Saturday, February 28, 2009


First things first: several days ago, I posted about Martha's stroganoff and promised to post a picture of my own recipe. Here it is:

As I mentioned, my stroganoff is saucier, like me.

And speaking of saucy, I hit the salon today for my Martha 'do retouch. Little Guy got his haircut, too. Aren't we stylish?

And my last bit of blogkeeping concerns my email. It just came to my attention recently that many personal and legitimate business emails were going into my junk folder. Sadly, I was not in the habit of perusing the junk folder before deleting its contents, so I may have missed a few emails. If you emailed me in the last month or so and did not get a response (Martha! This means you!), please email me again.
How Microsoft Outlook can put emails from friends and family into my junk folder, but deliver messages from a Mr. Joseph Poon and his Nigerian prince business associate directly into my Inbox, is beyond me. Beyond! I wonder if this happens to Martha...?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Party Planning 102: Punch

The one thing I make just before guests walk in the door is party punch. I won't say much about it, except that it is amazing. So incredibly delicious and amazing that you shouldn't even consider using those tiny, wimpy punch glasses that come with the punch bowl. Use big cups. For this party and this punch, I broke out the pint glasses. Seriously.

I found the original recipe in a Taste of Home magazine. Get it here. You can see in the pictures where I became pressed for time and simply dumped the rest of the sherbet into the bowl--see the chunk that looks like it came from the bottom of the container? Like I said, this is the last thing I do before guests arrive.

You are going to love this punch--one taste, and you'll never search for another punch recipe ever again.
TMI confession: sometimes I consider throwing parties just so I can make this punch. No kidding. Enjoy your new addiction! Er, I mean, your new punch recipe!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Party Planning 102: Crudites and Dip

Okay. Martha calls cut-up veggies 'crudites.' For my purposes here, I'll call them 'veggies.'

No matter what the occasion, I find a tray of veggies and dip to be a must. Veggies are a healthy alternative to just about anything else I'd be serving, plus, it is a good option to have if people are trying to balance out their cupcake intake with something less guilt-laden. Not that anyone should feel guilty for eating 1, 2 or even more cupcakes. Eat just as many carrot sticks, and you're golden.

I always make the same dip. This Dill Dip recipe is from my Aunt Kathy. Mix equal parts sour cream and mayonnaise (8 ounces of each is a good start), add 1/2 tablespoon of seasoning salt, and 2-3 tablespoons of dried dill weed. Continue seasoning it to suit your tastes. TMI note: be careful with the seasoning salt. A little goes a long way!

This is a great recipe to make the night before the party. Letting the dip sit overnight in the fridge really lets the flavors come together. It goes perfectly with carrots and cucumber slices, but celery, broccoli and cauliflower are good, too. Just about any veggie will work!
Enjoy your veggies and dip! But please, if Martha is within earshot, it's crudites and dip. Okay?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Party Planning 102: Cupcakes

Two days before the party, I baked the cake (chocolate) and cupcakes (yellow--though I'm not sure how that's a flavor). Frosting is also made ahead of time. I make the standard Wilton buttercream frosting, but I use less vegetable shortening and more butter. It's healthier that way, you know.

The cake and cupcakes were stored covered until Saturday morning when I got around to decorating them. Actually, only the cupcakes came close to being 'decorated,' the chocolate cake experienced more of a smearing on of frosting, so no pictures of that mess.

Notice the smiley face cupcake liners. I chose the smiley faces because the birthday boy, my wonderful husband, is a smiley kind of guy. And I rather like that about him.
Note: the cupcake stand is from Wilton. It may seem silly to own something like this, but I use it several times each year. It is both fancy to look at and easy to use, and that makes it a party must-have for this Martha-wannabe.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Party Planning 102: What really happened

As you all know, this past weekend was my husband's birthday. Last week's postings gave a general overview of the party planning process, regardless of the type and size of event. This week, I'll cover what actually happened for this particular party.

Several days before the event, I make 4 lists:

1. who is coming
2. menu
3. shopping list
4. a to-do list of party prep. This includes food to be made and specific house-cleaning tasks. The to-do list is broken down into tasks to be completed 2 days before, 1 day before, and the morning of the party.

Whenever possible, I make dishes ahead of time. Two days before this party, I started on the devilled eggs. The first night I hard boiled the eggs, and let them sit overnight in the fridge. This makes for easy de-shelling the next day.

