Friday, May 12, 2017

Disney Princess Party - Food & Decor

This little girl turned 4 this week, and it was her year for a party! (We alternate years with her brother) Of course Pandora picked a pink and purple princess theme. I decided to base the decorations and food on the Disney princess movies instead of just going fully 'princess' with tiaras and pearls, and ended up having a little too much fun browsing Pinterest and planning everything out.
 Happy Bday Girl

Whole parties have been planned around each princess, so there were a lot of ideas out there. I tried keeping a list of our definites and maybes, but soon I was desperate for something more visual, and I started slapping together an image to sort everything out. The top section shows everything for the table, and the bottom section is for the goodie bags (since some things could be on either). The picture ended up being a great help as we planned, because I could easily see how many sweets, salty foods, and healthy options we had. I even ended up marking which plates and decorations I wanted to use beside each food, since I had to bring it all with me, and it was so easy to reference.

Party food & goodie bag planning

First we'll start with Cinderella, who's Fairy Godmother got some Pokky sticks for magic wands. I saw this idea done with chocolate covered pretzel sticks, which is also cute, but sometimes those things are just too big. When I saw the Pokky I thought the size would be better for snacking, and was also excited I wouldn't have to make anything! Then I bought some cheese cubes for her little mice friends. I found an ornate metal tray at the Dollar Tree, and set it on top of a bowl of ice to help the cheese stay fresh through the party. It didn't get sweaty, just a little dry, so I'd call that a success. 

Cinderella with Pokky wands & cheese cubes

The Fairy Godmother and mice pictures I just printed out and taped to the vase/plate. I made the standing Cinderella (and the other skirted princesses below), and will be posting a tutorial for those soon!

Of course Snow White *had* to have some nice red apple slices, and I made this caramel dip to go with them. I soaked the slices in club soda to keep them from turning brown.

Snow White, red apples, & caramel dip

Behind Snow White you can spy Belle's rose, which I'll also share a tutorial for soon ~ 

Belle & rose

And Belle's food was Chip's chips!

Belle & Chip's Chips

On this side of the table we also had Merida with some gummy bears. I had printed out a picture of the little bears from the movie and forgot to stick them on beside her, oh well ~ 

Merida with gummy bears

On the other half of the table we had an Elsa and Olaf doll with some white cheddar popcorn for 'snow'. I looked everywhere for white cheese balls to use as snowballs, but could find them no where, so I finally had to settle for something a little less obvious. ~ 

Elsa & Olaf with popcorn snow

Jasmine was a hard one, since the only food ideas I saw for her were chocolate golden coins as 'treasure'. Finally I remembered the cute tiger oranges a mom had made for cub scouts, and so we have her friend Rajah ~

Jasmine with tiger oranges

The oranges are a simple idea, but ended up being a big pain to do. The oil from the orange peel kills Sharpies, and I ended up with one pen after another dying on me. As I struggled with the pens it took forever to do a dozen tigers, and so I gave up and left the rest of them blank. I wouldn't recommend this one!

These sour filled Twizzlers look incredible as Rapunzel's hair! Better yet, the package comes with only red and yellow colored Twizzlers, and you can buy them lots of places, so they are an easy addition. (I used 2 packs)

Rapunzel with yellow twizzler hair

I saw so many awesome ideas for Ariel, it was hard to narrow down! With all of the cheese cubes and apple slices we had tons of kid-friendly food, so we chose these crab shaped sandwiches with the adults in mind. We had pimento cheese, ham & swiss, and turkey & swiss, with a range of condiments on the side. I searched several stores before I found sew-on google eyes, which have a tab sticking out on the back the perfect size for a toothpick. I finally found two sizes at Hobby Lobby, and the search was worth it in the end when I was able to pop them right on the toothpicks and avoided gluing on 30+ eyes.

Ariel with crab sandwiches

The Ariel decoration was created a little differently than the skirted princesses, so I'll have a separate tutorial for her.

We waited to reveal the best part, an awesome castle cake!

