Monday, August 27, 2012

A Great Deal on Crochet Hooks

If you're in the market for some wonderful crochet hooks, I would strongly recommend checking out this set of 13 bamboo hooks I found on Etsy.  I purchased the set for only $9.99 plus shipping and they shipped really fast.  I prefer bamboo/wooden hooks and needles over any other, and if you yarn, you know how expensive they can get.  This set comes with 13 hooks!  It's such a great deal, I couldn't believe it.  The only down side, is the really small hooks are quite fragile. 

If you want to check them out, go HERE to visit their shop.

Two things I want to note about this:
1. No, I wasn't asked to write this.  I just really loved my purchase and it was a great deal.
2. If you have a puppy, I suggest hiding these.  I now have a set of 12...

13 size Bamboo crochet hooks 2.75-10.0mm (A COMPLETE set from US size C to size N)

If you're looking for a great crochet or knitting needle case, check out my Etsy shop, where I have a few for sale :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

5 Money Saving Family Fun Ideas

As the mom of an active toddler, we're always looking for fun things to do as a family, that won't break the bank.  Sure, costly family adventures are wonderful too, but even a trip to the local children's museum can end up costing us $18 for a small family.  Some weeks, that's just not in the budget.  So here are some ideas (most of them, my husband's) for fun things to do, that don't cost a lot, if anything.

1.Take a nature walk
Fall is right around the corner, and with it comes the perfect time to take the family outside and exploring.  Have your kids look at the trees, grass, dirt, everything and talk to them about it.  Have them bring a sketchbook and draw their favorites and write down any questions they want to look up about their findings.  When the walk is over, take them to the library and see what kinds of fun books they can find about the outdoors and possibly answer some of the questions they wrote down.  If you have a younger one, like I do, just tell them about what's around them.  My guy, nearly 2, has been pointing to everything and starting to ask (in his own way) about things and its amazing how much he remembers.  Let them touch things like bark, and explain the textures, smells etc.

2. Camp in your back yard
As the summer comes to an end, its a great time to pop the tent, make some smores and cook those hot dogs on an open fire.  In your own back yard.  Have your kids leave all electronics in the house, and pretend like you're actually camping.  This is a great way to teach your older kids some skills such as how to set up a tent and fire safety when camping. 

3. Have a picnic at the Airport
If you're near a small airport, you're kids could be lucky enough to have a picnic while watching the planes go by.  My little guy is obsessed with planes right now and I bet kids of all ages would think it was very cool to get to watch and hear the planes go by.  You may even get them to eat those veggies in exchange!  And I know I'm obsessed with libraries, but you could make a stop on the way and pick up a book about different types of planes and look them up as you see different kinds.

4. Check your local community events calendar
Usually posted in the local papers, at the library, and/or the town's chamber of commerce website, the community events calendar is the perfect place to start your search for a fun family day.  It's usually filled with free, or inexpensive activities run by local groups.  If they do cost money, typically its not much and goes to a good cause.  A great way to talk to your kids about giving back and the importance of getting involved within your community.

5. Make a healthy family friendly meal together
Get the whole family involved and come up with a meal to cook together.  Everyone can help with this one.  Let the kids tell you what they are in the mood for, find the recipe, get the groceries and put everyone to work.  Kids love to help cook!  For example, if you're family decides on homemade pizza, let your older child help spread the sauce, and your wee one can help put the toppings on.  If you have a really small one, give them some bowls and spoons and have them "cook" something up themselves. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Few Thoughts on Fifty and His Shades...


I'm currently on book two in the Fifty Shades of Grey series and I have a few thoughts about it.  I'm curious if my opinions will change upon completing the series.  The first thing I need to address is: really everyone, what is all the hype about?  I wonder if this book had been published without an amazing press kit budget, would it be as popular as it is?  People are absolutely raving about these books, saying they are better than Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and I just can't agree with that. 

You may be like my husband and ask yourself, "so why read the books, if you don't like them?"  And to sum up: I do like reading them, I just don't think they are groundbreaking.  The language is awful.  Its a combination of "big" words mixed with childish phrases like "holy cow".  I can't buy that someone willing to do...the things they do says "holy cow" so much.  And every time Ana says "my inner goddess" I want to scream at how stupid it sounds.  But, I do like the plot and the mystery around Christian and I find myself wanting to read.  Maybe I'm being hard on this book because I'm mad at myself for succumbing to the pressure and actually wanting to read it. 

I think it would be better if the language had been improved, the sex scenes were more spread out and if Christian wasn't such a controlling abusive ass.  I know, he was abused, ok, I get it.  And I get that he's beyond sexy and not a bad person.  But some of the things he puts Ana through seem so terrible to me and I get mad at her for dealing with it (and liking it).  It makes me wonder, if he wasn't so rich, would she put up with it?  She plays it off like she doesn't care about the money, but it seems like a controlling boyfriend may be easier to deal with in a brand new Audi. 