The night before the event, I sliced open the hard boiled eggs with a ridged cutter, popped out the yolks and make the yellow mixture (what is that concoction called?). I beat the yolks with some Miracle Whip, Hellman's and spicy/sweet mustard. Then everything is covered and goes back into the fridge for another night. Yep, you read that right. I use both Hellman's and Miracle Whip. I'm all mavericky like that. That's how I roll, okay?

The day of the party, I piped the yolk mixture into the eggs with my Wilton Dessert Decorator Pro, sprinkled the eggs with paprika and set them out. It may seem silly to spend all that time on a dish that's devoured in 4.5 minutes once it hits the table, but gosh, the time I get to spend gazing adoringly at my creation is totally worth it. Devilled eggs have never looked so beautiful.
Of course, I've never seen Martha's devilled eggs, so until I do, I'm declaring mine to be the awesomest around. That's how I roll!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Martha Monday!

Martha's team shares a recipe for beef stroganoff on her website. Doesn't it look tasty?

I'll be making stroganoff this week, but a much easier version.

The Martha Initiative's version calls for braising the meat, mixing a packet of Brown Gravy mix to the juices, stirring in a can of cream of mushroom soup, adding 1/2 to 1 cup of sour cream (depends on your taste) and once that's all heated through, putting the meat back in. Add a can of sliced mushrooms, if you prefer. Let it simmer for 10 minutes, and then serve over egg noodles.

Both versions look similar, although mine is saucier. Like me. Right, Martha?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Super cute baby gift

Recently, we had dinner with an old friend who is about to enter a new phase in life: parenthood. It's a crazy time filled with excitement, uncertainty, sleep deprivation, wonder and most of all, diapers. Fortunately, as a parent with 16+ months of parenthood under my belt, I knew just what to get our friend.

Behold my gift for most new parents: a diaper changing station. I take a cute basket and fill it with diapers, vaseline and wipes. Add a store gift certificate for extras and a homemade card, and the new parents are set diaper-wise. For a few days, at least.

I came up with the idea of a diaper caddy when my baby was born. While I did have changing supplies upstairs where we all slept (ha! like that happened the first 12 weeks!), I kept a whole second set of items, and the only diaper pail, on the first floor. My reasoning was that I was already exhausted from taking care of a newborn, breastfeeding and recovering from a c-section. The last thing I wanted to do was haul myself and my baby up a flight of stairs to change him: a changing station on each floor became a necessity.

So if you ever need a gift for parents-to-be, I highly recommend a fully stocked diaper caddy. That, and food. And sleep. And if you find a way to gift wrap that, please let me know!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

When Jello Jigglers go wrong...

...horribly, horribly wrong.

As you know from previous posts, my Dear Hubby's birthday party is today. The menu centered around his favorite foods: pizza, cheese and crackers, devilled eggs, more pizza and Dr. Pepper. Since DH is a huge football fan, I wanted to make jello jigglers in these super-cute jello molds (helmets and footballs). What a perfect touch to really celebrate the birthday boy, right? Such a Martha thing to do!

Well, it didn't turn out the way I had planned. I let the jello sit overnight, and when it came time to unmold the jigglers, they just would not cooperate. I had sprayed the molds with Pam, but the jiggler would not jiggle out.

So I put the bottom of the mold in hot water for a few seconds and the jello got all runny. This is what they looked like.
Needless to say, we did not have jello jigglers for the party. But we did enjoy a very large bowl of misshapen jello clods last night. Tasty.
Happy Birthday, DH!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Party Planning 101: Activities, Favors and Extras

This post will wrap up my series of Party Planning 101. So far, I've discussed occasion and event style; budget, location and date/time; and the guest list, invitation and menu. Now, let's turn our attention to activities, favors and extras (photographer, music, etc).

These three things are largely dependent on the type of event you're hosting. Planning a wedding? Then favors, photographers, music and more are probably necessary. Planning a casual get-together for the Homeowners Association? Not so much.

Activities: Most parties simply involve adults socializing with one another. That's fine. No need to complicate things by insisting they do something. However, I would urge you to think of any kids who might attend. With large groups of kids, they tend to create their own fun. If there are only a few kids attending, or some quiet kids are in the larger group, you might consider providing some kind of games or crafts for them. Set up a crafting corner with an easy project (put all pieces in individual baggies) or put out some board games for older kids. If you have the room, you might even put in a kid-friendly video and provide some popcorn and juice boxes. In the event of a very formal affair (such as a wedding), you might hire a babysitter to supervise the children.

