Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ohhh Baby


"Three Roses on Wood" painted by Theodore Gegoux, photo by Fran Bryant

Okay, so y'all may have noticed that I've been a little bit quieter than usual these last couple of weeks, and there is actually a very good reason for it- I promise! And that reason is....(da dada dah!)....

I'm pregnant!

Yessir, going to have baby number 3. We are very excited. We found out on New Year's Eve and I was okay for a couple of weeks but then I started in with some Chinese morning sickness (morning sickness in the afternoon and evening) and then on top of that I caught the stomach bug that was going around. So all in all, not a great couple of weeks. The strange thing about me is that I don't throw up- ever- so I have just been extremely nauseous and tired, not wanting to eat much of anything, and, well, the other thing that happens when you have a stomach bug. Enough information, right?

So anyway, we've been telling family and friends about our new arrival over the last few days, and it's been such fun. I'm especially excited that my brother and his wife are expecting their first child, because it will be due just after ours, so we'll have two little cousins the same age! And she and I get to be belly buddies to boot. We're due in September, by the way.

Needless to say, my deals shopping has pretty much gone by the wayside, and I am waaaaay behind in my coupon clipping. I even let $16 in ExtraCare Bucks expire. *GASP!* Shocking, yes. But I am hoping to get my bootie in gear and start up again this week, so I'll be sure to share my accomplishments.

Also this week and next I'll be doing a mini-series for you called "The Fourteen Days of Valentines." This is something that I do for my husband every year, ever since we were first married. For each day of February leading up to Valentine's Day on the fourteenth (that's for all you guys out there who are wracking your brains trying to remember what day it's on) I do a little something special for him that has to do with whatever number day it is (like 3 roses for the 3rd day, 4 love notes for the fourth day, etc.). Most of the things I do are either very inexpensive or don't cost anything at all. It's fun for me to surprise him, and he looks forward to receiving the special treats each day. I'll just post a short note on here each day to share what I'm doing for him, and hopefully you can get some good ideas for your sweetie.

Thanks for hanging in there with me, friends. Be patient and we'll get back into the swing of things!

Amazon.com Killer Clearance Deals!



Amazon.com is currently running some great clearance deals on baby and kids' clothes from The Children's Place, Target, and more! The best deals I saw were shirts, shorts, and pants for $1.49- I'm stocking up on some bigger sizes for my kids for next fall. Hurry, quantities are limited!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Not Really a Makeover, but: My Secret Room...


The crayon isn't a fixture. It's just for scale.

Welcome to my secret room. I decorated it myself using my home decorating magazines and my inner child. It was like going on an unlimited furniture and decor shopping spree. We had so much fun creating it. I got the idea from the Small Notebook, and I love that my room pops up from a file folder so I can fold it up when I'm not staring at it and daydreaming. 

I have all my favorite things- a fireplace, a beautiful wreath, pretty pottery, and two perfectly-behaved (and of course non-shedding) loveable pets whom I named Goldie and Puff. They aren't all to scale (whose fireplace comes up to their waist?) but it's my room so I don't care. If my kids were a little bit older I would love to make rooms like this with them. 

Please stop by again soon and we can sit by the fire and share a cup of tea. Goldie and Puff love to have company. Maybe one day you can even make your own secret room. If you do, be sure to let me know so I can drop in for a visit!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rockin' Kids' Parties Part III: Food and Fun!


Starlet and her guests enjoying some party pizza!

Welcome to the third installment of my Rockin' Kids' Parties series (FINALLY!)! Starlet's party was wonderful, and she and all the kids (and the adults!) had a great time. Here are some ideas to help your next party be just as fun!

 Food

- For a character party, I say go with your theme! For example, for my daughter's Dora party last year we did mexican- quesadillas, chips & salsa, etc. It was fun and the kids enjoyed the variety. A princess party could have little tea sandwiches, a dinosaur party could have dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, and for a construction party you can have your guests "build" their own sandwiches- just be creative!

- Another option is to keep it simple! This year to simplify we just picked up some $5.55 pizzas from Little Caesars. Relatively inexpensive, and kids love pizza. We had cut up veggies with ranch dressing for dipping and some chips on the side.

- For a first birthday, I think it's fun to do all finger food- that's right, break out the fruit puffs and cheerios! It's a fun way to celebrate your little one.

Fun

- Crafts- For Starlet's party I found some really cute miniature wooden picture frames in a little kit with markers to color them at Michael's for $1.00 apiece. Since there were only going to be 7 kids, I decided that would be a fun and relatively inexpensive activity. When the kids arrived, I had our kid-sized picnic table set up in the kitchen with the kits arranged on it at each place, so when the kids came in they could sit right down and start coloring. It was a good way to keep things settled while everyone was arriving, and allowed the kids to kind of "connect" at the start of the party. My master plan was to take photos of Starlet with each guest for them to put into their frames, but...well, things don't always go as planned when you have 7 kids under the age of 5 running around!
For Monkey's tools party, I had intended to have the kids build little houses out of notched popsicle sticks (found in the craft section at Wal-Mart) but things got crazy so we didn't get around to it. That's why I recommend doing a craft at the beginning of the party.