And about the sex scenes: There's too many.  Ok, we get it, we know what happens. Some is fine, great.  But really, reading the details four times in one chapter is a bit too much and I skip over them.  Not because I'm prude or offended.  Just bored of hearing about it.  Sorry Fifty and Ana, I'm sick of your randiness. 

It strikes me as odd though, of all the books I read (and I'm a big reader) I find myself wanting to sit down and read this book, which is so perplexing.  Why on earth do I want to read something that drives me crazy?  I guess I've found my Fifty Shades.

The Help



I recently finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett (I know, I know, I'm behind everyone else who read this months ago) and I loved it. Before I started it, my mother-in-law explained it better than I ever could when she warned me that this book was a very stressful read. It really was! It was by no means a suspense novel in the traditional way you think of suspense, but I was on the edge of my seat throughout the entire thing, and found myself worried for the characters. I was always certain something terrible was going to happen. For this reason, it took me awhile to get through (as most books do, given I am a parent of a toddler and puppy) even though I really enjoyed it.

I won't spoil it for you, but if you haven't read this book, you really should. It has been compared to To Kill A Mockingbird, which, embarrassingly I haven't read even with a son named Atticus (I've seen the movie though) and I can see why, given the topic of race in Mississippi in the 60s. This book makes you think about all that has changed since then. Its amazing to me, a girl from Maine, to think that this was going on when my mom was a baby (sorry to date you, Mom!). As someone who sees everyone as the same, I can't imagine thinking the way Hilly does in this book. I love the bravery of Skeeter, and the Help in the book and it truly made me appreciate the way things have changed for the good.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How to Make Marinated Tomatoes

My garden has become over grown with weeds this summer and I blame one thing: ME.  It's been so hot that I just haven't wanted to get out there and take care of it.  My tomatoes don't seem to be bothered by it, however, and I have had a surplus of them for the past month.  And I must say, they are a delicious treat to have.  I've been looking for ideas for how to use them and this is one I tried today after doing some research.  They were to die for.

Take 5 or so of your ripest tomatoes.  Rinse and slice them and then put them in a mixing bowl.  Top them with some olive oil (about 2 tbsp), some basil, parsley, oregano, sea salt and about a tbsp of minced garlic (use as much or as little as you desire).  Stir them up, cover with saran wrap and leave on your counter to marinate.  After a few hours, you'll have amazing tender, flavorful tomatoes.  Top with a little parmesan cheese and freshly grated pepper. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Gluten-Free Beers: A love story

I bet you remember the day you realized that being gluten-free meant you were also beer-free.  I bet you were crushed (I know I was).  To never have another Sam Summer was a very upsetting notion for me.  For a while, I just gave up on beer all together, not wanting to take the time (or spend the money) to get to know the gluten-free versions.  I've moved away from that, and have tried a handful of them.  As a whole, they really aren't bad, just different.  These are the few I've tried (finding different gluten-free beers isn't an easy thing to do), but if you want information on more you can check out this website.

The most mainstream of the gluten-free beers is Redbridge, made by Budweiser.  It's your run of the mill beer and at $7.99-$8.99 for a 6 pack, its not too pricey.  I like it, just don't let it get warm (or its terrible).  Redbridge is my go-to beer, if I'm ever in the mood for it, and many restaurants have it too since they all have Budwiser, so be sure and ask for it by name next time you're out to dinner.  Even if they don't have a gluten-free menu, they may have Redbridge. 

I've tried New Grist a few times and I like it, but not enough to justify the $12.99 a 6 pack costs.  I don't taste a huge difference between it and Redbridge. 

If you like IPAs, you may want to try a new one I just discovered, New Planet pale ale and I enjoyed it.  It was pretty hoppy, and though I've never had a real IPA, my husband said it tasted very similar.  Bad news: its $10.50 for a 4 pack.  Good news: they have different varieties, so you're sure to find one you like.

Of the ones I've tried, the best I've had is Bard's Tale Dragon's Gold.  I can't remember exactly how much it was, but I think it was about $12 for a 6 pack, and well worth it.  It tasted like beer, not some knock off version of.  If you ever see it in a store, pick some up.  You'll be happy you did.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

5 Money Saving Tips of the Week

The focus of this week's money saving tips are bills, and how to cut down on them.  My husband and I are trying to cut costs everywhere (who isn't?) and these are a few things we do to keep the bills from taking over our lives:

1. Use Skype
I think its safe to say the days of long distance calls being costly are over, but as with everything else, another expensive thing will take its place.  In most cases: cell phones.  Many people don't have landlines (I still do, however) but using all those cell phone minutes can be very expensive.  A wonderful and free solution (let's FACE it, its way more fun har har) is to video call using Skype.  As long as you have internet and a webcam (which most laptops and computers have built in these days) you can video call anyone with a Skype account for no money at all.  You're already paying for internet, so why not get more bang for your buck?  I use Skype all the time with my family who are 4 hours away.  Don't have it yet?  Get it here.

