Thursday, March 29, 2012

Shutterfly Yearbook Review

I take a lot of pictures, especially of my kids...the time flys so quickly! I love giving photo gifts to family for Christmas, birthdays, etc, and I often use Shutterfly. I love that their site makes creating photo gifts super simple and fast.

Did you know that Shutterfly now offers Yearbooks? This is a new product, and let me tell you, this is not what my yearbooks looked like! Take a look at some of these pages:

I love the bright colors and designs! In my experience with other Shutterfly products, it is super easy to personalize with your own style, and I think the same is true for these yearbooks. You can choose from a variety of backgrounds and embellishments to fit with your organizations colors and personality. There are also lots of "pre-made" layouts to choose from for each page. You can change the size and location of photos, add text, and make it as unique as you like.

A single 20 page 8x8 hardcover book runs about $30, but their site says prices can go as low as $5 a book. A softcover 5x7 book with 20 pages is only $16. I'm a little out of the loop on the price of Yearbooks, but $30 for a 20 page book sounds little more on the pricey side to me. Shutterfly often offers discounts, so that might bring the price down a little. Also, you can get a bulk discount starting at just 10 books, which is pretty reasonable, and a great number for smaller organizations. Contact Shutterfly on their Yearbook page for pricing options.

I think this new Yearbook feature would be a great way for smaller schools to create a fantastic Yearbook easily. And the possibilites are really endless...preschools, homeschool groups, and even sports teams. This would be an awesome way to document a season for a travel ball team or other long term sport team. I always love flipping through old yearbooks, and I'm sure these Shutterfly books will be fantastic.

For more Shutterfly news about Yearbooks and other great quality products, check them out on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest!

I was given a free photo book in exchange for my participation in the Shutterfly Yearbook campaign. The opinions in this review are my own.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Homemade Cream of Chicken Soup

I'm always looking for ways to make connivence foods at home. Not only is it healthier and cheaper, but there is something so satisfying about walking past items on the grocery store shelf that I used to consider pantry staples. I love not having to rely on having a can of soup, a box of cake mix, or a container of yogurt on hand. If I need it, I can make it!

I had never thought much about condensed cooking soups. They have always been a pantry staple for me, especially for a quick dinner. Thanks to Pinterest I found a recipe for homemade cream of chicken soup via Mindfully Frugal Mom. I love how easy it was to make and how great it tasted!

You will need:
1 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup milk

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Add 1/4 cup of chicken stock (I used 4 cubes of frozen homemade stock) and 1/2 cup milk. Add the liquid slowly while stirring to prevent lumps. Allow to cook for a few minutes until it beings to thicken.

How easy is that?

I used the homemade cream of chicken soup for Cheesy Baked Chicken (I made it in the crockpot instead of the oven too) and it was fabulous.

Next time, I will plan to make a larger portion and freeze the soup in 1 cup portions, about the size of a can from the store. I'm so excited to have this recipe and no longer need to buy cream soups for cooking!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pop Top Cans 2.0 - through the mail!

Remember the pop top can treats I made last year? Recently I started thinking about sending them through the mail. What a fun way to get a surprise! 

The best cans have fruit in them, because they are easy to get clean inside (not something that sticks like beans!). your can from the bottom leaving the pop top intact! Carefully cut the label from the can and use it as a template. I used scrapbook paper, but you could keep things really simple and just use construction paper.

Next you need to assemble your goodies! Since Easter is right around the corner, we decided to send some Easter treats to a friend. We put stickers and candy in some eggs and found a few other fun things from our Tot School bin to add as well.

We also added pretty paper to both ends of the can...trace around the end, then trim to fit!

I added instructions,

and we made an address label out of more scrapbook paper.

Who do you know that would love to get one of these in the mail?

Since we put light things inside it only weighed about 5 oz, which put shipping just over $2. And the post office workers didn't even look at me funny when I stuck my can treat on the scale. Easter was the perfect time to send one of these, but I know I'll be doing more for things like birthdays in the future!

Thanks to Our Best Bites for the original inspiration!

Linking up with these parties:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Crocs and eBay

We've had the craziest March weather...shorts and t-shirts for a solid two weeks! I just got Crocs for both of my kids, again using eBay!