- Games- There are the classics- Pin the Tail on the ______, Pass the Present, Duck Duck Goose, etc. I went to one party where they put candy in balloons and the kids each got a paper sack and had to pop the balloons to get the candy out. Then the hostess gave an extra prize to whoever collected the most balloon pieces at the end- clever clean-up!
For a first birthday, you can have even more fun with the games- do some baby relay races, in which participants have to transport items from one basket to another by crawling across the room. 
Another fun one for a first birthday is Baby Portrait- sit your birthday boy/girl in their high chair in the middle of the room, then give each person a slip of paper and a crayon. They have only 15-20 seconds to draw a portrait of the baby, and then they must pass the paper to the person on their right. They will then have another 15-20 seconds to work on someone else's started portrait. Continue passing 1-2 more times until the portraits are complete. We did this at Starlet's first birthday party and she loved being the center of attention, and all the adults were cracking up at their portrait creations!

-Treasure Hunt- Treasure hunts are a staple at our birthday parties, because they're a fun adventure and it's a creative way to give out the goodie bags at the end. For Starlet's party, we framed the treasure hunt around the Dora show- I made a Map, and we played the theme music before we started. As we went along, I said the Dora-isms, like, "Great! We've crossed the rickety bridge (a line of dining room chairs down our front hallway) and we've made it through the spooky tunnel (the dining room table covered in sheets) and collected our shapes (scattered on the floor of the tunnel), where do we go next?" Answer? "Bubble Forest!" (the kitchen, where the bubble machine was madly shooting out bubbles that the kids were supposed to pop, as the iPod player played the "Popping Bubbles" song). The final stop was the "Magic Door" which was just the laundry room door right off the kitchen that had a sheet of foam on it with shape outlines. Each child had to stick their shape they had collected from the tunnel in its spot on the magic door, and then the birthday girl could open the door to reveal their treasure- goodie bags! 
Monkey's birthday is in May, so the weather is much more conducive to outdoor play. For his treasure hunt I made picture clues, and gave them one clue to start- a picture of a swing- and when they went to the swing they found another clue- a picture of a trampoline- and so on until they found the treasure. 
You could do a treasure hunt to go along with any theme or character- the important part is to play to the kids' imaginations. The more excited and enthusiastic you are, the more fun they will have with it. Turn everyday objects into magical things- like my rickety bridge and my bubble forest! 

- Time Capsule- We did this for Starlet's first birthday, but it could really be done at any age. I got a big #10 can (like a coffee can) and decorated it as her time capsule. I left out some note cards and pens so that all of our friends and family could write notes to her that she could open on her 16th birthday. After the party was over, I added some of the leftover decorations, some photos I had taken that day, and of course the portraits we had done in our game. Now when she has her Sweet Sixteen, she will have an additional, extra special gift to open. :-)

Final Words of Advice

- It's easy to get carried away when planning a party- create a budget, and stick to it! When possible, keep it simple. For the goody bags I used large pink plastic cups ($1 for a large pack) and clear cellophane bags (leftover from something else). I filled the cups with bubbles (3 for $1), kaleidescope-type things (4 for $1), candy necklaces for the girls and bugs for the boys ($1 for all), lollipops ($1 for a big bag), and stickers ($1 for a book with 4 sheets, and I cut up each sheet into fourths). The kids loved them and it was a nice way to say thanks for coming!

- Make a schedule. It sounds silly, but it will help you keep your sanity to have a schedule and stick to it. As mentioned above, times when I didn't plan, my ideas didn't always happen. It's best to think through the order of events at the party to make sure things go fairly smoothly. For Starlet's party, we did the craft first, then lunch, then presents, then cake, then the treasure hunt. That's what worked best for us- decide what will work for you and go with it! 

- Have fun, and be sure to pay attention to the guest of honor to make sure he/she is having fun too. If your little one gets overwhelmed in large groups, keep it small. If they are particularly possessive of certain toys, put them away before guests arrive. Take a few moments throughout the party to take your little one aside and check in with them to make sure they're okay. It can be stressful having a birthday!

I hope these ideas have helped you plan your next birthday bash! Have fun and let me know how it goes!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Funny Friday: The Magic of Christmas (God Bless Us Everyone)- iTunes fun!



A friend of mine posted this on Facebook and I love these kinds of things, so I thought I'd do it real quick and post it on here- there were definitely a few of them that made me laugh! 

1. Put your iTunes on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER HOW SILLY IT SOUNDS!
4. Tag 10 friends who might enjoy doing the same as well as the person you got the note from.

IF SOMEONE SAYS "IS THIS OKAY" YOU SAY?
Wouldn’t It Be Nice

WHAT WOULD BEST DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY?
Won’t Go Home Without You

WHAT DO YOU LIKE IN A GUY/GIRL?
Us

HOW DO YOU FEEL TODAY?
Thank You

WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO?
Uninvited

WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS THINK OF YOU?
To Where You Are

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT VERY OFTEN?
The Lion Fell In Love With the Lamb

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR BEST FRIEND?
White Wedding

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
The Prayer

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE STORY?
Dweller on the Threshold

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?
O Holy Night

WHAT DO YOU THINK WHEN YOU SEE THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
Unwritten

WHAT WILL YOU DANCE TO AT YOUR WEDDING?
Better in Time

WHAT WILL THEY PLAY AT YOUR FUNERAL?
The Power of Love

WHAT IS YOUR HOBBY/INTEREST?
Bubbly

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SECRET?
Wild, Wild Life

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR FRIENDS?
Every Little Thing She Does is Magic

WHAT'S THE WORST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN?
A Rain of Angels

WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU REGRET?
Nomads

WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH?
Don’t Save it All For Christmas Day

WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?
The Party Song

WILL YOU EVER GET MARRIED?
For You I Will

WHAT SCARES YOU THE MOST?
Gira Con Me Questa Notte

DOES ANYONE LIKE YOU?
Bright Side of the Road

IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?
Hand in My Pocket

WHAT HURTS RIGHT NOW?
Brazil

WHAT WILL YOU POST THIS AS?
The Magic of Christmas Day (God Bless Us Everyone)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Let's go Krogering...



