Wednesday, December 17, 2014

FREE Disney Autographs

A fun surprise for your child is a Disney photo and autograph. All you have to do is send a request to one of the addresses below asking for a certain character's autographed photo and maybe a line or two about why you like that particular character (it makes them feel good)! At this time, the requests must be made by old-fashioned snail mail. I would definitely plan ahead if you are wanting the autograph by a certain date. The turn around time is weeks to months.

Walt Disney Company
Attn: Fan Mail Department
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521

Attn: Character Name
Walt Disney World Communications
PO Box 10040
Lake Buena Vista, FL  32820

I would send it to both addresses and see which one responds faster. It is also a good idea to include the child's name as they might even personalize it for them! A great treat for your little Disney fan!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Crockpot Italian Beef Hoagies

Italian Beef Hoagies are an easy crockpot recipe that are fabulous as a winter/fall dinner idea and wonderful reheated as leftovers. Add a salad and a simple meal is complete.I highly recommend using a sirloin tip roast as some other cuts of beef may be too fatty.

14-16 servings
1 boneless sirloin tip roast (about 3-4 pounds)
2 envelopes Italian salad dressing mix
2 cups of water
Sub or hoagie buns

1. Cut roast in half and place in a 5-quart crockpot.
2. Combine the salad dressing mix and water and pour over the roast.
3. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or until the meat is tender and can be easily shredded with a fork.
4. Spoon onto buns with condiments of your choice.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

5 Steps To Organizing A Closet Purge

What do you think when you take a peek in your closet? Is it pristine with everything in its place? Or do the organization fairies need to pay a visit? I know for myself when I am trying to get ready in the morning, it is much less stressful with everything in its logical place. Not knowing where a certain piece of clothing might be located or scrounging around on the floor looking for that missing shoe would not be the way I enjoy starting my day. Make the start of a new year the beginning of a  renewed organization in your home. The closet is a good place to start because it often becomes quite the dumping ground for many things we can no longer use or wear. I have narrowed the organization of a closet purge into 5 easy steps that will take you an afternoon to complete.

1) Before taking anything out of the closet, take a close look at how you might want to go about re-organizing. Will you need a new method of storing shoes? How much shelf space do you think you might have after purging? Are winter and summer clothes stuffed into the same space? Take a few moments to consider how things are arranged now and what changes you might want to make.

2) Start removing everything from the clothing rods. Make three piles- definitely keep, definitely get rid of, need to check fit/style. Once you have finished, go through the need to check pile while you are motivated and just really look those items over. Are they out of style? Are they no longer the right size with little chance of being the right size anytime soon? If you haven't worn it for a year, the chances that you will start to wear it are slim. Put it in the definitely get rid of pile.
Now you should have the "keep" clothes and "get rid of" clothes. Here is where things can get dicey. Don't put the "get rid of" clothes back in the closet thinking you will take care of them later. This rarely happens. Somehow, they just start cluttering up the closet once again. Box them up and either put them in the car for a trip to Goodwill, donate them to a clothing bank or remove them into the garage/attic for the next garage sale.

3)  Now tackle the floor and upper shelving. Take all of the shoes and items off the floor. Repeat the clothing purge with the shoes. Have a box, empty laundry basket or trash can on hand to remove miscellaneous items that have made their way onto your closet floor. Pack up those items that really don't belong in your closet for distribution to their rightful homes throughout your house. Or, take the easy way and throw things away. If it is broken or missing pieces that have little chance of being found, pitch it!

4) Everything should be out of the closet and divided into piles based on what you plan to do with it. Take this opportunity to thoroughly sweep out the area, wipe down the clothing rods, get new hangars, bins or shoe racks and change the lightbulbs in your closet area. Improving the lighting can make a huge difference!

5) Start organizing the shelving and floors with shoes, scarves, belts etc. Make a concerted effort to make these items as manageable as possible. Decide how you would like your clothes organized- by season, function (work, casual, sports), or color. Try to stick with the organizational method you have decided upon as you put the clothes back. It will really make putting outfits together so much easier.

Your closet should look much improved at this point! Having an organized closet area truly does help to reduce an area of stress for many people. Plus, getting rid of things that you will no longer use can be a huge blessing to others when you donate these items.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Light Extravaganza

Christmas light displays can be so much fun for the whole family to enjoy. What a wonderful time for the family to appreciate Christmas together and make memories for years to come.There are several around the southwestern Ohio area that are great for adults and kids alike.While I have focused on several of these events, you can use the Christmas light finder website to find local displays in your area.

I really enjoy Woodland Lights. The lighted path, rides, reindeer,carriage rides and visits with Santa add to the Christmas spirit, plus it is reasonably priced.

Clifton Mills is another beautiful light display and while a little more expensive, it truly is unique with a dancing light show synchronized to music. They also have a miniature village and Santa museum.

The Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights is always a wonderful and festive display. It is quite beautiful; however, it can also be very crowded, particularly on the weekends. If you can arrive earlier in the afternoon and enjoy the animals while already being in the zoo before it gets dark, your chances of encountering less crowd and stress will be greatly reduced!

The Christmas Ranch near Cincinnati was featured on Good Morning America and HGTV. Visit the website for more details on all they have to offer.

In Sharonville (near Cincinnati), you can enjoy a drive-thru display at The Holiday In Lights at Sharon Woods. There is also a Santaland where you can venture out of your car and enjoy some Christmas festivities.

Monday, December 1, 2014

25 Classic Family Christmas Shows/Movies

Spending the weeks leading up to Christmas with some of our favorite classic yuletide shows and movies is a fun tradition. Many of these shows/movies can be found quite inexpensively online for purchase or watch on YouTube/Netflix/Amazon Prime. Grab some Christmas snacks and a few blankets and cozy up on the sofa with the family for some holiday cheer.
I have included one show/movie for each day leading up to Christmas.

1) Charlie Brown Christmas
2) Elf
3) Dr. Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas
4) Frosty the Snowman
5) Muppet Christmas Carol
6) The Polar Express
7) Miracle on 34th Street
8) It's A Wonderful Life
9) National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
10) A Christmas Story
11) Mickey's Christmas Carol
12) Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer
13) Home Alone
14) The Santa Clause
15) The Little Drummer Boy (animated)
16) White Christmas
17) Twas the Night Before Christmas (animated 1974 show)
18) The Dog That Saved Christmas
19) Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town (animated)
20) A Very Brady Christmas
21) Prancer
22) Arthur Christmas
23) Jingle All The Way
24) The Snowman (animated)
25) The Nativity Story

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Wild Waterparks: An Indoor Adventure

Today's post includes some options for indoor waterparks, particularly in the Great Lakes area, although most sections of the country now will have an indoor waterpark or two. When the weather turns cold, why not spend a night or two and enjoy some summertime temps.