2. Use Pre-Paid Cell Phone Plans
Before I get into this, I will say, this isn't for everyone.  I am not attached to my phone (probably because no one calls me!) and I can go a day or so before I realize the battery died.  Lately, however, since I got my Android, I have fallen a little more in love with it.  Before I made the switch to Virgin Mobile, my monthly AT&T bill was about $65 and that didn't include internet and unlimited talk/text.  After what seemed like an eternity, my contract finally expired and I was able to free myself from the abusive boyfriend that was my cell phone bill.  It seemed like no matter how many times I tried to break up with AT&T or fight the hits my wallet was taking, I couldn't get out.  At last, my moment came to break free.  For a few months, I didn't have a cell phone at all.  That got old fast.  I started researching good phone packages that actually had good phones to go with them.  The best I could come up with is my current Virgin Mobile package for my Android.  I now pay $25 a month for unlimited internet, data and text and 300 minutes.  That's more than I need (a savings of $516/year, not including overage costs AT&T always charges you).  The best part is, if you forget to pay your bill you won't get charged.  You're phone won't work until you pay it, but you don't have to go through the headache of re-activating it.  Aside from sometimes having spotty service, I really can't say enough good things about it.  To find out more about the plan, go here.

3. Ditch Cable
I know, how could I ask you to part with such a thing?  But really, do you really need, or even use it?  We had cable, DVR and everything for a few months and just couldn't justify the bill we got each month.  Including internet we were paying well over $100 a month and usually just used instant Netflix anyway.  Now that we only have internet through the cable company we save about the cost of grocery shopping trip each month, and I'm way happier with that than I ever was with cable.  I should note: we are not the "We don't watch t.v." type of family.  We love our shows and probably watch too much of it.  We just like to use the money saving methods of watching them (see item 4).

4. Use Instant Netflix in Lieu of DVD Delivery
When Netflix first came out, it was a great deal.  You didn't have to go to the movie rental store where you always spent way to much money and racked up tons of late fees.  The movies came right to you and there was no rush to watch them.  But, like all things, they inflated the price so much, it wasn't worth it anymore.  They sort of shot themselves in the foot with the instant movies and shows, because we stopped getting the DVDs delivered and opted for only the streaming (about at $120 per year savings).  Also, there's other ways of renting movies now, with Redbox being only a $1 a day (or free for a day if you use promo code BREAKROOM) and of course, you can rent from your local library. 

5. Save Electricity!
You're heard this your entire life, I'm sure.  It's not that we go out of our to waste it, but shouldn't we go out of our way to save electricity?  It is, after all, one of the easiest ways to cut down your bill.  This summer has been terrible with heat, so I'm sure you can relate to stress we've been experiencing over the AC running so much. But summer also means you can cut down in other ways.  Our dryer has been broken for months, and I'm in no real hurry to get the repair man in here because I've hung every load since it broke.  It takes a little longer to get it done, but you'll be happy you did it.  Also, in the summer we certainly don't need as many lights on as the other months and as soon as the sun goes down, turn off the fans and AC and let the cool night's air in your windows.  Cooking on the grill, or eating fresh from your garden are some other examples.  I've even cut back on my toddler's bath times in the summer months since he's in his little pool so often anyway, I figure he's getting clean!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tips for Making a Gluten-Free Cake (That Doesn't Taste Like Cardboard)

I've made many gluten-free cakes.  Mostly just because I love LOVE cake.  And cupcakes.  And pretty much anything having to do with cake.  Don't get me started on the frosting (I'll start drooling).  Many people cringe at the thought of gluten-free baked goods, and with good reason most of the time.  They do tend to be very dry and crumbly.  However, after years of trial and error (I still ate the errors) I've somewhat perfected (I use this word loosely) the art of the gluten-free cake.  I like to use mixes, probably for the same reason you do: they are easier.  With gluten-free, they can actually be cheaper that way too.  Betty Crocker makes yummy ones, and if you buy them at Wal-Mart (never Price Chopper, because they are way more expensive) they're like $3.99 for the mix.  I can live with that.  If I do make one from scratch, I use the same methods as with a box. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind when making gluten-free cake:

1. When the recipe calls for water (Betty Crocker does) substitute Coconut Creamer.  Doing this makes it more moist, plus adds a slight flavor.  The Betty Crocker recipe calls for 2/3 cup water, so I usually do a little more than 1/3 cup creamer and the rest water.  This doesn't only work with coconut flavored creamer.  If you're making a chocolate cake, the Almond Joy one would be great, or even mint (do they make that?). 

