Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New Family Tradition: Campfire Night

I decided to start a new family tradition in celebration of our son's last day of school... a campfire family night. What better way could you end your school year than a fun night of being together over toasted foods!

We have had this fire pit for years, but have not attempted any cooking on it until now. Sitting by this little fire pit is one of my favorite things about the summer though and it gets a lot of use in the evenings at our house!

I had been holding onto a gift card for Target from one of their prescription gift card deals. This gave us the money to put towards our supplies for our fun night together.

We did not have any roasting forks, but found them in the camping supplies at Walmart along with a log that would burn for three hours. If you have these things though, no investment is needed other than food!



This family night, of course, requires a lot of supervision. The kids had a wonderful time though roasting their hot dogs over the fire. Some of our hot dogs were toastier than others, but the kids thought it still tasted great.



No meal on the campfire would be complete though without the s'mores. They couldn't wait to get through the first portion of the meal so that we could snack on these. Perfectly toasted marshmallows sandwiched between graham crackers & chocolate, made for the best gooey snack ever.

It was such a fantastic night for all of us and a fun night off of cooking for me. We have decided to make this a yearly tradition because it was such a wonderful way to start our summer together.

Do you have any end-of-school traditions with your children? I would love hear what you do to celebrate this kick-off to summer!

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ask the Frugal Momma: Throwing a Baby Shower on a Budget?

Amy,

I am turning to you for some advice about an upcoming baby shower that my husband & I are co-hosting because I know what a budget savvy and creative person you are!

A roommate of mine from college is expecting her first child in May. After asking her several times if anyone was throwing her a shower and her saying no, we offered to co-host a couple's shower with a guy that works with her husband and his wife.

So here's where I get to the dilemma...she e-mailed me the guest list this week and there are 30 couples on it...that's 60 people!

I need some advice for how to pull of the kind of shower that they deserve, but on my budget!! I feel like we have to feed all of these people and provide adult beverages, but I don't know how we could do that for less than a small fortune!!

Sincerely,

J.


Thank you so much for your question and I am so happy to offer a little advice on your baby shower! As always, if you have any questions that you would like to send me, you can email them to me at amy(at)momadvice(dot)com and I would love to share any expertise that I can offer.

Here are a few tips and tricks for throwing a fun baby shower on a budget:

Keep The Decorations Simple

You can burn through a lot of money quickly just on the decorations so one cost effective way to decorate is to decorate with item's that the mother can use or by making a few sweet handmade items.

One of my favorite decorations for a table centerpiece are diaper cakes because it is a special gift for the new mommy and it can double as an attractive centerpiece for the occasion. You can visit my easy instructions and a little cost-breakdown and my tips for how to make these inexpensively.


(photo credit: Wendy Copley)

(photo credit: Janice)

Make a baby clothesline to hang near the food table or behind where the mother will be opening her gifts. Pick cute coordinating items and then give them as a gift to the mother at the end of the shower.

(photo credit: Jaime Compton)

A simple, sweet banner can double as a decoration later for the child's nursery. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate at all, in fact, the simpler the better. If you know the mother's nursery colors, try and coordinate the banner to the baby's future room. For a simple banner tutorial, I love this cute square banner, a bunting made from newspaper, and for the ambitious a knitted bunting. The possibilities are endless and could be made from supplies that you already have on hand in your crafting supplies.

Inexpensive Food to Feed the Masses

If you have a large group to feed, you could stick to between meal times and just provide fun snacks or a fun dessert table. Appetizers will go a lot further than a meal will. If you would like to do a meal, a brunch can be a really cost effective way to entertain and is a classy way to throw a fabulous spread.

Spinach Balls

Bite Sized Sandwiches with vegetable & fruit trays

Mini Quiches with an elegant salad (photo credit: chanmelmel)

Breakfast Casseroles & a Festive Punch

Mimosas (photo credit: K Santos)
A Creative Cake


Instead of doing an elaborate cake, offer guests mini-cupcakes in sweet pastel colors with a creative cupcake topper. These cupcake toppers from papertreats are just one example of cute homemade toppers that can decorate your cupcakes very creatively and that will make them sparkle when your cake decorating skills are lacking. If you are really ambitious, you could make your own cupcake picks with the baby's initial stamped on them or even something more elaborate like this. Check a scrapbooking supplies store or a craft store to find cute paper and embellishments for your project.

Remember that you can freeze cake ahead of time, so you can crank out those cupcakes even the week before and keep them in the freezer. I like to decorate the cake while it is still frozen because it helps reduce the amount of crumbs that can collect in your icing. Ice them the day before and assemble them on pretty cake stand or make your own cake stands for a thrifty and creative alternative.

You will need to modify the length of time you cook your cupcakes for cooking mini-cupcakes. Follow the instructions exactly, but just cook your cupcakes for half the time. Keep an eye on them just because they will cook quickly!

Here are some of my favorite cupcake recipes:

Moist Chocolate Cupcakes With Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes With Peanut Butter Frosting

The Best Birthday Cupcakes in the World

Fun & Games

I may be the minority, but I am not a fan of baby shower games. With sixty people in attendance, you are going to have a hard time pulling off an organized activity. Spend that time socializing or do a game like these that will not require everyone being quiet and sitting in a circle.

(photo credit: Emma Black)

Have your guests email you a picture of them from when they were a child. Print out copies of the pictures and make it a party game to Guess Who? is in the pictures.

(photo credit: the higher nest)

How about a Baby Shower Price is Right card and choose the closest winner on how much common baby items would cost?

(photo credit: nhearon2003)

Of course the simpler the game, the easier! Why not throw candy in a clear jar and have your guests guess the total amount? With large group activities, the simpler the better! The bonus with this game is that this game can double as a centerpiece!

Parting Gifts

In a party of this size, I do not think people will be expecting to take home a party favor. Everyone is going to be happy to be included and will just be enjoying the celebrating. Concentrate your efforts on the food, cake, and entertainment and your guest will leave with the wonderful memory of the occasion rather than a gift that they probably will not use.

Consider your shower and any of the centerpieces and decorations your gift to your friend. If you want to add a special gift that she can use, give her a basket of thank you cards and stamps which she can use to thank all of her guests for their thoughtful gifts!

Good luck with your shower and I hope these ideas will give you a good starting point for a festive and frugal celebration!

(Photo Credit: Picture 1- Jerusalem)


Do you have any tips or advice for the hostess for throwing a great budget-friendly shower? I know she will really appreciate it!

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Clark Kind of Holiday '08

We opted to celebrate our Christmas this Sunday instead of waiting until the actual Christmas because we have so many family festivities to attend. The kids love getting their presents a little early and I love keeping them busy as we prepare for all the hustle and bustle of the season.

Our annual cinnamon roll Christmas tree was made for the children to devour it. It is so simple, but the entire family loves it and looks forward to it each year. To make it you just need two containers of cinnamon rolls and make a shape into the tree. Serve with oodles of hot cocoa and watch the children bounce off the walls in delight and sugar-infused fun.



Sometimes it is hard to say what the favorite present is, but this year there were two clear winners with the kids. The first one... the infamous superhero cape. I got Emily a princess cape, but she wanted to try on brother's cool cape instead. Ethan has pledged his loyalty with Batman forever and I am sure we helped seal the deal with a Batman Lego Set & a Batman Shake & Rattle Car, but the kid hasn't taken the costume off since he got it. He has been pretending to fly around the house rescuing us all from the unnecessary evils of the world.

The other true winner was the Baby Alive Doll. We aren't giving her the food and things like that, but I love that she can make the baby pretend to go potty since she, herself, refuses to go on the potty. I am hoping it will bring her inspiration, but until then she can play with her baby. She loved this baby so much that she refused to open the rest of her gifts. "Emily, do you want to open one of your presents?" "NO, MOMMY. YOU STOP! I WANT TO PLAY WITH MY BABY." Ah, the joys of turning three!

I will definitely share our favorite presents of the year after all of the present opening has been done and will write them down for gift ideas next year for our blog.



After all the presents were opened, they grabbed their new sleeping bags and pillows from their bed and camped out to rest. They watched their new box set of Max & Ruby Christmas specials and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon after all the festivities.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Miscellaneous Post of Thrifty Holiday Ideas

The gifts are wrapped and tucked beneath the tree. I opted for reusable grocery bags in lieu of the traditional gift bag this year. I am such a fan of the Target bags and the clever designs that they implement into their bags. These fold up into the size of a small cosmetic case and had a pocket in the front too, perfect for tucking a gift card or a note of appreciation to someone. These were only $1.50, but everyone was so excited to get these this year. There are just a couple of pieces of tissue paper at the top, but the bottom was stuffed with newspaper that would have gone in our recycle bin. The newspaper helped these stand a little more upright since they were not flat-bottomed. I felt proud about my eco-friendly alternative and am hoping to convert some of my plastic-bag-lovin' family members over to the joys of reusable bags.

We did not buy any new decorations this year, but I opted to decorate with what we already had instead. This wall of pictures behind our Christmas tree needed some sprucing up so I covered the photos with some leftover holiday wrap and bows. I thought it tied in the Christmas spirit beautifully and look forward to doing this each year!

I did my annual gift exchange with my best friend. Do you recognize the pom pom? It is made from Target bags and was featured in our notebook. She was so proud to give it to me and I was so excited to see how her "notebook experiment" turned out. Tucked inside was Better Homes & Gardens Ultimate Cookie Book, 2-at-a-Time Socks, a gorgeous teal velvet blazer (found at the thrift store), and a set of note cards with shoes on them. Now THAT is a friend that knows you well! We put a $20 dollar limit on our gifts and always try to outdo each other with our thrift store finds and killer deals.

We worked on mailing and addressing all of our holiday cards for the year. Ethan helped me put on the stamps and we created an assembly line of stamping; he stamped with his stamps and I stamped a snowflake rubber stamp on each and dropped them in the mail. I mailed off my friend's baby blanket and noticed that shipping costs have been reduced for people who do online mailing versus bringing your items into the post office. I was able to save some change on the mailing and was once again very thankful for my handy little postal scale.

Ethan had his holiday show where he sang a beautiful song about snowpants and a song about special, special,special me. He invited Ryan & I to come to his show where he would "dress up fancy and sing special songs." He was so proud of his song and to give our cozy holiday gift (tucked in a reusable bag) to his teacher. We celebrated his special, special, special performance with a budget-friendly Junior Frosty from Wendy's.

Instead of our holiday photo books this year, I decided to make a DVD of our year for each set of the grandparents. I set it all to holiday music and sent it off to our out-of-town relatives with a message for each of them about how special they were. Shipping costs were greatly reduced and it is something that they can view over and over again or share with their friends.

What is your proudest thrifty holiday idea this year? Did you do anything out of the ordinary to save a buck? Please share!

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Our Birthday Brunch Bash (With Recipes)

Our famous birthday banner was hung high this weekend for Emily's 3rd birthday. Sprinkled all over the house were purple birthday balloons and pretty purple ribbons tied on anything and everything that I could tie to. In the background was playing a slide show of our sweet Emily (thanks to my friend Rachel for that great idea!) with a collection of photos of our sweet girl growing up.

Just before her party, Emily and Ethan bonked heads so hard that they both were crying uncontrollably leaving Ethan with a goose egg on his forehead and Emily with what appears will soon be a black eye. That is always good for those birthday photos!

The anticipation of waiting for our guests was almost too much to bear. The roads were sheets of ice and accidents were witnessed by many of our party guests on their way to Emily's party. We were so thankful to everyone that came and drove on the treacherous roads for our celebration.


I decided to do a brunch this year because I could prepare all of the food the day before and brunch is an economical dish to serve for a crowd. I made an Overnight Breakfast Casserole, a French Toast Souffle, Holiday Punch, and purchased (at a 40% discount on the marked down items in the bakery) croissant pinwheels, coffee with flavored creamers/syrups, and our birthday cake. All in all, I spent about $30 on all the food & decorating supplies to serve sixteen people. We kept it simple by just inviting family this year and opting for some playgroup fun around the holidays instead of a friend party.

Emily opened her presents which were filled with more princess stuff than you could shake a wand at. The hit of the party, a very special pair of princess shoes of which I am quite sure she will be toppling over and getting a matching black eye as she traipses along her imaginary runway.

Happy 3rd birthday, Miss Emily! You are loved and adored by all who have the pleasure of knowing you!

French Toast Souffle

10 cups white bread cubes (I used a loaf of French Bread)
2 Tablespoons each of sugar and cinnamon
1 (8 ounce) package low fat cream cheese, softened
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
2/3 cup half-and-half cream
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
Maple Syrup for topping

Place bread cubes in a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking pan. Pour sugar and cinnamon on the bread and lightly toss with your hands. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in milk, half and half, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, and vanilla until mixture is smooth. Pour cream cheese mixture over the bread; cover, and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, remove souffle from refrigerator, and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Immediately after removing from the oven, drizzle maple syrup over the top (it will melt into the souffle). Using a sifter, shake the powdered sugar all over the top.

Side Note: I had some trouble with the cream cheese mixing in & not making it look curdled so I followed another recipe that suggested leaving the cream cheese as a block and cutting small cubes of cream cheese to dollop between the layers of bread. You can do whichever you prefer!

Overnight Breakfast Casserole

1 pound sliced ham (lunch meat)
2 teaspoons mustard
½ teaspoon salt
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
6 slices white bread, toasted & cut into cubes
8 ounces mild cheddar cheese

In a medium bowl, mix together mustard, salt, eggs, and milk. Add the ham (cut into cubes), bread cubes, and cheese, and stir to cat evenly. Pour into a greased 9x13" baking dish. Cover & chill in the refrigerator for eight hours, or overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover and bake 45-60 minutes. Uncover and reduce temperature to 325 and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until set.

Amy's Holiday Punch

1 (2 liter) bottle cherry 7-Up soda
1 liter (half a bottle) raspberry flavored soda (I found this at Walmart)
1 (12 ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate
1 (12 ounce) can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 (1 liter) can pineapple juice

Mix all the ingredients together for the punch. This will fill one large punch bowl or two smaller ones. Rum can be added for a spiked punch, but that would be super inappropriate for a princess party! This will convert the non-punch lovers in the group, I promise!

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Lovely Little Birthday Cake


Emily celebrated her third birthday this weekend and made a few special birthday requests. She wanted presents, a party hat, a purple cake, and purple balloons.

I headed over to Michael's and got the supplies to make this cake. I baked a white cake (using the white cake mix from Aldi) and baked it in a 9x13" pan. While the cake baked, I made two batches of frosting. I tinted one cup of frosting white, two cups yellow, and three cups purple.

I let the cake cool and then popped it in the freezer (I froze mine overnight). In the morning, I put on a layer of yellow frosting and then piped rosettes as a border on the cake. The top was then covered in purple rosettes and then sprinkled generously with rainbow sprinkles.

To make the rosettes, I used a 1M tip bought at Michael's. If you desire a smaller size rosette, you can use a #18 tip, which would be great for cupcakes or adding a little addition to your border.

To make a rosette, fill your piping bag with icing. Hold your bag at a 90 degree angle, with the tip slightly above the surface. Squeeze out the icing to form a star and without releasing pressure, move the tip in a tight complete rotation, starting at 9:00, moving to 12:00, then to 3:00, then 6;00, and then end it back at 9:00. Stop the pressure and lift your tip away. To see how to make these in pictures, I found this great little tutorial. If you want to fancy up the rosettes, you can add a dot in the center in a contrasting color.

I am no pro at cake decorating, but I have found the cake decorating classes offered by craft stores to be an invaluable tool to help me feel more confident in making birthday cakes for my children. It has really helped when my kids have come up with more unusual cake requests (like a Lego cake, for example) and it has saved us a lot of money over the years.

Here is the recipe for the frosting that I used for this cake!

Buttercream Frosting Recipe

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioner's sugar (approximately 1 pound)
2 tablespoons milk

Cream the butter and shortening with an electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add the sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all the sugar has been mixed in, the icing will appear dry. add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. (Yields 3 cups). Store icing in the refrigerator when not in use. Rewhip before using.

For Chocolate Buttercream Icing: Add 3 oz. melted unsweetened chocolate and 1 tablespoon more milk to the Buttercream Icing recipe.

For Stiffer Frosting (if needed when decorating): Substitute all vegetable shortening and 1/2 teaspoon butter flavoring.


Do you make birthday cakes or opt to buy them? What are some ways you save money on birthday celebrations?

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Fun '08


We took the children Friday night to see all of the holiday lights. It was so great this year because Emily enjoyed it as much as Ethan. We ooh-ed and ahh-ed as we drove through the neighborhood and came home to enjoy a little cocoa after coming in from the cold winter air.

As a side note: the look of glee on Ethan's face as we drive by Hobby Lobby could only be replicated by my own look of glee. That store is EVIL! I could spend a ton of money in there!



Saturday morning, we headed to downtown South Bend to enjoy a visit with Santa. This Santa is way better than the mall Santa because they let you see him and take your own Santa pictures for free. Each child is given an "I Believe" sticker that they can show to the South Bend Chocolate Cafe to get a free chocolate candy bar.