One of my favorite indoor waterparks is Great Wolf Lodge, with locations scattered throughout the country. I like the multitude of things for the kids to do and it has always been very clean. Of course, it is going to be more crowded and expensive during the school breaks and weekends, but if you can swing going during an off-week or on a weekday night, it becomes much more affordable. We always try to do a Sunday night-Monday day combination right after the spring break rush and it is fairly deserted. The kids ask to go there all the time and there really is something for all ages. If you sign up for their mailing list you will get savings offers in the regular mail or thru email.

Another popular destination in our neck of the woods is CoCoKey Resort, which can be found in many places around the country as well.  While smaller than Great Wolf, it is not quite as expensive and day passes are also offered. The only caveat to the day pass being that it could also be more crowded since people would not have to stay overnight at the hotel. They have plenty to do for younger kids and older kids so it is perfect if you have a large age-range in your family. This link gives a list of most of the Coco Key locations.

Of course, the granddaddy of all indoor waterparks would be Kalahari in Sandusky, Ohio. There are also locations in the Wisconsin Dells and Pennsylvania. I know the Ohio location used to be and might still be the largest indoor waterpark in the country. Beautiful place to stay and lots to keep the kids busy, perhaps even a little extra for the more adventurous kids. My children were in awe of how big it was and they enjoyed the outdoor animal park and safari theme.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Creamy Italian Noodles

This pasta side dish is very simple to make and goes well with most chicken/beef main dishes. My kids love it and will eat several helpings. It would also be good with some chopped vegetables added.

4-6 servings

1 pkg. (8 ozs.) wide egg noodles
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup whipping cream (can use half and half if you do not want it as rich)
2 tsps. Italian salad dressing mix
Parmesan cheese to sprinkle

1. Cook noodles according to package directions.
2. After draining, place in a bowl and toss with softened butter.
3. Mix the remaining ingredients together (except Parmesan cheese) and then pour over noodles, stirring well.
4. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

5 Unique Gift Ideas

Christmas gift shopping can be a daunting task: trying to find unique gifts and not buying the same thing every year. "Gee thanks for the fruitcake. I think we still have the one you gave us last year."You get the idea!

It is difficult with children because they want something tangible, but getting them to understand that some gifts can keep giving all year long will really open up the gifting opportunities.

I've listed some non-present gifts that can offer the spirit of giving all year long. Many of these ideas are also great for birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

1) Museum, zoo, amusement park membership passes. My dad buys our kids a pass for birthdays, Christmas and Easter. We really get a great deal of use out of our zoo pass. I remind the kids every time we visit that this was a gift from Grandpa. When grandparents or family ask for ideas for Christmas or birthdays, suggest a year-long pass to your favorite museum. It can be a present that is ideal for the whole family. While those broken toys are communing in the closet, you can be out enjoying your local zoo or amusement park.

2) College fund contributions. This is a wonderful long-term legacy that grandparents can leave for their grandchildren. There are many different types of funds to chose from and different amounts that can be contributed annually. My children have had contributions made by grandparents since they were young. It may not be fully appreciated by the kids at this point in their lives, but those funds are growing quite nicely and they will embrace it wholeheartedly when they aren't paying back school loans someday.

3)Wildlife Adoption Program. My kids love animals and it is so exciting to them to think that they have an animal that they have sponsored. I have used the World Wildlife Fund, but there are many organizations that do this type of gifting. If you have someone interested in astronomy, there are name a star registries that would make a unique gift as well.

4) Subscriptions. Most people like getting mail. Why not gift someone with their favorite magazine subscription? It is the gift that you will be reminded of whenever the mail comes!

5) Event tickets. Most large or small theaters have multiple-event packages. We were once given a children's theater package of 4 shows for a gift and it was a truly wonderful experience for the kids. Perhaps tickets for an upcoming circus, ice show or concert would be appreciated.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

ABCya: Free Computer Games for Kids

ABCya is a website with FREE educational computer games for elementary aged children. The games are modeled after elementary grade lessons and incorporate fun graphics. My kids both enjoy playing on ABCya and I have used the website with them for years. There are games for kindergarten through grade 5 and they include lessons in reading, math, science, social studies and holidays.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Baked Custard

Baked custard seems like it might be a time-consuming endeavour to take on, but this recipe is so simple that you can have it in the oven within 5-10 minutes. I like to put whipped topping, caramel or fruit on top before serving.

2 cups milk
4 eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. In a blender, combine all ingredients; cover and process until smooth.
2. Pour into a greased 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
4. Cool on a wire rack for 1 hour; refrigerate until serving.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

FREE Santa Greetings

Delight and surprise your child this Christmas season with either a letter or video message from Santa Claus. I have always used the free versions of each service although they have additional services for a fee if you want to add to your letter or video. I appreciate the fact that even with the free option, there are many ways to customize the message for your child and it is easy to use, taking only a few minutes to put together. We have done this for a few years and the kids are always so happy to get a personal greeting from Santa.

Free Letters:

Free Videos:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

3 Go-To Travel Websites

I love travel and I like to find not only the best deals on travel, but the best things to do, restaurants to visit and hotels in a certain area. There are three websites that I always check when planning a trip. They have provided me with valuable insight and reviews of attractions and lodging.

1) Kayak- I love using this site to quickly compare pricing for hotels and flights. It saves me time and money.

2) Trip Advisor- Whenever we are going somewhere new and I am not sure of the attractions and reputations of attractions in the area, I check out Trip Advisor. When you go to the main page, you can search by area and look up lodging, restaurants and things to do. I find their reviews to be pretty accurate after I visit the place myself and I trust most of the feedback shared on the site. Plus, it will list pricing for most lodging choices.
Trip Advisor

3) Virtual Tourist- This site is similar to Trip Advisor. I find the advice invaluable when planning vacations. If you check Trip Advisor and Virtual Tourist and they both are giving an attraction or lodging 4 stars based on many reviews, you can be assured that it is a quality stop.
Virtual Tourist

Before booking or planning things to do on your next trip, check out these sites and save the hassle of a bad booking or stop on your next vacation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

10 Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Kids

Boy, this time of year crept up fast! Here we are already talking about "everything" Christmas. I have compiled a short list of 10 stocking stuffer ideas for kids.

1) Favorite candies- I am sure everyone is full of candy coming off Halloween and Thanksgiving as well as Christmas parties, but who doesn't appreciate a few of their favorites.

