Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween! infographic: The cost of Halloween

Happy Halloween! I thought I would share this "spooky" infographic I found on about the cost of Halloween. Sure, we shelled out more than the national average on our pumpkin, but spent much less on costumes and candy.

Is Halloween a trick or treat for your budget?
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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

DIY Baby Dinosaur Costume

Halloween is only a few days away! Are you ready? I finally pulled together Monica's costume over the weekend. We went to Target a few weeks ago and were less than impressed at the costume selection for babies. So we picked up the pumpkin onesie she wore to the pumpkin patch and called it a day. The onesie also came with a pumpkin hat, so we figured she would be a pumpkin for Halloween.

Turns out, the pumpkin hat was a tad small (girlfriend has lots of hair!), so it wasn't looking like she was going to be a pumpkin. After brainstorming and creating a quick costume for my work party (thanks to this tutorial), I knew it would be easy enough to whip up Monica's costume.

I present to you, our little Cute-a-saurus!

See also: a DIY baby dinosaur costume that can be made in less than an hour for only a few bucks. If you're still searching for a costume for your little one, grab your sewing machine and get crafting!

  • Hooded sweatshirt (one with a zipper is easier to sew)
  • Two sheets of felt (mine were 9"x12")
  • Thread
  • Fabric glue
    • Note: Not all fabric glues are created equal. Test yours out on a piece of scraft felt first. I tried two kinds of fabric glue (Liquid Stitch and Sew No More) and both drenched the felt. I finally had success with Martha Stewart's glittering glue. The original tutorial said that Aleene's no-sew fabric glue worked well for her.
  • Rotary cutter and cutting mat (or scissors)
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Sewing machine
  • Pins
Cut the felt rectangles in half, widthwise.

You'll now have four 6"x9" felt rectangles.

Fold the felt rectangles in half lengthwise and iron the crease.

It's now time to mark where the spikes will be cut from the felt. I was able to get three spikes from each of the felt rectangles. Along the creased side of the felt, put a mark at 3" and 6". Along the open side of the felt, put a mark at 1.5", 4.5", and 7.5". You can trace a line to connect the marks if you like. Repeat for the other felt rectangles.

Cut out your spikes.

For a newborn-sized sweatshirt, I only needed 7 spikes. Two 9"x12" sheets of felt yielded 12 spikes, so use as many as you need for larger sweatshirts.  

Unfold the spikes and pin them down the center of the hoodie, making sure the crease is in the center. Start with the hood (there's usually a seam going down the center) and work your way down.

Sew the spikes onto the hoodie, following the creases as your guide.

Looking cute!

Apply fabric glue to the spikes, fold together, and let dry overnight. This gives the spikes a little more substance. Or if you don't have time to glue the spikes, you can just tape and fold them together.


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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why We Spent $9 on a Pumpkin

Hi, friends! Long time, no chat. What's new with you? This past (extended) weekend, I was in St. Louis at FINCON13 to brush up on my financial blogging skills. Before heading back to Chicago, we took a quick trip to Eckert's to go pumpkin picking.  

Lately, I've seen a bunch of blog posts sharing ways to save money on fall activites. One tip was to skip the pumpkin patch and just buy a pumpkin at the grocery store. Ignoring the "expert" advice, we happily drove to the pumpkin patch and gladly parted with our $9. 

Isn't this the most beautiful pumpkin you've ever seen? I won't be offended if you don't think so because...


Sure, we could save a few bucks by buying our pumpkin at the grocery store, but going to a pumpkin patch is about the experience and creating new memories. Memories for me as a new parent and new memories for Monica: driving to the farm in the country, riding the wagon, and choosing our pumpkin in the middle of a field.

And then changing Monica's diaper in the middle of said field and discussing life insurance on the wagon ride back.

Going to the pumpkin patch also included feasting on a giant turkey leg, corn dog, and kettle corn. We don't eat those things on a regular basis, so they're a treat. Plus, giant turkey legs remind me of our trip to the Illinois State Fair when we were still dating and corn dogs remind me of going to Cedar Point with my family.

And know what? Those memories are priceless.
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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hey, Mama!

While financial freedom comes from bigger wins like negotiating a higher salary or refinancing, who doesn't enjoy some freebies? I recently received the Mama VoxBox from Influenster for review, so I wanted to share my thoughts about the goodies.

The Mama VoxBox included Pond's Luminous Finish BB+ Cream in two different tints, a belVita breakfast biscuit, a cup of Annie's Homegrown real aged cheddar mac and cheese, and Dr. Scholl's for Her comfort insoles.