Long story short, the stomach bug hit me yesterday. I am still suffering, but I had enough of a reprieve this morning to hit the Kroger sale, so I thought I'd share a pic with you! The only thing I wasn't able to get was the Green Giant SteamFresh vegetables, because they were totally out of stock (bummer!). I also wasn't able to get as many items as I usually do because one of my "coupon suppliers" has been a bit iffy lately, and I haven't been as dilligent about seeking out coupons. I will probably end up just buying a second newspaper subscription...

Anyway, my total before my Kroger card and coupons was around $60, but after coupons I spent $16. Not too bad. I got:

- 3 bags of Armour meatballs
- 2 bottles Ken's salad dressings (vidalia onion- mmm!)
- 3 boxes Orville Redenbacher popcorn
- 2 cans Hormel chili
- 1 box Nature Valley granola bars
- 1 box Fiber One granola bars
- 1 can Rotel tomatoes
- 1 jar Pace picante sauce
- 1 tub Daisy sour cream
- 1 block (8oz) Kraft cheese
- 1 bag Goldfish crackers
- 1 package Nestle refrigerated cookie dough
- 1 bottle Frank's RedHot Sauce (a kind to use on hot wings- for my hubby's Super Bowl party!)
- 1 bottle French's mustard

I liked this sale because this is all stuff we will use. I just wish I could have gotten the frozen vegetables! Bummer! I'll have to check back later in the week to see if they get more in stock.

Did you go Krogering this week? Leave a comment with a url to your post so I can take a peek at your haul!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Swagbucks ROCKS!


Search & Win

Okay, first let me apologize for totally skipping out on Makeover Monday today. I have a sick hubby and sick son, so there was not a lot of "making over" to be done today (well, other than changing sheets and washing clothes- yeah, that kind of sick! - my son's sheets and clothes, by the way, not my husband's... ;-)). 

I also still owe you some fun birthday party ideas, which is a post-in-progress, but I plan on having them for you tomorrow. Starlet's party was a great success, and I am eager to share the details with you!

But first, I just had to post about SwagBucks! (to read more about it, check out my past posts here and here) I have been wanting both soundtracks (score and regular) to the Twilight movie ever since I saw it, but I just haven't been able to justify the expense. So I've been keeping an eye on my Swagbucks account, and yesterday I started comparing the "prices" (point values, really) of the gift cards they offer and comparing them to the various websites' prices for the mp3 version of the soundtracks. Well, the best price for the soundtrack was on Amazon.com- a mere $8.99! And luckily, the Amazon.com gift card offered on Swagbucks is one of their best values- a $5 gift card for 45 Swagbucks. So I ordered two of them, and they arrived in my e-mail inbox in less than 24 hours. 

I took the codes over to my Amazon.com account, and there is a place where you can actually store gift cards in a special account for use whenever you buy something on Amazon.com. So I inputed both gift card codes and my balance was $10. I then purchased the soundtrack for the Twilight score, and used their downloading tool to put it directly into my iTunes music library on my computer. I'm listening to it now. :-)

What I love is that I now still have $1.01 in my Amazon.com gift card account, which I can use for something else (although I'll probably add in some more gift cards using Swagbucks before I do)- so really, it works just like a regular gift card. I was a little worried that it would work more like a coupon, so I am really pleased to discover how easy and efficient it was- no Swagbucks wasted. I got something I've been wanting for 2 months, at no cost, just for doing some searching on the internet! Score!

Let's just say I'm having visions of adding many Amazon.com gift cards, and my account getting bigger and bigger until I can pay for Christmas next year entirely with the Swagbucks I've earned! Because you can find pretty much anything you're looking for on Amazon.com. And by the way, I had a LOT more than 90 Swagbucks in my account (348 to be exact- and that's from being a member for 2 months), thanks to so many people signing up with me and rocking the searches, so I am eager to buy some more gift cards. 

Woohoo! Thanks Swagbucks! If you haven't signed up yet, go here to do so, and you'll be scoring gift cards before you know it! So much fun! 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Spiritual Sundays: The Lord's Baseball Game

Photo from iStockPhoto

We had a great talk at church today by a visiting High Councilman, and he shared this wonderful story about the Lord's Baseball Game. Rather than waxing poetic on the subject, I thought I would simply share the link with you, and allow you to read it and take what you will. I personally thought it was insightful and beautiful, and it gave me a lot to reflect on. Pass it on. 


Please feel free to come back and share your thoughts!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Funny Friday: Eat at Your Own Risk

Image from candyboots.com- be afraid, be very afraid!

I found this delightful site on Mormon Mommy Wars, another favorite blog of mine. This person managed to unearth a slew of Weight Watchers recipe cards from 1974. They are hilarious, and they are disturbing. If you get nauseous easily, I may recommend skipping this one. Included in this smorgasboard of wonder is "Fluffy Mackerel Pudding" and "Jellied Tomato Refresher." I kid you not. One more warning- the author's commentary contains some profanity. But honestly, I think some of it is justified. You just have to see these recipes. Disturbing. Really. Candyboots.com

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Eat That Frog, Baby!