2) Personalized paper pads and crayons/markers- There are several places that print personalized paper pads very cheaply.

3) One-Time Use Digital Camera- Kids love taking pictures so why not give them a cheap camera to take some Christmas morning shots. And, you won't have to worry if it gets dropped.

4) Deck of Kids' Games Cards- Add a game of Go Fish, Uno, or Old Maid

5) Flavored Chapsticks- There are so many novelty chapsticks these days that taste like popular food brands.

6) Dollar Store Gift Card- My kids love going to the dollar store and having a small gift card makes them so happy, they feel like they can get so much.

7) Pieces of a Nativity Scene- A nice tradition is giving a piece of the nativity scene each year as a stocking stuffer until it is completed and the child has a whole nativity set of their own.

8)Trading Cards- They make trading cards for so many popular kid brands and sports teams. Pick up a pack or two and add them to the stockings.

9) $5 Gift Card towards a new Kindle or Ipod app or ITunes card

10) Mini Snow Globe- Start a cute tradition as well as a collection by adding a miniature snow globe to the child's stocking each year.

I hope a few of these ideas will help you on your way to gathering stocking gifts!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

3 FREE Online Radio Choices

I like freebies and I like music so it makes sense that I would find some radio alternatives that are free of charge and able to be customized to the music I want to listen to. These days there are lots of choices for online music streaming. I have listed my top three picks. I prefer to choose the genre or search by artists and listen to other artists that are similar. While these radio alternatives are free for use of the basic service, there are options to purchase non-advertising listening and further control of "stations".

My favorite and probably one of the best known would be Pandora. I think that it is easy to use and the advertising is not too overbearing.

AOL Radio is another option for free music. You can search by pre-made stations or create your own station or playlist.
AOL Radio

Grooveshark is a third option with lots of potential listening choices. There are many genre stations to pick from including classical to hard rock to rap. A paying option is also available for more access to songs.

Monday, November 3, 2014

FREE Thanksgiving Recipe Ebook

Some of the best meals and favorite dishes are centered around Thanksgiving dinner. I have compiled my favorite holiday recipes to include in this Thanksgiving mini-cookbook and you can download a free copy of this ebook at Smashwords and Barnes and Noble:

Thursday, October 30, 2014

White Chicken Chili

As a mom who loves to cook, but doesn't always have a lot of time, I am always on the hunt for some yummy, creative recipes that my kids will enjoy.
I wanted to share recipes that are not too time-consuming, yet taste great and are kid-approved.

The following recipe always receives great reviews from adults and kids. I have had friends tell me that their children often ask for this soup. Great for fall days and relatively simple. Just add some muffins or garlic toast and you've got a meal.

7 servings
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into small cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 tsps. garlic powder
1 tblsp. vegetable oil
2 cans (14 1/2 ozs. each) great northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 1/2 ozs.) chicken broth
2 cans (4 ozs. each) green chilies
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 cup (8 ozs.) sour cream
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1. In a large saucepan, saute chicken, onion and garlic powder in oil until chicken is no longer pink.
2. Add beans, broth, chilies and seasonings; bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes.
4. Remove from the heat; stir in sour cream and whipping cream; serve immediately.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Free Resources From Crayola

The Crayola website has a wide array of free activity, coloring and educator resources. Most of the coloring pages have the option to print and color or color online. Some of the categories include: science, social studies, Disney, holidays, seasons, sports and words and letters. My kids really like the online coloring option and I have found some helpful resources to supplement their lessons.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

5 FREE Things To Do In St. Louis

St. Louis is such an awesome city for a family vacation. Fun activities, historical places to see and all kinds of unique attractions make it a top destination for families. While you could easily fill a week with everything there is to do in this heartland city, I have highlighted a few possibilities that are free.

1) St. Louis Zoo- I have always
enjoyed visiting this zoo. It is a large zoo and houses over 19,000 animals. My kids love the penguin and orangutan exhibits. While the zoo admission itself is free, you can pay for additional perks such as the train,stingray petting, carousel, movie and 4D simulator. If you wish to park in the zoo lot, there is a parking fee; however, we have found parking right outside of the zoo gates with success.

2) Grant's Farm- This wonderful family experience has been a St. Louis tradition for many years. The park is named after Ulysses S. Grant and is home to 900 animals. Among the attractions are: a guided tram ride through the Deer Park, animal shows, a visit to the Budweiser Clydesdales, and tour of Grant's Cabin on the grounds. There is a parking fee per vehicle, but admission to the park is free to everyone.

3) The Gateway Arch- what visit to St. Louis would be complete without a stop at the famed Gateway Arch. Visiting the outside grounds of the Arch and going inside to check out the Museum of Westward Expansion are free of charge. Plus, it is located next to the Mississippi River so you can add a stroll along the riverbanks to your excursion. If you would like to take the trip up to the top of the Arch, there is a fee.

4) St. Louis Science Center- my kids really loved out visit to this highly hands-on museum. General admission is free and there is more than enough to occupy with a myriad of exhibits focusing on all kinds of science topics. There is a charge for tickets to the Omnimax theater.

5) Anheuser Busch Brewery Tours- The breweries in St. Louis are a big part of the city's history and seeing the manufacturing and technology utilized to run and make a worldwide brand is actually very interesting. Whether or not you even like beer, it is a well-run tour and one of the better factory tours that I have been on. Plus, being free is an added bonus. It also includes a visit with the Clydesdale horses in site, which is a big draw for the kids.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Apple Brickle Dip

If you are looking for new ways to serve apples, try this super-easy crowd pleaser. This will literally only take 5 minutes to prepare and is a nice alternative to typical fruit dips.  

Makes 2 cups
1 package (8 ozs.) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 package almond brickle chips or English toffee bits

3-4 medium apples, cut into slices or chunks

1. In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, sugars and vanilla.
2. Fold in brickle chips.
3. Serve with apples and refrigerate any leftovers.

Monday, October 20, 2014

FREE Kids' Workshops and Classes

There are quite a few retail stores that offer FREE or very economically-priced workshops for children. These classes foster do-it-yourself skills, promote creativity and teach safety lessons. The workshops are largely aimed at the 5-12 yr. old age group.