Ethan was excited to see Santa, but Emily...not so much. We didn't repeat past years and just let her see him from far away. As we inched closer she would say, "Santa's scary." Ethan got in his visit though and a request for a fancy sled this year.


We then headed over to the College Football Hall of Fame to see some really beautiful gingerbread houses and get a chance to sample some yummy food. They had tables set up for the kids to color and to decorate and eat some Christmas cookies. All of these activities- FREE! You have to love that!


Our evening was spent at Ryan's holiday party. I had him take a picture of what I wore so you could see just how thrifty I can be. The blazer was already in my closet, an inexpensive purchase bought this fall for $14.99 at Forever 21. The pants are a black jean trouser pant made by theory found at Goodwill for $5.00. The camisole top was found deeply clearanced at rue 21 for $5. The long strand of pearls were bought at Target for $7.99. And the shoes? Longtime readers might remember them from my ode to red post. Those were purchased at Payless and are perfect for all holiday occasions!

The dinner was free and the babysitter worth every penny.

The wild and crazy dancing done by Ryan's wife for all his coworkers to see...priceless!

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Making Simple Holiday Memories


Usually I am in high mode for the holiday season. I have books wrapped for a holiday countdown, a jar of activities for the kids, a high maintenance photo session for the family, and am a ball of nerves.

This year, our efforts were focused on our Big Give which created less space and time for my usual flurry for the holidays. My family members have been in and out of the hospital, some of my family are without work or are having a hard time financially, and it has flipped a switch in me.

Don't get me wrong, we are still doing things, but it is low-key and as we please. The photo session moved to our house this year as we decorated our tree and cookies. Our gift-giving was considerably scaled back and rather than my scheduled activities, we have just done things when we want to.

I have given myself permission to have a simple Christmas this year. I have given myself permission to make homemade gifts when I might have bought them. I have let my kids decorate the tree without fixing it. I have put out some decorations, but didn't buy new ones. I didn't participate in a cookie exchange and made cookies just for ourselves. I shopped online and allowed myself the pleasure of completely avoiding the mall this year. I wrapped gifts, but I wrapped with what we had on hand and kept it simple.

The hot cocoa is still flowing, the holiday lights are still enjoyed as we drive through the neighborhoods, the holiday music is still fa-la-laing. It is still as grand as ever.

And my holiday...well, it is still filled with unbelievable joy and tradition. And dare I say it? Peace. Just a little of that too.

Tradition & Togetherness. That is what it is all about, my friends.

xoxoxo,
Amy

(photo source: Brittani Renee Photography)

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Round-Up of Homemade Hostess Gifts

I love to give hostess gifts because they don't cost very much at all, but can say a lot about who you are and the person you are giving it to. In my opinion, giving a homemade gift shows that you care enough about that person that you would devote time towards making something special just for them. The best part about the homemade gift is that you can make it very inexpensively, but leave a lasting message for your recipient.

I wanted to share a few of my favorite hostess gifts to give for the holiday season from our website...


A jar of pumpkin butter with some buttery bread machine rolls.

A snowflake knitted dishcloth with a personalized family tag.

A coffee cup or waffle-weave dishcloth with a bottle of hand soap tied with a little raffia.

A knitted or no-sew scarf with a repurposed container housing some homemade vanilla chai tea or other great drink mix.

A batch of ready-to-bake homemade cinnamon rolls to make your host's morning brighter.

A set of bubbly magnets in a creatively wrapped Altoid tin.

A fresh batch of Oreo Biscotti in a pretty coffee mug.

A mix of your favorite holiday music wrapped creatively in your family holiday picture.

A can of sugar & spice nuts- the perfect holiday treat.

A mini-loaf of deliciously spiced pumpkin bread wrapped with a bow.

A batch of vanilla scented granola in a thrifted jar.

A small box filled with Christmas goodies- don't forget some holiday-esque sugar cookies!


A jar of homemade hot cocoa mix tied with some festive ribbon.


Not enough ideas? Here are some other great hostess gifts to try!

1 hour apron (@ Stop Staring & Start)

A creatively wrapped bottle of inexpensive wine or champagne (@ Martha Stewart)

A paper scrapbook bag (@ Craftzine)

A pan of nut brittle block with a mini-hammer or make my microwave version of this (@ Martha Stewart)

A set of fabric-painted monogrammed hand towels (@ Martha Stewart)

A cinnamon candle with a big red bow (@ Martha Stewart)

A fabric covered journal with a note of thanks (@ Country Living)

A box of paper fortune cookies, but write things you are thankful for about the person you are giving them to instead of fortunes and use holiday paper (@ For the Love of Paper)

A box of festive caramel corn tied with a green bow (@ little momma and co.)

A little hot cocoa kit with chocolate covered marshmallows (@ whatever)

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Budget-Friendly Gifts for Teens & Tweens

I am having the best time putting together these little budget-friendly gift guides for families and I hope you are finding things that are useful in these lists. I have looked through a lot of magazine lists and website lists and none of them really struck a chord with me so I am hoping things on mine are providing ideas for you.

I have been getting some very nice thank-you's from some of the Etsy sellers so that really warms my heart to know that these lists are serving a double purpose and are helping crafters out too!

In case you missed it, here are the lists that we have on here so far:

Budget-Friendly Gifts for Young Children
My Christmas Wish List
Great Budget-Friendly Gifts for Men

Teen gifts are a tough category for me to cover since I don't have any children in this stage. I think I am a pretty hip and young mom though so hopefully some of my ideas will work and please feel free to chime in on this category.

As a teenager, my favorite gift was getting money to spend for the after-Christmas sales. My parents knew that our money would go a lot farther if we shopped after Christmas and, at this age, that was just as exciting as getting a bunch of stuff under the tree.

Here are a few notes about teens:

1. Give them the gift of an experience. Even if it doesn't include you in the picture and one of their friends instead, they will love getting to do something fun. Take your teen daughter to the beauty school and get manicures with her. Hit the makeup counter with her at the mall and buy her a little something out of the case that is flattering. Go tubing with your son and take him somewhere fun for dinner. Give him a couple of tickets to see a movie and a little spending money for the concession stand. Go as a family to see his favorite baseball team play. These are just a few ideas for gift-giving experiences rather than just things under the tree.

2. Remember that at this stage, kids are a little more aware of the value of the dollar and you are now able to have discussions with them about your financial situation. Be honest with them if something is out of your price range, but also try to keep the wonderfully magical aspect of the holiday by doing activities together as a family.

3. Include them in the shopping, the wrapping, or the baking. Even if it is just your son sitting at the kitchen table devouring the holiday cookies and you chatting with him. Even if it is watching your daughter's favorite television show while you wrap gifts. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate, but I promise you that they will remember those special times and what a great parent you are...even if they don't realize it until ten years down the road.

4. Gift cards are great. Although these aren't always the budget-friendly option, teens love getting cards to use towards what they want. The key with gift cards that makes them still budget-friendly is that the money can be applied towards the things they really want. Let's face it, you and your son might not have the same style or taste in music, so if you buy them a gift and they hate it...well, that is money down the drain. If you give them a gift card and they put towards something they really love though...well, that is money that is well spent!

5. Subscriptions always score. You can't go wrong with a magazine subscription and it is a gift that keeps on giving. Visit eBay to find your teens favorite magazines and buy them a year or two at a discounted price. Other subscriptions that rock? Netflix or Blockbuster subscriptions so they can watch their favorite movies or rent their favorite games at home. For gamers, a subscription to Gametap would be a fun gift to give. Don't forget that subscriptions to stream music can also be a wonderful gift. I have recently become acquainted with the joys of Napster and last.fm. Just make sure that the subscription is compatible with their mp3 player or that they have a computer that they can access for their music. Timing free trials with the gift-giving season will help extend the life of the subscription just a little bit longer.

6. Give them gifts based on their hobbies. For the artistic son, get him sketch pads, canvas, or drawing tools. For the daughter who loves to cook, sign her up for a cake decorating class or a cooking course at a continuing education center. For the child that is into sports, try and find some equipment or offer to pay for a program at the local park's department. Anything that shows that you care and are interested in what they are doing is going to be a gift that they will appreciate.

Here are a few of my budget-friendly ideas:






Wristlets are great for a teen girl on the go because they can carry around their cell phone, iPod, and what they need for a fun night out with their friends. I love these little wristlets in fun patterns from Janine King Designs and they are currently on sale for $19.99. This one is the Ginseng Butterfly pattern, but you could find one that fits well with your teen's style. You could also attempt making one and I love this little wristlet tutorial for my sewing-readers!

You would have to be hiding under a rock to not know about the Twilight series from Stephenie Meyers. If your teen is a super-fan of the Twilight books, she would love this four piece set of Twilight tile necklaces. This four piece set from Candy Tiles is only $20. You would need to purchase a chain or she could hang these on a silver chain that she already has. The ambitious parent could make her own tile pendant necklaces and custom design them for her daughter! Another thrifty idea to make this cute would be to have different colors of ribbon that she could string these on that you could include in your gift. How cute would that be?

I adore these little pink gum drop bobbies from Button Boutique- aren't they adorable? This set of seven is only $9.90! Again, my crafty mommas could whip some of these up by following this tutorial!

Another goodie for a tween/teen girl would be this cool Jonas Brothers bag that would resonate with any super fan. It reminds me of my obsession with New Kids on the Block and the super cool fan gear that I was always sporting. I understand about obsessions with boy bands, I truly do. This says you do to and is available from rocknrecycle for $26.95.
Gaming chairs are great for girls or for boys who are really into playing video games. If you watch for next year, they do discount these around the time that the kids are heading back to college. Our beanbag chairs are certainly not as nice as this one, but they only cost us $20 each. After doing some browsing online, this one came up as one of the lower priced ones at $49.99 called the Boompod. This chair can link up to all the gadgets- iPods, mp3 players, game systems, etc.. It would be a fun additon to your son's room and is great when he has friends over to play.

Electric razors are a great gift to give and come in some very budget-friendly options. If you don't want to order one online, I often see some really great prices at the outlet malls on shavers. This razor from Panasonic can be used wet or dry and is priced at $29.99. If your family does a lot of traveling, a pocket electric razor might be a great option too. This one from Braun is only $19.99 and rivals the larger and more expensive models in performance.


It doesn't matter what kind of clunker your kid has, every guy has a desire to make upgrades to their car. Upgrading their headlights is just one inexpensive idea that you could do. Other ideas would be tokens to get their ride washed, getting them supplies to shine up the car themselves, getting a holder for their cell phone, even upgrading their speakers or audio equipment on a small scale would be great. These GE bulbs are priced at $30.99, but Amazon is running a buy one get one free deal on these. You could give one to your son and one to your husband or some other great guy in your life!

Is your son really into gaming? jamjamtees sells this funny "geek" shirt that any gamer would love. If you browse this seller's shop you will find everything from t-shirts for gamers, cyclists, and even lacrosse. This t-shirt is only $12.99.

Look for ideas in the next coming weeks for hostess gifts and stocking stuffers!

What are your favorite gifts to give kids in the teen/tween category? What gifts have really scored with your teenager?

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Monday, December 08, 2008

My Hostess Gifts This Year

I have been working on little hostess gifts to give this year for all of our upcoming holiday gatherings. I wanted something that would be quick to make and also economical. Thanks to my new knitting hobby, I am whipping up snowflake dishcloths for a mere $.75 each.


This pattern was easy to do and only required a bit of concentration when making the snowflake in the center. This is all knitting and purling so if you can do those two stitches, you can totally make these! I used Peaches 'N Cream in red and a robin's egg blue.

I have to say that my favorite part about these is the little addition of our family Christmas picture (courtesy of Brittani Renee Photography). I had a disc of our pictures and I copied the pictures to my computer. I then took one of our holiday photos and plopped it into a Word document. Right click on your image and click, "Size." You can then adjust your image to the size for your gift cards. This was reformatted with width and height at 3 inches. You could also do a smaller gift tag by resizing the image to 2 inches. Type your message below and mount it onto cardstock or pretty scrapbooking paper. This was hole punched and then I used a needle to weave in a strand of contrasting yarn with a little raffia.

I hope those who host us in their home will know how much their efforts are appreciated by this tiny gesture of thankfulness.

What is your favorite hostess gift to give? Please feel free to share your recipes or tips/tricks for personalizing those hostess gifts!

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Budget-Friendly Gifts for Younger Kids

One of the things that people wanted to see on our site were some ideas for giving gifts on a budget for children. I can cover the younger kid category quite easy, but will have to put some thought in for the teen and tween categories.

I know I am not the only parent who sat in amazement when my child became fixated on a box rather than the gift itself. Yes, young children are easier to please than what we might think so remember that when choosing gifts for kids. Don't add unnecessary stress to your life because chances are that our children will just be entertained and happy with the opening of the gifts and a fabulous spread of holiday food.

Things that I have discovered with choosing gifts for younger children are:

1. Thrifted gifts will be just as loved. Younger children are not at a stage where they are going to be disappointed that a gift did not come in a shiny new box. No, they will just be excited to see whatever it is you have wrapped for them so don't feel like you are disappointing them if you don't have a brand new gift for them.

2. Art supplies always make an excellent gift. In my house, you can never have too many crayons, drawing paper, or fun things to keep the kids entertained for hours. When out-of-town relatives send money for the kids, I always apply the money to a big bin of art supplies or goodies for our ornament-making station. I also usually give this gift a little early so that they can be entertained during those hectic days right before Christmas.

3. Giving gifts of traditions are always the best kind of gifts. We try to focus more on traditions rather than what is wrapped under the tree. Try incorporating a Christmas Jar or an Advent Calendar of goodies. Do a countdown to Christmas with items found at thrift stores or wrap each year a set of Christmas books that the children can look forward to every year.

4. Don't feel guilty about what isn't under the tree. In this tough economy and with so many job losses and higher prices plaguing families, please do not feel bad if you can't get your children everything that is their heart's desire. Remember that young children are impressionable and you can offer gentle guidance towards budget-friendly gifts at this stage in the game. When my son asked for Spike the T-Rex ($130), I showed him some other great dinosaurs that I thought he would really like that were less than $20. With a little guidance and an explanation that Spike was a little out of Santa's budget, we were able to steer him towards some more budget-friendly options.

Here are some examples of some of my favorite gifts for young children:
One of our favorite gifts that we have received is the Leapfrog Magnet sets. My daughter loves this farm animal set ($14.99) and also loves the alphabet set. The farm animal set is great for young children because they can just put two magnets together to make the animal and then it sings a little song about what the animal says and does. The alphabet set will grow with children more and will be used longer, but does comes at a little higher price ($16.99). When your child is a beginning reader, like mine, the set can be used to begin spelling words, which is really fun.

Both sets have been loved for years and years in our house and it keeps my kids entertained in the kitchen while I prepare supper. I will say that I hated this farm animal set when I was pregnant and would bump it with my belly and it would say things about cows. Um, thanks, LeapFrog!
My children love blocks and last Christmas we got them each a box of these for the holidays. My daughter is two and my son is six and they both love these blocks and play with them for hours. We gave them this gift early (one of our activities in our Christmas Jar) and they had the best time with these. I have a wicker basket that is the centerpiece on our coffee table in the playroom so that the kids can build and create with these anytime they want. This set is $18.99 for 100 blocks. If you get one for each kid, they can build a fortress out of them!

One of the most beloved gifts for both the kids was a sock monkey that I bought my daughter. She carried it around a lot and I have found him hiding underneath the covers in my son's bed too. My Mommy's Place has these for only $14. If you are ambitious, you could make a sock monkey yourself and make it entirely unique for your children. I think these guys look so cute popping out of the stockings.

My son is really into the superhero thing right now so I am planning to get him one of these superhero capes to fight off the bad guys in our house. This cape is reversible so he could decide which hero he wanted to be and is available from kidzescapes for $24.

Not to be outdone by the boys, every good princess needs a cape too and kidzescapes has that covered too. You can get this reversible cape for $25. The ambitious momma could tackle this project herself and come up with a wonderfully unique cape for their child.

I swear I don't work for Leapfrog, even though it might seem like it! I have to say that the best DVD's we have EVER bought our children are from Leapfrog. We actually bought the entire set of these and they are one of the best teaching tools that I have ever seen. It taught my two year old all of her letter sounds and gave my son an advantage in kindergarten. He was one of the only ones in his pre-K class that could recite every single letter sound. These movies build on beginning letter sounds, word sounds, and even work on math skills. If you are going to add to your movie collection, I highly recommend these. The Letter Factory is priced at only $8.99.
My son is six and his favorite book is definitely the Dangerous Book for Boys (priced at $16.17) We also have a sparkly Dangerous Book for Girls book (priced at $17.79) for my daughter when she gets a little older. These Things to Do editions are only $10.17 (here is a link to the girl's edition). In it are great activities to keep your kids entertained for hours and hours. Include some supplies to complete one of the dangerous activities and you will be the coolest parent on the block.