I just popped over to Money Saving Mom's other blog, Biblical Womanhood, and read a post that has inspired me to get my toosh in gear (translation- do something I've been meaning to do).  I am going to join her "Getting Back on Track Challenge" and start by setting a goal right now to get back into my morning routine. When I don't get my day started off on the right foot, nothing else seems to go quite right. Here goes:

1. Get up, dressed to the shoes, hair and makeup done. (30 min)
2. Read scriptures and pray. (15 minutes)
3. Check e-mails and other computer "stuff". (15 min)
4. Start a load of laundry (5 min)
4. Get breakfast for me and the kids, pack Monkey's lunch (15 min)
5. Clean up from breakfast (10 min)
6. Have morning devotional with the kids (10 min)
7. Round up socks, shoes, and anything else we need for the day; do a general house pick-up (20 min)
8. GO!

So that will be the first two hours of my day. I will begin tomorrow. I will rock. I will be awesome. I will keep it up, and I will be accountable- one week from today I will post how I'm doing so I can stay on track. I can do this!! You can too!!!

Do you have a morning routine that gets you off on the right foot? How good are you about sticking to it? Leave a comment and share!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Rockin' Kids' Parties Part II: Decorations!


The Dora cake from Starlet's party last year. I think this year's cake will look similar. I'm getting hungry just looking at it...mmm...cake...

My ideas for thrifty decorations kind of came in my head in bullet form, so I'll just list 'em for ya!

- If you're doing a character-based party (like Dora, Thomas, Elmo, etc.) choose a few key "character pieces" like a centerpiece (or even just the cake!), pinata, or plates & cups, then use generic decorations with similar colors for the rest. For example, for Monkey's Thomas party last year, I used a Thomas centerpiece, banner, and napkins, then I used a solid blue tablecloth and red and blue plates, cups, and cutlery. 

- Colored balloons and crepe paper streamers can go a long way. (Think long streamer curtains in doorways, balloons everywhere!) Bonus: the balloons double as a fun activity.

- Print off images from character websites and have your children color them before the party. Then combine them with the letters to spell "Happy Birthday" and attach them all to a ribbon for a festive birthday banner.

- Use your child's own toys as part of the decorations. For my son's tools party I borrowed his wooden toolbox to use as a holder for napkins and cutlery, and for my daughter's Dora party I am planning on using her big Dora doll as a centerpiece (she's going to need some hairstying first, though!)

- iTunes has all the theme songs from movies and kids' tv shows for $0.99 apiece- download some music to add some fun atmosphere to the party- you never know, you might inspire a dance party...

- Have a permanent marker available (up high away from little fingers) so you can label guests' plates and cups with their names. We want to share good times, not germs!

- For my parties, I usually remove all the chairs from around the kitchen table and place them around the kitchen and the living room. Then I push the table against one wall and I use that as the main focalpoint for all the food and decorations.

These are the ideas that can pretty much apply to any child's birthday party. I also wanted to share some things I've done specifically for my kids' parties.

For my son's tools party, I couldn't find a cake that I liked, so I ordered cupckakes with yellow and orange frosting (we LOVE Wal-Mart's cupcakes with whipped icing, so we always get the kids' cakes from there) and I went to a baker's specialty store and picked up some really cute "cupcake picks" in the shapes of little tools, then I stuck them into the cupcakes. Also for that party, I found a 4-pack of miniature orange road cones and I put them on the table (covered in a plain yellow tablecloth) and strung caution tape between them which I had purchased from Birthday in a Box that said "CAUTION: PARTY ZONE!" It turned out really cute.

I highly recommend the cupcake cakes from Wal-Mart. We discovered them when planning Monkey's second birthday and we have used them ever since. They can decorate them just as cute as a regular cake, the whipped frosting is DELICIOUS (seriously, hubby and I fight over who gets the leftovers) and using cupcakes is much easier- no cutting required!

As I said, for Starlet's Dora party I will use her Dora doll for a centerpiece, and I may pick up a few more Dora-themed things from the party store. But most of my decorations will be random yellow, pink, green, and purple items from the Dollar Store. I am also planning on bringing in the kids' picnic table from outside and even using the umbrella that goes with it- I thought it would be a fun (and contained!) place for the kids to eat in the kitchen. Another idea is to set up a picnic blanket on the floor for the kids to eat on. Everybody loves a picnic!

Hope these ideas inspire some thrifty decorative creativity in you! Check back later for some fun birthday party activities!

Do you have any thrifty decorative party ideas to share? Leave a comment!



Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rockin' Kids' Parties Part I: Invitations!


My little Starlet on her second birthday last year

Note: From now on, my little girl will be referred to as "Starlet" and my son will be "Monkey". I've seen moms give kids code names on their blogs, and I'm getting tired avoiding their real names, so I thought nicknames would help. :-)

I've been hard at work this week planning Starlet's party (well okay, I haven't actually started yet) and I wanted to share a few of my past invitation ideas for you. Since her party is going to be fairly small (only 3 families invited) I decided to keep it simple and just make phone calls this year rather than sending out formal invitations. 

I think that the most important factor in planning an awesome kids' party is to have a theme. That way, you have a jumping-off point for the invitations, decorations, party favors, games, and cake. The invitation becomes very important to your theme because it gives your guests an idea of what to expect when they arrive. Hastily scribbled invite= thrown-together party. Fun and unique invite= fun and exciting party! Here's an invitation I made for Monkey's tools-themed party 2 years ago:

The text reads, "We're building a party to celebrate Monkey's 3rd birthday! We've hammered out the details and nailed down a date....We sure 'wood' like 'tool' see you there!"