Lowes and Home Depot both have free workshops. The kids make fun projects or crafts. I have a few that I've been using for several years: think Thanksgiving turkey napkin holder!
Lowes Build and Grow
Home Depot

There is a small charge for the Michaels craft store Kids Club. The craft opportunities are really cute and do not seem to take a high level of parental expertise.
Michaels Kids Club

The Disney Store also offers kids' events with music, stories and crafts. Check out the store locator and events page to see if anything is coming up.
Disney Store

The Pottery Barn also offers storytimes and
kid-related activiites. Other than the events listed at the top of the page, there are usually book club announcements farther down the page.
Pottery Barn Kids

These events, workshops and activities provide terrific opportunities to spend some time with your child without breaking the bank. My kids look forward to the ones that they attend and they almost always get something to take home with them and a certificate. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Make A Thankful Plate

I saw this idea last year on Pinterest in a baby shower theme and thought it could be worked into a fantastic way to celebrate Thanksgiving. 

Buy some $1 ceramic plates at a dollar store. They can really be any color as long as the color you chose for the marker will coordinate. At a craft store, find a Porcelaine 150 pen or other marker that is for writing on ceramics. Have the kids name off things they are thankful for, adding them to the plate as you go along. Once you are done, bake the plate according to the marker directions for the ink to completely set and dry.
Voila, you will have a wonderful reminder and keepsake of a year’s worth of blessings! Once a few years have gone by, there should be a nice little family stockpile of thankful plates to use for Thanksgiving dinner.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Super Homemade Sloppy Joes

My family loves homemade sloppy joes. They are pretty simple to make and just simmer for 40 minutes without much preparation. We are so used to having sloppy joes this way that no one likes store-bought cans anymore.

Super Homemade Sloppy Joes
Serves 8-10
2 pounds ground beef
1 2/3 cups canned, crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
1 tablespoon steak sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Hamburger buns

1. Cook meat in
a skillet until no longer pink; drain.
2. Add the remainder of the ingredients; mix well.
3. Simmer, uncovered, for 35-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Spoon onto hamburger buns. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Progressive Phonics: Helping Your Child To Read

Progressive Phonics is a reading program for beginning readers as well as readers with a bit more experience. The best part is that it's absolutely FREE! From learning the alphabet to advanced phonics, the program also includes worksheet and activity sheets to complement the lessons. I have used this and my kids  really enjoy the cute and silly stories. I actually print them out and paste them into a blank journaling book for them to look at and read.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Awesome Packing Lists for Family Travel

If you are like most moms, taking the actual family trip is fun, but the leg work involved to get ready for the trip: not so much fun! Laundry has to be done, clothes and toiletries packed, toys and activities for the car ride sorted out. It never fails that something will be inevitably left behind, especially if you have young children.

I recently found a wonderful packing list, courtesy of the website. The list heading is for babies and toddlers, but it is really a comprehensive list for the whole family. It is already in PDF format, so it just needs saved to the computer and printed out for the next trip. I guarantee following this list will save A LOT of time in your next packing adventure.

The other two lists are from Smarter Travel and Minitime. They are also terrific resources to make planning and packing for your next trip so much easier. The Minitime list has many subcategories whether you are taking a car trip, airplane, cruise, resort, etc. so it is really helpful.

 Packing Lists

More Packing Lists

Thursday, October 9, 2014

5 Tips for Better Bathroom Organization

The bathroom drawers and cupboards can definitely become a dumping ground of "stuff". It is easy to think that you'll get back to it another day and clean it out, but usually that day never comes around. Plus, you are in a hurry getting ready in the morning and if things don't have a definite place they all get piled up underneath the sink.
I have found that by instituting a few simple organization tips in the bathroom, the clutter will slowly become minimal.

1) Use an over-the-door show organizer to store make-up, nail polished, etc. If you get the organizer with clear pockets, they are easier to clean and obviously easier to see what is in each compartment. It will also save you time to have everything handy for use and easy to see rather than rooting around in your cramped make-up bag.

2) Plastic silverware container for toothbrushes, dental floss, toothpaste. Instead of organizing your spoons, knifes, and forks, take a $1 dollar store silverware container and put toothbrushes in separate compartments, toothpaste in the larger section and dental floss on the ends. Plus, it is easy to drop it in the dishwasher and clean.

3) Get a tiered cupcake/sandwich stand and use it to have lotions. sprays and perfume on one tier. Use additional tiers for Q-tips, cotton balls and other odds and ends. It looks nice and just takes up a corner of the sink to display.

4) Take a small, three drawer, plastic mini-organizer to get pills and medications in order. One drawer can hold OTC pain relievers, allergy/cold meds. The next drawer could hold digestive aids, vitamins. The last drawer might be used for prescription medication. It is so helpful to have them readily organized rather than rummaging around in a bottomless pit of medicines.

5) We have a bunch of mugs that have accumulated over the years that almost never get used. I have taken a few and re-purposed them for holding my hair accessories. I place the mugs on a cheap tray and leave it under the sink. One mug holds barrettes, one for hair ties, one for my brush/combs, and I prop my curling iron in one. I used to just drop all of my hair stuff in a drawer and it always got tangled up. This way I am not having to do much more work, just dropping them in their mugs.

Hopefully, one of these tips will help lead you to a more organized bathroom!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Orange Creamsicle Fudge

This is a favorite treat for fall and holiday parties. People always think it is a big hunk of cheese and  are pleasantly surprised to find a piece of candy that tastes just like an orange creamsicle. I believe I found this recipe in an old magazine, but it has been so many years that I do not remember. I do not that it is a yummy treat that is always a big hit.

Makes 2 1/2 pounds                                                                     

1 1/2 tsps. plus 3/4 cup butter (no substitutes), divided
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup whipping cream
1 pkg. (10-12 ozs.) vanilla or white chips
1 jar (7 ozs.) marshmallow creme
3 tsps. orange extract
12 drops yellow food coloring
5 drops red food coloring

1. Grease 13X9X2 inch pan with 1 1/2 tsps. butter
2. In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, cream and remaining butter.
3. Cook and stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved.
4. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 4 minutes.
5. Remove from the heat; stir in chips and marshmallow creme until smooth.
6. Remove 1 cup and set aside; add orange extract and food colorings to remaining mixture, stir until blended.
7. Pour into prepared pan.
8. Drop the reserved marshmallow mixture by tblsp. over top; cut through mixture with a knife to swirl.
9. Cover and refrigerate until set; cut into squares.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

3 Favorite Books For Parenting Insight

Being a parent is such a rewarding experience, but it is also fraught with worries, doubts and insecurities about whether you are following the right path in your parenting. Like most moms, I've read lots of child rearing books and some are full of practical application while others leave a lot to be desired. I have highlighted three books (series of books) that I have found to not tell me "what to do", but give me some insight into what makes kids tick or people in general for that matter.

