December – 2011 – Frugal Novice
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December 2011

Santa Baby Blogger Mashup!

Before I started blogging, I had no clue about how many amazing bloggers there are out there (tons, by the way!) but now I’ve been blessed to get to know great bloggers and blogs. Quite a few of us from all over have teamed up to spread a little Christmas cheer your way – via song, of course! Think we ought to join up and go on tour? :)

Below the video is a list of bloggers in order of their appearance – hope you’ll pop in and say hi to everyone! Thanks especially to Toni for putting the video together and coming up with the great idea to begin with!

A Daily Dose of Toni
Nuggle Mama
Fab Grandma
The Mom Buzz
MomDot
Yellow Tennessee
My Little Me
Mom On Review
Frugal Novice
Frosted Fingers
The Suburban Mom
Moscato Mom
Write Spell
Lindsay Blogs
Beautiful Side of Hectic
Not Quite Susie Homemaker

Ten {Oh-So-Fun} Creative & Easy Christmas Desserts

I love Christmas. I love baking. And I sure do love dessert. So this post just called to me, really. I’ve gathered 10 of the most creative Christmas dessert ideas I’ve come across to share with you. They all look pretty easy, too, which is a plus during the busy holidays. Enjoy!

Photo credit: Pizzazzerie

1 . Donut Snowmen. I had to list this one first, because it knocked my socks off with how simple {and adorable} it is! I was sure this was some complicated cookie recipe when I first saw the photo. Nope… three ingredients, people! Powdered donuts, candy corn, and melted chocolate. Love it! This recipe, and several other cute ideas, can be found at Pizzazzerie.

Photo credit: Taste of Home

2. Christmas Tree Cheesecake Pops. Another easy idea. Either make your favorite cheesecake, or buy one from the store. Cut slices and freeze them until they’re firm, stick in a popsicle stick, then dip in either chocolate or white chocolate, and drizzle with green-tinted almond bark. You could use mini M&M’s as lights, or dot dabs of icing as seen in the photo above. Either way, cute and delicious. Seen at Taste of Home.

Photo credit: Betty Crocker

3. Cookie Cutter Fudge. I am seriously considering making this for my coworkers, if I can find inexpensive cookie cutters. Just make your fudge and pour it into cookie cutters (this 18-piece cookie cutter set at Amazon is a great deal) on wax paper to set, then place candies as desired to decorate. The recipients get a treat and can use the cookie cutters for years to come! A friend also told me she did brownies this way, and baked them in the cookie cutters. The fudge idea was found from Betty Crocker – they’ve got a ton of other fun holiday dessert ideas, too.

Photo credit: Bakergirl

4. Peanut Butter Reindeer Cookies. You can go homemade or semi-homemade {hi, Sandra Lee!} with these, but either way they’re adorable and a crowd-pleaser. I had some at my office party today that used regular pretzels, and they were still really good. The recipe can be found at Bakergirl.

Photo credit: Martha Stewart

5. Coconut Snowman. I have to admit that a Martha Stewart recipe seems inherently complicated, but this is really cute and can easily be modified for normal people like us. Martha makes hers with ice cream rolled in coconut, but you could also do cake balls. You can be creative with how to make the nose and eyes (I know I, for one, don’t have marzipan easily accessible), and I think it’d be just as cute with an un-toasted marshmallow hat. Love the overall idea, though! Details are on the Martha Stewart site.

Photo Credit: Ginger and Garlic

6. Fruit Tree. Yes, this is basically an edible arrangement. But still, it’s creative, cute, easy, and is a healthy alternative to all the heavy desserts in abundance. A foam cone, fruit, toothpicks and a star-cookie cutter are all you need. Find out all the how-to info at Ginger & Garlic.


Photo credit: Better Homes & Gardens

7. Christmas Tree Cookies. I found this at Better Homes & Gardens, and love the monkey-bread-esque design – you could totally pull these cookies apart to snack on them. And you could definitely make these with pre-made cookie dough if you don’t have the time to work from scratch, although you’d have to use a mix to do the green color. I think this would be a big hit with kids!

Photo credit: Sweet Tooth

8. Santa Hat Brownie Bites. How cute are these? I first saw them at my office party. You can bake your brownies in a mini-muffin tin, or bake a pan and then cut out circles with a cookie cutter, then add strawberries and use melted white chocolate or cream cheese frosting to decorate/bind. I had them with cream cheese frosting, but this recipe at Sweet Tooth suggests the white chocolate. Either way, sure to be delicious – and a huge hit at parties. I’m totally making some to send up to my husband’s office!

Photo credit: House on Hilltop

9. Reindeer Noses. That is, if you stick with red M&M’s. :) Regardless, I love the way these treats look! We make a very similar treat with pretzels, Rolo caramel candies and pecans, but I really like the graphic punch the design of these provide. Find out more at House on Hilltop.