Cheesy? Yes. But fun? Absolutely! To make this invitation, all I used was some cardstock- black, white, and orangey-yellow, some tool stickers from the craft store, a sheet of faux wood grain paper from the craft store that I cut into "boards", and some metal brads. I used my computer to print up the lettering and the "CAUTION: PARTY ZONE!" tape onto the cardstock, and I used a silver paint marker to add "nails" to the boards.

I got a lot of really nice compliments about the invitations, and the little boys who attended were really excited. A few even showed up in their own construction gear!

I got another fun idea for a construction-themed party invitation from a friend of mine- she cut actual pieces of lumber into short lengths and then wrote the invitation on them with a black Sharpie marker- unexpected, and hard to misplace!

As I said before, Starlet's party this year is fairly small, which is the norm for her because her birthday is in the winter, so we have to keep everyone inside and our house just doesn't have the room for a lot of people! When she turned one, however, I did send out a First Birthday announcement:

The text reads, "Pretty little princess, sweet, silly, and fun, Miss Starlet Star is turning one!"

This announcement was easy- I just made up a poem, which many people think is so hard, but really it is so simple- and printed it onto paper which I mounted on a square of cardstock, then mounted that onto a piece of patterned paper which I backed with more cardstock. I used photo corners for her photo so that the photo could be attached without adhesive and therefore easily removed from the card by the recipient. Then I just added some brads and ribbon for embellishment, and voila! Cuteness.

To write your own poem, the easiest method I've found is to come up with a first line, then go from there. "Roses are red" is a good pattern to follow- for example: Poems are easy, Poems are fun. One little rhyme and now I am done! With some practice, anyone can do it. ;-) For my son's second birthday, he had an Elmo theme, so I had the poem, "Elmo is red, Grover is blue. Let's have a party, 'cause Monkey's turning two!"

The last invite I'll show you is from Monkey's birthday party last year- he wanted a Thomas the Tank Engine party (he ADORES Thomas) so I designed a train ticket invitation after an image of a real train ticket I found online (just did a Google image search for "train ticket):

Ticket includes Class (Monkey's Party), Departure Time (1200), Adult (1-2), Child (1-3), Date, Number (00000004), Departing From (Tross House Station), Arrival At (FUN!)

This invite took a little bit of time on the computer adding the Thomas watermark image in the background and getting the fonts and spacing the way I wanted it, but once I got them printed off onto white cardstock, all I had to do was cut and staple the "ticket" to a piece of "Thomas blue" cardstock with rounded edges. For an added touch, I punched a "T" with a small hole punch. 

The most important thing to remember with your invitations is to think outside the box, so that your little guests will see the invitation not just as something to hand over to Mom and Dad, but as a ticket to a fantastical adventure that will get their little imaginations going! I think that the best inspiration is to search online- just Google the kind of party you're doing and see what kinds of invitations are out there, then make your own!

This is what I'm talking about this Tuesday! How about you? Check out the Lazy Organizer's Talk About Tuesday to see what others are talking about today! 

Do you have any fun birthday invitation ideas? Leave a comment and share!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Makeover Monday: Photography 101

One of my goals for my blog is to improve my photographs. Sometimes, like with my Spiritual Sundays post yesterday, that means borrowing from other sites. However, I enjoy photography and I would love to be able to take my own photos that are visually pleasing as well. So over the weekend I spent some time playing with my digital camera, which is a Canon PowerShot. I also read up on aperture and shutter speed, and while I still have a lot of experimenting to do, I think I'm getting better. I used my dog Buck as a subject, mostly because he actually stays put (unlike my children!), not to mention he's kind of cute when he sleeps. :-)

This is a photo of Buck using the Auto setting on my camera (the camera sets the focus, flash, etc.):


And this is a photo of Buck using the manual settings on the camera:


My main goal is to achieve the look where my subject is in focus and my background is blurred. I haven't quite gotten the level of "blurriness" (is that a word?) that I want, but I'm getting closer. I also discovered that another way to achieve that effect is by using the Portrait setting on the camera. 

Here is another close-up shot of my CTR (Choose The Right) ring that I did for practice:


Like I said, still a long way to go, but hopefully over time I will get more adept with my camera and be able to take more beautiful shots. 

How are you with your photography? Have any pointers for me? Leave a comment! I need all the help I can get!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Spiritual Sundays: Faith is Letting Go



I was at a home decorating store last week, and I was in the section that had all the signs with different sayings and quotations on them. One in particular stood out to me; it said, "Faith is not believing that God can, it's believing that God will." I paused for a moment to consider that and I realized that I didn't agree with that statement at all. I don't believe that "faith is believing that God will." Who are we to tell God what He should do? Rather, I think that "believing that God can" is the only faith you really need.

So many times in life, especially when we are faced with circumstances and situations that are difficult and frightening, we are told to have faith. Faith that we'll be okay, that everything will work out, that justice will be done, that the sick will be healed, and that the sun will come out again. Unfortunately, faith in these things is little more than wishful thinking. True, God loves us, but just because we pray for something and have faith in it doesn't mean He'll give it to us. We might not be okay, everything might not work out, justice might not be done, and the sick may not be healed. Does that mean our faith is in vain? No, it just means our faith is misplaced. We are choosing to have faith that our will be done, rather than God's will be done.