Castle cake - at home

This cake is actually simpler than it looks, as the towers are created with two stacked ice cream cones (cake cones), and then topped with a pointy cone (sugar cone). I covered all of the cones with frosting and rolled the pointed cones in pink sugar. They ended up looking super glittery in person and prettier than I'd expected! For the actual cake part there are two layers of a square cake on the bottom and two smaller circle layers on top (I just used a normal circle pan and then cut them down to size). This is topped with another cake cone and sugar cone in the center.

Castle cake - at party

I debated for a long time what to use for the rectangle shapes around the edges, and had heavily considered using pink wafer cookies or mini marshmallows. In the end I couldn't find cheap wafers, and the marshmallows were too irregularly shaped, so I searched the candy aisle and found some perfect mini white chocolate Kit Kats! For the door I cut a graham cracker into shape and covered it with the pink sugar, piping a little white frosting around the edge. I cut the tips off the corner cones until I had a hole big enough to fit some slender candles, then piped a little icing over the hole. The four towers were perfect for our 4 candles!

Blowing out candles

I built the cake on a large, sturdy air bake pan we have, which was first covered in wrapping paper and then a layer of Press'n Seal. I cut a cardboard box down to size to transport it, having the box open at the front so I could slide the tray in & out. It traveled well, other than the center tower, which kept toppling over. If I were to do it again, I'd mix up some royal icing to really cement the side towers together, and then take the center tower off when the cake needs to be moved. (Cutting a small hole in the top of the cake might have helped too)
The party went really well, other than having to battle the wind to set everything up. The wind was ripping things from my hands, and actually blew gifts off the present table!! I was able to get everything well secured, and it mostly calmed down for the party. Everything went really well, and I think our little one definitely felt like a special princess for her birthday.

Monday, February 6, 2017

1 Month with Swagbucks & InstaGC

So you may have noticed that I barely post on the blog anymore. That feels pretty weird after 10 years of regularly posting! But right now I have so much 'stuff' to keep up with that I haven't spent much time working on any fun crafts or new recipes. I decided to cut myself a break and not worry about forcing anything just to make sure I write something once a week or once a month, and just post whenever I have something I want to share! Next year my littlest one starts Pre-K, so in my fantasy world I'm instantly going to have oodles of time to work on everything I want. We'll see, haha.

Today I wanted to share my newest obsession with you ~ Swagbucks and InstaGC! I started with those sites 1 month ago and between the two I've already made over $160!! You can see why I'm hoooked. I've been using this for fun money and was able to buy a Instant Pot, a new printer, and more.

Join Swagbucks!

I'd heard the name thrown around a lot in the past, and even checked out the site before, but thought you mostly got a few measly points here & there for doing web searches & stuff, and so I wasn't very interested. Recently I was reading a post that talked about some of the rebate apps I use, as well as a few other money making sites, and when the author she said she was making $25 a month through Swagbucks I decided to give it another look. 

There are tons of ways to get 'points' on the site (100 points = $1), but the best way I've found is through surveys. If you can do one survey you should be able to hit your 'daily goal' easily. (Some days that is easier than other!) You can also get some nice cash back from online shopping, just like eBates. Best of all, there are lots of nice bonuses that add up, like getting a few points for finishing the daily 'to-do list', for entering 'swag codes', special promos, or big bonuses if you meet your daily goal each day that month. This month I was expecting about $2.25 for meeting my daily goals, and somehow ended up with a $5 bonus! Gotta love that. By the end of the month I had made $55. 
To cash out, they have tons of gift cards in stock like Amazon & eBay, some as low as $3 (they do take a couple of days to process). If you save up though, you can trade 2200 points for a $25 card once a month for a nice discount.

