Comparing Two Catalogs

This time of year I get a ton of catalogs.  Well, not really a ton because to be honest I rarely buy anything from them so I usually get taken off lists rather quickly, but I do get some catalogs.  I picked up a few of them and started flipping through while I was eating breakfast one morning.  

These are the two I picked up. The World Vision gift catalog and the American Girl catalog. I must say, that was an interesting start to the morning that really got me thinking about a few things.

Let me start with the American Girl catalog.  I have a 13 year old daughter who has a few American Girl dolls thanks to garage sales. I have never purchased anything from the actual American Girl store other than lunch one afternoon a few years ago when my mom and I took my daughter on a girls day and enjoyed a little after Christmas shopping.  My daughter realized that the $50 gift card that she had received for Christmas could purchase her barely one outfit for her 18" doll. 

Don't get me wrong. I love American Girl. I remember wanting one when they came out when I was a kid and I picked one up as quickly as I could when I found one for $5 at a garage sale. I tucked that garage sale find away one year and it appeared under the Christmas tree for my daughter. I love that the American Girl dolls encourage girls to be girls and provide an opportunity for them to maintain their childhood in the most wholesome way.

However, I don't love their price tag and like I said, I've been lucky enough to score a fair amount of American Girl dolls and their accessories used and at a fraction of the price over the years. While we could afford to buy American Girl doll at retail prices {the average doll will set you back around $120}, we have chosen not to because we would rather use that money so that we can be more generous in other areas of our life. More on that later. 

While perusing the American Girl catalog, the last page has the American Girl promise which says:

We promise to never stop believing in the unlimited potential in all girls.  We're dedicated to creating products, services and experiences that help boost confidence, ignite creativity, and fuel connections. It's our job to remind the world--and girls--how strong, brilliant, and brave they can be.

I couldn't agree more! Especially with that last line.  Let's take a second to break down that promise and see how it is that American Girl is fulfilling that promise with their products.

You can purchase accessories for your American Girl doll that will help normalize life events that an everyday girl has that will hopefully boost her confidence. If your daughter wears orthodontic head gear, you can buy a healthy smile set for $14. If your child is in a wheelchair, your doll can be too for $38. A hearing aid can be added to any doll for $14 and if your child has food allergies, you can buy an allergy-free lunch with safe {plastic} foods and a faux allergy shot for $28. Boosting confidence? Check.

I used to play pretend school all the time when I was a kid. One summer, my best friend and I charged the neighborhood kids $5 a day to go to our school. We even had a field trip to the fire station on our block.

If your daughter loves school like I did, you can buy Mary Ellen's classroom set for $40. It includes a two sided map, chalkboard, stand, pointer and a set of flashcards. You can even get a school supply set with a backpack filled with paper, pencils and a book for only $30.

I'm a big fan of encouraging music and the arts. You can purchase a music and entertainment set for $85. Or purchase a painting set just for your doll for $36! Ignite creativity? Check.

Does your daughter have an entrepreneurial spirit? Maybe she loves to bake and dreams of one day owning a cupcake shop.  You can get a complete pastry set and cart for $150. The pastry set has a cart with pretend treats and business supplies. If a gourmet kitchen set is something she dreams of, you can buy one for $225. Fuel connections? Check.

There are so many fun creative products available in the American Girl catalog and on their website that every girl is sure to find something that she will love. 

But I couldn't help but notice that while I could buy doll sized accessories that will help "boost confidence, ignite creativity and fuel connections," I could also do the same thing for real actual people purchasing real actual items that would create a lasting impact. 

You know that last line in the American Girl promise statement about reminding the world--and girls, how strong, brilliant and brave they are?  Well friends, I want to remind the world that there are real girls facing real issues that are strong and brilliant and brave. Whose lives could be changed if you swapped out buying a dolls bike with faux leather seat for a real bike for a girl in need so that she can attend school. 


How to survive when you hand your keys over to your teen driver

We did it. We survived teaching and driving with a 15-year-old.  Our oldest son Aidan was dying to drive for years and as a parent who has navigated the waters, we get asked often what some of our best tips are.

I won't say that we have all of the answers, but we do have some experience. These are a few of the ways that we survived teaching our son to drive.


Green Beans with Bacon, the perfect Thanksgiving dinner side dish

Kate is back with another fantastic recipe! In case you are looking for a last-minute side dish or another way to add vegetables into your family dinner, these green beans with bacon are sure to be a hit!  Take it away Kate!

A Thanksgiving side dish ready in under 30 minutes, count me in! 

Add this to your Thanksgiving dinner to make your day less stressful, more enjoyable and you'll get to the table faster. Or be like me and add it to your weekly rotation! It's casual, yet impressive and quick!!

