Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Free football party printable round-up

Whew! What a mouthful! But that's exactly what I have today.  The Big Guy and I are hosting our Second Annual Super Souper Bowl, and I've been perusing my favorite party sites for free printables.  I'm finding some great stuff, and I want to share it with you!

The Big Game Bash collection from Hostess With The Mostess is awesome!  I really like the football player silhouettes and the buffet labels. 

Kim from the Celebration Shoppe has designed a great collection specifically for the Giants-Patriots Super Bowl game.  In addition to the team specific colors, she includes a football field mat and chevron grass mat for fun displays.

Catch My Party is showcasing another great collection of personalized printables from 9 to 5 Mom that is also team-specific.  The cupcake toppers and Touchdown banner are awesome!

I can't believe our Super Souper Bowl party is less than a week away! I need to get printing, pronto. 

Small confession: I don't even care about football. I'm just in this for the food and the commercials.

Happy printing! And thanks to all the bloggers and designers who create and provide free printables for party animals like me--your work is amazing!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Martha Monday--Sausage and kale soup

Have you ever had Olive Garden's Zuppa Toscana? It's a creamy soup made with Italian sausage, kale and potatoes.  I love the stuff, and this Sausage and Kale Soup recipe from Martha is a great start to recreating the restaurant dish at home.

As with all good recipes, it starts with onions and garlic being sauteed in olive oil. Seriously, after Darling Clandestine fragrances, this has to be one of my favorite smells.  Sorry for the blurry picture--the steam got in the way.

Martha's recipe calls for smoked chicken sausage, which is certainly a healthier option. I, of course, went for the real deal: 3/4 pound of Italian sausage.  Aw yeah. If you do things my way, be sure to brown, drain and crumble the Italian sausage before adding it to the soup.

To further move this recipe in the direction of Zuppa Toscana, I added 1/2 tablespoon of fennel seeds and 1 cup of whipping cream.  Delicious!

Here's Martha's sausage and kale soup:

I'm sure her version is healthier, and made either way, it sure is a tasty and hearty soup for these cold winter months. Give it a try!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Crafty driving babies

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to find time to craft and I finally did. Which is good, because January is almost over and if I can't get to a resolution in the first month, then I might as well forget it!

I made a fun card for a baptism. The images and message have nothing to do with being baptized, but everything to do with babies and parenthood.

Here's the outside of the envelope:

Here's the front of the card:

The cars were made with a Martha Stewart paper punch.

Finally, here's the inside of the card:

What do you think? Do I have a future at Hallmark?  I should, because let's be honest...that is just good advice.  And you're getting it here for free, people! For FREE! 

Happy crafting, everyone! 

PS. Don't let your babies drive cars.  For real.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

You can do this, too!

As you know, I teach a Coupon Mastery course at Waubonsee Community College.  It's a fun class and not just because I sometimes bring in shopping trips for show-and-tell that may or may not have the shampoo lid securely fastened, thereby covering all my purchases in Pantene.  Ahem.

In my class, I teach the basics of frugal shopping: finding coupons, which blogs and websites are worth your time, organizing coupons, efficient and ethical coupon use, and how to get the best deals at area stores.  By using coupons and shopping smart, I regularly save 50-60% off my grocery bills, and I get many items for free at area drug stores. 

For example, here's my CVS Thanksgiving Day shopping trip: 

Here are some close-up pictures of what I got:

There's brand name cereal, dishwasher detergent, medicine, candy, nail polish, toothbrushes, Kleenex, a universal remote control and more.

This merchandise is worth $136.17, and I only paid $13.75 out of pocket for it.  And the truth is, I even made a mistake during this shopping trip. Had I gotten my coffee before I shopped instead of after, I would have been more alert and saved myself about $4.50 out of pocket. 

Here's what I got from Walgreen's on Thanksgiving:

And here are some close-up photos of the merchandise:

At Walgreen's I got toothpaste, laundry detergent, deodorant, razors, hair ties, toothbrushes, medicine, probiotics, vitamins and more. 

This merchandise is worth over $242.14, and yet I paid only $17.68 out of pocket.  Keep in mind that the majority of the out-of-pocket expense is tax. 
I can teach you how to do this!  My class is aimed at folks who are new to couponing, and those who coupon a bit but are looking to take their skills to the next level.  Of course, everyone is welcome, no matter if you are a coupon newbie or a coupon master.  If you have doubts about taking a couponing class, read this testimonial from a student who took my class in Spring 2011.  Then, sign up for Coupon Mastery.  There are two sections this semester, and the first one begins in two weeks at the downtown Aurora campus from February 9-23.  The second session will be at the Plano campus March 15-29.  I hope to see you there!

Happy couponing!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

OMG Organizing!

OMG you guys!!!  Guess what arrived via FedEx today?