Tips -
♦ There are 2 daily goals, which will both give you a few bonus points. Your 1st goal will be around 40 points the first week, and then will go up to maybe 80 after that. I found that when I hit the 1st and 2nd goal every day, the amounts just kept getting higher & higher until it was hard to even meet the 1st one. When I started just meeting the 1st goal & staying below the 2nd, the amount stayed around 80 each day. Much more manageable!
♦ Most of the daily 'to-do list' items are super easy to knock out, other than finding a 'Discover' option that doesn't involve spending money. I usually go to Offer Toro and let an EngageMe video play until I hit a point, or choose the lowest paying offers from Peanut Labs and click through a slideshow or something for 1 point. The to-do list is completely optional anyway, you just get some bonus points for completing it.
♦ I downloaded the Swagbucks TV app and earn 10-40 points a day running some videos on my phone when I'm not using it. Go to the 'Home and Garden' section and favorite all of the "10 Sec Tip" videos, which are super short. Then you can watch just your 'favorites' and will quickly rack up the points until your videos max out of for the day. I have also tried the main Swagbucks app and their 'Answer' app, but those have been mostly useless.
♦ These sites change things up over time, so if you are looking for info on something, make sure to look for results no older than a year.

I'll admit, I was not a fan of InstaGC after the first day! It seemed like every offer wanted you to register on some site or spend money or give them your email address. I was able to make $2 the first day without doing any of those though, so I stuck around. I learned about the site from the same post I mentioned above, and the author's claim of easily making $5 a day seemed impossible. After a week or so I figured out my way around the site better and actually did start making about $5 a day! But only by doing as many surveys as I could. I was happy to keep plugging away though as I saw my points rising, and by the end of the month I'd made $108!!

The reason I make twice as much on InstaGC is simply because they have so many more surveys available. One of my favorite spots to look for them are under "All", click on the "InstaGC" button (they call them "walls"), and then look for Live Sample,, and Your Surveys. You do need to give each of those survey groups your email address, but they are only used to track users (they won't send you emails or give out your address). My other favorite survey spot is under Earn > Surveys. New ones are added there throughout the day, so I check back frequently for well paying ones. If surveys are not your thing, I've seen many users who avoid them and still manage to make more than I do per day, but I'm guessing they are doing some offers I wouldn't be comfortable with.

Tips - 
♦ After you earn $5 you will be able to see a chat window running along the side of the page. It's a great place to get your questions answered quick, and to see tips for good paying surveys and deals.
♦ On the InstaGC wall I went through and hid all of the deals that wanted me to register or sign up for a free sample (250+ offers!) so that I can clearly see just surveys there. It takes a while to do, but if you hide a few here & there, they'll soon be all gone. 
♦ Just like Swagbucks, you can earn points by letting videos run in the background. I go to Earn > Watch Videos, turn the volume almost all the way down on my computer, and keep them going on another tab as much as possible through the day. Since this is a slow season, details on the videos have changed quite a bit even during the month I've been here, but I've been able to make about 25-50 points a day from those. (100 points = $1) VideoLab on the Offer Toro wall is even better paying, when they are available, but you can't shrink down or hide those. Those are great to pull up when you are about to leave the house or just won't be using the computer for a while.
♦ InstaGC has a much larger collection of gift cards, for all different amounts, and you get the codes instantly! After you've cashed in $50 worth of cards you can even start doing Paypal deposits.

So have any of you tried Swagbucks or InstaGC? I know surveys are not for everyone, but I was already involved with two surveys sites with *much* lower results, so I was thrilled to find these! Even if you only aim to do one survey a day you could easily have $30 of fun-money by the end of the month, and it's so easy to work on them while you're watching TV & hanging out. Seeing my points climbing up, and knowing I can cash out any time, definitely keeps me motivated to try for another and another.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Making a Pikachu Tail

For Halloweens past, Orson has picked some crazy costume ideas - like 'the alphabet', or a pickle.

Orson, ABCs, 2 Trick or Treating '15, 4

But this year he is Pokemon crazy, and wanted to be Pikachu!

I looked around a lot, but I wasn't loving any of the pre-made Pikachu costumes. I considered adding a hat & tail to some yellow sweatshirt & pants, but I actually couldn't find yellow sweatpants anywhere! Or pretty much any yellow pants. Finally we decided to buy this cute Pikachu hoodie from Target (it was $15 at the time), and for the pants I finally found a set of Minions PJs with plain yellow fleece pants. Best of all, both the jacket & PJs will get a lot of use after Halloween!