Two years ago I bought adorable Mary Jane Crocs for $6, then sold them on eBay last year for $7. At the same time I bought another pair of Mary Jane Crocs for $8, and I just sold them for $8.50 (all prices include shipping costs).

Here's a look at this year's Crocs.

I paid $8 for my daughter's Crocs this year.

They are a little dirty since she's gotten to wear them so much already, but the tread is basically brand new. The wear shows a bit more since these are a light color too.


And I paid $11.50 for these adorable Mickey Crocs for my son.

I knew that it would be a little harder to get some good boys Crocs for cheap, but I am so happy with these, even though I had to pay a bit more. They are brand new with hardly any wear.

And I know that I'll be able to resell them for a good price since they are Mickey ones!

If you are holding on to some Crocs that your kids have outgrown, now is totally the time to list them on eBay. The prices are higher right now than the two previous years I've bought, and I'm speculating that is because of the warm temperatures. Even so, you can get a great pair of gently used Crocs for $15 or less. I wouldn't normally have bought Crocs this early in the season! If you can sell now and wait a month or two to buy, I think the prices will likely go down a little.

I'm a huge fan of buying and selling Crocs on eBay. I've had a lot of success by keeping some simple things in mind.

If you are buying:
1) Look for something specific - there are too many things for sale to just browse
2) Have a firm "top price" before you bid - use the "max bid" tool to prevent over paying
3) Be ready to let "IT" go - there is always another item

If you are selling:
1) Take a good picture - good lighting, clear image
2) Use a strong title and accurite description - if there are flaws, be honest
3) Low starting price - I started all my Crocs at $0.99
4) Have your item ready to ship before you list - you'll already know the shipping cost

Have you found any great eBay deals lately?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Making Time to Read

I love reading. It's been one of my favorite ways to spend my time since I first learned how to read. I was one of those bookworms that never spoke on car rides, disappeared for hours (only appearing for meals), and measured time by the books I had recently read. 

By the time I got to college, leisure reading was pushed aside for hundreds of pages of textbooks and hours of studying, not to mention club meetings, group projects, and softball practice. As I emerged from each semester, I took full advantage of the time off to catch up on a few good books.

Martin and I were married the summer after I graduated college, and one of our favorite pastimes together has always been reading. We'll have two different books, each read a chapter, then switch and read the chapter the other just read. And we've enjoyed reading books aloud to each other, or listening to audiobooks together.

Having young children has definitely cut down on my time to read, and I know I'm not the only one who feels this way! So, I'm going to share a few ways that I make time to read.
Read less news/blogs/facebook and more books. The Internet has a wealth of knowledge, but it's hard for me to find a cut off. There's always another article, another post, another status update. But books have pages and chapters and good stopping points (sometimes!).

Avoid relaxing with the TV or a movie. Oh, I'm so guilty of this. When naptime hits, I often find myself wanting to veg in front of the computer or a movie. But grabbing a book instead (or even just first!) is so much more rewarding.

Redeeming the time. When I'm waiting for water to boil, I'll grab a book and read a few pages. I've been known to read and blow dry my hair at the same time (granted, I don't blow dry often, but multi-tasking by reading gives me a nice excuse!). I found that the greater my desire to read, the more creative I am about snatching those few minutes here and there to get through an exciting book.

Listen to audiobooks. I love that I can be deep in a book while I'm washing the dishes or folding laundry. And Martin and I often listen to the same audiobook -- me at home and him on the commute to work. Usually I prefer my audiobooks to be great fiction, but I know some people that like listening to books on history, current events, or biographies too.

Keep a list: recent reads and to-reads. Goodreads is great for this. I try to write down a few sentences about each book I read within a few hours of finishing. I love being able to look back at my thoughts on each book, and often its interesting to see that what I remember 3 or 6 months after reading a book is slightly different than my initial opinion.

Let your children see you read. They model our examples, so make sure you model what you want imitated. I'm so grateful to have children who love books too, and I know that in large part that is because we place such a high priority on reading as a family.

Side by side reading. This requires training for both you and your kids, but I've found that its great for all of us. I sit on the couch next to one or both kids, set them up with a book (or basket of books!). The instructions are that they are going to read their books and I am going to read my book. I set a timer and we aren't going to talk to each other while we read. When the timer goes off, I usually read a number of books aloud to them.