Green Beans with Bacon

green beans (enough to feed your group) (fresh or frozen)
1/2 onion diced
3 garlic cloves chopped
juice of one lemon
4-5 pieces of bacon chopped (reserve 1 tbsp of grease)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
zest of half lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil

Boil green beans until just under cooked. Drain and set aside. While beans boil cook bacon until done but not crispy. I did mine my cast iron skillet. Reserve 1 tbsp of grease in a large pan. Add olive oil and salute onions over medium heat until translucent. 

Add beans, garlic and bacon to pan and cook until beans are coated and garlic is tender. Add balsamic vinegar and stir for one minute and then remove from heat. 

Add lemon juice, zest and season with salt and pepper.

You can serve it warm but it's also delicious at room temp or cold!


Looking for other great Thanksgiving Side Dish recipes? Look no further!

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Butternut Squash Brushetta
Sweet Hawaiian Bread Stuffing
Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon
Turkey Cheeseball 
Holiday Sweet Potato Casserole


Free printable for your Keurig K cups

I don't know about you, but I am slightly obsessed with my Keurig.  I'm not a "give me a whole pot of coffee" kind of gal, so one cup here or there serves me just right most of the time, which is why I love popping in a K cup here and there.

But those K cups need some personality, don't you think? I like pretty things and I like witty sayings. Combine the two and you have a winner in my books. 

I decided to create a little printable that I could put over the top of my K cups. They make me happy when I use them in the morning. And lucky for you, I'm giving you a free printable, so that you can make some yourself too!


Put the screen down: How to unplug your plugged in family

This post has been rattling around in my mind for the better part of a year. I have felt convicted and then felt judgey.  I have felt all the feels and so I always went back to just not writing it, but here I am again, revisiting this because a Facebook friend inspired me with this post she wrote on her personal page this morning.

"We showed up early for an appointment yesterday. Another family was in the same room. The boy, about 8, on his DS. Each parent on their phones. To kill time, I taught the Ewok how to make a "cootie catcher" and we spent 20 minutes counting, spelling, reading "you get to vacuum your room!", "You are smart!", "You are a good friend" etc. Mainly we laughed. He kept looking over at the other family, trying to catch their eyes and engage them. None of them looked up, at him or each other.
I wanted to tell them to come out here with us. Be curious. Engage. Have fun. But I also know that if we had a kid that could have screens, we could've been them, at that moment."

This. It was this. I will say that I tend to fall in the camp of the more conservative when it comes to screen time. I have a background in child development and I truly believe that children learn what they live.


Fall grass wreath inspired by the JuJu hat

I just love it when I have a vision and it turns out as awesome as I hoped it would.  This fall grass wreath is one of those awesome visions that turned out even better than I hoped.  If you follow me on Instagram, you got a sneak peek not too long along.   I'm not sure you can get a full grasp of the scale of this thing from this picture though.

pampas grass wreath tutorial

There.  Can you see how massive this is? It's probably about four feet in diameter! It's pretty impressively amazing.

I ended up hanging it on my back patio under the covered part in hopes that it will survive the winter.  Plus it looks pretty amazing right there don't you think?

pampas grass wreath

Want to know what inspired this vision that I had?  It may have also required a little sneaky pruning outside of a local neighborhood.


$500 Amazon gift card giveaway!!!

Life gets busy. I'm all about finding short cuts. One of my favorite short cuts right now is doing my shopping on Amazon. I do the majority of my shopping for my extended family on Amazon because it's 100 times easier than going to the stores.  They have pretty much everything I need and the price is usually right.
My husbands mantra to me is "your time is worth something." He says this to me because I tend to under value my time. You too?  After all these years I'm starting to see his point. I'm starting to factor in how much gas money I would use driving from store to store and how much time I'm spending doing that.  
So really, shopping on-line is saving me money. Or something like that.  
Anyway, I'm so excited to be partnering with some pretty awesome bloggers to offer you a chance to win a $500 Amazon gift card!


Prize: $500 Amazon Gift Card or Cash if that's your thing (via Paypal) - winner’s choice

Giveaway organized by: Oh My Gosh Beck!
Rules: Use the Rafflecopter form to enter daily. Giveaway ends 12/14  and is open worldwide. Winner will be notified via email.
Are you a blogger who wants to participate in giveaways like these to grow your blog? Click here to find out how you can join a totally awesome group of bloggers!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Breakfast Morning Confessions

There is nothing better than long lazy mornings sipping coffee, sitting in front of the fireplace and enjoying good company. We don't host a lot of out of town guests, mostly because right now, all of our beds and rooms are filled with actual people that reside in our home full time, but on the occasions that we do host friends or family, we like to make our time with them special.  