Hoodie back, before

The back of the hoodie has a drawn-on tail & stripes, and before Halloween it got a lot of use as-is at Fall Festivals and Halloween parties.

Fall Festival

But for Halloween we both agreed that we needed a nice BIG tail! I bought some yellow fleece and some brown felt, and planned on constructing everything a week or so early. But I couldn't find any big cardboard, and I kept forgetting, and suddenly it was the *day of* Halloween and I realized I hadn't made it yet! Oops! In my rush I didn't get a chance to take a lot of nice step-by-step photos, but hopefully you can follow along!

First I wanted to cover the back of the hoodie, since it would be weird to have a big tail sitting on top of a drawn one! I cut a piece of the yellow fleece to cover the back and glued it down with Elmer's (white school glue) so that I could pull it off and wash out the glue afterward. I also added the two brown stripes back on with the brown felt.  ~

Pikachu hoodie

Then for the new tail ~ I figured out how large I wanted the tail to be, looked up some pics, and sketched it out on a big piece of cardboard. I used some scissors and a knife to cut it out. Then I glued it down on the yellow fleece and cut around it, about 1.5 inch from the cardboard. I'd planned on using hot glue for this, but it wasn't sticking very well, so I switched to Elmer's. Just like with sewing, you'll want to cut in towards an inside corner , and clip off any outside corners, then wrap the fabric around the edge & glue in place ~

Making Pikachu tail, 1

Then I cut some small zig-zags in the brown felt, and glued it to the tail in the same way. It was a little too bulky to fold over the yellow and brown fabric together, so there I cut the yellow flush with the cardboard and only folded the brown fabric over. 

I tried just covering the other side of the cardboard with the yellow fleece, but unfortunately you could clearly see the folded edge through the fabric, both the color and it's thickness. So I cut a piece of yellow to fit in between the folded edges (see above). For that, I just glued down the top corner, then just kind of peeked underneath to see where to cut, and cut & glued as I went until the area was filled. It was a very odd shape, but pretty easy to cut that way.

Making Pikachu tail, 2

After that, I glued the exposed side down to the yellow fabric and just cut flush with the edge this time (since the edges were already wrapped with fabric), and repeated with the brown at the bottom. The hot glue worked fine for all of this, and any time I was gluing fabric-to-fabric (like the brown on yellow mentioned above). I poked a large safety pin through the top 3 points of the tail, and I was done! Orson was very happy with it ~

Finished Pikachu tail, 2

Finished Pikachu tail, 2

The tail flopped back & forth a bit, but stayed on well until the end of Trick-or-Treating. At the very end the pins had all come open (he was climbing & out of our wagon that night) and could have been re-pinned, but we just left the tail off for the last house. And when we were done, I propped it up on the wall in his room for a decoration!

And here's a better picture of our little Elsa, since she's kind of staring off in the above pic ~ 

Elsa, close

The big tail worked out great, and definitely made it seem more like a 'costume' than just a hoodie & pants. And after Halloween, he couldn't wait to start wearing the Pikachu hoodie every day to school!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

North Georgia Fair, 2016

Every year in late September, we like to visit the N. Georgia fair with my parents. It's right around my mom's birthday, and my dad gets free passes from work, so it's become a favorite family tradition.

N Ga Fair '16, 1

N Ga Fair '16, 2

N Ga Fair '16, 3

N Ga Fair '16, 4

N Ga Fair '16, 5

N Ga Fair '16, 6

N Ga Fair '16, 7

N Ga Fair '16, 8

N Ga Fair '16, 9

N Ga Fair '16, 10

N Ga Fair '16, 11

Monday, October 17, 2016

Crispy Oven Baked Wings (and Sweet & Savory Sauce)

Crispy Oven Baked Wings

I was excited to try Our Best Bites' tip for getting crispy oven baked wings, and we were really blown away with the results! They have the same nice crunch as restaurant wings, but without all of that oil for frying. And you don't even have to worry about continously basting, just toss them in your choice of sauce afterward.