If your child is in the beginning stages of reading, they will love Mia's Reading Adventure. This computer software has been an incredible addition to our collection. Your child learns reading through games and story activities to help them learn word recognition. The characters are 3D and the storyline is really good so it has kept our son really entertained and engaged in it. We have tried other software from the company, but so far Mia has been the biggest hit. This is priced at $24.99.

If your children like to move and groove to the music, I can guarantee that both you and they will absolutely love the new They Might Be Giants, "Here Come the 123s" The CD comes with a DVD that has all of the songs on the CD with a music video to accompany it. The lyrics are hilarious, the movies will make you laugh out loud, and the kids will learn something. The DVD is just as good as the CD so you can get something for your car and to keep the kids educationally entertained in front of the television. This is priced at just $14.99.

One of our favorite things that has been loved literally until the color wore off and we had only two magnets left because we had lost them all is this School Zone Preschool Magnetic Set. We have taken this set with us whenever we travel or are at a restaurant waiting endlessly for food. The set comes with different heavy-duty backgrounds and comes with an entire farm of animals & magnetic letters that can be stuck to the different backgrounds. The different storyboards have different activities on them or if you have younger children who aren't reading, they can make up their own stories. These are magnets though so make sure you are supervising younger children or give this gift at an age where you can trust them.

The case is metal so if you have a rambunctious toddler like me, it can get warped from standing on it, but the kids have loved this so much that I plan to get them each a new one. They have a kindergarten and preschool version. Best of all, they only cost $9.99.


These are just a handful of my ideas for gift-giving and I hope it helps a little with your holiday shopping.

What are some of your favorite gifts to give for younger kids? Do you have any special presents that your children are requesting this year? Please feel free to share!

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Sneak Peek- The Clark Family Christmas Photo


I spent the day making Christmas cookies, tidying the house, and getting our ornaments ready. The evening was spent decorating the tree and cookies, but we invited a special friend to join us. Brittani Renee came with her camera, armed with ornaments for the kids to hang, and a sweet smile that even melted our shy Emily's exterior. The fun ensued although the posing pictures still require a lot of effort on our part. A promise of cookies and silly faces from the two of us to hold her in her place. We got our shots and can't wait to see the rest.

She still has appointments available- visit her site and tell her we sent you. She will throw in a free gift for our readers.

I have only gotten one photo so far, but I know we made the best choice. Thanks to Michelle for the referral AND the beautiful dress for our Emily. Now that is a true friend, I tell you!

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Monday, December 01, 2008

A Perfectly Cozy Gift

I have finished my snowy day scarf and it turned out beautifully! I loved how this scarf turned out so much that I decided to make it for a few more gifts for holiday-giving this year. I was planning to finish it with some tassels, but after tying some tassels to the edges, I decided to take them out because I liked it without them more.

Ethan liked this scarf so much that he now wants me to make one of these for his teacher. We headed over to Michael's and he picked out a soft icy blue for the scarf to be knitted out of. It was so fun to see him think so hard about what color he wanted to give to her. He truly loves his teacher. In fact, on his report card it said, "Ethan tells me he loves me every single day." I hope he is always this tender and sweet.

I am saving those tubes that my Crystal Light drink mix comes in to use for my holiday drink mixes this year. I wrapped this one in some holiday gift wrap and wrapped it around the tube, sealing with a little Elmer's glue to hold it in place. I used my handy little circle punch to make a gift tag to label the drink mix and tied it off with a little raffia. I thought it turned out so cute and, best of all, it was something that would have gone into my recycling.

The scarf is wrapped in ribbon I bought at the end of season last year on clearance. I think it looks so pretty and festive with this bow on it.

Total cost with ingredients, yarn, and wrapping- approximately $5!

Back to the knitting needles to replicate this a couple of more times- once for my postal worker who has worked so hard helping deliver boxes to my house all year long and another for our special teacher. If I can squeeze another one in, it will be for one of his bus drivers and the other (a gentleman) will get a special goody box delivery.

What teacher gifts do you have planned this year? What do you do for those special helpers in your life (the mail carrier, the bus driver, the hair dresser, etc..)?

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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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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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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

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

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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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

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

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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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

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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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Frugal Hacks: 6 Months Until Christmas

Don't you hate me already? Six months until Christmas, everyone! It is time to start thinking about ways you can save for the holiday season. On Frugal Hacks, I am sharing some things that we have started doing to get ready for the holiday season so we can stay under budget!

Two years ago, I actually started a Christmas journal and now I have created a Christmas file folder of the things that I want to do for the next year's holiday. In our little Christmas Memory Journal, I have included the recipes for what dishes our family loved the most, what the children asked for from Santa, what we spent the holidays doing, and tucked inside are the sweet letters and pictures to Santa. Someday I hope to give each of the kids a journal so that they can share those recipes and memories with their own families someday!

My inspiration comes from so many place so I am bookmarking all of the crafts and projects I want to try. My notebook entries are my virtual bookmarks to holiday ideas and have helped me each year with some much needed holiday inspiration.

Here is a round-up of Christmas fun to help inspire you in this July heat!

Christmas Getting & Giving Recap
Christmas With the Clarks (or the Endless Flu Epidemic)
Eve of Christmas Morning Recap
Christmas Morning with the Clarks
Working on My Christmas Countdown
Be A Wrap Superstar: Use What You Have
Be A Wrap Superstar: Wallpaper That Gift, Yo
Be a Wrap Superstar: Tailor Your Gift
The Gift Closet: Wrapping Gifts
Sugar & Spice Nuts
Creating Family Traditions
What to Get the Person Who Has Everything
Making Real Christmas Memories
Holiday Bling Without a Bling Budget
Creating Holiday Traditions
Christmas Drink Mixes
Save More On Your Christmas Shopping
Say Bah, Humbug to Holiday Debt
The Christmas Jar
Bubbly Magnets (for Gifts)
Oreo Biscotti (for Gifts)
Elegant Photo Albums
Painted Children's Mugs (for Gifts)

How do you organize and keep track of your projects and ideas for the holiday season?

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Earth Day Reflections

We had a great day together, celebrating Earth Day yesterday. To celebrate we spent the entire day outside and I made sure we had lots of stuff to do while we were out there. I gathered all of our supplies together and grabbed two water bottles for the kids to keep them hydrated while we were outside. Apparently, Ethan had been discussing Earth Day with his teachers because he looked at me and said, "That bottle is not a 7, right? 7's are BAD and I can't drink from them." For a moment, I felt a little bit of panic as I looked on the bottom to reveal our numbers. It appeared we had an acceptable number, but nothing like a kid to keep you on your toes.

We took our chalk outside and Ethan drew this beautiful picture of the earth. Emily helped by scribbling her own little pictures with him.



I picked up this little journal from the dollar store and told Ethan that he could fill the pages with whatever things he saw in nature. He put together some really beautiful pictures of all the things he saw. Then I wrote the alphabet for him and he filled in the book with pictures of things that started with those letters. This kept him busy for about an hour and he loved showing his book to his daddy.



While Ethan documented in his journal, I took some pictures of some of the beautiful things in our yard.

Then I plopped myself in a chair and started my new book from one of my favorite bloggers, Soule Mama. If you are looking for ways to be more creative with your kids, I would highly recommend this book.

We had a wonderful day and didn't turn the television on once! The evening was spent building forts, drawing pictures, playing in the bath, and special stories. It was a quiet and lovely Earth Day!

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Celebrating Earth Day

Happy Earth Day, everyone! I hope that you all will be celebrating this special day. We are looking forward to celebrating Earth Day as a family, not just today, but every day. My son is still talking about Earth Hour and just asked me yesterday when we could do this again. He has even been learning about how special our planet is at school and I was so excited to hear him talking about the ways he could make the world better. These are proud moments for a parent as we talk about this often with Ethan.

I never thought I was one of those kinds of parents, but here I am dumping all disposable items, cloth diapered my baby, making my own cleaners, line drying my clothes, carrying my reusable bags, gardening, and am wearing 80-90% of my clothing from the thrift store. Many of the choices I have made came from a financial standpoint, but have evolved into more of a commitment to going green than I ever imagined. Step aside, hippy moms, there is a new eco-chick in town!

Stumped for ideas? Here are a few to help you celebrate this day in a big way-

80+ Green Sites & Resources (@ Mashable)

Earth Day Crafts to Do With Your Children (@ Kaboose)

How to Celebrate Earth Day (@ WikiHow)

Earth Day Ideas for Kids & Classrooms (@ Amazing Moms)

Making Earth Day a Family Day (@ Crunchy Domestic Goddess)

Earth Day Every Day (@ Parents.com)

Celebrate Earth Day (@ EcoKids)

Let's Make This Earth Day a Real Earth Day (@ The Good Human)


Sound Off:
How do you plan to celebrate Earth Day with your kids?

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Spring Break Day Two


Today we worked on the yard together as a family. I mowed the lawn to help mulch up the leaves, we worked on our flower beds a little, trimmed the hedges, and also laid down some grass seed. It doesn't sound like much fun, but that was what needed to be done today!

While I mowed, the kids were watching me from the window. They kept knocking on the glass to get me to wave and making funny faces.

After it was safe for them to come out, they helped rake and gather leaves with me. They also spent some time playing in the water table, blowing bubbles, and kicking a beach ball.

We headed inside for a yummy dinner- Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad, Cheese & Crackers, and some freshly chopped carrots. I timed a Netflix free trial subscription to our Spring Break so we watched, "The Bee Movie" while we enjoyed the yummy food.

This would have been another day of no spending, but Ethan cashed in his tickets to rent a game. Does anyone else think that $9 is a bit too steep for a Wii game rental? What in the world? My husband took him and let him pick what he wanted. Next time, we agreed that we will get a Playstation game or even buy a used game for that price (at Blockbuster). What a rip off!

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Happy Easter, Take Two


Heartwarming, isn't it? The two children holding hands and whispering to each other. Until you realize that they are whispering, "Let's fight the evil forces that try to tell us that eating candy is bad for us. Let's stand together as one army and tell them NO! Our candy consumption will not stop. We will make them crazy. We will cry and scream until midnight each night and then blame them for being tired in the morning. They will not bring us down. They can't force us to not be gluttons. We will hold our tummies in pain and point to them for making our lives miserable."

This is why there are never any pictures of me, "Please honey! Quick take a picture of me with the kids." This is when my children riot against me and cry and throw themselves. Does it really pain them so to be in a picture with me? Am I really that bad of a mom that you can't PRETEND to be happy for one moment with me? Why do I never get to be in any photos? Why do you guys taunt me like this?

No pictures of them together as it was mass chaos as soon as we arrived to our grandparent's house. I will relish these pictures as the Easter clothes were ruined swiftly. Emily proceeded to eat jelly beans and drip purple drool down the front of her dress and face. Ethan decided to take fluorescent markers to the sleeve of his sweater. Don't you know it is my dream to have more clothes to add to the laundry piles? At least we have these sweet moments on camera.

A sweet moment before the purple jelly beans are found. Grandpa stuffed them silly with sugar and waved us off in our car as we took the little sugar fiends home. Isn't that what grandparents do best? I can't wait to be a grandma one day and do the same thing!


We enjoyed a delicious meal fixed by grandma for our gang. These beautiful flowers were her centerpiece- a touch of spring for us as we look out the windows at the snow. Spring can't come soon enough for me!

Happy Easter, Take Two!

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Easter at the Clark House

Easter happens a day early in our house, just like Christmas. This gives the kids a chance to really enjoy their baskets, egg hunting, and egg decorating without rushing anywhere.

Our morning (and sugar rush) started bright and early this morning with some good old-fashioned egg hunting. Since it is snowing here, an indoor hunt seemed fitting. We hid all of the eggs last night and filled them with yummy jelly beans. Emily wasted no time getting into hers.

Yummy jelly beans and messy hands and faces ensued. Why do the black ones have to be her favorite color? And why does she hand me half-eaten ones so she can bite into a new one?



Wait! Where did all that candy go?



The baskets were filled to the brim this year with great finds from the Dollar Store. They each had three coloring books, a set of crayons, fruit snacks, graham cracker snacks, paddle balls, bubble bath, and fun scrubbers with animals on them. The paddle balls were the biggest hit (literally!) and we questioned why the Easter Bunny would bring something that could get so tangled.



Time to break out the good dishes- the grandparents are on their way! I made a batch of my cinnamon rolls and some coffee and tea for our morning.



The empty eggs from the egg hunt become the centerpiece for the event. I found these cute speckled eggs at the Dollar Store.


After our breakfast, we start working on decorating our eggs. Emily was in utter awe and thought this part was super cool. Dad is the best at helping with the eggs. He even showed them how to do two colors instead of one.

We end our visit with a game of boxing on the Wii. Ethan challenges his grandpa to a fast game and wins victorious in the end. What can we say? We're Clarks and we like to win! We are glad that our grandparents are such great sports!

Happy Easter from the Clark house to yours!

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

New Article: Budget-Minded Easter Celebrations

Hi Amy -

You are doing a great job with the blog! I really enjoy it!


Here's an idea for the (near) future - how about something on Easter clothing for kids? I'm debating whether to keep up with the tradition of my upbringing of buying a new Easter dress for my daughter each year (she is 3) and a new dress shirt for my son (he is 6). It is a fun tradition - they could care less, but I enjoy it. However, it is tricky with Easter being early this year to dress them warmly and yet use the clothing the remainder of the Spring and summer.

Just some random thoughts on that if you are ever searching for a topic - what do you do? Will you be sharing some Easter ideas in the coming weeks?


Thanks-
B.

Here, by request, is a new article on enjoying a fun & frugal Easter with your family. I tried to compile all of the ideas that we have used and researched some new ways that we could save our family in the future years.

I hope you enjoy the article and I thank you for all of your fabulous suggestions for what to write about. It really helps me so please continue sharing your ideas and emailing them to me at amy@momadvice.com.

Sound Off: As we all know, Easter is not about spending money at all, but there are many special traditions that families engage in for the holiday. What are some of your special traditions or ways that you have found to celebrate the holiday inexpensively? Do you buy a special Easter outfit for your children each year? Please share!

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Table for Two


Last night we celebrated Valentine's Day alone. Both the kids were tired from all of that partying yesterday (and the crying) so we put them to bed a little early. I worked on dinner and getting our table set for our meal while Ryan got the kids all ready for bed. A table set for two with white plates, white napkins and one white candle. To bring in the red was a red tablecloth for the holiday.

The meal was a simple one- Linguine with White Clam Sauce, Italian Bread (with olive oil for dipping), and bakery cupcakes for dessert. Just in case you thought I was not romantic enough (or cheesy enough) a playlist of 55 love songs was cued and ready to go for when our dinner was served. Who could enjoy a meal like this without a little Marvin Gaye, U2, Maroon 5, Jack Johnson, John Mayer, Nat King Cole, Norah Jones, or Frank Sinatra? Did I mention we have eclectic taste in music?

Once our delicious meal was all finished, we finished off the evening with a game of Scrabble. Isn't Scrabble just the best way to say, "I love you...." I mean, you could even spell it out for your spouse, if you were that cheesy. Which I thought about, then I realized that was a little too much. But if you wanted to be that cheesy, it is totally cool too.

Oh, and in case you were worried, I did save the bottle of wine until my husband got home. It was tough, but I figured he would notice. One bottle of Barefoot Chardonnay to round the meal out. Yummy!

Money Spent: Approximately $10- what a deal!

Sound Off: What did you do for Valentine's Day? Feel free to share a link to your blog if you shared on there!

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Be Mine, Sweet Valentine!


Yesterday we made our Valentines for my son's class. I was originally going to do a more organized and cute craft, but ended up just letting Ethan draw and make his own special pictures for each friend.

No Valentine is complete without a heart sucker! Each Valentine lovingly made for his classmates- sixteen in total!



Don't get jealous, but this is my little Valentine! She looked so sweet in her pretty red dress. We had to go to her brother's Valentine's Day party for school so we needed to look our best! Off to school we go for a special party!

We distributed our little cards to all of our friends and teachers. We were so excited to share what we had made. Paper construction hearts filled to the brim with treats and sweet notes from our friends. What is not to love about this holiday?

A plate full of treats for all of the kids. A thoughtful mommy brought extra so the siblings could have their own plate.


Emily was so happy to have her own little plate of goodies and didn't waste any time diving in. The Little Debbie heart-shaped brownies were a huge hit with all the children.

Not Pictured: The crying and wailing of both the children as we left the party. Ethan had a sudden and severe bellyache from all of his treats and Emily was upset because she had to leave all of the fun toys behind. Mommy questioned whether it was too early to pop open the wine or if Daddy would notice half of the bottle gone when he got home for their private Valentine's Day celebration. Let's just it was not all heart-shaped brownies and suckers...but isn't that what motherhood is all about?

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

WSBT-TV: Tips for a Fun & Frugal Valentine's Day

Featured today on WSBT was a segment that I did on celebrating Valentine's Day on a budget. This goes along with our Valentine's Day article full of tips for saving cash.