Here's a hint:

Here's another hint:

It's a hot-off-the-press copy of The Best of Martha Stewart Living Organizing!

Be still, my heart! While this has the shape and cover of a magazine, the organization and weight are more suited to a book. It has organizing ideas for every room in the house, accompanied by great photo spreads.   

A few of the rooms featured are Martha's! I just love getting peaks into her home and life.  Through her blog and other media, of course. It's not like I'm stalking Martha, okay?

This special Organizing issue is on newsstands until April 30. For anyone wanting to get organized this year, and for those who are mostly organized but need some fresh ideas, this magazine is for you.

Happy organizing!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Martha Monday--Organizing the kitchen

Did you know that Martha's to-do lists are on her website? It's true, they are!  And today, Martha is making time to "organize kitchen drawers and discard any unused items."

Of course, I'm sure Martha's kitchen drawers are in perfect order already, and her "to-do" is more of a reminder for the rest of us. I'm on it, Martha!

For more kitchen organization, check out Martha's 50 Top Kitchen Tips. Happy organizing!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Recent home improvements

BFF Laura was here a few weeks ago, and totally shocked by our new-ish front door, new paint in the guest room, new paint in the family room, etc. 

"When did you do all this?" she asked.
"Oh, a while ago," I said.
"How come I didn't know about this?" she asked.
"I don't know..." I said.  Then it occurred to me:  LAURA DIDN'T KNOW BECAUSE I FORGOT TO BLOG ABOUT IT.  And mention it in phone conversations.  GASP!

And if I didn't blog about it, did it actually happen?

Of course it did!  Here are some home improvements that were made in the last half of 2011.

In September, the guest room was painted peach which was a huge improvement from the puke olive green color that had been in there.  Soon after we added artwork (I'm a Wizard of Oz fan, can you tell?) and floating shelves to the walls. 

We also had the master bedroom painted in September. I love, love, love the blue color on the walls.  In November, we got this amazing picture from Uncle Rich (Hi, Uncle Rich!).  Growing up, it was displayed above the couch in my grandmother's house, and I am excited to be its latest owner. The sea painting goes great with my beach-inspired bed- and bathroom.

In November, we had the family room painted by Ron Miller.  He and his daughter did a great job, and had the whole thing done in two days.  The Big Guy choose a lighter color for the room (Benjamin Moore's Hazelnut Cream) and it has really brightened up the whole room.

Also in November, Handy Freddy installed a storm door for us.  We got a really fancy one that when the glass on the upon portion slides down, a screen takes its place.  Nice!

And once the storm door was installed, we decided to take that opportunity to paint the front door.  It went from black to bright red in only four coats.  I'm not thrilled with the finish of the paint, but I do like how cheery it's made the front entrance.

Especially when the outside is cold, snowy and incredibly bleak. It's nice to have that pop of red in the middle of a sea of taupe and gray.  Not that I have anything against taupe and gray.

So that's all the home improvement we've done recently that I forgot to tell you about.  Sorry!  I'll do a better job of keeping everyone in the loop the next time we tackle major projects...which I'll have the energy for (hopefully) in the spring.  Right now, all this gray makes me want to hibernate!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Upcoming Waubonsee Classes (Spring 2012)

The spring semester is just getting started at Waubonsee Community College, and I got quite a shock when I opened the non-credit course catalog.  I'm on page 5!

And on page 12 is a lovely testimonial from Theresa La Rocco who took my Coupon Mastery class last spring:

Isn't that awesome?! Today, I'm in the Waubonsee Community College course catalog. I fully expect to have my own television show by the end of the week. 

In the meantime, you might want to sign up for these classes now before I turn into a full-blown diva:

Live Well, Spend Less! 
at the Plano campus January 24-February 7, 2012 from 7:30-9pm.  Cost: $29.00

Join me to collaborate and share great ways to experience ''the good life" on a tight budget. It is possible to spend less and still live well. Find out how! Get ready to give and receive leads, tips and sources for exciting free or low cost entertainment sources, hip fashion-forward clothing at a fraction of retail cost, and even bartering/trading for goods and services. The group's best ideas will appear on The Martha Initiative.

Coupon Mastery --Now with two available sections!
1. at the downtown Aurora campus February 9-23, 2012 from 7:30-9pm.  Cost: $29.00
2. at the Plano campus March 15-29, 2012 from 7:30-9pm. Cost: $29.00

Master couponers are able to cut their grocery and drug store bills in half and obtain products for free! You can too! Become a master shopper with knowledge of the how, where, and when of serious couponing. Learn the rules for spotting the best deals in stores; pairing coupons with sales, rebates, and customer loyalty programs; and using the best coupon web sites. Join me in pursuit of the perfect balance of efficient and ethical couponing techniques.