Crispy Baked Wings

4 lbs. chicken wings (separated)
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt 

1) Move your rack to the lower middle spot and pre-heat your oven to 250 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and top with a wire rack or slotted pan. Spray with oil or non-stick spray. 

2) Pat the wings with paper towels and toss with the baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Arrange the wings skin side up on the rack in one layer and bake for 30 minutes.

3) Move the oven rack up one spot (upper middle) and increase the temperature to 425 F. Bake the wings for 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Toss finished wings with your choice of sauce and serve!

Crispy Oven Baked Wings

I like to make a few sauces (and maybe set out a few bottles of pre-made sauce) when I make wings, so everyone can choose how many they'd like of each flavor. We've tried out lots of sauce recipes, but the only one we've been wowed by so far is this Sweet & Savory sauce.

Sweet & Savory Wing Sauce

1 tsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. water

2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. ketchup
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. minced garlic (2 cloves)

1) In a small bowl or cup, mix the cornstarch & water. Set aside.

2) In a small pot over medium heat, mix the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a low boil, then stir in the cornstarch and cook for 3 minutes to thicken.

Sweet & Savory Wing Sauce

Thursday, September 29, 2016

September - 1 Week of Freebies

I've been having trouble finding time for my 'normal' hobbies lately, but I always seem to find time for couponing! It's been kind of my mindless-internet-time-killer lately. It's nice to have a hobby that is so obviously rewarding ~ I can often go into a store for $30 worth of stuff & spend $5. I've been buying name brand cereals for like $.30 & getting all sorts of crazy deals.

This month I was able to get a ridiculous amount of freebies (and money makers) during one week, so I thought I'd share those pics here.

First I grabbed some deals at the pharamacies ~ CVS, Rite Aid, & Walgreens.

Sept. Week of freebies, 1

Then Ibotta added a ton of mid-month bonuses ~ one was $10, which I think is the largest Ibotta bonus I've seen yet! The amount required varies by how much you use the app. I needed 24 rebates for the $10 bonus, and there were some smaller $2 & $3 bonuses that I could get at the same time. This time around I also checked my husband's app, and he only needed 10 rebates for the $10, so we bought enough to meet both goals.

Sept. Week of freebies, 2

The plastic cups & glow bracelets were money makers, so I got those rebates as many times as I could. I have a ton to hand out for Halloween now! And they pretty much paid for the rest of the groceries.

The Centrum here was from Rite Aid, but I think the rest was from Ibotta ~

Sept. Week of freebies, 3
Sept. Week of freebies, 4

Honestly, I could have added a ton more to these photos, but it's hard to keep track of sometimes. I know I have about twice that many cups & glow bracelets! Either way, I could tell I was getting a *lot* of good deals this month.

And for a quick update on the rebate apps (I've talked more about them here & here) - 3 months in my totals are $144 on Ibotta, $42 on Checkout 51, $43 on Saving Star, and $11 on MobiSave. I'd say the Ibotta total skews a little high, because I definitely bought a few things just to trigger the bonuses (like several times I spent $2.60 and got a $3 rebate on those plastic cups. It's not really $3 worth of savings because I wouldn't have normally bought those). But this month I did get $20 worth of bonuses! (And another $12 or so on my husband's.) If you ignore the bonuses, I'd say the Ibotta rebates are on par with Ch51 & SS.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hectic September

This month has been insane! We managed to avoid extracurriculars until now, but this month Orson (1st grade) started soccer ~

9-16 Orson soccer

And boy scouts ~

9-16 Orson Cub Scouts

Our little Pandora started preschool (twice a week, 4 hours) ~

9-16 Panda's 1st day of preschool

We also started a small group at our new church, and I had to prep clothes for the Fall consignment sale!

Our calendar has basically exploded with meetings upon practices upon games. And the fees for everything have been ridiculous, because there always seems to be another one popping up that we didn't know about. (I'm looking at you, Cub Scouts! Somehow that jumped from '$65 for the year' to $220+. Not cool.)

On the plus side, orders have also picked up, which is busy-in-a-good-way!