I mentioned that Restaurant.com is a great place to get gift certificates for your evening out. We do have an affiliation with the company, but I recommend it because it really can save families money. I checked their current promotions and they are offering gift certificates for 60% off with an additional 25% discount from deLaFlowers. This offer is good through February 6th using coupon code SUPER when checking out. Use this provided link to access this deal! If you want to understand more about how this program works, you can read my personal review of this program.

Just to be sure you don't miss it, listen for a tiny voice in the background on the segment. Emily was particularly wild that day, but Cari said it would just help people believe me more that I really am a mom and really do have children. Emily won't hold still for any camera shots, but she was having a great time in the playroom while we shot our segments.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Ask Frugal Momma: Brunch Birthday Ideas?

Dear Frugal Momma,

I need your birthday party help. I read your post about Emily's last birthday and loved the at home ideas you listed. We usually have our parties at home just like that, and they are perfect. This year though we are having my son's first birthday at the local park's carousel. We have to bring all the food etc. The kicker: the party is at 9am b/c that is the only time we could reserve it. What types of easy, portable, breakfast foods would you recommend?? Of course, on top of the sugary, yummy non-breakfast birthday cake we will be eating!! :)
Thanks!
L.

First of all, can I just say that I am green with jealousy at anyone who is able to plan a birthday party outdoors right now? This just makes me want to move to the South right now and leave this cold Indiana weather behind....but, I digress!

I think birthday parties at brunch hours are ideal for entertaining because brunch food is so inexpensive and children are so much happier during the earlier part of the day. You beat all of the grumpiness that happens closer to the nap hour and you also get the rest of the day to kick your feet up and just relax after all of that planning. If I had my choice, I would always do birthday brunches because of those very reasons.

The best part about breakfast foods is that most of them are perfect for eating at room temperature and can easily be made into portable servings. Here are some of my suggestions for the perfect birthday brunch.

Mini Frittatas

Nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray
8 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces thinly sliced ham, chopped
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Spray 2 mini muffin tins (each with 24 cups) with nonstick spray. Whisk the eggs, milk, pepper, and salt in a large bowl to blend well. Stir in the ham, cheese, and parsley. Fill prepared muffin cups almost to the top with the egg mixture. Bake until the egg mixture puffs and is just set in the center, about 8 to 10 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, loosen the frittatas from the muffin cups and slide the frittatas onto a platter.

Fruit Dip

1 (8 ounce package) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
1 jar Marshmallow Creme

Using an electric mixer, whip the two ingredients together. Store in the refrigerator until it is time to go.

(Amy's Note: Cut up fresh fruit to go along with the dip and put the cubed fruit on skewers for fruit kabobs. Place all of the skewers in a covered container to take with you to the picnic.)

Spinach & Tomato Orzo Pasta Salad

1 pound spinach, washed, dried, stems removed
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 lemons, zested
1 1/2 cups orzo, cooked to al dente
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the bowl
24 basil leaves, torn or thinly sliced
Salt and pepper

Pile spinach leaves in stacks 1 on top of the other. Thinly slice stacks of leaves to make spinach confetti. Pile shredded spinach into the bottom of a medium sized mixing bowl. Halve grape or cherry tomatoes with a paring knife and add them to the mixing bowl. Add the zest of 2 lemons to the bowl and save the lemons in the refrigerator to juice for another recipe. Add hot cooked and drained orzo pasta to the mixing bowl. The heat of the pasta will wilt the spinach and warm the tomatoes at the bottom of the bowl and get the juices flowing from veggies. The heat of the pasta will also release the flavor and oils in the lemon zest. Drizzle 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil over the pasta and toss to combine the veggies and orzo. Add basil and salt and pepper and toss to combine. Taste your orzo to adjust seasonings and serve.

(Amy's Note: This might not be as big of a hit with the kids, but it will be something that parents can enjoy! To make it a heartier main dish for the parents, throw some cooked, diced chicken in. This can be served at room temperature, cold, or hot).

You could also do a simple cheese & cracker platter and a veggie tray to help round out your table a little more. You could do juice boxes for the kids and transport coffee in a coffee carafe or just do soda/water for the adults.

As for the cake, it sounds like you have this covered, but we did a wonderful brunch for Ethan one year that I just had to share. I used a coupon for buy-one-dozen-get-one-free on Krispy Kreme donuts. I bought plain and chocolate glazed donuts and then piped decorations onto the donuts (blue stars for boys, pink hearts for girls). If you stacked these on a beautiful cake platter, you can stack them just like a cake and everyone would get their own donut to take home! While not as cheap as making a cake out of the box, this is a simple portable solution and takes the pressure off of you to make the perfect cake.

Wishing your son and family a wonderful celebration day together!

Sound Off: Do you have any recipes that you could share with our reader for making her son's birthday extra special? Please leave a comment!

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Frugal Hacks: Happy New Year (On a Budget)

Today on Frugal Hacks, I am sharing my recipes and tips for preparing a fancy dinner at home. I put together a cost breakdown of our New Year's feast and why dining at home can be oh-so-nice!

Thank you for sharing your New Year's plans with us! It sounds like everyone had a fun & festive celebration planned. I hope it was wonderful and that you all had a happy and safe NYE!

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Year's Eve for a Frugal Gal

We are excited that my in-laws have volunteered to keep the kids for us on New Year's. Getting a babysitter for the holiday is tough and a sleepover at Grandma's will insure that we get a full-fledged celebration in as a couple.

Lots of people dine out and spend oodles of money on drinks or cover charges to go to the latest hot spots in town. We spend our New Year's at home and avoid the crowds and the drunk drivers on the road.

A few years ago, I started doing a special dinner for us to celebrate the holiday. This one night out of the year, we don't eat our usual bargain-basement fare. No, we splurge and have delicious foods like a fabulous steak dinner with a bottle of wine. The celebration is completed with cupcakes purchased from the bakery to end our old year in a sweet way.

Maybe that doesn't sound that exciting to others, but when you are constantly crunching numbers for your grocery budget to work, a little vacation from that can be a wonderful way to celebrate the new year. It is a bit of a splurge, but it is a lot less than a splurge would be if we went out to dinner.

If you think about it, a dinner for two with a bottle of wine would cost between $50-60 for a meal. The food might not even be superb for that price and who knows how long we would wait for a table? We certainly wouldn't get to have seconds and service, on days like this, is typically slow and has usually left me with little to be desired. We usually are paying the tab and saying to each other, "The dinner was good, but I really love the A, B, or C that we eat at home."

Sometimes I feel like I am running a factory here because I try to make so many of the foods that people buy. Our desire to keep our grocery budget low has taken some of the fun out of cooking for me. I will admit, that there are times where I feel like cooking is just another chore to complete for the day.

That is why, when it comes to special date nights like these, I love to splurge and purchase fun ingredients that can showcase what I can really cook. This year we will be enjoying marinated steaks with blue cheese butter, baked potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, and crusty bread.

Our evening is spent watching movies (rented from the local library) and playing our favorite board games.

No, it isn't a wild night on the town, but it will be a wildly delicious celebration to ring in the New Year!

Sound Off: How do you keep your NYE fun and frugal?

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Favorite Handmade Gift

Isn't this tote bag the cutest? My mother-in-law made it and it was my favorite gift of all. She makes the most beautiful things and has such a knack for sewing. I think she should quit her day job as a teacher and start crafting it up full time. Her aprons, baby slings, and bags are always such a hit with her family and friends. Too bad crafting doesn't have health insurance. I tell you, that health insurance stuff really kills a lot of great dreams.


I just love the little button closure on it. I can see this going with me on lots of trips and it will make a great diaper bag as well.

Lucky for me...a gift card to Starbucks was tucked inside. Now I can tote my library books over to the coffee shop and enjoy a free latte. What could be better than that? In my opinion, handmade gifts are the best in the world!

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Giving & Getting Recap

I wish I could have shared some of my gift-giving ideas before the holidays, but I didn't want to give away any surprises for family members who might be reading the blog. I tried to really be thoughtful about choosing gifts this year and I hope it showed!

Here are some of the gifts that I chose for giving:


Fashion-Conscious Sis: My sister-in-law loves buying new clothes, but just doesn't have the funds to be buying as often as she would like. She is always so complimentary of the clothes that I have and I have to tell her that nine times out of ten the item was bought on really reduced clearance or I buy my clothes from the thrift store. To help teach her the knack for finding a really good deal, I got her a copy of, "How to Be a Budget Fashionista." Along with the book, we included a gift card to Target. In the memo it said, "To help you be a budget fashionista!" She was excited about both purchases and I hope the book will help her as much as it helped me!

Forward-Thinking Mom: My mother-in-law has been admiring my cloth grocery bags since I bought them and I had always had in the back of my mind that I would need to get her some of these. She is an avid reader, like me, and I know how handy these bags have come in when I just did my library runs. I knew these would be used and loved by her as much as they are by my family. I got her three bags and was able to locate a coupon code for my purchase, which took twenty percent off of my total order.

Music-Loving Dad: Buying gifts for a music lover can be really easy, especially when you can find their musical niche. We got my father-in-law the new Eagles CD and the new John Mayer CD. He was thrilled and already listening to the albums before we even left their house.


Glowing Grandparents: I have to say that the best gift of all seemed to be my grandparent brag books that I created for each set of grandparents. I was so excited to give these out and the reactions were priceless, especially for our family who lived out of town. The photo albums had plenty of room in them at the end, so a big stack of pictures will make great gifts for them to add to their books to show off. Everyone seemed so impressed with how beautiful the album itself was, and the giant bows on the outside were saved and slipped back on carefully, which tickled me to death. One thing I know how to do is make a pretty bow!

Another hit was our first family Christmas photo that we took. I had hoped to buy some frames, but we got the flu and just gave the prints themselves out.

We also received lots of excellent gifts this Christmas, although our families were FAR too generous! I felt guilty with all of our loot making our car sag in the back on our trip home. The kids have completely new wardrobes and loads of really cool toys to keep them busy over the winter.

The biggest hits for our family were:


Despite agreeing to the pact that my husband & I would not exchange gifts this year, my husband did end up buying me one small gift that was a complete unexpected and happy surprise. "The Digital Photography Book" by Scott Kelby was all wrapped up for me and given to me this year. This book is SO excellent and a great book for anyone trying to figure out how to work all of those settings on their camera. I started reading last night and could not stop. I finally passed out after midnight, but not after getting all the tips I could out of it. Ryan is trying to help me accomplish one of my resolutions this year and I thought that was so thoughtful of him!
Emily & Ethan both are loving these pyramid blocks from Janod. They are carrying this toymaker at Target, but only just a few select toys. These pyramid blocks were on my list for Emily and none of us could believe how beautiful and sturdy they were. The kids are having a ball stacking these and filling them with all of their toys and dumping them out. They are just beautiful to look at and they all nest into one another. I don't know how long Target will have them, but I couldn't resist adding them to our list. I think these were a crowd favorite everywhere and I am sure they will be a hit when we have our friends over too!

The kids received a set of these Imaginarium cardboard brick blocks and they have been a huge hit over here. The kids have been making walls out of them and knocking them over. These are such a cool gift and so durable too! I don't know where I am going to keep this 45 piece set, but we will find a home for these so the kids can keep occupied!

Some other great gifts we got was a gift card to the gas station, gift cards to Starbucks (of course!), sewing supplies (to accomplish my other New Years resolution!), Leapster games for Ethan, and two great games for our Wii system.

Sound Off: What are some great gifts you gave or got in your family? I love to make lists of ideas for next year!


**Visit Scribbit's Winter Bazaar for more great ideas for the winter season***

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Santa Spotting

We went to a friend's holiday open house and Santa happened to stop by to see the children. As we were too sick to make it over to see our amazing mall Santa (he truly is!), we decided this was a perfect opportunity to get the kid's special visit in with Santa.

Pictured here is how polite our son is... some of the time anyway! He is raising his hand and saying, "Excuse me, Santa! Santa, excuse me! I need to speak with you"

Ethan quickly plops down in Santa's lap and talks his ear off. A last minute change of plans occurrs where his original plan of getting a Monster Truck was now changed and he wanted a Hummer Truck that he could ride in (price tag of $300). He says Santa told him to write it all out and he would see what he could do. Unfortunately, Santa already shopped and Santa did not have $300 in the Santa fund to spend. What can I say? Our Santa is cheap.
Emily is watching Ethan talk with Santa and is really excited to see him. I mean, you can just see it in her face. I know that this is the year that we get that amazing shot of her with Santa. This will not be a repeat of last year. She is going to look so cute on Santa's lap....Oh! We are getting excited now. I hand her over to Santa and all of a sudden...
Santa looks at me and says, "Oh no! There is something wrong with this one" (All pictures can be expanded for real-life detail and trauma we invoked on our child)

Better luck next year, I say! Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas With the Clarks (Or the Endless Flu Epidemic)

Well, I thought the virus had left after my deep sterilizing around here, but it appears to have only just begun...

We kept the kids home from church yesterday since Emily was still recuperating, and we didn't want to bring anything else home from any other kids. The snow was thick and heavy on the ground outside. The children were so antsy and we figured...let's just go ahead and open our Christmas gifts.

We have five Christmas functions to go to so we are always running around like crazy people around the holidays. Since we had a day at home, it seemed like a perfect day to open our Christmas gifts.

For the kids this year, I purchased toys from the Mr. Imagorium Wonder Emporium movie. They had re-released vintage Fisher Price toys in their original packaging for the holidays. The toys were such a hit with the kids, especially the circus top. The kids have been fighting over it since we got it.

Unfortunately, in efforts to reduce choking hazards, all of the pull toys only had about six inches of rope on the ends of them. Emily was particularly frustrated with her slinky dog, who refused to follow her as she hunched over to pull him.

The pull toys have been rigged with mommy's ribbon stash since there is no way the kids can pull them around the house. I was disappointed by this, but understand the safety standards.

The kids happily played with their toys all afternoon, which gave us a break from the whining and crying in our house.

Suddenly, Ethan stops playing and says, "I think the water is sloshing in my belly." What happens next begins another round of horror that I won't share. Let's just say that the night was long and the wash has been running all night and day.

The flu prevails- poor Ryan is doomed!

Happy holidays at the Clark house!

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

New Camera- Day One

Love, Love, Love the new camera! Obviously, these are our first pictures from it, but I am having a blast pretending to be a photographer with it. My kids enjoy being my little models too so it makes it even more fun.

In this picture, you can see that our tree is up, but still not decorated. Emily is really into destroying things right now and waiting until the last minute to hang the ornaments just makes my day a little easier. I did wrap and put the tree up, but am daily handed shredded gifts that she has lovingly tore apart for me. Maybe practicing opening gifts with our Christmas countdown wasn't such a good idea? I will get the ornaments up, but our tree might look a little strange with none on the bottom this year. All in good holiday fun though, right?

The second picture is of Emily in her super cute sock monkey pajamas that she got for her birthday. I am sure these will be making an appearance on Christmas day since it has been rumored that Santa will be bringing her a sock monkey this year.

This was the night we gathered the kids up to take them on a tour of the Christmas lights in a nearby neighborhood. Ethan thought it was funny to go in his pajamas...Emily was less impressed since she takes Ethan to school sometimes in these.

This was a fun year to see the lights since Emily really got it this year. She kept saying, "Oh, WOW!" while Ethan was far less enthusiastic ("Are we done yet? Is it almost over?") I can see how this age gap might bring on some new challenges as they get older.


Oh, and have I introduced you to my third child yet? She is a new addition the family and I love her so! My best girlfriend presented me with a brand-new purse (and matching shoes, no less!) for our gift exchange. Only a girlfriend who knows me so well would present it with the price tag still ON so she could show me what a most excellent deal she scored on this purse. And it was a most excellent deal, even better than any deal I had run across this year.

I just love the festive pom-poms and the knitted look on this bag. The brown boots that match are equally rockin' and make me feel like a superstar momma!

Don't we all deserve a little of that once in awhile?

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

WSBT-TV: Holiday Gift Baskets on a Budget

This morning's segment is on how to create holiday gift baskets on a budget. I just love putting these together and over the years have tried to put together gift baskets with great themes in them. I am hoping to talk more about themed baskets in our Frugal Hacks segment that I am putting together for today. I will post more on this topic later!

I hope this will give you some more ideas for putting together some fun baskets for the holiday season.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Frugal Hacks: Never Miss a Christmas Show Again

Today on Frugal Hacks, I am sharing tips for recording all of your favorite Christmas specials and movies on television this year. Who would want to miss any of their old favorites? Plus, they added some great new favorites (did anyone else love the new Shrek Christmas special?) for the year too. Be sure to check out my post so you can set those recorders for some fun family nights together!

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, we checked out some of our old favorite movies and I happened upon a movie that we had not seen before called, "The Holiday Inn." This has become my new favorite Christmas movie and I would recommend checking it out for your family this holiday season. There is lots of great singing and dancing in this film and although there is some political incorrectness for our time period, it is an excellent movie that really made us smile! Interesting enough, it was also the inspiration for the hotel chain name...Holiday Inn.

I am curious, what is your favorite holiday movie? Do you have any obscure holiday movies that might be overlooked by most families, but that is a favorite in your house?