The first book is "The Birth Order Book" by Dr. Kevin Leman.  I personally find this subject matter fascinating. It not only gives you an idea of the positives and negatives of each birth order, but it really helps you to see how responses to a similar situation could be different given where someone falls in the family birth line. Not only for applying the information to parenting, but I also found it helpful in regards to  friendships, work relationships and my own reactions. It was interesting to note that the birth order of the parents can affect their parenting style and expectations of children.
The Birth Order Book

"The Five Love Languages of Children" by Gary Chapman is the next book from which I have gleaned a lot of parenting direction. The book gives advice on how to understand and make practical applications on how your child gives, receives and interprets love. Based on the five love languages: receiving gifts, words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, and acts of service, there are illustrations of how your own love language and your child's might affect one another.
The Five Love Languages of Children

The third book is actually a series of books Dr. Louise Bates Ames based on studies from The Gesell Institute of Human Development. Even though the books were primarily written from a late 1970s perspective and some scenarios reflect that time, I have found a lot of useful knowledge and peace of mind. Each book focuses on a certain age and tells parents what to expect both good and bad for that age. Backed by data from studying thousands of children, the author sets up the scenario for the normal developmental strides and bumps you will more than likely encounter. I believe that in today's society we are quick to try and classify any little perceived abnormal behavior, but these books really put the "norm" in proper perspective. It is not so much
telling you what to do, but describing what to expect with each age. It also details what happens as the child rides into their half birthdays as well. The following link is a good synopsis for each age and the books are listed at the top.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Teriyaki Chicken Breasts

Teriyaki chicken breasts are a favorite dish in our house. This recipe calls for baking the chicken, but it could easily be grilled after marinading.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup pineapple juice
2 tablespoons vinegar

1. Combine the water and soy sauce in a small saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add the garlic powder and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
3. After simmering, add the sugar, pineapple juice and vinegar to the pan.
4. Continue to simmer, stirring often.
5. Pour half of the sauce over chicken and marinade in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
6. Keep the leftover sauce to further marinade as the chicken cooks.
7.  Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, spooning leftover marinade over the chicken every 15-20 minutes.
8. If you do not wish to bake, grill the chicken until it tests done, brushing with leftover marinade sauce.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Webrangers: Free National Park Service Site For Kids

Webrangers is a fun interactive website, which is actually the National Park Service's online Junior Ranger program for kids of all ages. You will find lots of games and activities plus the opportunity to earn rewards. There are activities concerning nature, history, science, animals, famous people, and the national parks. The skill levels are easy, medium and hard so all ages can find things that are the right level for them. Kids can customize their own online ranger stations as well.
 The best part is that it is FREE to join and play! It truly is a great resource.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

5 Must-See Attractions at Disney's Animal Kingdom

If you are visiting Disney World, each park has some must-see attractions that should not be missed. My kids love the Animal Kingdom at Disney World and I have listed our top 5 rides/shows that you will not want to miss. Some people do not have an entire day to devote to each park, and if you only have a small amount of time or are there on a extremely crowded day, hitting a few of the highlights will make your time seem very well-spent.

1) Kilimanjaroo Safari Expeditions-
Ride jeeps into the African savanna for some real-life encounters with animals such as lions, giraffes, rhinos, zebras and the list goes on. It is a wonderful attraction with such attention to every detail and probably the closest that most of us will ever be to a real African safari.
There are fast passes for this ride and I recommend getting on as the lines can get fairly long.

2) Festival of the Lion King-
A 30-minute Broadway-style musical show based on the music and characters from The Lion King. Even though it is 30 minutes in length, the action and colors will definitely keep the attention of younger children. My kids really enjoyed this show and asked to go back and see it again. 

3) Expedition Everest-
Cleverly themed Mt. Everest-inspired high-speed roller coaster with a fun twist: an encounter with a very realistic Yeti. This ride is not for young children or those who do not enjoy high-intensity rides; however, for thrill seekers, this is a must.
Fast passes are available and I highly encourage getting one or visit early in the day. 

4) Finding Nemo-The Musical-
This musical experience is definitely one of my favorites at any of the parks. The show is 30 minutes in length and fashioned on the Pixar film, Finding Nemo. I loved the positive energy and colorful artistry of the show and my kids enjoyed seeing their favorite characters come to life. 

5) Tree of Life-It's Tough To Be A Bug-
The Tree of Life is the centerpiece to the whole park and is so unique with the numerous animals carved into it. There are trails encircling the tree so that you can walk at your own pace to look at the carvings and take pictures. The show, It's Tough To Be A Bug is a 3-D movie based on the film, A Bug's Life. I really like the special effects involved with the movie, although I will say that my toddler was a bit afraid as were a few others in our showing.There are also fast passes available for the 3-D movie.

Trying to catch all of these attractions in one day does not have to be difficult as long as you take advantage of the fast passes and keep an eye on show times. I will have a list of slower-paced and less crowded attractions around the park in a later post.
If you are planning a trip to Disney, don't overlook this awesome park. It is a great one for younger kids and they will love the myriad of animals that can be viewed up close and personal.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Easy Chore Organization For Kids

Organizing chores for your kids can seem like a daunting task for many reasons. For starters, it may seem faster to just do it yourself and many times the kids are less than excited to participate. Plus, finding a good system is also an obstacle.
After many starts and stops, I decided on a chore card system for the kids and it seems to be working smoothly. I use index cards and an index card case with dividers. I make 4 sections: one for each child's chores, a section for tasks they can work on together and a division with a card for each child with the daily tasks they must complete.
My daughter is 8 and I will write out ten cards with various chores on each card. Each day, she picks out the first two cards and completes the tasks on those cards. Afterwards, they are filed in the back of her section. Her 10 tasks include: swiffer kitchen, vacuum great room, empty her trash, put away folded clothes, dustbuster stairs, dust coffee table, wipe down breakfast table, swiffer bathrooms, dustbuster couches, wipe down bathroom mirrors. I ask her to do 2 each day.

My son is 5 and he has less chores. Each day, he picks one card from his section and files it to the back. His 5 chores consist of: dustbuster great room, wipe down bathroom sink, refill napkin holder, dustbuster kitchen, empty trash can.

The tasks that my daughter must complete every day include: make her bed and pick up clothes and put them in her hamper. My son must put his clothes in the hamper each day. The tasks that they work on together are: putting toys away in their basement play area and cleaning up their rooms together.