Fall is here and before you know it, winter will be upon us. Imagine yourself wrapped in your favorite blanket with a warm mug of something yummy sitting in front of the fire with the smells of breakfast wafting through the house. But before you get all comfortable, let me rewind a bit. I have a few confessions.

Confession one. I'm not a morning person. Sure, I wake up early and head to the gym most days but I can't seem to utter a single word until I've been up for at least a few hours.  My brain just doesn't seem to form coherent sentences before the sun is up.  

Confession two. My husband and I wish that we were more hospitable people, but as much as we try, we just aren't. We are extroverted introverts and we like our space and our time and our routine. We've even taken one of those personality quizzes and hospitality was so low on both of our lists that it barely registered!

I stress out like it's nobody's business when I am hosting something or someone at my house. I set this unbelievably high standard that is so hard to attain, especially with three kids living in my house {they still make messes faster than I can clean them up and they are so far from the toddler years, I didn't think that was possible!}, that I just don't get excited about hosting. I wish it was easy for me, but we all have our gifts.  So all that said, if you are invited to be a guest in my home, it's because we love you so much that the stress and change in our routine is worth it.

Next year, all I can think about is how my oldest son will be like a guest in our home when he comes home for the holidays from college. I'm getting all nostalgic about the time that we have with him but I'm not kidding myself that the dynamics in our family are going to change when we launch a kiddo off to college next fall. Don't get me wrong, our home is still his home, but being independent changes you. 

So why am I getting all sappy and making confessions?'s because through the years, I have learned a few things. 

I have learned that I won't get up at 5 am to make my guests a homemade Martha Stewart breakfast spread, even though I wish that I could totally pull it off. I've tried and trust me, no one wants me to start my day like that. 

One Christmas when my parents were visiting I found this recipe for homemade cinnamon rolls that took me four hours to make. FOUR HOURS! Hours I won't get back to spend with the people who I love and who I would have rather spent time with than four hours {can you tell I'm bitter!} in the kitchen. And you know what all of my kids said when we dug into those cinnamon rolls that morning? They thought they were OK but they wanted to know what happened to our "normal" cinnamon rolls.  

OK, last confession.  Want to know what those "normal" cinnamon rolls were? They were Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls right out of the refrigerated section. They take me two minutes to put in a pan and twenty five minutes to cook. And you know what? We all like them better than the ones that I made from scratch that took me four long grueling hours to make. 

I love how the house smells all warm and cozy with the Cinnamon Rolls cooking. It's like the official mark of the holidays, without all of the work that goes into making rolls from scratch. It's really a win win. I get to spend more time with the people I love, and less time in the kitchen and everyone gets to enjoy the special treat. 

This time of year, I always have a can of Cinnamon Rolls in my fridge for those rare weekends when there is nothing on the schedule and we are enjoying a long lazy morning at home just our family. Our time as a family of five at home like we know it is nearing an end, so I want to make those moments special when I can. 

Cinnamon Rolls always make my grocery list because nothing says good morning to your guests like waking up with hot cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven.

The best part? I save hours. I get to sit back, release the unrealistically high Pinterest-perfect standards and actually enjoy my guests. We can actually curl up by the fire and enjoy a long lazy morning. Lazy is the key here because all I had to do was pop open a can! There is nothing more perfect than that.


I am thankful for...a free printable paper chain

I'm a sucker for a beautifully set table.  Though I have a confession. This is the first time I've taken out my great aunt's silver since I've had it and I only have one of these place settings, though I do love this pattern on the plate don't you? I also don't have enough matching glasses for our whole family. Hostess extraordinaire I am not!

Though if I could, I would set the dining room table like this and leave it. But right now it looks silly with only one place set. I digress...

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to set a fancy table complete with napkin rings. I love taking the time to reflect on the things that we are thankful for. I created a free printable for you that can double as a napkin ring for your fancy table and that can later on be made into a paper chain to display all of the things that you and your family are thankful for.


Gift ideas for creatives for under $20!

Growing up I was always creating and crafting. I remember early on taking empty Kleenex boxes and creating doll houses out of them. I had a small sewing kit and I hand stitched clothes for my kitten. I used my moms sewing machine in middle school and created hair scrunchies for every outfit and I signed up for art class that I was offered at school.

I loved to create.

I still love to create! It's just part of what I enjoy doing. So if you are like me, I put together a list of gift ideas for creatives. The best part is, that all of these ideas cost under $20.