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WSBT-TV: Getting the Cheapest Shipping

Today on our WSBT-TV segment, I am sharing inexpensive ways to ship your packages, good investments for creating a shipping center at home, and things you can use around your house for packing materials for your packages.

This goes along with a post that I wrote awhile back on shipping your packages frugally and our adventures in shipping. I plan to write a more extensive article after I noticed that it is one of the top things people have been searching for on our site.

You can also see our new Christmas tree, as our tree this year was looking a little um... Charlie Brown-ish. The top had broken on it and I had hot glued it last year, but it couldn't survive another year. We had just put it up, but no decorations for it yet.

Sound Off: Do you have any tips for cheap shipping or any frugal materials around your house that you use for packing your gifts?

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Eat Your Heart Out, Martha: Elegant Photo Albums

Grandparents can be difficult people to buy for because I think as we get older, we began to acquire so much and it can be a struggle to come up with an idea for something they already don't have or can't buy for themselves.

Last year I started doing photo albums for each set of grandparents and it was a real hit, particularly for the grandparents who don't live near us. It is a great way to share with them what we have been up to throughout the year and give them a tiny glimpse into our everyday life. By making each of these albums personal and filling them with pictures from our life, it helps them feel like they are close by and gives them a great brag book to share with their friends.

I found professional-looking albums last year at our local dollar store, but I didn't have any success this year. I decided to head over to Marshall's and found some very elegant albums for
only $3.99 each. Not as good of a deal as the ones got for a buck last year, but still a phenomenal deal.

I found thirty pictures from our year to have printed for each book. I tried to put the fun holiday pictures in there, but also funny pictures from our year and included subtitles for each. How else can you share the joy your husband experienced from getting his hands on one of the first copies of the last Harry Potter book on a midnight run to Barnes & Noble? Those are the moments that I wanted to put in our books.

We included pictures that our son drew for each album...six in all! I decided not to wrap them since they looked so elegant without the wrapping and opted for a gold bow instead. I found the ribbon at Dollar General and plan to use this same ribbon for our treat boxes this year. 75 feet for $5 is a great deal and I love how beautifully it brought these albums together.

I ordered our pictures this year through Winkflash.com. This was the first time I used their photo services and it was a great experience. They had flat shipping of $1 and it was twelve cents per print, which I thought was very affordable! For a complete breakdown on photo deals for this month, be sure to stop by Baby Cheapskate. Angie has a great price breakdown on holiday card specials and coupon codes you can use.

The total cost for each gift was $7.80, which makes it not only a memorable grandparent gift, but also an affordable one!

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Monday, December 03, 2007

A Homemade Kind of Birthday

In a future episode of my segment on WSBT, I am discussing ways to simplify birthday parties and the birthday party process. Like everything, it easy to get caught up in the hype of the celebration and the focus becomes less about the birthday girl/boy and more about the giant bouncy house and enormous goody bags.

This year we opted for a simple homemade celebration for Emily's 2nd birthday party. At this point, we are able to get away with just family attending. With just over twenty people in our immediate family, having family feels like a giant party without even having to invite any friends over.

Once again, I ran into a dilemma with holiday festivities complicating a birthday celebration. Emily's birthday is on the nineteenth so I opted to have her birthday on the first, so that her party would not get lost in the mix of holiday get togethers. Unfortunately, Ethan's Christmas concert fell on the same day at the same exact time, so I had to put together a meal that could be eaten following a Christmas concert.

I had hoped to do brunch, but trying to figure out how I could have everything immediately on the table for consumption was proving to be challenging and then with the time shift (meal following the concert instead of morning time) I thought a lunch would be more appropriate.

This is what our homemade birthday party looks like:

Invitations- I purchased really cute blank cards and envelopes for the invitations. They had sixty cards in the package and I used seven cards out of the box. I had a coupon at Michaels, so I was able to get the package of cards for about $6. I just used my number stamps to stamp the invites with a giant "2" for our party. I did purchase a party stamp that I used for the date/time and they had a sale on the stamps so I was able to get it for approximately $3. I can use this over and over so I did spend a bit for the initial investment, but I plan to use this often. The extra cards in my set will be stamped with the same "2" stamp and we will use these for thank-you notes. Total cost for invites was approximately $4.

Party Decorations- I purchased one bag of pink balloons, one package of white streamer paper, one package of party blowers, and a tiara for the birthday girl. We just used regular plates and cutlery so we saved on the paper products department. Total cost was approximately $3.

Slow Cooker Chicken BBQ- I made this the night before and it cooked all night long. In the morning, I shredded the chicken and then put it back in the slow cooker to cook. The longer this cooks, the more the BBQ flavor comes out. It ended up being perfect for the dinner. This cost approximately $4 to serve twelve people. (Side Note: I had BARELY enough of this for our party because, during the cooking process, my chicken breasts shrunk considerably and I had a lot less meat than I had anticipated. With chili on the menu though, we managed to make this amount work. I had used approximately 3 pounds of chicken. The buns were provided by my in-laws so I did not factor in this cost).

White Chili- I made this the day before and put it in a plastic container in our fridge, after it was done cooking. The chili was thrown back into the slow cooker to be cooking while the concert was going on. I served this with chili toppers like shredded cheese, tortilla chips, and sour cream. This cost approximately $6 to serve twelve people.

Tossed Salad With Balsamic Dressing & Homemade Croutons- I cut all of the lettuce up the night before and tossed it into a plastic bag for the next day. The croutons were made from leftover bread that I had from my Bunco night potluck that I had went to. The dressing was made the day before in a mason jar and I just gave it a shake and poured when we arrived. It made a beautiful salad and cost about $4 to serve twelve people.

Best Birthday Cupcakes- These were made and decorated the day before. I served them on my pretty cake platters. These cost approximately $1.50 for twenty-four cupcakes.


Total Cost for Party-
$22.50

I find it very gratifying to see how much I saved by hosting and making my own homemade birthday party. The reason I shared this is because people sometimes say that it is cheaper to just buy everything from their superstore or that you would spend just as much money having someone else host the party, but that might not necessarily be true. There is certainly convenience in buying food that is already made, but there is definitely a cost involved.

Much like Meredith, from Like Merchant Ships, sharing about the cost of making a homemade pumpkin pie versus buying a pie, it is often easy to think that you would spend as much to have a birthday party somewhere else versus the cost of hosting it yourself. When I sat down to write this all out, I realized that there was a great savings by having my own party and I have to say that the food was a lot better than having it somewhere else.

It felt good to have such a fun and loving celebration for our daughter without spending astronomical amounts of money. We still had a beautiful day and I believe she felt just as special as she would have with a fancy celebration. After all, it is all about celebrating who they are and I think we were able to capture that with our homemade and inexpensive birthday party.

Here are a couple of additional recipes that we had used to make our birthday lunch:

Basic Vinaigrette Dressing (Courtesy of How to Cook Everything)

1/4 cup good vinegar, such as sherry, balsamic, red, or white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional, but I did use)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons minced shallots (optional, but I subbed with a teaspoon of minced garlic)

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


I placed all of these ingredients into a Mason jar and shook the ingredients. Taste to adjust salt and add more oil or vinegar if needed. Add shallots and pepper. This is best made fresh, but it will keep refrigerated for a few days; bring back to room temperature before using.

To make a small amount of Basic Vinaigrette: Combine 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon mustard, 3-4 tablespoons oil, and 1/2 teaspoon minced shallots. Prepare as directed above.


White Chili (Courtesy of AllRecipes.com)

1 onion, chopped (I left this out because we don't like onions)
3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
2 (4 ounce) cans canned green chile peppers, chopped (we used mild)

1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

ground cayenne pepper to taste

ground white pepper to taste

3 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans (we used Navy beans)

5 cups chicken broth

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese


In a large pot over medium heat, combine the onion, garlic and ground turkey and saute for 10 minutes, or until turkey is well browned. Add the chile peppers, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, cayenne pepper to taste and white pepper to taste and saute for 5 more minutes. Add two cans of the beans and the chicken broth to the pot. Take the third can of beans and puree them in a blender or food processor. Add this to the pot along with the cheese. Stir well and simmer for 10 minutes, allowing the cheese to melt.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

$5 Magazine Subscriptions


I buy a lot of magazine subscriptions to give as gifts and primarily go through Ebay to make my purchases. I love giving subscriptions as gifts because it is a gift that continues giving long after people have become tired of the items they got for Christmas gifts. In addition, it gives them something fun to look forward to in their mailbox, rather than just the regular old bills!

I ran across this great special through Hearst Magazine for $5 subscriptions. There are tons of titles to choose from including Marie Claire, SmartMoney, Good Housekeeping, Town & Country, House Beautiful, & Popular Mechanics. If you go on their homepage, however, these deals aren't offered so be sure to go through that provided link.

What excellent gifts these will make! I am not sure how long this offer will last so I am going to order some today. I hope this helps someone else with some of their holiday shopping!

Side Note: Be sure to look how many issues are being offered for your money. Some of the nicer subscriptions, like O Magazine, only offer four issues for this price. Still an excellent deal, but won't last as long as the twelve issue subscriptions!

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Frugal Hacks: Ornament Decorating Fun

For today's installment on Frugal Hacks, I am sharing crafty ideas for making holiday ornaments with your children. I have been spending some time surfing the internet to come up with some ideas for Ethan & I to do together so I thought I would share them with you too!

In this picture is our ornament making station that I made for our special ornament-making days. I purchased a vinyl tablecloth and loads of fun crafty supplies from the dollar store. Right now they have wooden ornaments that come in a ten pack for decorating that would be a wonderful decorative addition to any gift.

I just love decorating the Christmas tree and thought it would be a fun discussion to share your favorite ornaments that you hang on your tree each year.

I have two special ornaments that I absolutely love and that bring a smile to my face each time I get them out. One is a beautiful painted light bulb that one of my co-workers purchased for me at my very first "real" job. I was working as an administrative assistant and this gentleman was the head of the sales department and told me if I worked extra hard, he would secure a position for me in the sales department. So...I worked my tail off and did extra projects for the group and he gave me this special ornament right before he told me that he never got permission to hire me as an assistant and then I eventually was laid off after a brief promotion as a marketing assistant...WAIT! This is a horrible story! Why the heck is that my favorite ornament?

In all seriousness, the ornament represented one of the first times in my life where I felt like a grown-up and I felt valued as an employee. I felt like a smart woman and I had struggled through school (getting by on my fine social skills, mind you!) so it felt good to feel appreciated and valued as an employee.

My other favorite ornament is a Dunkin' Donuts ornament that I won in an ornament exchange. When we lived in Massachusetts, every single day I would buy myself a cup of joe over at our local Dunkin' Donuts. Our first home, a small townhouse, was situated behind a Dunkin' Donuts and we would get bagels and muffins from there all of the time for our Saturday mornings.

Right after I had Ethan, I was determined to get my baby weight off, and we had an amazing bike trail right outside of our home so I would walk it for miles trying to get the baby weight off. On my way, I would stop at the Dunkin' Donuts to pick up an iced mochachocalocaroca that I thought tasted like a little bit of heaven. It was my little reward to myself for working so hard to get my weight off.

But my weight wasn't coming off. And I was putting on weight. How was this possible? Um, did the smart & educated woman check to see how many calories a mochachocalocaroca has in it? No! Despite a background in food and nutrition, I never thought twice about the gazillion calories I was taking on my athletic walk. But, oh, what a taste of heaven that was!

The moral of the story is, every ornament has a story. Go ahead! Ask your grandmother about the ornaments on her tree- I bet she will have a story to tell!


Sound Off:
Please share your favorite ornament on your tree! I would love to hear your stories!

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WSBT-TV: Gift Wrapping Made Easy

Today on WSBT-TV, I shared my tips for wrapping your holiday gifts inexpensively. I came into the studio and shared my techniques for frugal gift wrapping and ideas for creative gift tags. I hope you can watch it!

The film crew then came out to my house and we taped six more segments today to be shown in the upcoming weeks. Now I can enjoy extra time with my family instead of running back & forth to the studio. Some of the topics that we have for future topics include shipping your packages, making frugal holiday gift baskets, getting to know your bread machine, getting a cheap coffee fix, familiarizing yourself with your local wholesale club, and throwing an inexpensive birthday party (something that is on my mind since Emily is turning 2 this month).

You could say I am tiny bit tired today!

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving With the Clark Family

I apologize for the break in blogging, but with all of the holiday madness came a time of busyness that I had not anticipated... and a few days of laziness that I had hoped I could lavish in before the holiday rush.

We had a great Thanksgiving dinner with my husband's family this year. I got to be in charge of the appetizers for the dinner so I was looking forward to trying some new recipes. I made my famous meatballs out of a combination of regular ground turkey and the Italian Sausage variety. They turned out beautifully and I was able to bake them the day before and throw them in the slow cooker for the festivities. Despite sitting in the slow cooker for four hours, they maintained their moistness and I got lots of compliments on them.

I also made a cheese ball that turned out equally delicious! I used turkey bacon that I cooked and crumbled inside of it. I rolled the cheese ball in extra cheddar cheese and it was also a hit. I served it with a variety of wheat crackers.

Bacon & Ranch Cheese Ball

2 (8 ounce) packages of low-fat cream cheese, softened
1 package of Ranch dressing mix
1 cup cheddar cheese
5-7 strips of bacon cooked and crumbled

Mix all of the ingredients together with a mixer until they are incorporated. Shape into a ball and roll in a plate of shredded cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours.

The other appetizer I made was a sweet dip to serve with graham crackers. It has been renamed "crack" in our house because we can't stop eating it. I have been gorging myself on this dip since I made it. It tastes just like cookie dough and is sweet, but not too sweet. I used my Pampered Chef chopper to chop regular-sized chocolate chips up for on top and to mix into the dip (that was what we had on hand). Remember, you have been warned about this addiction!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip (or Crack Dip)

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
More chocolate chips (optional) or chopped nuts, to roll the ball in


In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until fluffy. Gradually add sugars and beat until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Form cheese into a ball using hand protection (Saran wrap, wax paper, etc). Optional- just before serving, roll in additional chocolate chips or nuts of your choice. Serve with graham crackers.

Over the holiday weekend, I also got our very first family photo. My son is five and our daughter is almost two and we have never had a family picture done. Emily was most difficult and we had the worst time waiting for pictures and then waiting for the printing of them. It was a very stressful experience, to say the least. We had been waiting for two and a half hours for my photos to print, going back to pick up the prints to find out the prints weren't ready, going back again to find out they STILL were not ready, and then finally getting them at 11 AM the following day (when they are supposed to be printed right after you get done with your photos). The only plus to the whole experience was that the manager felt horrible and I had tried to be a good sport about it so we ended up with an extra 65 photo cards and our entire portrait package reprinted PLUS a $50 gift certificate for our next round of pictures (all for free!) because he felt so badly about our experience. So I would like to give a shout out to Portrait Innovations for their incredible customer service and amazing manager who made our experience MUCH better after all of that hassle. Despite all off that hassle, I am so proud of our family photo and now have four gazillion pictures to share with our family and friends. I have so many pictures now that I am offering casual acquaintances a 10x13 of our family . I don't know what we will do with all of these pictures, but I couldn't be happier with how they turned out.

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend and that you enjoyed lots of food and time with your family! I can't wait to share more ideas and recipes for the holiday season!


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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

WSBT-TV: Making Holiday Memories On a Tight Budget

Today on our Moms First segment we talked about making holiday memories on tight budgets. Unfortunately, they had some audio difficulties and my Countdown to Christmas did not make the cut due to the difficulties. I did blog about this a little bit last week so if you want to see how we countdown to Christmas, you can read that entry here.

This holiday discussion also goes along with our popular holiday article, "The Christmas Jar."

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Frugal Hacks: Getting Ready for the Holidays

I ran out of hours in the day yesterday, but I wanted to make sure that I posted a link to my entry yesterday on Frugal Hacks. I shared some of the ways that I am trying to get ready for the holidays.

I have lots of things to do on my list. Here are some of the things that I am working on:

1. We need to take a family picture that we can use for our Christmas cards this year. I like to get photo cards from Sam's Club and I use the sticky labels with the addresses printed on them to save time.
2. For our grandparents, I do a year of pictures for them as a gift of their grandkids. I pick my favorite pictures from the year and get them printed and make each of them a photo album. It was a hit last year and should be a hit again this year.
3. I would like to make all of our Christmas tree decorations this year. I am gathering ideas and materials to make ornaments with the kids this year. I want to do a popcorn garland and make cute decorations for the tree this year.
4. I am hoarding my toilet paper rolls for our Christmas crackers in a drawer for the kids. I got some fun wrapping paper and am saving our Halloween candy to fill them. These will go in the kid's stockings.
5. I am going to try and get my wrapping done this weekend on the gifts that I have bought. I am done with the kids and finished buying their stocking stuffers last week. I also need to wrap the last of my countdown to Christmas treats. I found the last three days at the dollar tree.
6. I am working on make-ahead goodies for Thanksgiving dinner. I am in charge of the appetizers this year and I am going to make some of the goodies from my list.