I let them put a sticker on the back of the card when they complete the chore and after the accumulation of so many stickers, they can pick a prize. I have liked this system so far because the card case is compact and it isn't taking up much space or wall space to hang a chore chart. In addition, the kids have several age-appropriate chores to complete and it is simple for them to pick the next 1 or 2 cards in their section. I also like them to have jobs that they must learn to work on together. Implementing a chore system can be difficult to get rolling, but I feel once you get in the habit it can be a beneficial aspect of family life for everyone.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Crafty Apple Trees

As hard as I try, I am not particularly gifted when it comes to crafting. That is why this section is named, "For the Craft Impaired". My goal is to include easy, quick crafts that you can do with your kids that will not cost much, are simple to plan and don't require a ton of supplies.

My first craft experiment was to make apple trees with the kids arms/hands and then fingerprints for the apples.
1) They each traced their arms from the elbows to the hands and cut them out.
2)  After pasting them into place on another sheet of construction paper, we cut out green leaves for the tree and pasted them behind the fingers.
3) Using an inkpad, the kids put thumb and finger prints all over the "green" of their trees with little black stems. They wanted golden delicious apples hence the yellowish green apples!
4) They could always decorate them a little more, but otherwise, we are all done!

For many moms, this craft is super simple, but the kids enjoyed doing it and I have a keepsake of their hands and finger/thumbprints. Plus, it is a nice little fall decoration.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

M&M Cookies

I love these cookies and have been making them forever. When I was little, my mom always made them and let me help and now I enjoy making these cookies for my own kids. It is so easy to coordinate them to whatever holiday is around the corner with the various holiday-colored M&Ms.

M&M Cookies
Makes about 5-6 dozen

1 cup shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups M&Ms
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1. Blend shortening and sugars in a large bowl.
2. Beat in the vanilla and eggs.
3. Mix together the dry ingredients.
4. Add to the sugar mixture, blending well.
5. Stir in 2 cups of candies.
6. Drop by teaspoon on an ungreased baking sheet.
7. Decorate the tops with the remaining candy.
8. Bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees or until golden brown. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

FREE Thanksgiving Activity Ebook

Thanksgiving is such a terrific time of counting blessings, but it is also a fairly overlooked holiday in the shadows of Halloween fun and Christmas hoopla. I created this ebook to offer some fun activities leading up to Thanksgiving to celebrate this important holiday. It is refreshing to see the kids get excited about a holiday that does not involve obscene amounts of candy or presents and Christmas music overload.

The ebook is FREE and can be found on Smashwords in various formats or on Barnes and Noble or Apple iTunes store.
Barnes and Noble

Check out my ebook store with other titles:

Monday, September 22, 2014

Italian Potatoes

Great-tasting side dish that is quick and easy to prepare. My kids love this dish so it is a surefire way to get them to eat some veggies.

4 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 cup creamy Italian salad dressing
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs

1. Toss potatoes with dressing, salt and pepper.
2. Place in a greased 13X9X2 inch baking pan.
3. Sprinkle with bread crumbs.
4. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.
5. Uncover and bake 20 minutes longer or until potatoes are tender.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

20 Family Movie Night Films

Watching movies together as a family can create lasting memories of childhood. A family movie night is a great opportunity to introduce your child to some classic, wholesome entertainment. Some of the movies on this list are newer, but most have withstood the test of time and continue to entertain generations of children. I did not include any of the newer Disney cartoon movies, but some of the older classic Disney films are on the list.

1) Mary Poppins- The Disney version creates a much more chipper Mary Poppins than the one portrayed in the original book.
2) Benji- I loved this movie as a kid and always wanted a dog just like Benji.
3) The Parent Trap- The original Hayley Mills version is really fun even if as an adult you are wondering how this situation ever happened.
4) Dolphin Tale- A feel-good movie for everyone
5) The Muppet Movie- I watched the original so many times as a kid and I still loving hearing Rainbow Connection.
6) Jumanji- This is just a fun movie to watch!
7) Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory- The original with Gene Wilder is one of my favorite movies. Who wouldn't want to run rampant in a crazy candy factory?
8) Annie- I was 7 when this movie came out and I think I saw it about 10 times at the theater.
9) Pollyanna- An oldie, but goodie!
10) Goonies- One of my favorites in middle school- every family should enjoy this buddy movie together.
11) Swiss Family Robinson- Shipwrecked, pirates, having a treehouse to live in- what kid would not like this movie??
12) Night at the Museum- I just love this one!
13) National Velvet- A treasure of a movie and one that all ages can enjoy. Most kids won't know who Elizabeth Taylor was, but it is interesting to watch her in the movie as a pre-teen.
14) Charlotte's Web- Read the book together and then enjoy the movie.
15) E.T.- Enough said- I still cry every time.
16) Chitty Chitty Bang Bang- Classic car tale
17) The Sandlot- Fun baseball movie
18) Home Alone- Great movie of the 90s
19) The Adventures of Milo and Otis- Touching tale of friendship
20) The Wizard of Oz- While the witch and flying monkeys have been known to scare some little ones, this timeless classic is one to definitely watch with your children.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

FREE Music Resource: DSO Kids

Learning about music can be a very enriching experience for children. Classical music, in particular, has been shown to have many worthwhile benefits for young minds. Knowing about the orchestra, famous composers and a wide range of instruments are all helpful for training kids in music study. One website that does a fantastic job of incorporating these components is DSO kids. DSO is a kid-friendly site of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. There are numerous games and listening activities focusing on famous composers spanning several centuries, music theory, and instruments of the orchestra. These games can be played by early elementary students with some parental help and by older elementary and middle school students on their own. My kids have learned a lot from using this website and they especially like hearing the different instruments.
Check out this wonderful resource for helping to introduce your child to the world of classical music.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

5 FREE Things To Do In The Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge Area

The Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area is chock full of activities and fun family adventures. The good news is that there are quite a few FREE places to check out. I have highlighted 5 below.

1) The Smoky Mountains National Park- Duh!! This beautiful expanse of park providing the scenic backdrop for the area seems like a no-brainer, but quite a few visitors to the area never step foot in the actual park. We took a narrated tour in to the park and our guide told us that it is approximated that half of all visitors to the area don't actually go to the national park. Cades Cove, Clingman's Dome and Sugarlands Visitor Center are just a few of the highlights to visit while in the park.

2) Visit The Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge. This mega-store features anything and everything Christmas. The kids will love perusing the many displays and enjoying the Christmas spirit all year long. Across the street, The Inn at Christmas Place is a Christmas-themed hotel that is also fun to explore and check out the displays.