Online Social Networking for Beginners
at the Sugar Grove campus February 13-March 5, 2012 from 7:30-9pm. Cost: $39.00

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging, and more - these forms of online social networking can be both exciting and intimidating for beginners. Learn the basics of each program and application and how to apply them to your life for job searches, reunions with old friends, communication with loved ones, and creative self-expression. Online social networking has its own etiquette, language, and pitfalls - we'll explore how to use the various forms safely and effectively.

Online Social Networking Continued
at the Sugar Grove campus March 12-26, 2012 from 7:30-9pm.  Cost: $39.00

Gain confidence and skill with social online networking! Continue to develop the skills you learned in the beginner class. Further instruction and practice will increase your ability to apply and adapt online networking into your life for communication with loved ones, creative self-expression, and job searches.

As I've mentioned here before, I really enjoy teaching at Waubonsee. I've met a lot of terrific people through these classes, and we all have a lot of fun.  I hope to see you in a class soon!

And if there's a class or topic you'd like me to teach at Waubonsee, or anywhere else in the Western Suburbs, please let me know in the comments.  Thank you!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martha Monday--Hot spinach dip

With "try new dinner recipes" as a New Year's resolution, it seems only fitting that a few new dessert and appetizer recipes would be included.  Last Friday I made Martha's Hot Spinach Dip for the ladies at BUNCO.  It was very tasty!

The recipe calls for 2 pounds of fresh spinach, but I used 1.5 pounds of frozen spinach and it worked just fine. If you go that route, thaw and drain the spinach before mixing it in with the garlic and onions.  Then, skip the draining step as stated in the recipe.

Before I made the recipe, I read several of the comments.  A few commenters mentioned adding water chestnuts and artichoke hearts to kick the recipe up a notch, so I followed their advice.

I think both the water chestnuts and the artichoke hearts were nice, healthy additions to the recipe.

The addition of the artichoke hearts and water chestnuts evened out the absence of the half-pound of spinach, so everything still fit nicely into a 9x13 casserole dish.

Here it is after 20-25 minutes in the oven.  I served it with Triscuits.  Yum!

While this is a great appetizer recipe as it is written, it was a little short on "creamy" for me. Next time, I'll use more milk and double the amount of cream cheese the recipe calls for.  I'm sure the TMI household will be seeing more of this hot spinach dip in the future. Hooray for new recipes!

Friday, January 13, 2012

"The Very Hungry Caterpillar" themed birthday

Last February, we attended a darling little boy's first birthday party with the theme The Very Hungry Caterpillar and it was adorable! 

Yes, as this same child's second birthday is looming over me, I am just now posting this.  I know, believe me, I know. 

The cake, cupcakes and centerpieces were all made by the birthday boy's mommy (Hi, Deena!) and she did a great job.  Take a look:

I was really baffled by how Deena shaped the cupcakes like real apples until I bit into one:  she frosted the cupcakes, put a mini-donut on top, and frosted some more. Brilliant!

For the centerpieces, Deena put the Caterpillar image on foam board, and placed it in a cute box with realistic grass and flowers.  These looked wonderful, and I was really impressed that such a professional-looking product could be home-made. Great job, Deena!

If you have a fun birthday or party theme you'd like me to feature on The Martha Initiative, then please invite me to the party.  I'll bring my camera and my appetite...like the hungry caterpillar, I'm always ready to eat!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Back in 2003

Last week, I set out to make a birthday cake.  A rich, delicious, new cake that I had never made before. And to do so, I had to go back in time to 2003 with Martha Stewart Living Annual Recipes

There, on page 87, I found the Belgian Chocolate birthday cake.  The recipe called for ground toasted hazelnuts and a stunning amount of chocolate.

And I made it.  Without the chocolate shavings and candied hazelnuts, though, because I just don't have time for that.  This cake was amazing: unbelievably moist and rich. The experience was unsettling at first, because the ground hazelnuts threw me off...the cake tasted like hazelnuts, so I kept expecting to find one, but I never bit into a hazelnut.  But by the second or third bite, I was hooked.  Yum!

I wish I could link to the recipe, but I just can't find it on MarthaStewart.com.  And reprinting it without permission would only lead to me getting jailed/sued/kidnapped/etc., for which I am so not prepared, so you're going to have to find this recipe on your own. Sorry!

The cake was so rich and dense that I had to eat it with vanilla ice cream to lighten it up, that's how good it was.  Warm cake with vanilla ice cream is amazing...the world needs more of it, quite frankly. 

Whose birthday was this for, you ask? I'm glad you did...this totally awesome birthday cake was for a totally awesome person: TMI's very own Handy Freddy!  Today is his birthday, by the way.
Happy birthday, Freddy! And thanks for all that you do in the TMI household.