There are tons more things to be done, but I am sure it will all come together!

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

WSBT-TV: Paying For The Holidays Without Going Into Debt

Today's segment for our local news shared ways that you can have a wonderful holiday without going into debt. I shared a few quick tips for online shopping and how to not be afraid to say no to all of the gift exchanges.

This goes along with a post that I wrote last year called, "Holiday Bling Without the Bling Budget."

Sound Off: How do you stay under budget for the holidays? Have you ever bowed out of a gift exchange because of financial reasons?

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Overcoming My Fears: Canning

It is fun to document my domestic fears and share how I am trying to overcome them. If you have been reading me for a long time, you might notice that I have had many domestic fears to overcome. I had a fear of working with dough, I have feared getting dirty in a garden, I was terrified of my mower, I was scared to cut hair, and another fear that I have experienced since college is the fear of canning.

I took a Food & Nutrition course which was a basic course into food sciences and how things happen when cooking & preserving food. One of our class assignments was to can foods. We were given acidic foods and non-acidic foods to can and then the teacher went around to check our handiwork. Knowing nothing about canning, I read the instructions and then canned my tomatoes for the class.

The teacher walked around and checked everyone and the majority of us failed the assignment. I remember her words quite clearly, "That food would kill someone- it did not seal properly, you filled it too high, and so on, and so on."

Perhaps it was the fear of killing someone that instilled the fear in me? I think that would be a valid fear, don't you?

When I saw the Pumpkin Butter recipe that Monica, from The Homespun Heart, shared on her blog last week, I was determined to try it. I got out my book on canning and read through the tutorial again. I have had this book for years and kept reading it, but never acted on anything.

I increased the recipe four times and put it in my slow cooker, instead of cooking it over the stove top. Since I did such a large batch, I let it cook for six hours. I would recommend that you only triple the recipe in a standard slow cooker because mine did overflow a little bit.

The whole process really went smoothly and I ended up with eighteen jars of Pumpkin Butter. I can't wait to give these away as hostess gifts!

This recipe is a great one for a first-time canner especially if you use the slow cooker to make it. There is no processing involved and it yields a great amount for very little effort.

The results were delicious! This literally tastes like pumpkin pie smeared all over bread. I am going to make some of my Buttery Bread Machine Rolls to put this on for dinner one night this week.

Here is how my conversation went with my husband after the great canning experience:

Me: I am so proud of myself! I am all done! You want some toast with pumpkin butter on it?

Him: I don't want to die. You can't get rid of me that easily!

Me: Very funny...Hey, I think I have overcome all of my fears now.

Him: What about sewing?

Me: Shut up!

Looks like sewing will be next! I am making a pact with myself to take a course next year and figure it out.

Sound Off: Do you have any domestic fears that you are working on overcoming? Please tell me that I am not alone!

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Working On My Christmas Countdown

Yesterday evening I started working on my countdown to Christmas for the kids. I wanted to do something special this year and so I put my Martha Stewart stamp set to good use last night and did a number countdown that I hope will be worth the effort.

All year long I have been shopping our local Goodwill looking for Little Golden Books for the kids. I started doing a countdown with books last Christmas and have a special fondness for these books so I wanted to do again this year. I tried to only get these on half off days (making them a quarter each) especially since Emily would be unwrapping her own books this year. I found enough books to give them each their own set of books and I am going to make the last three days of unwrapping something really special like an ornament set or a set of coloring books and crayons. For less than twenty dollars total, I am hoping that it will make our countdown lots of fun and give us plenty of reading material until Christmas.

I wrapped each of the books individually in newspaper and then tied the numbers 1-25 on each of the packages with ribbon. I plan to reuse these numbers in future years so I just tucked them into the ribbon without mounting them onto the package. All of the books were placed into a basket from 25-1 for the kids to open.

I also worked on activities for our very official, "Christmas Jar." I used the list of activities from my article and put them on green slips of paper. The jar was tied off with festive jingle bells and is clear so that we have a visual of how many fun things we will have left to do. I found this jar when I did my thrift sale shopping and it works perfectly for our jar of activities.

Doing these segments for our local news is helping me get things done early so that is why I am starting these activities so soon. I was excited to get this accomplished for December!

Sound Off: Do you do anything special to countdown the days until Christmas?

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Dinner: Side Dishes

I just wanted to take the time to share some make-ahead side dishes that you could bring or provide at your next Thanksgiving dinner. Don't forget to visit my make-ahead appetizers post to get ideas for getting your meal started off right (without the stress!)

These entries will be an ongoing series until Thanksgiving, and then these will be turned into an article for future reference. If you have ideas for dishes that you can make ahead for the holidays, please email me at amy@momadvice.com and I will include your recipes within the entries.

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Bread Stuffing

Creamy Corn Casserole


Boston Market Squash Casserole

Broccoli Rice Casserole

Sweet Potato & Apple Casserole

Macaroni & Cheese

Cranberry Sauce (Make a few days ahead to allow flavors to merry)

Mashed Potatoes

Sound Off: What is your favorite Thanksgiving side dish?

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Monday, October 29, 2007

More Difficult Than It Should Be

We had to bring a snack to the Halloween Party that we attended and I was so excited to make Scribbit's witch hats to bring with us. What an easy and fun idea...this SHOULD have been.

I didn't realize it, but after visiting three grocery stores, I was unable to find the chocolate cookies that I needed to complete the project.

I had to get a little more creative than usual so I used Christina's Chocolate Crinkles recipe and patted the cookies into a very flat shape. To insure that they stayed flat, I patted them when I removed them from the oven.

The shapes were still not even so I used my great-grandma's biscuit cutter (a favorite piece in my kitchen) to cut out perfect circles.

I found Hershey Kisses filled with caramel and used these to rest on top. A frosting bow did complete the look.

The kitchen was short of a disaster and this turned into a little more work than I had intended to put into the snack.

I must say that the results were great and I was proud of how they turned out. The cookies probably tasted better than the store-bought version and who couldn't appreciate how festive they looked?

Thanks to Michelle for the great treat idea!! I just thought I would share my substitute in case you have as much trouble as me finding these cookies!

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Fun & Frugal Adult Halloween Costume Idea

Sometimes the adults have to dress up for parties too and couple costumes can be so outrageous. While deals can be scored on costumes through eBay or by making your own, many costume sets can cost fifty dollars or more for one night of entertainment. That is where creativity and fun can come into play, as we got the chance to do this year.

Above is my husband's handsome milkman costume. (Note: I hope you can click on this picture to expand it to see things in more detail. The lighting was not good so I apologize for the lighting in this!) The hat was purchased from a costume shop and originally was intended as a captain's hat. We took all of the gold roping off of it and made it into a milkman hat. The cost for this was $6.99. I purchased a white shirt for him from Goodwill on half off day which cost me $1.25. The bow tie was made from the ribbon that I had bought from Big Lots this past week for $1.00 per spool.

Although you can't see it, he also is carrying a small grocery basket from our children's kitchen set. We filled it with empty coffee bottles to mimic the old school milk bottles.

The kisses on his collar were free and completed his milkman attire!

As a housewife, I just dressed like I always do (in one of my fun aprons), but rolled my hair and made my make-up a little more reflective of the times. I carried one of our daughter's baby dolls with a little bow tie on it (also from the Big Lots ribbon) that indicated that this was most definitely the milkman's baby.

This was an adult-only party, but our son wanted to be "fancy" like daddy so we made a little bow tie just for him. He wore it for the duration of the evening and I kept joking that he looked much more like the milkman's baby than that silly baby doll.

We had a blast and it was fun to play dress-up for one night. We rarely do things like this and it was a real treat to have a night out like this.

Anyone else go to a Halloween Party? What did you dress up as?

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Be a Wrap Superstar: Use What You Have

Sometimes it is more fun to spend money on the gifts themselves than it is to spend it on wrapping your gifts. While I love an elegantly wrapped gift, I do enjoy sharing on creative wrapping solutions too. In fact, sometimes those creative solutions are right under your nose. Wouldn't Hallmark be disappointed if we used items we already had to wrap our gifts instead of keeping them in business with their gift bags and wrapping paper?

Here in this first picture is a grocery sack. This paper bag was purchased for five cents from Aldi Supermarket. This was, of course, before I had made the switch to cloth grocery bags so I have many of these useful bags laying around my house that aren't being used.

You can leave the paper bag plain or you can decorate it. I happened to have a Christmas stamp that I stamped onto the paper. The gift tag came from a book of scrapbooking tags that I happened upon at Michael's. I used my coupon to buy them and they were $2 (less with the coupon) for 24 tags. Tie it up with a bow or a piece of raffia, and you have a beautiful gift out of items in your home.

This second gift is wrapped in a map of our hometown. You can pick these up in the different cities that you visit or in different hotels or restaurants. Save them in a folder for wrapping paper and use special areas for the special people in your life.

The gift tag was made out of my business card and then the gift was tied with green raffia. Business cards can be a fun way to tag your gifts to coworkers. Considering many companies overbuy in the business card department, this is a great way to use some of these cards up and also reminds your boss how much he should appreciate your efforts, particularly for large companies where employees and superiors can be a bit more disjointed. Just give it a hole punch and loop it through the ribbon.

Last, but certainly not least, don't forget all of those lovely coloring pages and how useful they can be for wrapping gifts.
Kids love to feel special and they love to contribute towards the making of and the purchasing of the gifts for your family. These scribbled drawings, while not as appealing to the eye as many fancy gift wrap choices, are true beauty to grandparents and other family members.

If you like to have more control over the color choices and such, give your children crayons in your color scheme that you are going for or make suggestions for drawings ("Grandma LOVES snowmen, maybe you could draw her a really special one?").

The gift tag was made from scrap cardstock that I had and then I stamped the tag with the same stamp that was pictured above in my paper bag wrapping job.

Don't forget the other solutions that I have shared on like tailoring your gifts for their recipient and using wallpaper for gift wrap!

I hope this offers some other creative solutions for your wrapping needs! I plan to put this all together into an article for our website for future reference!


***For more great solutions for your family, be sure to visit Rocks In My Dryer for more great ideas for this edition of Works-For-Me Wednesday***

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Be a Wrap Superstar: Tailor Your Gift

Last week I started a series of posts on wrapping your holiday gifts. I shared my obsession for beautiful wallpaper and a cute idea for your gift tags.

This week I wanted to talk a little bit about tailoring your gifts for their recipient. This is one way that I do try to make my gifts special because I try to wrap my gifts with the person in mind who is receiving the gift.

Sometimes I tailor the gift to the person who is going to receive it and sometimes I tie the theme into what the gift actually is. It is fun to wrap your gifts this way because it makes it fun for the person who is opening it and it shows that you had them in mind when you wrapped the gift.

The gift shown in this example is for your favorite budget-savvy blogger or someone whose occupation involved the green stuff. The gift was wrapped in the stocks section of our Business paper and the gift tag was made out of a piece of money from a Life board game. Tied in green raffia, to go along with our money theme, this brings it altogether perfectly.

I try to do this often with the elements that I bring into my wrapping. When I go thrift shopping, I look for cute serving spoons or whisks that can be used to tie on the outside of newlywed gifts or for the Foodie in our family. Any small item that can be tied to the outside of the gifts can be great items to add to your wrapping details.

The comics section can be used to wrap children's gifts, Wall Street Journals make great wrapping paper, and foreign newspapers can add a little pizazz to any gifts you are giving.

Best of all, what a wonderful and earth-friendly way to recycle your newspapers!

Sound Off: What special details do you add to your wrapping jobs?

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Dinner: 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.

These entries will be an ongoing series until Thanksgiving, and then these will be turned into an article for future reference. If you have ideas for dishes that you can make ahead for the holidays, please email me at amy@momadvice.com and I will include your recipes within the entries.

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.


Sound Off:
What appetizers do you serve for Thanksgiving Day?

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Eat Your Heart Out, Martha: Bubbly Magnets

Today I wanted to share a little holiday craft that I have been working on. I have been making some bubbly magnets to go in stockings and as small gifts for those special people in our life.

Remember, I am no Martha Stewart, so any craft that I share is something that a child can do. I am trying to share some little ideas for things that you can make to give for the holidays. Last week I shared my homemade spiced nut mixture and this week I am sharing my magnet craft. Crafting can be expensive, but this craft is affordable and highly addictive!

Supplies Needed:

Flat marbles (These can be purchased at the dollar store or in the floral section of your local craft store)

1/2" or 3/4" Round magnets (These are the most expensive purchase. I believe they are $6.99 for 50 magnets, but you can use the Michael's 40% off coupon in your paper towards this tab)

Modge Podge Adhesive Glue

A small paintbrush

Hot glue gun and glue sticks

Scissors

Pictures for your magnets (you can use photographs, wrapping paper, magazine pictures, scrapbooking paper- anything with a fun design)

Instructions:


Take your marbles and center it over your desired design, just to make sure it will fit perfectly under your marble. Dip your brush into the Mod Podge glue and brush the glue onto your design. Center your marble over the design and stick it to the pattern. Allow the glue to dry for fifteen to twenty minutes. If you are doing more than one magnet, on the same sheet, repeat the process on the paper or move on to your next sheet of paper.

Once your glue has dried, cut around the marbles, as close to the edges as possible. Now take your glue gun and dab a bit of glue on the magnet and attach your marble over the magnet piece. Allow these to dry completely.

Ta-Da! Cute new magnets for your fridge!

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Warm Up Your Belly

It is officially fall because I have finally made my homemade cocoa mix for the season. My cocoa machine had a nice little break while my blender worked overtime this summer. His days were numbered and yesterday's cool weather was just the excuse to start making my cocoa mix. Marshmallows topped our mugs to the brim and we enjoyed a sweet treat on yesterday's cool afternoon.

The yummy warm comfort foods and drinks are something I look forward to all year long. Who can resist a big bowl of soup and a grilled cheese for dipping?


Speaking of these comfort foods, we have been missing our yummy bowls of clam chowder since we had moved back to the Midwest. No one does it better than Boston and we seemed to always be craving a bowl of this yummy goodness, but couldn't seem to replicate it. I was determined to find a recipe to feed our cravings this year and lucky for me, I stumbled upon this chowder recipe that fit the bill perfectly.

This recipe for chowder is delicious. Rich, but not too rich. Chunky, but not too chunky. It is just an absolute bowl full of perfection. There are other chowder recipes out there, but I think this one will be in heavy rotation in our house. The kids won't eat it, but that won't stop my husband & I from enjoying it!
I did make some minor changes to the recipe- I omitted the heavy cream and replaced that with half & half. I also omitted the dill in the recipe because I didn't have any on hand.

Determined to perfect my grilled cheese too, I also tried this delicious recipe for baking your grilled cheese in the oven instead of making it in the pan. Since I am doing grilled cheese in mass quantities, I thought this would be a great solution for us to all have our grilled cheese sandwiches at the same time, instead of doing my batches in stages. Technically not a grilled cheese, this "toasted cheese" is delightful! No soggy centers and perfectly crunchy! Just keep your eyes on them while they cook. The bread does have a tendency to get a tad too toasty, if left unattended!

I hope you can try some of these delicious recipes to warm your belly.

Sound Off: What are your favorite dishes when the weather turns cool?

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Be a Wrap Superstar: Wallpaper That Gift, Yo!

I was asked to speak to my mom's group this week on how to celebrate Christmas on a budget. Since I do those Tuesday morning show segments, I figured it would be in my best interest to make some pretty props to go along with my morning discussions (and that could double for my mom's group discussion).

How about serving triple duty and sharing them on my blog here too? Why not!

I have several ideas for thinking outside of the box when it comes to wrapping your gifts. Sure, I could go to the store and get a giant roll of wrapping paper, but what is the fun in that? Some of the most fun is in the inventing of new ways to wrap those gifts under the tree.

The gifts might not all match, they may not be overly red and green, they also aren't going to be uniform, but at least each gift will have their own original style.

Today's gift wrapping idea is to check your local thrift store for wallpaper to wrap your gifts. I frequently find gigantic rolls for only $1. Try to pick a design that can be used for the holidays, but also can double for those other special occasions where a gift is needed.

This gift is not only covered in wallpaper, but the gift tag is made from a deck of cards. Is your dad a prankster? Give him the Joker! Is your brother the jack-of-all-trades? A Jack! Does your mom think she is the queen of the castle? Give that woman the Queen!


Tie it off with a little holiday cheer and embellish your gifts with a little ornament or something holiday-ish. I love those ornaments for those teeny trees to put on my gifts or I love to add big old jingle bells to make my present a little more festive.


I hope you enjoyed my quick tutorial on being a wrap superstar. I will discuss another idea next week!!

***For more great ideas today, visit Rocks In My Dryer for Works-For-Me Wednesday!***

Sound Off: Are you a wrap superstar? What are some things you use to wrap your gifts?

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Eat Your Heart Out Martha: Sugar & Spice Nuts

Christmas is coming, Christmas is coming! It is time to take your inner-Martha to new levels! Get out your crafting tools and let's get to work on some gifts, ladies!