I started small, just 5 minutes of side by side reading. It's really good for my kids to be able to focus on one task without skipping around, and to be self-sufficient even though I am right next to them. I don't usually set a timer anymore, but I'll tell them that I'm going to read a chapter in my book while they look through theirs. And now that my daughter is a little older, she often asks me about the book I'm reading too!

What is important to you? Most of these tips could apply to whatever activity is important to you. For me it's reading, but maybe for you it's sewing, or a home-based business, or something else. My house isn't neat as a pin, though it probably could be if I spent my reading time tidying up instead. But reading is more important to me than having everything perfectly put away. And I'm happy with that, and I'm so thankful that my husband is too! Of course, there's a point when the bathroom has to be clean and the clothes folded...and thankfully then I have audiobooks!

Is reading a favorite activity for you? I'd love to hear other creative ways you make time to read. And if its not reading but something else that you want to make time to do, I encourage you to set some big goals and break it down into small goals today!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Easy Roast Chicken

We love rotisserie chickens, especially from Costco. So juicy and moist, and a whole chicken can transform into several meals. Over the last year I finally got up my nerve to roast a chicken on my own. And I am totally hooked!

Each time I do it they taste better and better and are easier and simpler. I think I actually prefer my own roasted chicken to one from Costco now!

There are tons of options for roasting a chicken, but here is my super easy recipe.

Preheat oven to 400. Rinse chicken, removing any giblets from the cavity. Pat the chicken dry and do a quick check to remove any feathers that are still attached. Place the chicken in a baking dish. I'd love to have a Le Creuset dutch oven, but since I don't I just use a large Pyrex dish.

In a small dish, soften 1 Tbsp. butter (about 15 sec in the microwave). Using a silicone pastry brush (or just a spoon), mix in your seasonings. This time I used about a teasp. of dry parsley and a teasp. of Italian seasonings, along with some sea salt. Brush (or rub) the butter and herbs all over the chicken. You could peel up the skin and rub under also, but I've had great results shortcutting it on that lately! I also stuffed some onion in the chicken cavity, and added some to the baking dish.

Bake for 30-40 minutes. Check how brown the chicken is getting, baste with butter and juices in the pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Check and baste again. Usually at this point I cover the chicken with some foil. Bake for 15 minutes, check, then bake for 15 more minutes. The chicken should be completely done at this point (1 1/4 - 1 1/2 hours total bake time). Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before you cut and serve to allow the juices to set nicely. Enjoy!

There are tons of variations...basically do whatever your family likes! Add different seasonings to the butter, add lemon juice. Bake with potatoes and carrots, or even oranges for a twist. The possibilities are endless, and I love that there's very little hands on time!

Are you a rotisserie chicken family? It's a great feeling to walk by the chickens in the store and know that one of them can come out of my oven now!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Drying Cloth Diapers

Our cloth diapers just turned three this month! Our cloth diaper routine has stayed mostly the same as I detailed in this post. The only real difference is that we use fleece liners in the diapers instead of disposable ones. And we use cloth wipes exclusively now. I still keep a pack of wet wipes in the diaper bag, but I've literally only bought one pack of wipes in 12 months. I love the savings and love that I've gotten rid of needing to buy another disposable product!

We recently added to our cloth diaper drying routine with this hanging clothes dryer from Ikea (Pressa).

Love this! We call it the octopus -- 8 arms and 16 clips. We tend to hang our bumGenius covers on this instead of the absorbant liners because they dry quicker. Things are a little tight if you hang the liners, so we only hang 8 or 10 if that is what needs drying.

And the best part? It's amazingly portable! It folds up and is perfect for travel.

My only regret with this hanger? We only bought one. I'm planning to get 2 more the next time we're near an Ikea. They're $4.99 each, and I think that is a great deal.

Ikea didn't pay me to say any of this; I just love how their product makes my cloth diaper drying easier!

For more information about cloth diapers, check out my guest post on The Frugal Girl for an overview of cloth. And while we love bumGenius and Flip diapers, there are tons of other brands out there too. The important thing about cloth diapering is to make it work for you!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

February Goals Update

I'm keeping track of my goals this year through monthly updates. View my original goals post and my January update.