2. Mix very well.  I'm not sure why this improves the taste, but a family member once made me a gluten-free cake and was so yummy, I had to ask what she did, that I wasn't doing.  She told me all she did different was mixed it for a little extra time.  That's it. 

3. Avoid over cooking it.  I know, I know.  Why would you purposely over cook your cake?  But it happens, all the time.  As soon as it looks like its becoming golden, take it out!  Over cooking makes it even drier.

4. Not that cake lasts long in my house, but the quicker you eat it, the better.  Because gluten-free baked goods don't have gluten (the binder) they dry out really fast.  The butter, or dairy rather, really helps with this when it comes to baking, which is why a lot of the time when you're making a gluten-free item that is also dairy free, it tends to be even more dry.  At least that's in my experience, but I'm in a very intense relationship with butter, so maybe I'm just lonesome and biased when I'm without it. 

Hands down the best gluten-free mix I've ever used is Bob's Red Mill Yellow cake mix.  Using all the tips I mentioned, and making these into cupcakes makes for a very dreamy treat.  I made them for my siblings once and they ate them in a matter of minutes.  I'm still hearing about it.

UPDATE: I should have added another tip to list.  Don't leave cake on the counter when you have a puppy who loves to counter surf.  My lovely cake was eaten by my dog, and so I had to do it all over again.  I opted for cupcakes on round two (see above).  He won't be getting near those.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

5 Money Saving Tips of the Week-For the Home

Whether you're like my husband and I and just starting out with our home, or you are just trying to spruce yours up a bit, you know how expensive working on the house can be.  There's a bunch of stuff we would like to do (ie. tear up the carpets, paint one of the rooms etc.) but that's not going to happen anytime soon.  In the meantime, we used these 5 Money Saving Tips to add a personal touch to our home:

1. Go shopping in your own house
Nate Burkus talks about this a lot on his show.  Take the time to walk through your house, look in your closets, attic, garage etc.  I bet you'll find treasures hiding out that you forgot you had.  You can also do what we do, and go shopping in family member's homes.  My mother-in-law recently went on a de-cluttering spree throughout her house and we shopped around and found some great stuff that they didn't want anymore (like this corner cabinet). 

2. Find and display vintage items
I love vintage stuff.  There's something so special about an item that other people have had.  Often times you can find vintage items for super cheap at thrift stores and yard sales.  You don't need to spend a boat load on things.  For example, I inherited a couple sewing boxes over the years from grandparents and in them was loads of wonderful thread, many on wooden spools.  The thread is pretty useless to me with regards to sewing, so I display them in my house in glass jars.  I have one in a mason jar (on my awesome corner cabinet I acquired while shopping the in-laws house-see above) and another in a glass vase.  Another quick and cheap idea is to line your stairs with old books.  They are a dime a dozen at thrift stores and I love the look of them. 

3. Put away things you don't use and take them out when you need them
I know I've had times when cleaning or organizing my home that I was so frustrated by the furniture that we had that I would just get rid of things (for no reason other than my temporary insanity).  In the end, you just end up buying new stuff and getting sick of that too.  Our new solution is to put said items in storage.  Countless times we've had things in our house just because, and since we've started doing this method, we've gone shopping in our own garage and house so many times and avoided having to buy something new. 

4. Whenever possible, make it yourself
I know, this is easy to say when you're a do-it-yourself-er but really, anyone can be if they just try.  I'm still new to sewing, and I've already made curtains, pillow cases and blankets for my house.  This can save loads of money and you get something that is unique and no one else will have.  I'm in love with my curtains now and every time I look at them, I feel sense of pride that I made them (yes, they are crooked...but so is my house)  I even made one set of my curtains out of some that a friend asked me to hem.  Her's needed to be shortened quite a bit, so I took then ends and made my breakfast nook some.  Total cost: $0 and about 45 minutes of my day.  If you're not sure how to sew curtains, just google it.  I simply looked up tutorials and was making them in a matter of minutes.  You don't need much in terms of sewing skills, just a straight line and a ruler.  *Just a little tip about curtains: If you want your room to appear bigger, put the curtains as close to the ceiling as possible.  It makes the room look taller.

5. Re-purpose things
Use your imagination!  Don't go rushing to the store when you need something (like a storage solution).  Instead, think of other ways.  One idea is to use a hanging fruit basket in your bathroom for storing items you use all the time.  This way, you save counter space and it gives your room a unique feature.  My husband still raves about this idea.  Another fun one I read the other day was to use a cupcake stand as a place to throw your mail and items that usually collect on your table.  The possibilities are endless and I'd love to hear you ideas!  Please post a comment and share the creativity with us!
 (and yes, I'm fully aware of how terrible this picture is.  Ignore my bathroom's current state.  It's next on the house to-do list)
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