DS or are planning to give one for Christmas, this would be a great giveaway to sign up for. Leave your comments over here by 11/11 (Tuesday) at 8PM (Eastern time) and we will enter your name into the drawing.

Don't forget to head out and vote and get your free stuff for voting. I am happily sipping my free Starbucks coffee, free just for putting your vote in. Want the full scoop on freebies? Be sure to visit Freebies 4 Mom for all of the freebies you can score just for voting.

Stumped for ideas for how to involve the kids? Be sure to visit our Family Bliss channel and check out a great post on an election night party that the whole family can enjoy. Thanks to Kathy Strukel, from Perfect Solutions, for coming up with such a fun theme night for our channel!

Please get out there and vote & make your kids a part of it!

(Photo Credit: Kate Sumbler)

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MomAdvice Monthly Recap: October '08


I just want to say a special thank you to each of you for visiting my website and sharing it with your friends, family, and your own readers. We had the highest month EVER thanks to each of you and I so appreciate your support. It feels good to know that someone is out there visiting and reading what I am writing.

This month's top referrers were:

1. Freebies 4 Mom
2. Twitter
3. Tip Nut
4. Immediate Influence Blog
5. Mommy Snacks
6. Bloggy Giveaways
7. Baby Cheapskate
8. The Dollar Stretcher
9. Hooray for Freebates!
10. Deal Seeking Mom

This month's top articles & entries were:

1. Deliciously Spiced Pumpkin Bread
2. How Do I Become a Product Review Blogger?
3. Fun & Frugal Halloween Costume Idea
4. The MomAdvice Big Give: Faith Mission of Elkhart, Indiana
5. Scary Deals on Halloween Costumes
6. 35 Ways to Save on Your Grocery Budget
7. A Good Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp
8. Storing Homemade Bread & Bread Ingredients
9. Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
10. Chicken Enchiladas with Homemade Enchilada Sauce

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Our Autumn Book Basket

I hit the library this past week and picked up some books for the kids with some really great autumn themes in them. Our library conveniently pulls all of the holiday books for us when the holidays come around so it makes it easy to put a seasonal basket together.

Ethan made a sign for our basket that said, "Happy Fall." I wrote this out on a piece of paper for him and he practiced writing it for the basket. He drew a cute little jack-o-lantern on it because it was something that represented fall to him.

In our fall basket you will find the following books for the season:



Happy Haunting, Amelia Bedelia



Luther's Halloween




Beauty & the Beaks



Minnie and Moo & the Thanksgiving Tree




Richard Scarry's The First Thanksgiving of Low Leaf Worm



The Thanksgiving Door



Thanksgiving is Here

I look forward to switching out the books with the holiday season and getting a chance to read all of these great stories with the kids. I picked some beginning readers so we can work on Ethan's reading skills, but I also picked books that I could read to them. Our favorite so far has definitely been, "Thanksgiving is Here" because it reminds us so much of our own crazy Thanksgiving dinners with family!


What are some of your favorite autumn reads? Do you have any books to recommend for our seasonal basket?

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Bloggy Giveaway Results Are In

Thank you to everyone who entered our big bloggy giveaway! Our winner is... Mary Beth who blogs at Four Silly Sisters.

MaryBeth's idea for stretching a buck in these tough economic times?

"I am menu planning and spending carefully at the grocery store. We limit our trips to and from town by planning out our weeks activities and trying to logically fit all the run-around stuff into what we've already got planned. I realize these are simple things, but we are just getting started."

Thank you so much MaryBeth for sharing your idea and thank you to the over 900 people who entered our cozy giveaway. We look forward to sharing another giveaway with you tomorrow over at The MotherLoot!

Be sure to visit Bloggy Giveaways for a complete list of all the winners!

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Redbox Code 11.03.08

Today's free code for a Redbox movie is 67JFP8. This code is good for one free movie and you can use it until midnight tonight. Enjoy a free family movie together!

Side Notes:

- If you want to rent more than one movie for free, bring more than one credit/debit card. You can use the same promotional code, you just will need different cards to charge it to. The charge will be zero as long as you return your movie on time for the next day.

- When entering in your free movie code, you need to enter it FIRST before picking the movie. On the very first screen, click the, "Rent with Promo." Enter in the above code and then make your selection- the amount should then total zero.

Here is an updated list of new releases:

Journey to the Center of the Earth
Further establishing himself as a great-but-goofy sci-fi leading man, Brendan Fraser stars in this huge adventure about a professor whose search for his missing brother takes him – you guessed it – to the earth's core. Josh Hutcherson and Anita Brium co-star.

Tinker Bell
Dripping with sweetness and loaded with positive messages, this animated Disney feature catches up with Tinker Bell in her magical home of Pixie Hollow. When Tinker (voiced by Mae Whitman) decides she wants to be someone else, it's her close friends who show her that being true to yourself is the key to happiness.

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl
Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine herself) stars in this lovable family film based on the wildly popular American Girl doll line. She's a young girl growing up in Great Depression era Ohio with one huge dream: to write a story for the local paper. Julia Ormond, Chris O'Donnell and Jane Krakowski also star.

The Incredible Hulk
The bar has been raised for superhero flicks this year, and the Hulk delivers! Edward Norton plays the DC Comics hero who, following a bizarre laboratory accident, starts experiencing the darndest of all side-effects: turning huge, turning green and being hunted by fearful authorities.

The Strangers
The masks are scary, but the motives are even scarier. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play a young couple who go to a remote cabin for the weekend, and find themselves, with no way out, stalked by three people wearing burlap masks. Why? Just for the sake of random terror.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Ben Stein puts his deadpan delivery and ginormous IQ to work in this intriguing documentary. With cameras rolling, Stein goes in search of teachers, elected officials and others who support the Intelligent Design theory to ask them about their beliefs.

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Best Taco Meat in the World

I love to make tacos for the kids, but I am not a big fan of taco seasoning or just plain ground beef. I was looking for a balance between the two when I happened upon this little recipe that will make my taco nights complete!

This taco meat is the best taco meat in the world- truly! The mixture of tomato sauce and chicken broth take away the beefy taste and give it just the right hint of flavoring. Since my kids can't handle the heavy spices, we modified the chili powder to 1 teaspoon and skipped the cayenne pepper.

You could top this meat on top of a big stack of tortilla chips or stuff your tacos with this meat. The recipe is yet another recipe that comes from one of the most invaluable cookbooks on my kitchen shelf, "The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook" Pairing this with their homemade chicken enchiladas & homemade enchilada sauce would take a Mexican-themed dining experience to a whole new level!

Beef Tacos

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced (I use a tablespoon of the bottled minced garlic)
2 tablespoons chili powder (adjust to your personal taste)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt
1 pound (90 percent lean) ground beef (or use a higher fat beef and rinse the meat)
1/2 cup smooth canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
8 taco shells

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened, about five minutes. Stir in the garlic, spices, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant about thirty seconds. Stir in the ground beef and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until no longer pink, about five minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, broth, vinegar, and sugar until thickened, about ten minutes. Season with salt to taste. Divide the filling evenly among the taco shells and serve passing any desired accompaniments separately.

Make-Ahead Version: The filling can be fully prepared, cooled, covered tightly and refrigerated for up to three days. Reheat over medium-low heat, adding additional water to adjust the consistency.

Mexican is one of my favorite things to get take-out for so I am hoping that my new recipes will replace my cravings for take-out.

What is your favorite take-out food? I will start testing recipes to fill those cravings for you guys too!

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