One of my favorite items from the box was the Annie's mac and cheese cup. Last week was a little hectic with John travelling for work and Monica tackling a growth spurt and cold, so this was an easy lunch option. The last time I had instant/microwave mac and cheese was Kraft Easy Mac in college, so I wasn't sure what to expect. It's obviously not fresh-out-of-the-oven homemade or Chicago's Southern Mac and Cheese, but it was pretty good for a convenience item.
Would I buy this item?
Maybe. It was convenient to keep in my desk at work as a back up, but I wouldn't buy it on a regular basis.

The item that surprised me the most was the Dr. Scholl's for Her Comfort Insoles. The last time I bought insoles was over five years ago for my wedding shoes. I popped the insoles into my flats for a quick afternoon of shopping and in my flats at work.
Would I buy this item?
Probably not. While the insoles are comfortable, my feet don't bother me on a regular basis. If anything, I might look into something that prevents the back of my shoe from rubbing my feet.

I was really interested to try out the POND's Luminous Finish BB+ Cream because this is something I wouldn't go out and buy on my own. I've heard all about BB creams, but it's a little hard to break out of my regular makeup routine. 
Would I buy this item?
The jury is still out. With all the hype about BB creams, I was expecting something amazing. I was a little disappointed.
A bunch of dark spots popped up on my face while I was pregnant and I have some pretty good dark circles under my eyes due now that Monica is here. So I still needed to use concealer for extra coverage. And I was feeling a little greasy by the end of the workday.
Maybe if the VoxBox came while I was on maternity leave, it would have had more time to work its BB cream magic. Though I will say, this is a great product for the weekends when I only need a little cover-up.

I was also interested to try the belVita Soft Baked Breakfast Biscuit (i.e. cookie). Chocolate! And carbs! And it has the word "cookie" on the wrapper! Unfortunately, belVita didn't deliver the moist cookie I was hoping for. The "cookie" was a little dry and crumbly and could have used a few more chocolate chips. And while the "cookie" had 20% of my daily recommended fiber intake, it didn't keep me full for very long. Could be all the calories I'm buring from breastfeeding and pumping or it could be the "cookie."

Would I buy this item?
Sorry, belVita, I don't think I'll be buying your breakfast biscuits anytime soon. If I'm looking for something a little more substantial than a granola bar, I'm more likely to grab a CLIF bar.
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Friday, October 11, 2013

Cinnamon Sugar Buttermilk Donuts

I don't know how it is for the other new mamas out there, but I've had more cravings after Monica was born than while pregnant with her. My cravings of choice include ice cream, milkshakes, donuts, cookies, and a myriad of other sweets. I chalk it up to breastfeeding and running.

A few weeks back, I decided to indulge in my donut craving. The weather was starting to turn fall-ish and I associate fall with cinnamon and baking. OK, I fried the donuts, but you get my point.

The great thing about these donuts is that I already had everything I needed on hand. The original recipe called for sour cream and buttermilk, but there are easy substitutions for those. We usually have yogurt in the fridge, so I swapped out the sour cream for Chobani honey ginger Greek yogurt. And you can "make" buttermilk by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup of milk and letting sit until it curdles, about 10 minutes.

As for special tools, you really only need a candy thermometer since it's important to keep the oil between 165 - 170*. Nobody wants a burnt donut! I used a plastic cup and old spice jar to cut out the donuts and donut holes.

A bench scraper is helpful, but you can also use a spatula to lift the donuts off your counter. And a slotted spoon, as opposed to a spider strainer/skimmer, can be used to take the donuts out of the hot oil. 

Since I didn't want to indulge too much, I only made half of the original recipe, which was plenty for John and I. The ingredients and measurements below are for the half batch and yielded about 6 big donuts and at least a dozen donut holes.
While these donuts are delicious dipped in cinnamon sugar, they're also pretty fantastic on their own because cinnamon and nutmeg is in the donut itself.

Cinnamon Sugar Buttermilk Donuts
Adapted from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented

Note: This recipe is for a half batch, which makes about 6 large donuts and a dozen-ish donut holes


For the Donuts:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/8 cup (or 6 tablespoons) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I made this a heaping 1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I made this a heaping 1/2 teaspoon)
1 large egg
3/8 cup buttermilk (or 1 1/8 teaspoon lemon juice and 3/8 cup milk, mixed together and let sit until curdled)
2 tablespoons reduced fat sour cream or yogurt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Vegetable oil for frying

For the Cinnamon Sugar:
5/8 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon

Line one baking sheet with parchment paper and another with paper towels.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

In another bowl, whisk the egg, buttermilk, and sour cream/yogurt until combined. Add the melted butter and whisk again. The butter might harden once it hits the cold buttermilk mixture, so be sure to whisk the mixture well.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour the egg mixture into the center. Gently fold the flour into the liquid until the mixture forms a sticky dough.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Pat the dough out until it is about 1/2 inch thick.