Activities for bridal showers and baby showers are some games and watch the guest/s of honor open gifts. Later in the year, I'll post my ideas for fun shower themes and games. In the meantime, if you need ideas, email me. I have plenty!

Favors: Again, for casual parties, favors are not necessary. Unless you are sending home leftovers with guests, in which case make sure you have plenty of containers before hand. For special occasions, such as weddings, showers and kids' birthday parties, favors are often given. The Martha Initiative's advice for favors is the same for the rest of the party elements: don't break the bank. Something small and thoughtful is a lot better than large and clunky. Personally, I like edible favors. After all, do you really want to be responsible for sending people home with a knick-knack that they will only collect dust? A useful knick-knack, fine. A plastic baby bootie with a ribbon on it? Not so much.

Extras: Things like photographers, music, videographer, DJ and more are vendors usually reserved for weddings, anniversary parties, bar/bat mitzvahs and other fancy occasions. Hire someone that is reputable, who gives/shows you samples of their work, provides references (check the references!), gives you a contract that clearly outlines their services and deliverables and is a pleasure to work with. If any vendor leaves you with doubts or second thoughts, then continue your search. Your money, and the time you are spending to plan the event, is too important to squander on poor service or product.

There are a few occasions out of the norm when it would be a great idea to hire a photographer. A milestone birthday: hire a photographer (or persuade a friend who's handy with a camera) to take pictures of the action, so you can focus on the guests. Family reunion: this is an ideal time to have a photographer come out for formal and candid shots. A professional can catch the action and set up wonderful family portraits.

For this weekend, we are keeping things very low-key. This is by DH's request, not by my planning. For example, I wanted to have a DH Trivia Contest, complete with prizes, but DH squashed that idea real quick. We won't have favors, although I'm sure I'll be sending food home with whoever is there last. And there's no need to hire anyone, but we'll have music on and I'll be armed with a camera.

Starting next Tuesday...Party Planning 102! Or, the How It All Came Together: A rundown of my party preparation, recipes and a ton of pictures.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Party Planning 101: Guest List, Invitations and Menu

This week's topics focus on party planning. So far, I've discussed occasion and event style, and budget, location and date/time. Now, let's turn to the guest list, invitation and menu.

Once the occasion is announced and the style, budget, location and date/time of the party determined, many other details fall into place.

Guest List: This is a no brainer. Mostly. Invite whomever you and the guest/s of honor want to invite as long as the number jives with your budget and the amount of people the location can hold. Keep in mind that for any event, approximately 20% of the invitees will not attend. With that in mind, it is always better to invite more people (the more the merrier) than less. If the guest count has a large impact on your budget and other plans, then it is both wise and appropriate to request an RSVP. Give invitees a phone number and email address to respond to, and give them a deadline by which to respond. If your event is at a location where you need an accurate head count for meals, then feel free to call guests who have not responded at your deadline to ask for a response. I don’t know Miss Manners’ opinion on this, but when your money is involved, I recommend calling people to find out if they plan to attend.

Invitations: Every event requires an invitation, and the type of invitation is determined largely by the occasion and the formality of the event. For example, if the host has determined that the 40th wedding anniversary party is a formal occasion held at a restaurant, then it stands to reason that formal invitations will be used. If you are having a simple cookout with friends, a phone call or email will suffice. Many people use the Evite service—simply choose your e-invitation design, type in the details and email it to your guests. The Evite web site keeps track of who has responded and can send out reminders as the event date approaches. For extremely formal events, such as weddings and anniversary parties, send invitations out six weeks in advance. For other formal and semi-formal events, you’ll need to give people four weeks’ notice. Anything less than that and you run the risk of people having other plans.

Above is a Halloween party invitation from Martha Stewart. Not that she sent me one. But isn't it festive? You can tell that her Halloween party is going to be awesome just by the invitation. Maybe Martha will have room on her guest list for me this year. What do you say, Martha? Anyways, you can find directions to make the invitation here.