Read 48 books. If this was my only goal, I'd be golden! I'm right on track with 8 books read through February, 10 if I count 2 books read aloud to my daughter. I'm loving reading classic children's books to her; so far we've read Beatrix Potter The Complete Tales and Winnie the Pooh. I keep track of my books with Goodreads - a fabulous (and free!) website.

Memorize 52 Scripture Verses. My husband and I are going through the Fighter Verses program together. I have 7 out of 9 verses memorized right now. I would like to do better with making this a priority. Even though reading requires quite a bit of mental focus, memorizing takes so much more, and I'm seeing that I can be pretty lazy sometimes! Emma is working through the Foundation Verses and has 6 memorized.

Work on our Adoption. I was hoping to have some big news to share at the end of February, but things are still mostly the same. We are reading and taking in information right now, as well as talking with friends who have experience adopting. While I'd love to have some big progress to show, I also know that rushing into something just to mark it off a list is foolish. We are trusting that God is still calling us to adopt, and so we'll continue to take steps to make that happen!

Organize and Declutter. I cheated a bit on the 52 weeks to an organized home challenge in February. I already had a good recycling system as well as an adress book with everything in one place. I make a menu plan ahead of time most weeks, and when I don't I still have a plan a day or two ahead. And we are working on a HUGE home improvement project right now (well, huge for us, its actually little compared to most I expect!) that will be a great help towards organizing and decluttering. We are hoping to finish up this week and I can't wait to share it with you!

I'm also keeping my highlights from 2012 updated so that we have a way to review the best and most important parts of our year when 2013 gets here.

I'm so glad I'm keeping track of goals monthly; its a great "mile marker" through the year, and it's helping me to see that big things are manageable in small bites!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Paint Chip Labels

We were at Home Depot recently getting supplies for a project, and I grabbed a few large and brightly colored paint chips to bring home. I didn't have a great plan for them, but I was figuring they would become another tot school activity like this fine motor skill color matching one.

On a whim, I stuck one inside the clear pocket of our toy storage bins. Aside from being too tall, it fit perfectly!

I cut each one in half and wrote with a Sharpie to label the bins. Adorable, fast, and free!

This is a major improvement on the white papers I had as labels previously. They had been removed and crumpled several times, and at least half were missing. I also have several extras leftover in case a few of these show some wear. But since they are thick paint chips, I think they stand a much better chance at surviving!

Have you used paint chips for anything fun lately? I have visions of these adorable bins and clothespins holding paint chips that match the room! Probably not for the play area, but it would look great in a spot above the reach of little hands.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Free Dunkin Donuts Coffee & Giveaway Winner

Did you get one of these in your circulars this week?

Starting today and lasting through the end of April, bring this coupon to Dunkin Donuts to get a free Iced Coffee or Tea! I'm not a huge fan of Dunkin Donuts hot coffee, but I do enjoyed their iced coffee! This will be a nice treat as the weather warms into spring over the next month or so.

Congratulations to Sophie, commenter #2, randomly chosen to win the Gevalia Kaffe prize pack. You have been emailed! Thanks to everyone else who entered also. Remember, you can still get a free sample of Gevalia Kaffe from Walmart.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Perfect Square craft

I love that I get the opportunity to stay home with my kids. I'm also thankful that they are growing up to be little bookworms like me! We head to our library nearly every week to check out a new batch of books. But I'm sure anyone with small kids knows that not all children's books are created equal! I'm really picky with what we read...if I don't like it, I'm not going to keep reading it over and over!

We recently came across this great book and both my kids (ages 3 and 16 months) can't get enough of it. Thankfully, I think its great too. This week we enjoyed making a special craft each day to match the different pages in the book.

Perfect Square by Michael Hall

The book follows the "on Monday....on Tuesday" pattern, which made it really easy for us to do a different craft each day. I cut out colored squares to match each day, and then we followed the book for our craft. Can't get much easier than that!

This one was a little more challenging for me to cut, but it turned out really neat.

I never would have thought to use scraps of paper to make such cool crafts, and I just love how each one turned out.

Here's a look at our completed days, along with the pictures from the book. Highly recommend this one for hours (no joke!) of fun!

Have you entered my coffee giveaway? There's still time before it ends tomorrow!

I am not affiliated with Michael Hall or Perfect Square; I just love great books. The Amazon link is my referral. If you make a purchase through it, I get a small percentage of the price.
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