Archive | August, 2010

Site Review: Coupon Chief

29 Aug

As a frugal mama, I spend a fair amount of time online comparing prices of potential purchases. With our second baby on the way, I have a feeling I’ll be doing even more online shopping soon enough. There are some amazing deals to be had online, but I hate spending money on shipping or paying full price.

Enter online coupon sites, like http://www.couponchief.com. Coupon Chief invited me to review their site, and after visiting it the first time I quickly bookmarked it.

New to coupon sites? Here’s how they work:
Simply enter a store name, item or category in the search box. Coupon Chief returns with a list of coupon codes that you can enter during checkout at your selected store for a discount – a virtual coupon.

My Experience
The first search I tried was for Babies ‘R Us coupons. A code popped up for 20 percent off a single item, so I traveled to the BRU web site via the “Use It!” link and placed my dream stroller in my cart and applied the coupon code. Rejected. Thinking certain brands might be off-limits, I removed the stroller from my cart and added a diaper bag. No dice. This isn’t completely unheard of in the world of online coupons; there is a fair amount of digging to be done to find the ones that give you the real deals.

Next, I searched for Sephora coupons. I found one for 20 percent off any Bare Escentuals Get Started kit, so I tried it out on the Sephora site. Success!

Coupon Chief does have a circle you can click on to let others know whether a particular code worked for you, which is a handy way to “review” the code’s validity for fellow coupon hunters.

The site also provides a Pays-2-Share program, where you can earn 2 percent of the sales each time someone uses your uploaded coupon, and a Coupons-4-Causes program, where you can select a favorite charity to receive a donation whenever you buy something from a Coupons-4-Causes store.

All in all, I plan to add Coupon Chief to my arsenal of online coupon sites.

Disclosure: Coupon Chief invited me to provide an unbiased review of their site. I received compensation for this review. The opinions expressed in this review are mine. Honesty is the best policy.

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File Under “Yes, Please”: Honey Baked Chicken

29 Aug

Hoo boy. This recipe has a few things going for it:

  • Only six ingredients, including seasonings
  • It calls for an entire stick of butter
  • It has an amazing sweet and curried flavor
  • More than 1,000 people on AllRecipes.com have given it an average rating of 4.5 stars
  • I used organic boneless chicken thighs instead of a whole chicken, because that’s what we had in the fridge. (Side note: Boneless chicken thighs cost $2 less per pound than boneless chicken breasts at Costco.) I served the chicken over last night’s leftover quinoa (cooked with chicken broth instead of water) and a pile of steamed brussel sprouts, then drizzled (all right, fine – doused) it all with the pan sauce.

    The toddler said, “Mmmm, dinner is so yummy Mommy.” Husband said, “Oh, wow.”

    I agreed.

    Honey Baked Chicken II

    Finding Balance

    28 Aug

    The wise mother of my dear friend once told her that a cluttered home is a sign of a cluttered mind.

    For me, this is true. When I am at peace, my home is at peace – clean counters, clean laundry, bedrooms you can relax in, bathrooms I am not ashamed of, cats that have been petted and brushed, a husband who has been appreciated and loved, and above all else, a child that receives loads of affection, plenty of one-on-one interaction, a healthy dose of outdoor playtime and the respect she deserves as a human being.

    Every once in a while, something will go out of whack and our home is thrown off balance. I become single-mindedly focused on an idea, a concern, a task, and everything else falls to the wayside. This week has been one of those times. Blame it on pregnancy hormones, stress, not eating right or getting enough exercise, or simply not setting my priorities correctly. The cause doesn’t matter; the result is always the same. Cluttered mind, cluttered home.

    Today my daughter and I argued for 20 minutes about lunch. She wanted a sandwich; I said no sandwich because she had one for dinner last night and for breakfast this morning. (And yes, CPS, we do feed her a wide variety of foods that do not come between two pieces of bread.) The back-and-forth exhausted me, and as we stood at an impasse in the middle of the kitchen, my eyes fell on the pile of dishes, the crumbs on the counter, the floor in desperate need of a sweeping. And for the first time today, I looked at Kaitlyn, really looked at her – this frustrated toddler who didn’t understand why lately I was spending too much time on the computer and not playing dinosaurs and sea creatures, why I seemed annoyed with being climbed on and rolled my eyes at the never-ending shouted demands for more milk, more cheese, more Play-Doh, more markers, more stickers, and now I wouldn’t give her a delicious sandwich for lunch? What was going on here?

    And, looking at my daughter, I got it.

    I pulled out the wheat bread and the cheese and the cutting board, and I fixed us each a sandwich. After placing her plate on the table, I paused. And then, instead of taking my plate to the desk and sitting in front of the computer for the tenth time that day, I asked Kaitlyn if I could sit next to her. “Sure!” she said. She doesn’t hold grudges, this little girl. And we sat at her toddler table next to her play kitchen and ate our cheese sandwiches, and a little bit of that clutter in my mind was swept away.

    Fabric Blocks

    26 Aug

    fabric blocks

    My friend’s daughter just turned 1, and I was on the hunt for an age-appropriate gift that I could sew. This stylish little girl has plenty of clothing, and her crafty mom sews her adorable fleece diaper covers, so I decided to make her some stuffed fabric blocks instead.

    There are loads of tutorials online for cloth blocks, but I found this one to be the easiest (and I love her fabric selection!).

    I customized it a bit by adding crumpled wax paper to one of the blocks for a satisfying “crinkling” sound, and a satin ribbon on another one for grabbing. Based on the reaction from my own daughter, who will be 3 years old in a few months, these blocks are a good bet for all stages of babyhood (and toddlerhood).

    fabric blocks

    Cloth Blocks tutorial

    Favorite Books about Frugal Living

    23 Aug

    saving money
    I consider myself a voracious reader, and I frequent our local library often to pick up a huge stack of novels, children’s books and nonfiction.