These days, there are a wide range of invitations. It’s the opinion of The Martha Initiative that you put time and effort into your invitations, as they set the tone for the event weeks in advance. Get creative! Write a poem, include a funny picture, highlight some event activities, whatever. Let your guests know that you want them to attend, and that they’ll have a great time when they do. But don’t break the bank on your invitations. Printing out the invite on fancy stationary bought on the cheap at Factory Card and Party Outlet is fine—it’s what you write on the invitation that counts!

Menu: The choice of food and beverages is reflected largely by the wants of the host and guest/s of honor, and the style of the event. Just about anything is acceptable as long as it fits with the mood and occasion. Sloppy joes or ribs at a formal event—not such a good idea with everyone in their Sunday best. But for a backyard bbq or summer birthday bash? Perfect!

It’s better to go with one or two big items, several sides and a few desserts rather than cook everything under the sun. It’s better to do a few dishes really well, rather than make many dishes that are so-so. And when people ask what they can bring, unless you are dead-set on being the only cook, let them bring something. Suggest an appetizer, dessert or side dish. If they have a specialty that you really like, request that. It will flatter your guest, make them more involved in the event, and give you one less thing to do. Finally, if someone really wants to contribute but has no cooking skills whatsoever, you can always suggest that they bring a drink to share.

For Dear Hubby's party, the guest list was simple: friends and family. We sent an evite invitation, and the menu is basically everything that DH expect lots of cheese/crackers, jello jigglers, chocolate cake with white buttercream frosting, and lots of pizza. Good times!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Party Planning 101: Budget, Location and Date/Time

The Martha Initiative’s Party Planning 101

Topics to discuss:
Occasion and Event Style (covered in yesterday's post)
Guest List
Any extras: such as a photographer/videographer, entertainment, music, etc.

After you’ve announced the occasion and determined the event style (relaxed, formal, etc.), it’s time to start the hardcore party planning.

Budget: Every event needs to have a budget. Even if you are hosting a potluck at your home and everyone is bringing a dish to share and even their own tableware, a $5.00 budget may be all you need, and that covers the cost of the dish you are preparing. Choose an amount that you are comfortable spending on an event, and aim to spend 15% less. That 15% cushion will come in handy as you get closer to the event date: more guests, additional favors, more food and drink, etc.

For larger events, you’ll need a larger budget. Keep in mind, though, that there is no occasion so grand that it calls for breaking the bank. Skipping the movies a few times in the course of a month to reallocate that money to your party budget is acceptable. Living off Ramen and Kool-Aid for eight weeks so that you can scrape enough together to host a party and still pay rent is not. You can have nearly any kind of party on any kind of budget—it just takes thought, planning and prioritizing where you want that money to go.

Most formal event budgets follow these general guidelines:
Food and Drink = 65%
Invitations = 5% (this number includes postage)
Favors = 10%
Decorations = 5%
Extras (photographer, music, etc.) = 15%

Obviously, these numbers change according to the needs of your event. If you don’t need to hire a photographer, or favors aren’t necessary, then clearly that money can be reallocated to something else.

Location: this is largely determined by the type of party you are having. And any place for any kind of party is certainly doable—just be sure that you have plenty of room for the number of guests you are expecting, that the space is easily accessible for all of your guests, and that there are plenty of restrooms available. If you have a party with many elderly guests, a bathroom on the second floor just isn’t going to work—the stairs are an issue. Likewise, a baby shower honoring 4 mothers-to-be calls for more than one restroom in close proximity to the guests of honor.

For more formal events with a large number of guests, you might consider having the party at an outside location (ie: reception hall, church basement, restaurant). In the event of large bridal/baby showers, this is the way to go.

Just think of the amount of time and energy it would take to host a bridal shower for 40 people—cleaning your house, making the food, preparing the favors, decorating the house, cleaning up after the party…at that point, it may be worth your time and sanity to simply have the event at a restaurant and let them worry about the food and clean-up. You might even save money (and time and energy) in the long run, and you’ll certainly have a better time visiting with your guests. Remember: happy host = happy guests.

Date/Time: the foremost consideration for picking a date and time for your party is what is convenient for you and your guest/s of honor. Then, think of the date/time that would most work for your guests. If your guests have full-time jobs and work all week, a weeknight party might not be the way to go. Conversely, if your party is during a busy time of year (holidays, graduations, etc.), a weeknight party could be an option as most guests will have their weekends already booked. Also, think of how far your guests will travel for your party. If it’s a gathering of neighbors and they’re within walking distance, the date and time can be more flexible. If many of your guests have to drive a long distance for your get-together, it’s best to have it on a weekend day when they can drive to/from at a safe pace.