Photo credit: Bakers Royale

10. Three-Ingredient Peppermint Truffles. Yep, that’s right. Three ingredients! I love the way the red/white looks against the dark chocolate, and of course chocolate and peppermint are always a perfect pairing! These would make a great gift or perfect party fare. You can get the ingredient list at Bakers Royale. And if you want cute boxes to deliver your goodies in, here’s a link with some great options.

Happy holiday baking – and gifting!

May the {Holiday} Force be With You

When you’ve got a husband that’s a huge Star Wars fan, it’s not surprising to end up with {awesome} holiday decor like this:

“Holiday cheer to your home, these snowflakes will bring.”  – Santa Yoda

If you want to make your own Star Wars snowflakes, go here for printable templates. You’ll want to have a sharp X-Acto blade on hand for some of the more intricate parts!

Note: Thanks to Brian for inspiring today’s post!

Cascade & Blockbuster Winners

Congratulations to the winner of the Holiday Kit from Cascades Boutique:

And to the winner of the Blockbuster Total Access pass:

Congrats again, Wendy & Sue!!

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Spice Muffin Recipe, and a Baby Shower Recap

 

Two wonderful friends of mine are both pregnant, and are both due in early 2012; and I got to help celebrate both of them this weekend with baby showers! (That’s Amanda from Mom on Review in the photo on the right!)

I decided pretty early on that I wanted to make them diaper cakes. My friend Stephanie made one for me when I was pregnant with C and I loved it!

The cake I received consisted of diapers each individually rolled and secured with a rubber band. It was gorgeous, but it looked like it took a LOT of time. Instead, I took a different approach when I made these:

  1. Gather your ingredients – diapers (I used about 75 size 1 Pampers diapers for mine), three different sized cake pans for molds, two cake dowels, a cake board, a bottle, ribbon, and any other little extras (toys, socks, stickers for decoration, etc.).
  2. Using packing tape, secure the bottle to the middle of the cake board.
  3. Grab your largest cake pan – mine was 10″, I think – and start layering diapers around the perimeter of the pan – white side OUT to keep it nice and clean. I just kept doing this, going around and around, packing the diapers tightly to make sure the layer is secure. Just allow enough space for the bottle to fit in the middle. Once you’re happy with the amount of diapers, tie a thin ribbon snugly around the diapers to secure it, then flip the cake pan over onto the cake board, sliding the layer over the bottle.
  4. Repeat this step with the medium cake layer. The second layer should cover the bottle, so this is where the dowels come in. Once you’ve placed the second layer, stick a cake dowel into each side. Once you create your top layer, slide it on top of the dowels to secure it to the cake.
  5. Decorate! I tied a thick ribbon around the middle of each layer and then topped it with another thinner, contrasting ribbon. Then I tucked socks and mittens under the thinner ribbon, tied rolled up blankets to the top layer, and added other fun little things – including the babies’ names to personalize it. You can see the finished products above!

Of course, you’ve got to have actual cake at showers, too. Amanda’s shower was in the morning, so I made pumpkin chocolate chip muffins with cream cheese frosting (recipe is shared at the end of this post). It was a bug theme, so I baked the muffins in flower-themed cups, tinted the frosting yellow to look like the center of the flower, and added butterflies. I just bought cardboard stickers from Michaels, and a friend helped me hot-glue lollipop sticks to them so we could stick them in the muffins and make them look like they’d landed on the flowers.

For Jen’s shower, the napkins and plates had polka dots so I used that as reference. I just recently got a topsy turvy cake pan set, so I used two pans from it to make the cake – I think it turned out really fun! I used both chocolate and white cake mixes for this. I put a ladle of chocolate batter in the center of the pan, then white, and alternated this until it created rings of batter. The end result was a sort of marbled effect that looked nice and tasted great! I just made a standard buttercream for the icing.

It was a crazy, but fun weekend! Oh, and before I forget – here’s the recipe for the muffins (yields 24). I just used a standard cream cheese frosting (cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla).

CHOCOLATE CHIP PUMPKIN SPICE MUFFINS

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1  1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. You can bake these directly in your muffin tin, but I always use paper liners for easier clean up!
  2. Mix the sugar, vegetable oil, and eggs together until well-blended. Add the canned pumpkin and water. Add in the baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt individually, mixing well after each addition. Then add the flour a little at a time, again mixing well. Stir in chocolate chips.
  3. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick can be removed cleanly from the center of one.

Ford Explorer Extras Provide Luxury & Safety in a Family-Friendly Vehicle

You know how you attach fond memories to objects? Well, my 1995 black Ford Explorer is one of those things for me. I had it all through college and at the beginning of my marriage, and I loved that car. So, you can imagine that I was just a little excited to have the chance to drive the 2011 Ford Explorer LTD on our trip to Florida!