I am going to try and share a gift each week of things that you can make for all those special people on your list. These ideas will be budget-friendly and EASY! I am far from crafty, so if you see a craft here, you know your child can probably do it!

I would also like to say that my instructions are written exactly like I would hope someone would explain the idea to me. I hate when I read instructions and they omit the basic steps for accomplishing something. I am a novice so I offer up novice instructions.

Today we are going to make some Sugar & Spice Nuts. These nuts taste like a little bit of heaven! My husband hates mixed nuts and couldn't stop eating these. That truly says a lot!

These are very easy to make, but should be made when it is not humid out. I made these on a hot ninety degree day and it took an entire night for them to dry. Never. Again.


I bought a can of mixed nuts from Aldi that were less than $2. I then took the label off (very carefully) so that I can use this label as a template for my new label.


The new label can be made out of anything, but I had some wallpaper border that I had bought from our thrift store that I thought would be perfect for this occasion. The border was just wide enough and it was more durable than wrapping paper or other types of paper that I would normally use. It had pretty French writing on it so I just cut that portion off and left the roosters for another project. Too bad I don't know French...maybe someone knows what this says? Hopefully something beautiful and meaningful, but if not...oh well! A whole roll of this stuff only cost me a quarter so that was a double bonus! Take that old label and use that as your template and trace it onto your paper (whatever type you chose!)

Now, take a glue stick and put glue all over the back of the paper. Wrap your new paper around your canister and make sure that the bottom is all lined up, nice and neatly!

Finally, you can tie a bow around your beautiful masterpiece and make your yummy Sugar & Spice Nuts. Follow this recipe for making the nuts and prepare them exactly as instructed.


When your nuts are completely dry, break them apart and place them back in the tin. I also added a piece of wax paper to line the interior of the canister so that they wouldn't stick to the bottom or the sides of the can.

This would make the perfect gift for: Postal workers, beauticians, coworkers, bosses, teachers, the person-who-has everything, and as a pretty hostess gift!



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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Feeling Like a Professional Florist

I am feeling like a professional florist after making this beautiful centerpiece for my dinner table. I found this idea through The Sparrow's Nest and I am so impressed with myself. Her tutorial was so simple, but could it really be that easy? Well, it truly was! I was able to whip this up while the water was heating on the stove for our dinner.

It was also a great opportunity for me to use my new cake stand too. I am so proud of it and love the detail on this piece. This centerpiece was the perfect way to showcase my new piece and add a fall element to my table.
I also made the candles that she had showcased last fall on her blog. I had the jars leftover from all of my Christmas crafting and I am still working our way through all of the popcorn in our house. I actually pulled some of the popcorn out of Ethan's popcorn table for this craft. The candles were the only purchase- two Pumpkin Spice candles at $1.44 each at Wal-Mart. They tie in the pumpkin theme well!

Thank you, Mrs. Wilt, for making me feel like a professional florist!

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

WSBT-TV: Getting Ready for Halloween

This morning on our Mom's First segment, we got the opportunity to share about getting ready for Halloween. This segment goes along with our new article, "Scary Deals on Halloween Costumes" that we had recently posted.

This year my daughter is going to be Minnie Mouse, compliments of my dear friend AnneMarie, and my son has decided to be a Ninja.

Have you seen this video on You Tube about how to make a Ninja costume out of a black shirt? I loved this idea and am hopefully going to try this for our little Ninja! This clip gets a little long near the end, just watch the beginning where he breaks down how to make a mask for your kids.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

New Article: Frugal Halloween Time

It is that time of year again! I have been getting lots of emails asking how to save money on Halloween costumes so I wrote an article to answer the questions.

Check out our new article, "Scary Deals on Halloween Costumes" that we have added to our site!

Sound Off: How do you save money on your children's Halloween apparel?

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I Heart You!


Lucky for me, today's theme for Works-For-Me Wednesday is all about Valentine's Day ideas. I happened to have posted a whole article of budget-friendly ideas for the holiday last week, so please stop over to the article to get tons of ideas that won't break the bank!

On a related note, I attempted to do Valentine's this year with my son. Now being the frugal self that I am, I realize that the store-bought cards are really not expensive at all. You can get a ton of them for a couple of dollars that have dogs on them and say, "You're Top Dog!" and such...They are very nice and we have done that in year's past.

This year I decided I wanted to make the holiday a little more meaningful and with only eleven kids in my son's class, we could definitely swing actually making the cards this year. I was proud that we did it because it required more effort than the store-bought hearts and it was a creative way for the two of us to pass another snow day at home.

Since the weather was bad, all I did was pull all of the red & pink construction paper from his craft bin. I would have loved to incorporate doilies, but after seeing them going for $4.99 last week, I decided that we could do without these. The idea was to save some money, not spend four times as much!

I did have some of those cool jagged scissors that the scrapbookers use and by cutting all my hearts out with those, it gave a pretty lacy effect on the hearts and also on the edges of the cards.

I sat everything out for my son to put his cards together including a big box of buttons and a glue stick to incorporate different dimensions into his work. He came downstairs with a piece of paper (not provided for this mission) and covered it with buttons saying he would rather make lots of planets instead of doing the task at hand.

I then came upstairs to redirect his attention to all of the paper I had cut out for him and all of the pretty hearts and what happened next was exactly what I had expected...I sat and made Valentine's for an entire hour while he made planets on other sheets of paper.

Me: "Do you want to even sign your name on these?"

Son: "Nah!"

So much for being a fun & creative mom! Maybe there are more creative ideas on Rocks in My Dryer as mine was not inspiring enough even for my own kid!

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Eve of Christmas Eve Morning Recap

Don’t you love it when the most exciting thing for the kids is the boxes and the bows, rather than the present itself? It seems that many of the presents my kids enjoyed ended up being things like that, rather than the items that we spent more money on. It just goes to show that you don’t have to spend a lot to have a memorable Christmas with your children.

Our Christmas morning we dined on waffles and our cinnamon roll Christmas tree. Since I had not had my coffee in the morning, I accidentally tinted the icing aqua, rather than green, and claimed it to be a “retro” Christmas tree this year. Several additions of green tint gave us a very green tree though and the kids loved it. I left the trunk without icing for our one year old daughter, so that I didn’t have a big mess on my hands with the two kids.

We then spent the rest of the morning enjoying all of our new Christmas gifts. My son’s favorite Christmas gifts this year were his fifty cent encyclopedia of dinosaurs, which I found at our local thrift store, and his Mega T-Rex (a request from Santa Claus).

I had also went to Sam’s Club, the day before, to purchase some popcorn for our popcorn popper. We had received a popcorn tub set for a gift and I realized that we were out of popcorn to fill it. A pound of popcorn at the supermarket was a couple of dollars, so it seemed more economical to buy a large bag of popcorn from Sam’s instead. The bag contained fifty pounds of popcorn though (for only $10.87), and we are just a family of four. Since I was not planning on eating popcorn for every single meal, I stored the majority of it, but still had quite a bit left with no home for it.

I found a Rubbermaid tote and filled it with the leftover popcorn. I ran out to the garage and grabbed all of my son’s beach toys and stuck them in it and took the tub down to our basement to rest on top of his train table.

I bet you can guess what his favorite gift was? The total cost was probably three dollars, but has been a blast for him and kept him very busy for the rest of the day.


What were your child’s favorite gifts this year? Any recommendations you can offer?

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Morning with the Clark's

We are having our family Christmas tomorrow morning and I am so excited. We would do it on the traditional day, but instead we will be running around visiting both sides of the family. I totaled it up and we will have a total of SIX Christmas family functions to attend this year. I love our families and I am certainly not complaining, because I know we are fortunate, but with so many holiday functions we have to squeeze our own in.

My solution this year is to do our Christmas the day before Christmas Eve. We shall call it The Eve of Christmas Eve. If you have a similar situation, I am recommending this because I hate cramming in a Christmas and sandwiching it between engagements.

Santa will be visiting and everything on that day because the kids can stay all day in their pajamas and play with their toys. No worries about getting dressed or hurrying off after opening gifts.

If Ethan should ask why Santa is coming so early, I have come up with the perfect excuse. You see, our last name starts with “C” so we are at the beginning of the alphabet. Santa goes in alphabetical order and we are so fortunate to be among the lucky families he visits first. And if your last name starts with “A” and you are waiting until Christmas Day to get your Santa gifts, then I recommend you keep this very quiet because that will foil my entire plan.

I am going to be making up the batter for Gingerbread Waffles tonight, which is a special holiday treat. I started making these last year and they are HEAVENLY. It literally smells like a Christmas cookie in our house. The hot cocoa will be humming in the cocoa maker and it will just smell like…Christmas.

And if my husband asks what Christmas smells like, it is because he has never smelled Christmas, or fresh bread, or dirty diapers (lucky on that one!) Yes, he has no sense of smell. We like to do the circus music when he discloses this to people. Then they usually launch into, “How can you taste? You mean you have never smelled your wife’s amazing food? Do you wish you could smell things like everyone else?”

I, on the other hand, have a nose like a bloodhound. When we lived in our apartment complex, I would sniff the air and proclaim that the lady across the hall was making Beef Stroganoff Hamburger Helper with a tad too much milk because it smelled a little runny. Well, maybe not that clear, but you get the picture. We are an odd pair!

Be thankful you can smell and enjoy these delicious Gingerbread Waffles courtesy of Rachael Ray (who I am really burnt out on) and keep this one in your recipe collection. Enjoy!

Gingerbread Waffles

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, eyeball it
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter, plus some to butter the iron
Syrup, whipped cream or fresh fruits for topping, to pass at table

Preheat waffles iron. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. In a medium bowl, beat eggs and brown sugar until fluffy, then beat in pumpkin, milk, molasses and melted butter. Stir the wet into dry until just moist. Do not overstir the waffle batter. Brush the iron with a little melted butter and cook 4 waffles, 4 sections each. Serve with toppings of choice.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What to Get the Person Who Has Everything

Today has been spent getting the last of our gifts together. My husband and I both have sets of grandparents in Florida and today was the day that I needed to get a gift out to them. I don’t know about you, but I find that grandparents are difficult to give to. As we get older, it seems we accumulate so much stuff. I already feel as though I have a rapidly growing collection of belongings and the need for things just isn’t as strong as it used to be. On my husband’s side, there are six children. Six children, plus their children, plus their children’s children…well, that equals a lot of stuff every Christmas.

My husband’s grandparents had encouraged us to give what we would have given them to charity. Although I think that is very thoughtful of them, I still wanted to give them something special that they could actually enjoy.

What do I give someone when I can’t think of anything else to give them? Why, pictures of my children, of course! I had taken so many pictures of our children over the holidays and was excited to get copies made of them to give to the grandparents.

A recent addition to our Dollar Tree were some beautiful photo albums (which I picked up over half a dozen of, for occasions such as these) and a quick stop over to Sam’s Club to pick up prints, and I had all the ingredients I needed to make a beautiful holiday gift.

I remember when we lived far away from my nephew; there was just so much I felt like I missed out on with him. I wanted to know what everyone else knew. I wanted to know what his favorite color was, what his favorite book was, what his favorite time of day was…things that I felt like I should know as his aunt. Unfortunately, when you live far from your family, these are just everyday occurrences in their life that you don’t get to be a part of.

In this album, I tried to recreate some of the special moments of our days together. I wrote about what my son’s aspirations were at the tender age of four (anyone looking for a top chef on their staff?), what my daughter loved to sleep with, our experience with Santa, what my son wanted for Christmas…all of the things that I know that they would want to know.

A special letter, a little holiday ribbon, and our gift was ready to go. I am hoping that it will be a memorable one for them and a way for them to feel like they are just as much a part of our lives as if they lived right next door.

I am avoiding the post office at all costs, so I put the shipment information into RedRoller.com (be sure to read that post on this great mailing service!) and put the packages outside of our door. The boxes were ordered, for free, from the UPS website and the labels were printed on the back of some of my recycled computer paper.

Total cost per gift (including shipping)- $9.00

We also included one of my son’s art projects, just to add that special touch that only he could add to the parcel. His picture of “Monsters” will be loved by them all.

Do you have a favorite gift that you have given for the person who has everything? Sound off by clicking my comments button. You don’t have to secretly lurk here- I would love to get some new ideas for my family.


P.S.- Aren't my kids so dang cute? You can definitely comment on that!

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Making Real Christmas Memories


Last night I worked on my annual holiday cookie tray. I am not a big Christmas cookie kind of gal, but I do love to share a sweet treat. I am all about ease though when creating my holiday goodies and the easier, the better. Within a few hours I had cranked out enough goodies for thirteen goodie boxes. I included brownies (the boxed variety with a handful of chocolate chips in them, which makes them homemade- of course!), Rice Krispie treats, microwave peanut brittle, peanut butter & chocolate fudge, hot cocoa mix, and white or dark chocolate pretzels. They looked so beautiful fully assembled and I was so excited to get to be Santa today.

We ran boxes to the usual suspects in our family, but also had goodies for all of the great people who do so much for us. The mail person, our newspaper carrier, my hairdresser, and the firefighters.

I highly recommend, if you have a little boy, taking the time to visit your fire station with a box full of goodies. First of all, seeing the faces of the firefighters light up when they saw all of our treats was a treat in itself. More importantly though, was the light in my son's eye when they took him around to show him the fire engines. He got to turn the lights on it, pretend to drive, visit each of the trucks, got an honorary junior firefighter badge, and an explanation of how everything worked. I don't know who was more excited- him or me. Regardless, it was one of the best days of playing Santa I have ever had.
All of the boxes & ribbon were purchased 75% off, during the after the holiday sales. I purchased a gold metallic pen (from the Dollar Tree) and wrote our holiday wishes on each box. The goodies were then assembled into small treat bags, tied with red or green ribbon.
Here are a few of my recipes to share with you!
Microwave Peanut Brittle

1 cup dry roasted peanuts
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup lite corn syrup
1 pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda

Grease a baking sheet & set aside. In a glass bowl, combine peanuts, sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Cook in microwave for six to seven minutes on high (keep one eye on it to make sure it isn't bubbling over or burning the nuts)- the mixture should be bubbly and the peanuts should be brown. Stir in butter & vanilla; cook for two to three more minutes. Quickly stir in baking soda, just until the mixture is foamy. Pour immediately onto greased cookie sheet. Let cool for fifteen minutes or until set. Break into pieces.
Fantasy Fudge

3 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
12 ounces chips (chocolate, peanut butter, butterscotch, white- any combo you want)
1 (7 ounce) jar marshmallow cream
1 tsp vanilla
Mix butter, sugar and milk in a saucepan. Heat until 230 degrees on a candy thermometer. Or if you do not have a thermometer, bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly for 4 to 5 minutes.
Remove from heat. Stir in candy chips a little at a time until melted. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Spread into a small greased rectangular cake pan. Cool to room temperature.
Cut into squares.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Freebie Friday: December 8, 2006



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Welcome to Freebie Friday on the Mother Load! I hope that you will enjoy these freebies as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with all of you.

I did want to post an update to Jamie’s story, as I have received many emails on her requesting information on how her family is doing.

Jamie sent me an update and let me know that her family was able to get their electricity turned back on, some food for her family, and was able to get some clothing for her children, all through the Multi-Services organization (Thank you to the wonderful tipster who shared this with her. Good bless you!). She was, however, denied by many of the other services because her income was “too high” according to income qualifications. This makes me very, very sad as this woman is working very hard to support her family.

We have gotten many emails requesting Jamie’s contact information and many of our readers are offering to send her packages of food, toys for her children, and clothing. Jamie and her family greatly appreciate the assistance, although I do want to preface and say that Jamie NEVER asked for a handout, but only requested information on guiding her in the right direction. Jamie’s children’s sizes are size eight for her daughter (both bottoms and tops) and size eight in boys (both bottoms and tops). Jamie herself wears size 10/12 in bottoms and size large on top. Their local grocery stores are Price Cutters & Walmart. I am providing this information in case anyone wanted to help this family or had plans to donate some items to Goodwill and would like to donate them to Jamie instead. We have sent her a grocery card for this week and we are hoping that with the assistance of others that she will have a very Merry Christmas this year. Please email me privately at amy@momadvice.com if you would like to help this family.

I also contacted every media outlet, nonprofit organization, and church in her area and sent them letters pleading that they help her. Jamie completed an interview with her local paper yesterday on her struggles as a single mother and I am hoping that this type of publicity will not only make people aware of her struggle, but the struggles of many single mothers out there. If you are a single mother who is looking for some guidance, SingleMom.com is an awesome website full of great information. I have been providing articles for these ladies for a long time and they are the best resource for single moms on the internet.

Now on with our freebies for the week!

Get a free sample of Sunsilk Hair Care Products from Walmart. Please allow up to four weeks for delivery.

Get a free milkshake from Fuddruckers for joining their mailing list. No calorie counting book is included in this freebie so enjoy this freebie thoroughly!

Courtesy of About Freebies, they provided this great information…Costco has their cookbooks from 2002 - 2006 online with over 1,000 recipes. You may also be able to pick up a printed copy of the most recent version at your local Costco. Ask at the customer service counter. They also have a number of reference and catalog documents available online. All of these can be found on the Costco Connection page.