For hubby’s party this weekend, we went with the open house style. It’s relaxed, it’s informal, and it allows us to spend time with our guests. The budget for this event covers food, drinks and tableware. The date was a no-brainer: we’re having the party on his actual birthday. As for the time, it is an open house, but we do have a set start and end time. This is not to say that people MUST show up at that start time, or that they MUST leave at the end time, but it lets people know that we really aren’t ready for them until a certain time (I guarantee you that at our house, we are cleaning and running around up until the second that doorbell rings!), and that at the end, we will take a small break from the festivities to tuck our little guy into bed. Also, it lets them know that they shouldn't be surprised if we return from said bedtime routine with our own comfy pants on. So, to our guests, bring your own comfy pants--we'll be changing into them at promptly 8:10pm.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Party Planning 101: The basics

I like to entertain. So does Martha. Heck, she wrote the book! Over the years I’ve thrown planned and hosted many events (bridal showers, birthday parties, graduation parties, baby showers and more). Some of these events were extremely successful, and others…well, let’s just say I’m still on speaking terms with everyone involved, so they worked out in the end. Planning a party can be a lot of fun, but also a lot of stress. I entertain a lot socially, I am paid to organize massive fundraising events professionally, and I’ve attended my fair share of parties as a guest, so now I’d like to share with you the tips, tricks and to-do’s I’ve learned over the years.

The Martha Initiative’s Party Planning 101

When planning a party of any kind, whether it is a casual gathering of neighbors for a summer cookout or your parent’s 40th wedding anniversary, the same process is used each time. The party planner must consider:

Occasion and Event Style
Guest List
Any extras: such as a photographer/videographer, entertainment, music, etc.

In the coming days, I’ll cover the list of party planning topics. Parties are on my brain now, since I am hosting a birthday party for my wonderful husband this weekend. Woohoo!

Before making any decisions about party plans, the host must do some deep thinking about the following:

What type of party do the guests of honor want? What type of party does the host want? And what can the guest/s of honor and the host reasonably handle?
By putting serious thought into these questions, and following through with the answers, you can plan a successful party where everyone has a great time.

Here’s what I mean: you may want to plan a big blowout bash on a riverboat for your parent’s 40th anniversary, but if your dad gets seasick and your mom is easily fatigued, that’s just not the way to go. Likewise, grandparents may insist that you have an enormous party for Junior’s first birthday that lasts several hours has a guest list of 60+ family and friends, but that’s not feasible when Junior is still an easily-overwhelmed baby who does not need sugar and does need regular naps. And a cranky baby equals a cranky mommy equals a cranky daddy equals unhappy guests. Always, before any plans are made, any invitations sent, any decorations bought, the host must consider what they want and what the guests of honor want.

For my husband’s party this weekend, we’re going for an informal and relaxed gathering. It will be open house style, so friends and family can drop by throughout the day. Hubby can be relaxed and visit with everyone, I am as relaxed as any hostess can be, and our little guy doesn’t get too overwhelmed with the festivities. After all, if we are enjoying the party, it stands to reason that our guests will, too.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss how to determine the budget, location and date/time for your party. Or, par-tay, if you that’s how you roll.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Martha Monday!

There's nothing like a steaming bowl of beef stew to get you through a long and gray Midwest winter. If you have the right recipe, of course. Currently, my recipe for beef stew simply calls for cubing leftover pot roast and throwing it all in the crock pot. Not very inspired, I admit.

However, with this recipe for Beef Stew from Everyday Foods (a Martha subsidiary), I can kick my beef stew up a notch or ten in the yummy department. I'll still make it in the crock pot, of course. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Workout update and blogging plans

So, it's February 15. The day I promised a report to you all regarding my workout progress. Martha works out at least once a day with a trainer. For the past two weeks, I've been working out for approximately 26 minutes each day with my trainer: scary Jillian from TV's the Biggest Loser.

First off, I'll come clean. For three days, I did not work out. It turns out that I can either run errands at night or work out. There simply isn't time to do both. Next, my weight has barely budged--I've only lost .5 lbs. :( And it seems as though my thighs have gotten bigger. I hope to Martha that this is due to all the lunges, and not a reallocation of the fat in my body. Finally, I am seeing (and feeling) some progress. I do feel stronger, and I've lost .5 inches off my arms, bust and hips, and a full two inches off my waist! Woohoo!