I’ve got to say right off the bat that this is not the Ford Explorer I remember… it’s so much more. I’m continually impressed with how technology is incorporated into vehicles, and our experience with the Explorer taught us just how far technology has come. Several features stood out to me, but one was my absolute favorite and has been something I’ve gushed about to friends and family, so I’ll tell you about it first, and then move on to others.

Adaptive Cruise Control: I loved the cruise control on the Explorer to begin with because of the simple fact that it’s digital. I want to go 70? Easy – and it’s easy to adjust it up or down a couple of miles. But my absolute favorite part is that it adapts to the vehicle’s surroundings. See the little car graphic & the white bar? That’s the gap between you and the car in front of you. Let’s say we are driving 65 miles per hour, and we come up behind a car going 55. Normally I’d have to cancel cruise control, but not in the Explorer – it senses the car in front of us, and slows down accordingly. Once we’re able to change lanes, the cruise goes back up to 65 MPH. It’s absolutely amazing, and is such a valuable safety feature for families. It also makes caravaning much more pleasant – everyone knows it’s difficult to sync two cars up at the exact same speed, but with this feature it’s not an issue.

Blind Spot Alert Lights: So ingenious! Whenever a car passes on either side of the Explorer an orange light appears in the sideview mirror. I loved this feature too – I think we can all remember a situation in which we’ve thought it’s all clear to change lanes, only to realize suddenly (hopefully prior to hitting someone) that there is indeed a car there after all. That’s not an issue with this feature, because it’s easy to glance up, take a look at the light, and realize there’s a car there even if I can’t see it.

Heated and Cooled Seats: A lot of cars have heated seats, but the Explorer takes it a step further; there are three levels of heating available, and there was a noticeable difference in the level of heat between each of the options. I also liked that the heat traveled up the back and wasn’t just contained in the seat. We tried the cooling just for the experience of it – it’s a strange sensation, but I can imagine that in the heat of summer (especially Texas summers) it’s a really useful tool.

Control Panel: I’m not sure what the official term for this would be, but the touch screen truly is a central hub for information. It’s well-organized and easy to find different elements. Yet again, Ford takes it one step beyond and also incorporates two smaller screens behind the steering wheel that allow the driver to easily access important information, answer calls or change the radio. There are controls on each side of the steering wheel that make it easy to navigate through to the element you want to access.

Folding Rear Seats: Yet another area that Ford takes what’s expected and bumps it to the next level. There’s a third row of seating in the Explorer, which is fairly standard in many SUV’s now. However, there’s no awkward folding or tugging to get the seats in the position you want – it happens with the touch of a button:

That’s the “stow” arrangement, but you can also fold the seats up or down individually or together, making the back of the vehicle truly versatile for families. Additionally, I feel the need to mention that the back row of seats is actually a comfortable space with a reasonable amount of room, unlike many vehicles. I rode in the back several times with J in his car seat, and we both had plenty of space.

Ambient Lighting: This is totally just something for fun, but you’re able to select a color scheme for all of the ambient lighting in the vehicle. I had fun playing with it while Brian drove one night, and the kids thought it was cool to pick a color and watch the lighting change.

Navigation System: Since we were on a road trip we used this feature quite a bit. I have a mostly positive opinion of the navigation, but there are two areas with room for improvement. First, there was a little bit of a lag between starting up the car and the navigation beginning. It was only a matter of 2-3 minutes, but it did mean that we needed to sit and wait before getting started on our next leg of the trip. That’s not generally a big issue, and wouldn’t even bother me at all, except for the other aspect I think could be improved – you’re not able to type in an address while the vehicle is in motion. I completely understand that being an important safety feature to prevent drivers from being distracted, but it’s still not allowed even when there’s a passenger in the car. The Explorer senses whether there’s a passenger for the air bags, so it seems like it’d be a natural step for navigation to sense this too, and allow text input when passengers are present. There is the option to speak commands, and it works quite well… unless you have a vehicle with two screaming/singing/whining/giggling preschoolers. Overall we were content with the system. We liked the split screens, the voice directions that could be muted, and the ability to pick between multiple suggested routes.

Back-Up Camera: Loved having this, especially when the car was full and heads were blocking the view a bit. It was also nice that guides popped up as you turn to show you the projected path of your vehicle. I SO miss this feature and actually looked at my console for a screen out of habit when we first got back.

Space: The Explorer had plenty of interior space. If you follow me on Twitter you saw me mention that we were able to fit six people, including two in car seats – plus luggage and souvenirs – comfortably. We noticed the amount of space right off the bat, when transferring our luggage from our car to the Explorer:

There was plenty of room for the boys – they loved having the cup holders fold down in between their seats, too.