Imagine that you want to become a great singer. You hire a vocal coach to help you to achieve your goal, and you have faith in her that someday she will bring out the great vocalist in you. Does that mean that you have faith in her that she will rehearse your favorite song over and over with you each session? Do you lose your faith in your teacher when she makes you practice scales instead? The whole point of having faith in your teacher is knowing that she knows the best way to turn you into a great singer, and leaving it up to her, despite your own wishes and desires, because she is the expert. You might think that practicing your favorite song repeatedly will make you a great singer, but she knows better, and will take the course of training with you that she feels will best prepare to become what you dream of becoming.

The same is true with our Father in Heaven- there are many times in our lives when we have to face some tough stuff. When we have faith during those times, our faith is needs to be not that the tough stuff will go away, but faith that the tough stuff is there for a reason. It's faith that Heavenly Father has a divine plan for each of us, and it is only by trusting in Him that we can become more like Him. If your friend is in the hospital, of course you can pray for them, and of course you can ask your Heavenly Father to heal them. But we don't know God's will, and so truly the most powerful prayer we can ever offer is, "Lord, Thy Will be done." And maybe even, "Lord, please help me to accept Your Will, and to learn what it is that Thou would have me learn." Faith is simply letting go and letting God.

I will never forget an experience I had when my son was about 9 months old. I had severe stomach pains and I went to the emergency room, only to discover that I needed an appendectomy. It was in the month of December, so I had about a million things to do, including heading up a huge dinner/Christmas party for my church. I underwent the surgery, and because my husband had to work and my son was still so little, I spent the next week with him recovering at my mom's house about an hour away from my home. During that time, I felt really frustrated. I hated having other people wait on me hand and foot, and I hated not being able to care for and play with my son in the way I was used to. I felt like I was abandoning my responsibilities to my church, and I felt like a burden to my family. All in all, I was feeling really low. But at some point during that week, I had an epiphany. This happened for a reason. Maybe if you stop trying to figure out how to fix it and instead try to understand why, you might have some peace about it all. 

That's when I quit whining and I simply began to ask God for help to accept His will, and to help me to learn what He wanted me to learn from it, so I could recognize it as a positive learning experience, rather than a trial. As I began to reflect on the things that were happening to me, I realized that my focus had been skewed. I had been putting so much time and effort into things outside my family, and I always felt I had to be the one in control. God was forcing me to give up that control, to show me that the world still goes on even when I'm not making it spin. He was also showing me how much my family loved me, and that even if I can't even dress myself, they still love me no matter what. I didn't always have to be the strong responsible one. I could basically just be a lump, and I was still valued and loved. The Lord also helped me to recognize that this situation wasn't just a learning experience for me, it was for my family, and for the committee members who had been helping to plan the party. They needed to learn lessons of their own as well, and putting me flat on my back was the best way for God to teach those lessons. Even in my trials, I was being an instrument in His hands.

Once these things became clear to me, I could smile again and be grateful for my situation. I began to appreciate and accept my family, rather than resist their help. I began to be grateful for my life and for the people in it who could pick up the slack when I wasn't able to, and especially grateful for the knowledge that they would pick up the slack when I wasn't able to, and do it cheerfully and lovingly. Most importantly, I learned that my Father in Heaven has a plan for me, and that if I can accept His will for me, then I can grow and learn in ways I could never imagine- ways that would never be possible without the learning experiences He gives us in the form of trials and difficult times.

So really, my faith in God is believing that He can- if He wants to. It's believing that He knows what's best for me, and when I let go and let God, He will make more of me than I could ever make of myself using my own limited knowledge. When I put my trust in Him, my faith is made perfect. With each new lesson, I am becoming more like Him, and for that I am grateful. May we each turn our lives over to God, and accept His will, difficult and painful though it may be at times, that we may someday return to live with Him again, having completed the life He has given us with faith and fortitude, receiving eternal joy beyond measure that He has promised us if we remain faithful.

To learn more about what I believe as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please visit www.mormon.org

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fun and Frugal Birthday Celebrations


What $9 can buy for a 3-year-old princess from the dollar store

As I posted before, yesterday was my little girl's 3rd birthday, and we had such a fun time celebrating with her. As I was thinking over our activities, I realized that while we seemed to have a fun-filled day, we didn't have to spend much money. Here are a few frugal things we did to celebrate.

The night before her birthday, I went out to the Dollar Store and did some shopping. We had already bought a couple "big" gifts for her, but we wanted to save at least one of them for her party which we'll have later this month. I decided to pick up some fun and useful things that she could have the joy of opening on her big day. I got:

- a fleece hat
- a matching fleece scarf
- a foam Dora the Explorer puzzle
- a kitten figurine (she LOVES cats and I knew that having a "statue" in her room would make her feel so grown-up)
- a purse
- a spiral-bound notebook for drawing/coloring (one of her favorite activities)
- a sticker book (stickers are another favorite activity)
- animal hologram stickers
- a magic wand bubble pen with a stamp at the top

These gifts aren't exactly sophisticated, but she's 3, so to her they are treasures. I wrapped each one individually so she could enjoy the fun of opening them, and to a 3-year-old, it's the little things that count.

I also bought 2 foil helium balloons, and when I got home from my shopping, I snuck into her room while she was sleeping and tied them to her art easel. Little ones sometimes forget that it's their birthday, so I love to give them a reminder of their special day that they can see first thing in the morning when they wake up. It's a great surprise!