These weights are finally justifying the space they use in this house. Actually, for some exercises in the video, I could move up to heavier weights...maybe a whole 5 pounds! My next weigh- and measure-in will be at the 30 day mark on March 2. Stay tuned!

Moving forward with the blog, I'm going to try to be a little more consistent with posts. Mondays will continue as Martha Mondays!, but the focus during the week will be on a singular topic. This week's topic: party planning. Of course, I'll continue to pepper my blog with posts of awesome shopping trips and random good things. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Appetizer pizza

Every now and then, I break out this recipe. The original version that I saw was years ago at a Pampered Chef party, and I've since tweaked it to arrive at my current version. This appetizer pizza was requested for a birthday party tomorrow.

For the base, start with 2 tubes of Pillsbury crescent roll dough and a 13x9 edged pan. Unroll the dough and flatten it to cover the pan. Try to smush all the seams together. Bake for 14 minutes at 350F.

While the crust is baking, combine 12 ounces of cream cheese with seasoning. This time around, I used Spinach and Herb Seasoning from Tastefully Simple, but in the past I've used Good Seasons dry Italian mix and even seasoning salt with good results.

While the crust is cooling, cut up the veggies. I used celery, carrots, grape tomatoes, broccoli and green pepper. Cauliflower, cucumber and radish also work well.

Once the crust is cool, spread the cream cheese mixture on it. Add the vegetables, and some shredded cheddar cheese if you are so inclined. It can chill overnight, or simply cut into squares and serve.

This recipe works well with the low-fat crescent roll dough and fat free cream cheese. If you're into that sort of thing. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Grocery shopping

In the Chicago area, there are no grocery stores that double coupons. However, by using coupons on sale items, you can cut your grocery bill in half. With a little effort and thought put into your weekly grocery run, it is easy to save 50% or more at major chain grocery stores.

Behold: last week's trip to Jewel.

The total was $32.95 for all this, with a savings of $39.69. I saved more than I spent--nice! Highlights include 12 Healthy Choice entrees for $10.00, and clearanced Swiss Miss. The flavor is chocolate with added caffeine--as much as a cup of coffee! Because that's totally what I need right now: more caffeine! The most expensive things I bought were the boxes of cookies: they averaged out to $1.19 each.

Ignore the mini-pyramid of Hamburger Helper. We don't eat that in my House of Martha. Clearly, it must be for someone else. I put it in my pantry for safekeeping.

Today's trip to Dominick's was similar. I spent $42.10 with a savings of $59.25.

Nearly every item was on sale, and I had a coupon for almost everything. Highlights for this trip were the Mini Wheats and eggs. The cereal was on super sale (with Dominick's coupon) at 4 for $6.00. I had 4 $1.00 off coupons, making them $0.50 each. Then, at the Kellogg's cereal endcap, they had coupons for a free dozen eggs with every 2 boxes of Kellogg's cereal purchased. The eggs were free--so watch for those coupons on the endcap! And don't be alarmed: the item on top of the Oreos is an avocado. Yum!
Sadly, I did miss out on $3.00 of savings. I don't know if I grabbed the wrong Hormel pork loin, or if the super coupon had a limit of one, but I didn't notice until I got home. Sigh. I suppose that's what happens when your shopping cart has a semi-cranky one-year-old in the front basket.
Grocery shoppers in the Chicago suburbs, take note: Jewel and Dominick's both take internet printable coupons and expired coupons. I've never had a problem at either store with this. Today, the only coupon problem I had was for the Kellogg's cereal: coupon 3 and 4 beeped, saying I hadn't bought 3 and 4 boxes of cereal. Clearly I had, so the cashier overrode the coupons. Which were both printed from and expired. Woohoo!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I've had a very special Plant living in my foyer for several weeks now. It was in desperate need of roomier, and hipper, digs. No, I do not know what kind of plant it is. If I had to guess, I would say Big. Leafy. Large. In charge, as much as any plant can be in my house.

As you can see, Plant was completely rootbound and suffering in the tiny pot. I bought Plant a huge pot and 2 bags of organic potting soil, and got to work.