 

We logged over 2,300 miles in the Explorer so we really got a feel for how it handles (excellent, even in rain) and its features. I was really sad to return it! It’s a great family vehicle that has the space, safety, reliability, and luxury to suit every member of the family, and it reminded me yet again – in a whole new way – why I love the Ford Explorer.

Note: Ford loaned us the 2011 Ford Explorer LTD to drive on our trip, for the purpose of facilitating our review. All opinions are honest and are our own. We were not compensated monetarily for this post.

Save More Green Monday at Sears {Giveaway!}

Sears is having a huge online sale Monday & Tuesday (December 12 & 13) where you can save money on a wide variety of items – so if you’re like me and have shopping left to do, you’ll want to check out their site to see what the bargains are! One of the things you’ll find at a great price is this Craftsman Nextec 12.0 Volt Right Angle Impact Driver – it’s normally $99.99 but for a limited time you can get it for $79.99, and it will also come with a free cordless drill driver!

In addition to the sale prices, there are other ways to save money – and they’re stackable so you can combine them to save even more!

  1. Free Shipping – $99 threshold, use code: REALJOY (some exclusions apply)
  2. Coupon Book – Must be a Shop Your Way Rewards Bonus Member
  3. Save More Green Deals – available on the Hot Deals Page and on Sears.com 12/11 (4 p.m. CT)- 12/13 at 11:59 CT
  4. Sears Card – 5% back when you use your Sears Card (some exclusions apply)
  5. Shop Your Way Rewards – Earn points that can be redeemed later as cash to buy items at Sears (must be a member). Members also gain access to additional deals and other opportunities throughout the year.

Remember that Craftsman Right Angle Impact Driver I mentioned up above? Well, one lucky reader will win it and the cordless drill driver! This contest is open to all U.S. residents ages 18+. Entries will be accepted until the end of the day (midnight Central) Monday, December 26. By entering this giveaway you agree to the Official Rules.

Mandatory Entry: Visit the Sears Hot Deals site and comment below telling me which deal you’d like to buy for yourself or someone else on your list!

(Only valid after the required entry has been completed)

Please leave a comment for each extra entry – if you blog about this giveaway and get 2 entries, for example, comment 2 times.

Note: Sears is providing the items for the giveaway. I did not receive a product or compensation for this post.

 

Kmart’s Save More Green Monday {Giveaway – TWO $50 Gift Cards!}

If you’ve still got holiday shopping left to do (I know I do!) then you’ll definitely want to take note of this – Kmart is hosting Save More Green Monday tomorrow, December 12. The deals are going to be huge and they’re top secret, not even released yet… but if you follow @Kmart or @KmartDeals on Twitter you’ll be able to get more information. It’s all happening online, so that means it’s convenient no matter where you are.

Two lucky readers will each win a $50 Kmart gift card! This giveaway is open to all U.S. residents ages 18+. Entries will be accepted until the end of the day (midnight Central) Monday, December 26. By entering this giveaway you agree to the Official Rules.

Mandatory Entry: Visit the Kmart “Save More Green Monday” site and comment below telling me which bargain you’re most excited about!

(Only valid after the required entry has been completed)

Please leave a comment for each extra entry – if you blog about this giveaway and get 2 entries, for example, comment 2 times.

Note: I received a promotional item to thank me for my post.

Personalize a Beautiful Gift for Someone Special on Your List!

I love shopping for the women in my life.  I’m always on the hunt for new options so I can give gifts that are unique and that they’ll love!  I’ve recently discovered a site with a ton of great gift choices – Thirty-One Gifts. From purses to aprons, coasters to scarves, there are gifts that will really stand out to those you give them to. You can even easily personalize your items, adding a special touch.

I got the chance to review the Metro Retro bag in Painted Floral Plaid from Thirty-One Gifts. I’m always curious when ordering online what the quality of products will be. I was really impressed when it arrived – isn’t it cute? I <3 me some plaid!

The quality of the fabric and construction is impressive and feels solid. I also love the spot to attach keys on the inside, and of course pockets for organization.

It’s a great size, too. If you’re a mom then you’ll appreciate the ability of this bag to accommodate everything your children hand to you out in public. It’s lightweight, though, so it doesn’t weigh you down like some large bags can do.

If you’re looking for a present for someone and want it to be something unique they’ll love for a long time, I’d definitely recommend Thirty-One Gifts. Go check out the options today – and don’t forget, orders must be placed by the end of the day (midnight Central) Sunday, December 11 if you want them guaranteed to arrive in time for Christmas.

Also – December 13 a sale on the thermal totes begins! There will be big savings on all thermal totes, and you can get one for as low as just $10!

Note: I received a bag to facilitate my review. I was not compensated monetarily for this post. All opinions are honest and are my own.