How we budget for the holidays

The date never changes. I think I knew that Christmas was on December 25, long before I knew what day my birthday was on. And yet, every year, I hear that the holiday sneaks up on some people and they are left wondering how they are going to make those gift lists that their children create a reality.

We do our very best to not make Christmas about the presents or the gift lists. Our children have everything that they need. We are beyond grateful to have a roof over our heads, a warm bed to sleep in, food that fills the pantry and clean water that comes out of the tap.

As parents, we decided very early on {out of necessity mostly} that we wouldn't indulge our children's every want. We don't buy new toys at the store, heck, we rarely buy any new books {thank you library!}. The kids never beg for candy or gum in the grocery aisle because they know they won't get it.

Because we exercise restraint most of the year, we do like to have our children receive at least one item that we know they really want at Christmas.

I've been asked multiple times throughout the years, how we stick to a budget for the holidays. Well, I'm spilling our secrets!

Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about the benefits of buying used gifts for Christmas. I shared with you that we budget $50 for each of our kids' gifts for Christmas.  This is far below the national average and we are totally o.k. with that.

This budget allows us to be more generous in other areas of our life. We are able to give to those in need, not just to those in want.

So, the million dollar question is, where does our money for Christmas spending come from? Well, my friends, just yesterday, we requested to cash out our Chase rewards card and by early next week a shiny new check will be in our mailbox earmarked for Christmas spending.
When we use our Chase card {it's the only one we use}, we receive points on every purchase and those points then can be redeemed for cash. Well, other stuff too like travel, experiences, merchandise and gift cards, but we almost always choose cash.  Because cash. Duh. 
After I deposit that shiny new check, I will be buying things with the money I deposited  and I will be collecting more points. The glorious cycle continues! 

I'm stretching my dollar and saving money all at the same time! {cue hallelujah chorus}

Your first step in budgeting for the holidays is to know how much you want to spend on each person and do your best to stick to that limit. I have talked to friends who don't do this and start buying from their children's wish list instead. Before they know it, they have hundreds of dollars worth of gifts set aside for their children who already have shelves full of toys and electronics.

If you buy family gifts {for your parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, grandparents}, try to set a limit for that as well. I try to shop all year long in anticipation of Christmas and buy gifts for friends and family members when they are deeply discounted.

The key is knowing your number and doing your best to be creative to stay in that budget.
Once you start buying gifts, keep track of what you bought and your spending. Because I shop all year long, sometimes I forget about the toy I set aside for my 10 year old that I picked up on major clearance in January. I take inventory of those items before I do any major shopping.

Finally, allow yourselves to be generous. I would much rather give to someone who really needed, rather than just to someone who wanted, however, there is joy in giving regardless.

Our family has two children through child sponsorship with World Vision living in Uganda. I've seen the needs in that area and I know those children can benefit from the savings I create from sticking to our budget. They have basic needs that aren't always being met. Because we are able to stretch our dollar, shop smart and use our credit card to get rewards on anything we want, we can be generous to the real needs of those living on the other side of the world!

There is no magic budget solution, but there is a magic card that will allow you to put money back into your pocket when you spend all year round. I would love to hear your tips on how you budget for the holidays.


Creative Gift Ideas for Kids Under $20!

I don't know about you, but some of my favorite gifts for kids are the ones that keep them occupied for hours and inspire them to use their imagination. 
I have a bachelors degree in child development and I could go on and on and about how important it is for you to give your children toys that teach, but I know you already know that already! While your kids are busy fine tuning their fine motor skills and beefing up their hand eye coordination, they are also using the creative side of their brains and engaging in learning.
I have hand picked eight creative gift ideas that I promise you will engage kids of all ages and might encourage a skill or two that can become a lifelong passion.


Gold painted goose feathers

I find some pretty cool things at garage sales. Sometimes some of the most random things are the things that I have the hardest time passing up.  A few months ago, I picked up a ziploc bag full of goose feathers.  The family had a goose as a pet and apparently he shed.  A lot.  So for $1, I got a whole bag full of some pretty sturdy white feathers and for months they sat in a drawer because I wasn't quite sure what to do with them.

But alas, don't you worry, I came up with a cool use for those goose feathers. I love that I can use them for a few different things and hopefully, it will give you some inspiration to start creating if you happen upon your own bag of feathers at your next garage sale.


Low Calorie Pink Lemonade with a Twist

I can't believe how quickly this year has flown by! Before you know it we will be celebrating the new year and ringing in 2016. This time of year brings so many of us together for social occasions. We have weekends and evenings full of holiday events and parties. It's such a fun time! 

I have a fun, zero-calorie beverage enhancer that will make the most perfect pink lemonade vodka for your next event.

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