Plant is enjoying the new pot. I estimate it to be 3x larger than old pot. This is much like us in our new house. It's amazing how wonderful room to stretch can feel, especially after being cramped up in a teeny tiny house for so long. But I digress.
You'll notice that the new pot is on a rolling stand, should Plant decide to roam the world or simply reside somewhere other than the foyer. For right now, though, Plant is content to welcome guests into our home, and patiently waits for Martha Stewart to walk in the door.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Martha Monday!

When I think of Martha Stewart, I think of Martha the hostess, the entrepreneur, the chef, the crafts person, the gardener, the collector, etc. I forget that in recent years, she's also become a bonafide farmer. It's not a huge farm, and I don't know that any of her produce is sold to the public, but since she has laying hens and is quite self-sufficient in terms of vegetables and fruit, I'm considering her a full-on farmer.

I bet Martha can really rock a pair of overalls. Today, Martha gives a tour of her farm on her blog. Check it out!

Also, check out those stables. Seriously, Martha's horses lead a good life. If I don't attain true Martha-ocity in this lifetime, then my hope is to be reincarnated as one of her horses.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Adventures in resale

I love a good thrift store. Antiques, resale stores, consignment shops, yard sales...all good places to find gently used items at a low cost. Plus, items get a new life rather than taking up space in a landfill. This secondhand market helps the economy as well, creating jobs in areas where there might not otherwise be opportunities for employment.

I hit two local resale stores this weekend with my mom and sister. Our first stop: Goodwill on Randall Road in Batavia.

Two children's books, a plastic magazine file, a crab cookie cutter (brand new) and a southwestern theme cookie cutter set (howling coyote, large cactus and what I hope to goodness is a chili pepper): the total was $6.61.

Our second stop was the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Montgomery.

I got a nice decorative box (for the dog's toys), an orange GAP hoodie for me, Carter pajamas and Chicago Bears outfit for the little guy, and 4 jello jigglers molds for $12.52.

What a terrific shopping day! I got some great items at a great price and I spent an enjoyable day with my mom and sister. Resale's a good thing! To find a Goodwill store near you, click here. To find a Salvation Army store near you, click here.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Something new Saturday

Finally, after weeks of putting it on my calender, I finally made a new recipe for Saturday! I made BBQ pork. I covered a 1.5 lb. pork roast with a bottle of beer, and let it cook in the crock pot for several hours. Then I shredded the meat, and started making the BBQ sauce...FROM SCRATCH.

As you can see from the picture, I kicked it old-school with my 1986 Betty Crocker Cookbook. The ingredients were basic: ketchup, brown sugar, salt, pepper, paprika, etc. After it boiled for a bit, I added it to the shredded pork...and it didn't taste all that great.

I ended up adding a bunch of KC Masterpiece sauce to the pork to salvage the dish. Thanks to the bottled product, it turned out really good.

So, even though my Something New Saturday didn't turn out as I expected, it still turned out alright. Dinner was great and I branched out into something new. Pulled pork has been officially added to my meal repertoire.

Just don't try the old-school BBQ sauce recipe. Seriously.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Revisiting the blog to-do list

For those of you who have been with me since the beginning of The Martha Initiative (or, if you've just gone through the archives), you know that I started with a TMI to-do list:

1. Upload a picture. CHECK
2. Update the profile. CHECK
3. Write witty post #1. CHECK
4. Write witty post #2. CHECK
5. Subscribe to some blogs I like. CHECK
6. Review blog and consider stylistic changes. CHECK
7. Look into this Google Adwords business, so I can make millions of dollars and live a wonderfully fabulous and ordered life and have a staff of 40 people to carry out my orders/creative ideas, just like Martha Stewart. CHECK
8. Continue with the witty posts. CHECK

While the wittiness of each post is up for debate, I have blogged faithfully for 36 consecutive days. My to-do list is complete. CHECK!

Regarding #7: I had thought about putting that wacky Google Ads feature on my blog, but decided against it. It's not the Martha thing to do--she just doesn't endorse anyone, right? I had no idea what ads they might feature, nor do I want just any old ad on my site. So, I went out in search of advertisements from companies and products I use and like--you can see those ads in the right-hand sidebar and at the bottom of the page.