3) Stroll the streets of Gatlinburg. Taking a walk down the quaint streets of Gatlinburg is great for people-watching and checking out the fun trinket shops and candy-making stores. Head on over to the riverwalk along the Little Pigeon River, right off the main drag in Gatlinburg. A little quieter stroll and lovely scenery.

4)  Old Mill/Patriot's Park. The Old Mill Shopping District features the Old Mill itself, which sits along the Little Pigeon River,and some cute shops including the Old Mill's general store. I enjoy the restaurant at The Old Mill, although this is not free, it is definitely tasty. Walking around the grounds is free, but if you want to take a tour of the inside of the mill, there is a small fee.  Patriot Park is next to the Mill and is a nice park featuring displays pertaining to American heritage and patriotism. It was a perfect place to let the kids run off some energy.

5) Drive the Arts and Craft Loop. This loop has a plethora of handmade arts and crafts from local artisans. Take the loop and check out painting, pottery, wood crafts, leather crafting, candles, glass-blowing, basket weaving, quilting and more. There is no fee to just take the loop and stop to watch the artisans at work; however, if you don't wish to drive it yourself, there are trolleys available for a nominal fee that will take you along the loop.

The Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area has so many fun family activities- many of which are free or very budget-friendly. Take some time to check them out on your next trip to the Smokies.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Crock of Brats

Cooking brats in the slow cooker makes for a hearty fall meal. Add some bread and a salad and you have a full dinner. Not everyone in our family likes sauerkraut, so I do not add it to the slow cooker, but heat some up before the brats are done to add to individual plates.

Crockpot of Brats
6 servings

5 brats
3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 can sauerkraut, rinsed and well-drained
1/3 cup diced onion
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. In a large skillet, brown bratwurst on all sides and slice into 1-inch pieces.
2. In a 5-quart crockpot, combine the remaining ingredients; stir in the brats.
3. Cover and cook for 4-6 hours on HIGH or until the potatoes are tender.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

5 Educational Science DVDs for Kids

Educational DVDs do not have to be
dry and boring. There are many entertaining shows with high-quality educational content to be found. I incorporate watching them within our homeschool day or in the car on long trips. In fact, sometimes the kids will ask to watch one of these videos rather than a mainstream cartoon. I have chosen five science based videos that we use often and are relatively inexpensive.

1) Popular Mechanics for Kids-
This was a series in the late 1990s and early 2000s based on the Popular Mechanics magazine. The main goal of the show is explaining how things work with the help of the two kid stars who travel around to try new things out. Since the series was fairly long-running, there are lots of episodes. I purchased the whole series for a very reasonable cost. Some of the episodes focus on roller coasters, zoos, alligators/swamps, lightning, toys/games and spaceships. My kids LOVE this show- it is definitely one of their favorites and it appeals to a large age range of children.

2) Magic School Bus-
The popular series of books were made into educational cartoons in the 1990s. Each episode focuses on a particular science topic and follows the adventures of Ms. Frizzle and class. With episodes ranging from seeds to lost in space to ants to energy, there is always something new to learn. I bought the entire series and the kids will watch them all again and again. This series was targeted towards the elementary age range.

3) Animal Atlas-
If your kids like animals and zoology, they will really enjoy this series and learn quite a bit. The DVDs pretty much cover almost any species of animal imaginable and are great for elementary aged kids as well as preschoolers.!dvd/c1o1j

4) The Science of Disney Imagineering
The Disney magic is on display in these engaging videos about what goes on behind the scenes in creating the special Disney effects. Each DVD focuses on a different concept from electricity to friction and gravity to name a few. The series is aimed at a higher elementary level to middle school.

5) Moody Science Classics
If you are looking for a Christian-based science series, Moody may be the right pick for you. These classic DVDs are dated, but are wonderfully made and stand the test of time. The topics range the entire gamut of science-related concepts all with the Creator as the central theme and focus.

Monday, September 8, 2014

5 Tips for Saving Money on Eating Out

Most people enjoy eating out, but with the economy sluggish, it can be an expense that many families just can not afford on a regular basis. While it would be nice to have a home cooked meal every day, the fact is that in today's fast-paced society, there are many days where dinner comes at a restaurant table. So, how can you still work in the growing expense of eating out with kids? We do not eat out as much as we have in the past, but I have tried to stick to some "restaurant rules" to keep costs down while still enjoying a meal out. Of course, there are special occasions, but for the routine restaurant  trip, I really attempt to stick to a budget.
Here are a few tips I try to follow:

1) Check out the kids' eat free deals and/or coupons/Groupons/Entertainment books first before deciding where to go. Unless it is someone's birthday meal and they have carte blanche in the decision about where they want to eat, try to go for one of the places where you know there is going to be a savings. Case in point, we recently had dinner at Steak-N-Shake for $12 for a family of four. The kids got a free meal since it was kids' eat free on the weekends and we had a coupon for the hamburger and fries meal that I usually get. Plus, we had a coupon for buy one, get one free milkshakes so my husband and I were both able to get full-size milkshakes. That is a huge savings! There are several websites dedicated to helping you find the best deals for eating out with kids.

2) Drink water. It's great for you and your digestion and it's free. Think about how much that glass of soda is going to cost you, especially when half of it is filled with ice. And, I love soda pop, but when eating out it is very rare that I would actually purchase one. Anymore, a beverage in most restaurants will cost at least $2-$3, multiply that times every person in your family, each time you eat out and it can seriously add up.

3) Stay clear of desserts and appetizers in addition to a full meal. If you are ordering a meal, cutting out a $5-$8 add-on like an appetizer and/or  dessert will save a lot of money. I know so many people that order the appetizer in addition to their meal and then barely eat a bite of the actual entree since they filled up on the first course. Obviously, there are exceptions, but we do not routinely go out as a family and order a bunch of additional things besides our main meal.

4) In the same breath, embrace the appetizer. Many times, appetizers are fairly large and can actually be the preferred choice to the entrees. In that case, why not order an appetizer as your meal. It will no doubt be cheaper. My daughter and I will sometimes split a larger appetizer and we still can not eat it all, but it saved us from purchasing two separate meals.

5) This is completely dependent on the place you are eating and the ages of your kids, but when at all feasible, have them split a meal. With my children's ages, there are still restaurants where the kids' portions are fairly large. After I realized that neither of them were able to eat more than half of their own meals, I started having them share. There were certain places where the kids' meal consisted of 3-4 large chicken tenders and a whole plate of fries and cup of fruit and my toddler/preschooler was in no way able to eat the whole meal.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Simple Bread Pudding

If you like bread pudding and want a simple recipe that will only take minutes to prepare, then this is the recipe for you. I am not a fan of raisins in my bread pudding, but they could easily be added. Caramel topping or vanilla flavored whipped topping goes very well with this bread pudding.