Pfizer is offering a free Mom Kit. Within the kit it contains information on how to take five minutes to better yourself as a mother and comes with free samples. In the kit you receive a Tucks Medicated Pads Box of 40, Desitin (1 oz size), Lubriderm Daily Moisture Lotion (1 oz size), a coupon or free Listerine (not to exceed $8.40 value), a coupon for free Pediacare (not to exceed $5.49). You will need to call during normal business hours and speak with a representative to get this sample. The telephone number is 1.800.223.0182. Press the teleprompt for, “Promotions.” They will ask if you are expecting or if you have a baby and your address. You will receive your sample within five to seven business days. Now if only they offered Tylenol PM so you could get through all of those nights where you can’t sleep. Then I think that this offer would be complete!

Hershey’s website has a free downloadable calendar and also offers free printable scrapbooking packs, which would be great to print out for your kids and to let them scrapbook with you! Heck, if you are really frugal, these can be your scrapbooking pages too. Just make sure you have a nice quality printer.

Purchase the US Weekly Magazine for December 11, and there is a coupon for Victoria's Secret Beauty Rush Lip Gloss. It is free with no purchase necessary, and is a $7.00 value. You even get to choose from any of the 27 flavor/colors. It is on Page 43. Offer good till 12/24. Don’t forget to pick up some mistletoe!

Print out this buy one get one free coupon on Slurpees! Not a total freebie, but close!

Fill out the quick form and receive a Baby’s Dream Growth Chart. This offer is only good while supplies last so get this freebie quick! If you look to your left, they are also offering a free Nursery Guide and offering a Nursery Giveaway that you could sign up for. This is great for those mommies-to-be!

Get a free sample of the Homeschool Enrichment Magazine.

Here is a fun freebie for the kids! You can call Santa every day, twelve days before Christmas, and he will have a new message each day for you. It is a toll-free number and would be something really fun to add to your Christmas Jar this year! The number is 1-800-972-6242.

Here is a freebie for non-profit organizations. DreamHost offers a FREE Strictly Business plan to non-profit, charitable, organizations registered in the United States. This discount applies to a single Strictly Business hosting plan per non-profit, hosted within only one account, for US-based 501(c)(3) organizations. Account extras, add-ons, and domain registrations (other that any included with the plan) are not eligible for any discounts.

What little girl would not love a free printable Dora the Explorer Potty Training Chart for Christmas? Make sure to print this one out for loads of potty-training fun! It includes printable calendars and an award certificate of completion!

I am sure you have a lot of gray hairs now from completing all of that potty training. Why not cover them up for free with some free hair color? There are loads of colors to choose from. I am a “Drew” color- what is your shade? The free sample link is to the left on the page.

Best Buy is offering fourteen free downloadable holiday tracks on their website. Enjoy the holidays with some free music!

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Every Post You Need for the Holiday Season



Since I have over two hundred posts, I thought I would pull together a list of posts that might help you during this holiday season.

Shipping:

Say No to Hand Cramps (when doing your holiday cards!)

Getting the Cheapest Shipping

Shopping:

Saving More on Christmas Shopping

Simon Mall Kidgits Program (since you have to be at the mall anyway!)

Sam’s Club Click N Pull (something worth checking out when you are battling long lines at the wholesale club)

Avoiding Holiday Debt

Thirteen Easy Ways to Save Your Family Money

Frugal Gift Ideas:

Restaurants.com Gift Certificates

Holiday Bling Without a Bling Budget

Weeding Through Your Child’s Artwork Creatively (use some of those art projects for gifts this year!)

Frugal Teacher Gifts

Frugal College Student Gifts

Simplifying Gift Giving

Giving the Gift of Magazines Frugally

Babes in Toyland

Recipes:

Homemade Microwave Popcorn & Caramel Corn

Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Aldi Fall/Winter Menu Planner

Traditions:

Schedule of Christmas Television Programs

Creating Holiday Traditions

Me Time

The Christmas Jar

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Real Review of Restaurant.com


Restaurant.com - $25 Certificates for only $10


I wanted to take an opportunity to review Restaurant.com because it was one of those deals that just sounded too good to be true. How can a company offer $25 gift certificates to restaurants and only charge you $10 (or less if a coupon is involved) and actually be a deal that is for real? I was a skeptic, but was willing to take a gamble on it to enjoy an evening out with my husband.

We purchased our gift certificate for $25 for a mere $4 because they happened to be running a great sale on the gift certificates. When we typed in our zip code, it popped up a few restaurants in our area that were participating. Last year when I had checked there had not been restaurants in our area, so this was a pleasant surprise.

We chose a nice Italian place for dinner and I purchased the gift certificate. I did read through the terms of the gift certificate before purchasing it and still was a little puzzled by all of it. For example, this gift certificate had said that I needed to spend $35 to get a $25 gift certificate. Did this mean I needed to spend $35 at Restaurant.com or did this mean the restaurant itself? Only when I received the gift certificate did I understand that I was supposed to spend $35 at the restaurant and not the website. Would have been nice to know so I thought I would mention this in case anyone else has the same weird confusion.

I purchased the gift certificate for one particular restaurant and a copy of the gift certificate was emailed to me as well as available immediately for printing. You have the ability at this time to make a reservation through the website. This is not required, but I thought it might make the process go smoother and alert the restaurant that I was using one of these certificates (remember I said that I was a little concerned that this was a hoax?) Within a minute of placing the reservation I received an automated call from Restaurant.com to thank me for placing my reservation and that they were confirming it.

We went to dinner that night and had two entrees and two glasses of wine. The total bill was over the amount needed for us to use the certificate so meeting a $35 minimum purchase at the restaurant was not a problem at all! When we received the bill, we tucked the certificate inside and waited for the manager to come out and tell us that we couldn’t use it.

The waiter came out with our bill revised with the $25 removed from the total tab. Now we could let the excitement really begin because it was the real deal! Our evening, including our tip and the $4 purchase price) was about the cost of one entrée at the restaurant.

Now why in the world would a restaurant be open to doing this? Well, if it is a small mom and pop shop, this is a great way to get new faces in the door and let them know about your restaurant. For example, the place we went to was so great that I now want to go there for my birthday. Mission accomplished by the restaurant to get me to be a reoccurring customer. This is also a great way for a new restaurant to get their name out there. The places that were offered were great and they probably know that they are great. They know that they are so great that they can give you food (practically free) and know that you will probably come back and pay top dollar for the same entrée.

Here are a breakdown of the positives & negatives of the gift certificates:

Pros:

· It is a very inexpensive way to try out a restaurant without paying a lot of money.

· The certificates are instant- no waiting for them to be put in the mail to you.

· The company guarantees the certificates. If, for some strange reason, you are having trouble with a particular restaurant they will refund your money.

· The website provides pictures of the restaurant and it includes the menu so you know exactly where you are going and what they have to offer.

· You can get gift certificates as gifts for other people. You do not have to decide which restaurant they should go to (unless you wish to do this) so when they receive their certificate they can pick the place in their area that fits them best.

· The certificates can also be used for online retailers that have partnered with Restaurant.com

Cons:

· There is fine print on these certificates. The things that stood out for me were that you are only allowed to redeem one of these per month per restaurant, you are not allowed to use two certificates at the same time (even if you have separate checks), and each individual restaurant has the choice to decide whether your alcohol tab can be applied to the gift certificate.

· The choices in smaller towns may be minimal or not at all. They seem to be expanding, but the big city folks definitely get more choices.

· When given as a gift, the recipient needs to know that they will be responsible for a portion of their bill (remember the $25 off of a $35 purchase) and that they can only use one certificate at a time.

The reason I mention these is that they do make excellent gifts. Giving someone fifty dollars in gift certificates when spending a fraction of the price is a great thing for frugal folks like me. These would be great for a college student (as they could apply this in their area) or could be used when you are traveling and want to be able to dine out without spending a bunch of money.

If you do decide to get one of these, I would love if you clicked through our banner above on our site. We have become affiliated with this program and would appreciate the credit for it.

The current coupon code (good through DECEMBER 10th) is Code#: 73515. When totaling your bill enter the code and then hit, “Recalculate” and this will give you fifty percent off of the price of the gift certificates.

If you have had experience using Restaurant.com, feel free to share it…good or bad!

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Holiday Bling Without a Bling Budget

I heart Christmas. It is my absolute favorite time of year. I fear that my children are going to grow up hating Christmas because their mother drove them crazy with Christmas extravaganzas. Sadly, I am willing to forgo their enthusiasm in their later years to really make Christmas special for them now.

When I say that I love Christmas though, I do not mean that I go crazy buying presents. Presents do not equal the fun part of Christmas for me. Frankly, presents equal more stuff that I need to find a home for and we have a ton of things already that still haven’t found their proper homes.

No, the fun part of Christmas for me is the Christmas music, the decorating of the tree, making homemade goodies for gifts, reading Christmas stories, and watching the classic Christmas shows on television.

Other people do expect some gifts though so I do give in on the gift thing. The frugal gal in me really shines around the holidays and I have gotten some great deals under our tree. Here are a few tips for keeping the bling in your holiday without completing ruining your budget.

1. Start buying after the holidays. I get great deals on my gift wrap, Christmas gift bags, holiday ribbon, cards, and stocking stuffers after the season is over. These are those little things that don’t seem to ever make into the budget factor. Sure, you got a great deal on a gift, but if it costs you three dollars to make it look presentable…well, is it still a good deal?

2. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. We opted out of a holiday gift exchange when the price tag became too much of a burden our family. If you don’t feel good about giving a gift, then you probably shouldn’t give it. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground if you don’t feel comfortable with the dollar amount.

3. If you know that others in your family are struggling to meet ends meet, agree to not give gifts or do something in lieu of a gift. For example, this year my sister and I agreed that the adults in our family would not be exchanging gifts and only the kids would be receiving the goodies. That alleviated the financial burden of buying two gifts for each of our families. For birthdays, which we both have right around the holidays, we are exchanging babysitting instead of gifts. A night away with just my hubby…now that gift is priceless!

4. Be sure to hit your dollar store…and hit it often! You can get some great gifts there. I got beautiful hardbound books for gifts, amazing acid-free photo albums, and stocking stuffers galore at our dollar store. Dollar sections at Target & Michael’s can also host a goldmine of great gifts for you that are much easier on your wallet.

5. Buy gifts periodically throughout the year so you don’t feel that financial crunch when December comes around. I visit the clearance sections in the stores all year round. I put these gifts in a Rubbermaid tote and just add to it as I come across things. By December, I have almost everything I need and I can say, “Ah” instead of “Ouch!”

6. When your children are small, they are not going to care if they are the first recipient of their toys or not. Thrift shops can be your best friend and your children will love it just as much as they would have if you bought it at the “real” store. Enjoy it before they figure it out!

7. Homemade goodies are the way to anyone’s heart. Make things that are quick and easy , but still have that homemade flair in them. I buy Christmas tins from our Goodwill and fill them with goodies for people. The tins cost a quarter a piece and I try and find recipes that don’t cost a lot to make or take a lot of baking time.

8. Restaurant.com gift certificates. Need I say more? These have made my giving so much easier. Right now they are running a coupon code (Code#: 73515. This coupon code expires on DECEMBER 10th) for fifty percent off the already low price on these. I will be writing a review of these awesome gift certificates later this week. I have used them, they are for real, and they make great gifts!

However much you choose to give, remember to give only what you can afford. Who wants to pay for Christmas for an entire year? Worse yet, who wants to still be paying on Christmas when the next Christmas rolls around? Give, but give accordingly.

Feel free to share how you keep the costs down on your holiday spending!

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Freebie Friday: December 1, 2006

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It is Freebie Friday today and I am excited to share all of the latest freebies with you.

I didn’t get any tips this week, as I am sure everyone is preparing for their holidays, but I did receive a letter from a family that could really use your help. We have received so many great responses from all of you and I really appreciate it, as does Jamie and her family. If you have any tips or know of any resources for them, I would greatly appreciate your comments. Jamie has been checking the post and looking into all of your tips. Thank you all for your responses!

I would also like to let everyone know that, “The Christmas Jar” article has been posted. This article should give you some unique ideas for making the holidays special with your children. We also recently posted an article on Making Your Own Convenience Foods & Mixes and an article on Frugal Ways to Winterize Your Home. Be sure to check these out!

This Week’s Freebies:

AOL Video has decided to spread some holiday cheer by giving away over 30 free movie downloads for one day only on this Saturday. For the full scoop, visit TechCrunch to get all the info. Looks like there will be some holiday movies and some big budget blockbusters. Enjoy!

Claim a complimentary one year subscription to PC Magazine.

Get a free sample of Olay Definity. Limit one per household.

Order a free Herbal Expedition Kit. This includes a sample of herbal tea, two seed packets, and a cookbook from Celestial Seasonings. Please allow four to six weeks for delivery.

Visit an Estée Lauder counter and enjoy a complimentary iMatch™ makeover. During your consultation, the Estée Lauder foundation expert will ask you specific questions to determine your shade, your finish, your match. Simply mention O, The Oprah Magazine and you’ll get the royal treatment. You'll receive a free 3-day supply of your ideal shade and formula, no purchase necessary. Available exclusively at your nearest Estée Lauder Counter. For more information, please visit this link.

Get a free bathroom guide on “Where to Stop & Where to Go.”This guide is intended for people who have an overactive bladder. I am sure mothers with toddlers have this issue too!

Get a free sample of Monistat Soothing Care Chafing Relief Powder-Gel. You will also receive a dollar off on your next purchase of this.

This PDF file contains a page full of coupons for free rentals from Hollywood Video.

Get a free sample of Luna Bars.

Claim a complimentary one year subscription to Log Homes Illustrated Magazine.

Get a free sample of Orville Redenbacher’s Smart Pop Popcorn. This freebie will go very fast- be sure to snatch your sample up! Please allow up to four weeks for delivery. If you don’t get this one, check my blog entry for how to make your own homemade version of microwave popcorn.

Claim a complimentary subscription to Psychology Today Magazine. This is for a full year’s worth of the magazine.

Get a free subscription to Culture & Travel Magazine.

Get a free four ounce sample of brown rice and some free recipes from Carolina & Mahatma Brown Rice company.

Receive a free sample of Planters Salted Peanuts for completing a short survey.

Happy Holidays!

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Set Your Recorders

One of my favorite parts about the holiday season is all of the great holiday specials that are on television. I think I would miss it terribly if I didn't get to see "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," or the infamous, "Charlie Brown Christmas." It is one of those things that I look forward to all year long.

Planning our television schedule has become much easier this year now that I have discovered this site, which gives you the dates and times for all of those great holiday specials. The best part about the site is that they only share the shows that are suitable for your entire family.

This schedule of shows will be added to as new shows arise, so add this site to your favorites and set your video recorder, DVR, or TiVo for the ones you really want to catch this season! No need to run out to the video store for these shows now that you know exactly when they will be on.

Some of the more notable shows that we have set to record are The Polar Express, Elf, and Christmas with the Kranks. These are all movies we would have ran out to the video store to get and now can enjoy from our own home!

Happy holiday viewing!

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Creating Holiday Traditions

I am trying very hard to create some new Christmas traditions for our family. As my son gets older, I have been able to implement more things and it becomes more and more fun as the years are passing. I know each family has their own traditions, but here are a few of our family’s traditions. Maybe they can become a tradition in your family too!

Growing up, stockings were just for show. We didn’t actually stuff anything into them, so one thing that we did start doing in our family was filling the stockings. When my husband and I were first married, we filled each other’s stockings. It was a lot of fun to do that for each other.

When we had kids, we have noticed that our own stockings have lacked that “star quality” that they once had. Because our daughter was born five days before Christmas this past year, we didn’t even put anything in our stockings. This year, I am trading stockings with a girlfriend. There is a twenty dollar limit and who knows you better than your friends? This should be a fun one to open this year!

One year, in lieu of the little trinkets for the stockings, I put out index cards in a basket with a pen on Thanksgiving Day. Each day, between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas, we would write one thing that we found special about each other. It was fun to see what my son said at two about what he thought about us, and also to see what my husband appreciated most about me.
On Christmas Eve, we got to dive in and read all of our notes to each other. There was definitely a glow about all of us that day!

This year, we are adding two new traditions to our growing list. The first tradition we are adding is filling a jar with twenty-five activities to do between now and Christmas. Things like building a snow man, popping popcorn and watching a movie, making an ornament, going to see the lights in the neighborhoods…basically anything that is free and fun to do. Each day we will draw and do one activity together.

The other tradition that we will be doing is making an advent chain. Taking paper, we will make a chain and number them, to do our own countdown to Christmas. Now that my son is at the age where he is extremely interested in the whole Santa factor and what he is getting, he has already started the, “When is Christmas?” questions. This will hopefully slow down the questions because he will get to tear off each day for the countdown.

If you have special traditions in your home that you would like to share, please leave them in the comments section. Maybe it will inspire others for ideas to add to their family traditions.
Happy holidays, everyone!

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