Vistaprint, Betty Crocker and are all reputable companies. I use/buy their products, and I am comfortable recommending them to anyone. After all, how could I enjoy the 40 assistants I plan to hire with all that ad revenue if I were recommending crappy products? I couldn't fully enjoy a life of luxury that way, and that's how you know I'll only include ads on my blog for products I use myself. It's the Martha way, right? Actually, she makes nearly everything she buys, but I digress...

And a big thanks to all of you readers--all 10 of you! ;) I really enjoy blogging, and I appreciate everyone's encouragement as I continue on my quest for domestic diva-dom. Diva-ness? Diva-ocity? Diva-tude? Diva out! Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

My own Big Martha

Martha Stewart's mother was also named Martha. They called her Big Martha. Martha Stewart has often spoke about how her mother impacted her life by teaching her skills that later became very important in her quest for world domination, such as cooking and sewing. Big Martha made many appearances on her daughter's show, cooking favorite family recipes and still teaching Martha a thing or two in the kitchen.

The photo is of Little Martha and Big Martha. View more of Martha's scrapbook here.

I don't have a multimedia empire, let alone my own show, but I do have my own Big Martha. My mom is my original Martha Stewart. From decorating to shopping to entertaining, my mom has been my inspiration for years, and a continual launching pad for all of my aspirations.

I look back in amazement at my childhood birthday parties--my mom has mad entertaining skillz. She always went out of her way to decorate the cake, decorate the house, plan games (with prizes!) and make sure that everyone was included. While the mere thought of hosting 32 screaming 2nd-grade girls for a sleepover might cause many parents to pull out their hair, my mom did it with enthusiasm and style. And for those who might wonder, those 31 guests were not my idea. My mom thought it would be unfair to leave any of the girls out from the two second-grade classrooms in my small elementary school, so she invited ALL OF THEM!

I could go on and on about my Big Martha's can-do attitude, her natural leadership skills and her amazing generosity--she gives constantly of her time and talents to anyone in need--but I'll stop before I say something really sappy and then we're both crying over our computers at work, embarrassing ourselves in front of our coworkers and causing the keyboards to short circuit. We just hate that, don't we, Mom?

So here's to my own Big Martha (just 'Marty' for all who know her please, lest 'Big Martha' catch on as a nickname and I get in major trouble). Thanks for all the inspiration over the years, and for the pushing I sometimes need to follow my own aspirations.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Best. Sangria. Ever.

Sangria can be tricky. Getting that perfect combination of wine, fruits and spirits is difficult. I've had many a sangria that left my mouth puckered from the tartness or acidity, and others that were too heavy on one particular ingredient. This recipe for Sangria! Sangria! was delicious.

The only changes I made from the recipe was to leave out the sugar and club soda, and add a full jar (8oz.) of maraschino cherries. Be warned: this must sit overnight to allow all the flavors to mix, so be sure to make it the day before you plan to drink it.

The end result is delicious! And potent, so be sure to have designated drivers for all who imbibe. Of course, Martha says that if you are serving alcoholic drinks at your parties, you must stop serving them an hour before your party is scheduled to end, and to have the names and numbers of area cab companies on hand for guests who shouldn't drive themselves home.

That Martha, she thinks of everything!

I say that you should serve this only to those people who you don't mind having crash on your couch, floor, recliner, front bushes, etc. Let them crash at your place overnight, and then they're there to help you clean up from your awesome party the next day. They'll be hungover, sure...but a hungover cleaning crew is still a cleaning crew! Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

CVS and Wags for this week

Oh, how I love it when Walgreens and CVS have all that I want in stock for me. I slipped out for an hour on Sunday and got the deals:

At Walgreens:

Dry Idea deoderant $5.99

Revlon concealer $9.99

Zucol cold relief $7.99

Wags aspirin $0.99

Thermacare $2.49

After coupons, the total was $23.96. After a $5.00 wags coupon and $9.12 on a gift card, I owed $9.84. I'll get $22.51 in Wags rebates, and I received $5 Register Rewards for buying the deoderant. Not bad!


The long and short of this trip was that I spent 8 EBs, $0.57 on a gift card and $0.19 out of pocket, and I walked out with $14.48 in EBs. With coupons, the candy was free and the conditioners were only $0.05 each.

This summer, I'll be teaching a community education class on Savvy Shopping at Waubonsee Community College (provided enough people sign up, of course). I'm going to use the deals above to show folks that with a little planning and coupons, it is possible to get many health and beauty items for free, or next to free. Hooray for Wags and CVS!