Use two round cutters (2 1/2 inch and 1 inch). Dip the larger cutter in flour and cut out the donuts. Dip the smaller cutter in flour and cut the donut holes. Arrange the donuts and donut holes onto the parchment paper lined baking sheet. Continue to pat together the remaining scraps and repeat cutting as many donuts as possible ( I got about 6 big donuts and a dozen donut holes). Chill the dough while you heat the oil.

Pour oil into a deep skillet or dutch oven until it is about 1 – 1 1/2 inch deep. Slowly heat the oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 165-170 degrees.

Mix the cinnamon sugar while the oil heats.

To Fry the Doughnuts
Once the oil reaches the appropriate temperature, gently place the doughnuts into the hot oil. Be sure to only fry about three at time so you don’t over crowd the pot.

Be careful to keep the oil temperature even. Adjust the burner to keep temperature between 165-170 degrees!

Once they have browned on one side, carefully flip them over in the oil. These should take about 2-3 minutes per side. Using a slotted spoon or spider strainer, transfer the donuts to the paper towel lined baking sheet.

Continue with the rest of the donuts and the donut holes. The donut holes will take less time, about 1 minute per side.

Assemble Doughnuts
Once you have finished frying the doughnuts, quickly dip them in the cinnamon sugar. Or just enjoy them au naturel!
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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Wanted: Perfect Black Flats

Top: 1, 2, 3, 4
Middle: 1, 2, 3, 4
Bottom: 1, 2, 3, 4
Friends, I need your advice. My basic black flats have bit the dust. Between years of wear and tear and swollen pregnancy feet, it's time to invest in a new pair. I can easily throw down $100+ for a new pair of running shoes, but am having trouble pulling the trigger on dressier shoes. Beyond that, I'm torn between all of the options: plain vs. embellished, matte leather vs. patent leather vs. suede, rounded vs. pointy, etc.
Do you have a favorite pair of black flats you'd like to share?
see more Friday's Fancies at {long distance loving}

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

An Easy Duvet Cover Update

It's been a little while since I shared a DIY project, no? Let's remedy that with an easy update to a duvet cover or comforter. Truth be told, I first completed this project over four years ago. The ribbons were starting to fall off, so I decided to clean things up a little and share this project with you!
  • Duvet cover or comforter (I bought this light-weight comforter at Target over four years ago)
  • Ribbon, cut to the length and width (plus a few inches) of your duvet cover or comforter
  • Ultrahold HeatnBond, slightly thinner than the width of your ribbon
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors
  • Measuring tape

Before starting, be sure to pre-wash, dry, and iron your duvet cover or comforter.

Next, one of the most important steps of this entire project is to measure the length and width your duvet cover or comforter. I'd do it twice just to be sure. This determines how much ribbon and HeatnBond you need.

One you have your measurements, add a few inches. One, because you'll be folding under the ends of the ribbon for a finished look. And two, because the duvet cover or comforter might stretch out a little while ironing on the ribbon.

Pre-heat your iron to medium heat (wool) setting without steam.
Fold the starting end of the ribbon under 1/2 inch. Place the HeatnBond adhesive-side down/paper side up on the back of your ribbon. Lightly press and hold the iron on the paper side of the adhesive for 2 seconds. Move down the ribbon and repeat until the entire length is bonded.

Go back to the starting end of the ribbon. There will be a loop where you folded under the end of the ribbon. Cut a small piece of the HeatnBond, remove the paper backing, and slide the tiny piece of adhesive into the loop. Lighly press and hold the iron on that section for 2 seconds.

Once the HeatnBond-ed ribbon is cool, peel off the paper backing.
Measure where you will iron the ribbon onto your duvet cover or comforter (i.e. 6 inches from the edge, 3 inches from a second ribbon, etc.). You can pin down the ribbon or recheck the measurements as you iron.

With the adhesive-side of the ribbon down on the comforter or duvet cover, press and hold the iron for 8 to 10 seconds on each section of the ribbon until the entire length of the ribbon is bonded to the duvet cover or comforter. Be sure to start with the looped end of the ribbon.

If you want to do a basket weave pattern, be sure to iron down the appropriate pieces of ribbon first, then overlap as necessary.

Once you get to the other end of the duvet cover or comforter, loop under the end of the ribbon 1/2 inch. You'll need to cut another small section of the Heatnbond. Peel off the paper backing and place the adhesive between the ribbon and duvet cover or comforter. Press and hold the iron for 8 to 10 seconds

Continue ironing your ribbons until your pattern is complete!

This is a great project to customize a plain duvet cover or comforter. You could also use this same technique to embellish simple curtains or basic pillow covers.

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