    Because we live in Southern California on a single income, the vast majority of nonfiction books I end up bringing home are about saving money. Even though the tips can sometimes overlap, for example shopping the sale ads at grocery stores or buying secondhand whenever possible, I always come away with a renewed enthusiasm for living frugally.

    Below is a list of books I’ve read and enjoyed; pick one up at your library or click on the links below to purchase through Amazon:*

    Do It Gorgeously: How to Make Less Toxic, Less Expensive, and More Beautiful Products by Sophie Uliano

      This book is just plain fun. Lots of ideas on making your own beauty and cleaning products; some of them can be a big initial investment but will save you in the long run. There are also sewing and other crafty projects that cost far less than buying new. I also enjoyed The Gorgeously Green Diet by the same author, although its focus is more on environmentally friendly ways to feed yourself and your family while not breaking the bank.

    America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money: Your Guide to Living Better, Spending Less, and Cashing in on Your Dreams by Steve and Annette Economides

      This family of seven is nothing short of inspiring. They take frugal living seriously and plan purchases carefully, buying nothing – including big purchases like cars – unless the money is already set aside for it.

    Miserly Moms: Living Well on Less in a Tough Economy by Jonni McCoy

      “Miserly Moms” gave me a great starting point for reducing our household budget. McCoy gives tips on meal planning, freezer meals, gift ideas and cleaning supplies.

    Two books on my “Need to Read” list:

    Be CentsAble: How to Cut Your Household Budget in Half

    The Complete Tightwad Gazette

    *Clicking on these links will take you directly to Amazon.com. As an Amazon Affiliate, I will earn a commission if you choose to purchase the book via the link I have provided.

    Ten Household Tips and Creative Crafts Using Lavender

    22 Aug

    lavender farm

    Ever since I tried a Lavender Truffle at Sweet Earth Chocolates in San Luis Obispo, I’ve had this sweetly scented flower on the brain. With just a couple of days left on the Central Coast, I decided to drive out to the Green Acres Lavender Farm, tucked away about 15 miles north of SLO in Atascadero.

    The friendly folks at Green Acres encouraged me to walk the path around the property. A word of warning: If you happen to be afraid of bees, strolling through a field of lavender might get your heart racing. And that might be an understatement. But the buzz about lavender is that it is believed to have calming properties, so it should all balance out… Right?

    In any case I was able to convince myself that the hordes of bees really just wanted the flowers and that they weren’t going to suddenly go ballistic and chase me all the way back to San Luis Obispo. I even managed to take a couple of photos. So I guess the lavender-calming theory is spot-on.

    Naturally I had to stop in the Green Acres shop, which is a converted garage (and smells better than any garage I’ve ever been in). The shop carries essential oil, lavender water, lotion, soap, dried lavender flowers and a variety of other local goods. For the purposes of my research (and because my heart rate was still a bit on the high side), I took home a bottle of essential oil. I was sad that my trip to the farm was coming to a close, but I knew that with a little lavender and some creative inspiration, I could transport myself back to the fields of Green Acres – minus the buzzing.

    Dried Lavender
    Handkerchief Sachets
    Eye Pillow
    Lavender Pillows
    Lavender Salt
    Tub Teas

    Lavender Essential Oil
    Linen Spray
    Air Freshener – just add a few drops to an oil diffuser; to freshen drawers, add a few drops to a cotton ball
    Rice Heat Therapy Bag
    Aloe Vera, Lavender, & Peppermint Sunburn Spray
    Body Oil

    lavender farm fields

    Visit GreenAcresLavenderFarm.com for more ideas on how to use lavender.

    Fresh Peach Cobbler

    18 Aug

    peach tree
    My in-laws are drowning in peaches from the tree in their back yard. Clusters of peaches hang heavily from the branches; piles of peaches litter the ground below. In just a matter of days we have picked hundreds of the sweet fruits, shuttling bags off to neighbors, eating them morning, noon and night, freezing huge batches… and barely a dent has been made.

    I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try my hand at peach cobbler. Generally I overlook fruity desserts in favor of chocolate, but I needed to do my part to eat our way out of the mountain sitting on the counter. What a sacrifice.

    I wanted a simple recipe with ingredients we had on-hand, and one without any egg (my daughter is allergic). I found this recipe for peach cobbler by Paula Deen on FoodNetwork.com and decided to give it a try, with a couple of minor variations.

    We didn’t have self-rising flour, so I made my own with:
    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
    3/4 teaspoon salt

    self-rising flour
    Mix and set aside. (Skip this step if using self-rising flour.)

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

    Peel and slice 4 cups of fresh peaches. (Next time I would probably add another cup or two for extra peachiness.)

    peach cobbler
    Combine peaches, 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan. I also added 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Mix well; bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

    Meanwhile, melt 8 tablespoons (one stick) of butter in a 3-quart baking dish in the oven.

    Mix 1 cup sugar, 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour and 1 1/2 cups milk slowly, and pour over the melted butter. I know it’s tempting but don’t stir!

    peach cobbler
    Spoon the peaches on top, then gently pour in the syrup. I sprinkled the top with a bit of brown sugar and some cinnamon.

    The recipe suggests baking for 30 to 45 minutes; I found it took closer to 50 minutes to brown a bit on top and get a nice little crust around the edges.

    peach cobbler

    peach cobbler
    Serve with ice cream or fresh whipping cream. Take another look at the peach tree and wonder how many more cobblers you can bake before the season ends.