After the excitement over the balloons, I made my daughter her favorite breakfast- pancakes. Then we pretty much went about our usual activities for the day, but she got the VIP Birthday Girl treatment- first choice of book during story time, dessert after lunch, and she got to pick the song we sang during morning devotional and before bed.

When Daddy got home we took the kids out for another special birthday treat- Chuck E. Cheese! To save a little money, I used 2 coupons- one I got in my e-mail for my little girl's birthday that gave her 20 free tokens, and another one from the Chuck E. Cheese website that gave us a large pizza, 4 drinks, and 25 tokens for $18.99. We went, we played, we had a blast. The kids absolutely loved it, especially getting to spend the time together with Mommy and Daddy. And honestly, Chad and I loved it too! It was well worth the money.

After Chuck E. Cheese we came home and did cake and presents. She loved all the gifts, and was making us laugh by saying in a wondrous tone, "Oh my GOSH!" as she opened each present. All in all, it was a great day.

As I mentioned before, we'll be having a "friends party" for her later this month. Next week I'll post some of my favorite frugal ideas for kids' birthday parties as I plan my daughter's. I am always a little shocked by the extravaganzas I attend that masquerade as children's birthday parties these days, yet I want my kids to still have a birthday they will never forget. I'll cover everything from invitations to decorations and activities, and share how I've been able to give my kids some fantastic birthday blasts on very little money!
Do you have any fun and frugal birthday traditions in your family? Leave a comment and share!

Friday, January 9, 2009

My Guest Post Debut on Money Saving Mom!

Most of you know that Crystal Paine of Money Saving Mom is my "thrifty idol", and it was her site that got me started with my couponing adventures. A few months ago I wrote a post for my blog about the delicacy and beauty of budgeting, but on a whim I decided to e-mail it to Crystal as a guest post submission for her blog. Crystal, being the sweetheart that she is, e-mailed me back promptly and agreed to post it at a future date. Well, that date has arrived! And how appropriate that it be today, my little girl's third birthday, who was the inspiration for the piece. Thanks so much for the boost, Crystal. May you and your family be blessed by God and may He smile with favor upon your beautiful thrifty life. 

Be sure to visit Crystal at Money Saving Mom to read "The Balancing Act" by yours truly. And while you're there, don't forget to check out all of her other invaluable money-saving information!

Funny Friday: Some Kid Funnies


I think this was the second try for a "nice" Easter photo last year

We celebrated my little girl's third birthday today, and in her honor I would like to share a few of my favorite "kid funnies"- those things our kids say that just crack us up, or make us go hmmm.... (my apologies to friends and relatives who have heard these stories a million times already)...

DS, age 3, walking in on me watching a television show about severe weather...

DS: "Mommy, what's that?"

Me: "It's a show about how a tornado destroyed a house and the people are sad that their house is gone."

DS: "A tomato?"

Me (trying to control my outburst of laughter): "No, honey, a tornado. A tornado destroyed their home."

DS (brow furrowed, looking increasingly confused): "A tomato??"

Me: I pretty much just gave up and fell over laughing- attack of the killer tomatoes!

In the car one day...

DS, age 4: "Boogie, tell a joke!"

DD, age 2 1/2: "JOKE!"

At the dinner table, as I notice my son (4) dipping his finger into his salad dressing and lightly spreading it across the lettuce leaves...

Me: "Sweetie, what are you doing with your dressing?"

DS: "Look, Mommy. I'm pollinating my salad. I'm just like a BEE!"

Me: "Umm, good for you sweetie. Eat your salad."

As I'm getting my son, 2 1/2 dressed, I have his arms in but his head gets stuck in the neck hole of his shirt...

DS: "Mommy, it's DARK in here!"

Me: yeah, I just cracked up laughing and didn't have the strength to pull his head the rest of the way through.

DS: well, he just started running around with his head still in his shirt, arms waving frantically about trying to get his head through. Don't worry, he wasn't seriously traumatized. ;-)

And one more from my little "princess", just a few days ago as she comes downstairs with her pom poms...

DD: "Mom, they're not WORKING!"

Me: "Well here honey, just hold the handles like this."

DD (rolls her eyes and falls onto the floor in a dramatic huff): "Noooo, Mom. They're just not WORKING."

Me: "Look, I'll show you." (I start to demonstrate) "Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate? Goooooo TEAM!"

DD: "Mo-OM! Stop TALKING!"

Me (handing the pom poms back and taking a breath): "Excuse me, I was just trying to help. Here, you can do it yourself." (I go back to dusting the pictures on the bookcase, which happen to include a photo of my dear little girl)

DD: "Mo-OM! Stop cleaning my FACE!"

Me: "Too bad, princess. Your face is dusty."


I hope you have all had a Funny Friday! Take time to enjoy your kids and laugh today!

Have your kids made you laugh lately? I love funny kid stories! Leave a comment and share!





Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Thrifty Treat: Bedtime Beauty


image from Livingifts

Sometimes as moms we are so busy taking care of everyone else that we forget to take a few moments to take care of ourselves. I don't know about you, but for me a long luxurious bubble bath is usually out of the question. However, I have found that this 2-minute bedtime ritual helps me feel pampered and pretty, and is an inexpensive little daily treat!