6-8 servings
6 slices day-old bread ( I like to use a brown sugar cinnamon bread)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4 eggs, beaten
1 3/4 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Break bread into small pieces  and place in a lightly greased 8-inch baking pan.
2. Drizzle melted butter over the bread.
3. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla, beat until well mixed.
4. Pour over bread and lightly push down  with a fork until the bread is covered.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes  or until the top lightly springs back with tapped.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

ASTC Passport Program: Museum Centers For Cheap

A great way to gain access to hundreds of museums nationwide is thru the ASTC (Association of Science-Technology Centers) passport program. Purchase a pass at one of the participating centers for free or reduced admission to other centers throughout the country. This is an excellent resource for traveling families.
We purchase our passes through a center in Florida, which is very reasonably priced for a family. We more than get our money's worth. One trip to a larger science museum and your pass just payed for itself.

Find a complete list of participating centers at:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

3 Tips for Organizing Photos

So, you've got tons of pictures saved to your digital camera and phone. Will they sit in picture purgatory forever or be unceremoniously deleted a year down the road? When I first had kids, I decided to make a concerted effort to keep pictures printed off or organized for future use. I scrapbook so it does force me to keep things in a somewhat orderly fashion, but I've found a few other ways to store or showcase my pictures.

1) Show off your pictures in a digital photo frame. Take your photo card and use a digital photo frame to scroll through the photos. It can be displayed for guests to view and is a nice way to have a constant reminder in your living room of favorite memories.

2) I print off my pictures through an inexpensive photo printing service and store them in an accordion file for later use. I always try to separate them in the files by holidays and events. It makes it much easier once I am ready to scrapbook them or put them in an album.

3) Make online photo books. There are plenty of options for photo books from elaborate and costly to simple and inexpensive. For quick picture organizing, you can utilize a ready-made template to place the pictures for you. I might make a simple book focusing on Christmas pictures or fall events and it doesn't take longer than a half hour or so to put together plus they make excellent gifts.

Take the time to organize and enjoy your pictures! Photos are wonderful for triggering happy memories. It is a great gift for your kids to someday have pictures of their childhoods. They are not being enjoyed by anyone if they sit on your phone in photo no-man's land never to be fully appreciated. Finding old pictures from your childhood is always such a treat and having a full album or book with photos is priceless!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Spicy Garlic Chicken Pizza

I love this pizza, the flavors are great together and it is a unique take on the normal pizza recipe. It may seem a little weird to add pine nuts, but they really do add to the overall flavor. I have been making it for years and have tweaked the original recipe a few times.

Spicy Garlic Chicken Pizza
6-8 servings
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared garlic
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch
16 oz. Italian pizza shell
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons diced green onions, optional

1. Brown chicken and cut into small pieces.
2. Combine the garlic, soy sauce, vinegar with olive oil and red and black pepper.
3. Add chicken to the mixture and marinade for 30 minutes at room temperature.
4. Drain and reserve marinade.
5. Heat the marinade and add cornstarch, heating until the mixture is thick and bubbly.
6. Spread the marinade and then chicken over the pizza shell.
7. Add the pine nuts, optional green onions and cheeses.
8. Bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

1+1+1=1: Preschool Learning Resources

1+1+1=1 is a terrific website/blog with tons and tons of fabulous free ideas, activities, tot and preschool packs, tot trays and printables. They also have resources for kindergarten and first grade as well as lapbook templates. I have found some awesome learning tools to use with the kids. This is definitely a bookmark-worthy site.

Monday, August 25, 2014

5 Fun Fall Family Traditions

The fall season is upon us! Cool, crisp air, football, pumpkins, apples and pretty fall leaves are some of the wonderful things in store during the autumn season. There are so many opportunities for making some wonderful family memories with fall-themed activities. I've picked 5 that my family enjoys and does each year.

1) Visit a pumpkin patch. We have two pumpkin patches that we visit every year. It is fun to look back on pictures of the kids and how they have changed from year to year. The patches that we frequent also have other activities for families- wagon rides, animals, apple picking, corn mazes.
It is one of the things the kids look the most forward to in fall.

2) Take a fall nature walk. The brilliant fall leaves make the perfect backdrop for a hike in the woods, letting the kids collect leaves along the way. Use this as an opportunity for some enriching family time, unplugged from electronics. Time marches on so fast that one day you'll look back and wish for these days to rewind.

3) Make some favorite fall recipes. We fix a snack of pumpkin pound cake and frozen apple cider slush. Since we only make these goodies during autumn, it is a fun seasonal treat. The kids like to help mix ingredients and blend the apple cider.

4) Check out area festivals. Fall seems to be prime time for all kinds of festivals. Pumpkin, apple, corn, fall fests! You name it, I'm sure there is a festival for it and chances are it will be in the fall!
Most newspapers will have lists of area festivals either in print or online.

5) Decorate for fall. Whether or not your family participates in Halloween, you can still enjoy decorating with an autumn theme. Pumpkins, corn stalks, mums are all fall decorating staples. In order to let the kids participate, I will give them a few dollars to pick up some decorations at the dollar store. They also like to hang any fall crafts they've made.

Family traditions can really foster a sense of security and familiarity for kids. They look forward to certain things at specific times of the year. It is always fun to look back at pictures from the same pumpkin patch or festival from year to year and see how everyone changes.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Butterscotch Blondies

Yummy blondies! It is almost impossible to eat just one!

Makes 3 dozen
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar                                                
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda   
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pkg. (10 ozs.) butterscotch chips                                                                  

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
3. Add eggs; blend well.
4. In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and salt; gradually add to butter mixture; mixing well.
5. Stir in butterscotch chips.
6. Spread into a greased 13 inch X 9 inch X 2 inch baking pan.
7. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and center is set.
8. Cool completely before cutting into bars. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

3 Websites To Score Free Samples

So, you like to save money and get some fun freebies in the mail? If the answer is YES, then check out these 3 freebie sampling sites. I like checking out the new samples each week and while some of them will overlap, you can find quite a few originals. I have to admit that it is kind of a rush when they start showing up in the mail. Don't judge- it's the little things. It truly does come in handy, especially when you receive travel sizes of toiletries, which is great for trips.

1. Start Sampling: I like to check out the samples and forums headers for lots of freebies.

2. My Savings: I usually will peruse the free samples and free stuff headers. They always seem to be updated regularly.

3. Free Stuff Times  I feel like this site is easy to navigate and offers very up-to-date offers.