Often in the winter, the cold dry air will wreak havoc on my lips and my skin, so I keep a bottle of Freesia-scented lotion from Bath & Body Works and a tube of Overnight Lip Renewal by Sally Hansen (it was free after rebate at Rite Aid one month) in my nightstand drawer. Right before I get into bed each night, I put on the lip renewal and I massage the lotion into my hands. The scent soothes me to sleep, and when I wake up in the morning, I have wonderfully soft hands and smooth supple lips. You could use any kind of lotion that you like, and even a simple tube of chapstick can help your lips stay soft. 

Take a few moments each night to pamper yourself. You're totally worth it!

Do you have any daily beauty rituals that help you feel pampered and pretty? Leave a comment and share!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Easy Deals of the Week: Stayfree, Garnier, Palmolive, and Kelloggs!



I've been on a short blogging break the last couple of days because I had family in town, but I just wanted to share some great Easy Deals of the Week with you! These are deals you can get using only coupons from last Sunday's paper or coupons you can print from your computer. Walgreens is the star for this week!

At Walgreens:

Stayfree Maxi Pads 28 ct.- On sale for $6.99
Buy 2, use Buy One, Get One Free coupon from 1/04 Sunday paper
"Stack" with $3/1 coupon from Walgreens weekly ad flyer (found in the front of the store- you can use both a manufacturers coupon and a store coupon on each item)
Final price is $1 for two!

Garnier Fructis shampoo and styling products- On sale for $2.99
Use $1/1 coupon from 1/04 Sunday paper
"Stack" with $2/1 coupon from the Walgreens January EasySaver catalog (also found in the front of the store, usually with the weekly flyers)
Final price is FREE!

Palmolive dish soap- On sale $1.79
Use $0.25/1 coupon from 1/04 Sunday paper
"Stack" with $1 "super coupon" from Walgreens weekly ad flyer (p.12 in mine)
Final price is $0.54 (not a great deal, but not bad)

Kelloggs Cereal- On sale 4 for $10
Use 4 $1/1 coupons from 1/04 Sunday paper
Get $3 in Register Rewards when you buy 4 (which you can use like cash on your next Walgreens purchase)
Final price after RRs is $0.75 per box

Have you found any great deals this week? Leave a comment and share!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Spiritual Sundays: You're Getting Warmer...


The view of a West Virginia sunset  from my parents' back deck on Thanksgiving.

"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience."

I was recently reading O Magazine and I came across an article by Martha Beck that I found very interesting. In the article, she discusses how oftentimes we find ourselves in a life that we don't like, and we're not quite sure how we got there or how we're supposed to change it. Many don't even know what kind of life they want- they can't even envision it- they just know that the life they have isn't working for them.

Beck then explains that each of us has our own personal GPS navigation system built in. She compares it to the game Warm/Cold, where something is hidden and in order to find it, you must respond to vocal cues of whether the direction you're going is "warmer" or "colder." If you are getting "warmer", then you should continue in the same direction. Likewise, if you are getting "colder" then you should change your course. 

We each have different aspects of our lives that make us feel warmer and colder. Some call our awareness of these feelings an "inner compass", some call it our conscience, and some just chalk it up to natural affinity. However, I believe that these feelings Martha Beck was writing about are the manifestation of the Light of Christ within each of us. In a talk entitled, "The Light of Christ", Elder Boyd K. Packer described this gift by saying, 
"The Light of Christ is defined in the scriptures as 'the Spirit [which] giveth light to every man that cometh into the world' (D&C 84:46); 'the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed' (D&C 88:13; see also John 1:4–9; D&C 84:45–47; D&C 88:6; D&C 93:9)."

Personally, I see the Light of Christ as being kind of like a little tracking beacon that we each have that reminds us where we came from. No matter where we are, or what state we may be in spiritually or emotionally, there is still that little bit of our Heavenly home that is embedded within each of us, and it will lead us back there if we allow it to guide us.

I really love the quotation that I placed at the beginning of this post (I actually have it displayed in my home office) because it reminds me that above all things I am a spirit daughter of my Father in Heaven, and even though I may get all caught up in the human things of the world, it is those things that are not seen, those things that are only felt, that are the true purpose of my life here. This life is but a short human moment compared to the rest of my spiritual existence. It really puts things in perspective, doesn't it? I think really that the Light of Christ is simply a peaceful feeling of familiarity we get when we're engaged in activities that are true to our spiritual selves. It's kind of like when you're all grown up and out on your own and suddenly you catch the scent of your mother's perfume. There's a peace there, a sense of home and love that reminds you who you are and where you came from.

So back to the article about the warm/cold. I thought that Beck's comparison to the warm/cold game was really insightful. I may call it something different from her explanation, but the concept is the same: we are each searching for the warmth, and it is only when we pay close attention to what feels right that we can find it, and thus find the life we were meant to lead. When I say "what feels right" I'm not talking about the things that make our bodies feel good or the things that are entertaining to us. I'm talking about that spiritual homing beacon, that feeling of peaceful familiarity. That's what we should be paying attention to, and what will lead us to true joy.

I think that the most important part is to listen. We are all playing our own games of warmer/colder because in essence, we are all searching for one thing: real happiness. It would be ridiculous to play the game with earplugs in, yet that is what so many of us do- we wander around aimlessly, searching here and there, sometimes getting closer to our goal, sometimes moving farther away, never really paying attention to the clues that could lead us right to it, because we're far too busy with the business of searching. It's time to stop and listen, to look inside and hear that inner voice telling us which way is warmer and which is colder. I believe that by following the gentle guidance of the Light of Christ each of us can find the warmth of the  beautiful life that He has in store for us.

To learn more about what I believe as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please visit www.mormon.org.
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