Monday, April 30, 2012

Photo Banner How To

As I've mentioned in a few previous posts, the smallest member of our house just celebrated a birthday. Being a (sometimes) frugal gal, I decided to bypass store bought decorations and try my hand at crafting my own.

Pinterest was my best friend during the weeks leading up to N's FIRST b-day party. I searched and searched for decoration inspiration, and I kept coming across photo banners - month by month photos of the birthday boy or girl, strung together and hung for display. It seemed easy enough for this not so crafty girl to attempt.

Here's are basic "How To" directions to help you get started with your own photo banner.

  • Choose one picture from each month of the child's life that you wish to include in the banner. I used pictures from birth through one year, totaling thirteen photos. Be sure to select pictures that are all of the same orientation - all horizontal or all vertical.
  • Upload photos to Photobucket. You'll need to sign up for an account if you don't already have one.
  • Use Photobucket's basic editor to adjust image quality (click Adjustment). Auto Fix is an easy option if you'd rather not put much effort/time into editing.
  • Adjust the size of the images, found under Adjustment. Make sure each image has the same width and height. My images were approximately 700 x 400 pixels. 
  • Add text to your photos, labeling the month of each picture by selecting the Text button. Photobucket has many new and interesting fonts to choose from. Play around with fonts and text placement!

Here's where I would do things differently. I placed the text in a different location on each picture, where I thought it looked best.  I should have known better, but placing text at the top of the image created some issues when it came time to assemble the banner. I had to hole punch through some letters and some words overlapped. If there had been more time for a redo, I would have placed all text at least an inch below the top of the image.

  • Save your images. If working on a Mac, open Microsoft Word and click and drag the images (full image, not thumbnail version) from Photobucket into a Word document. If working on a PC, download your images, save them, and then insert into a Word document. 
  • In Word, double check the size of your images (Format, Picture, Size) to make sure they are all the same. Adjust if necessary.

  • Print and cut out images. If I had more time, I also would have mounted the images on patterned scrapbook paper. 
  • Cut pieces of thin ribbon, about 4-5 inches in length. Punch holes in the upper corners of each image. Thread ribbon through the corners of consecutive images and tie as show below. You could choose to create one long banner by connecting every photo, or you might consider dividing the banner into two sections. My banner became two sections because of the text placement issues I mentioned above - Newborn through 6 Months and 7 Months through 12 Months.

  • Cut longer pieces of ribbon, about 10 inches, and tie to the outside corners of the first and last image (newborn and 12 months in my banner), as shown below.
  • Use tape or pins to hang banner on wall.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Party Planning on a Dime

Hosting a party, whether it's a child's birthday or a casual get together with friends, can be costly. Take mass quantities of food, toss in some drinks and decorations, and the receipts start to add up.

Party hosting doesn't HAVE to be expensive, though, and there are a number of things you can do to lower expenses.

  • PLAN AND BUY AHEAD - Some party goods have a long shelf life. Think ahead, and when you see items on sale, pick them up and store for later. I knew that I would be hosting my son's first birthday party in April. As the party drew closer, I began to buy inexpensive, and sometimes free , items that I could use for the event, like soda, cake mix, frosting, chips, guacamole (freeze it), and condiments. By buying ahead, I was able to avoid paying full price during the week of the party.
With some careful planning, I spent about $10 for the "snack table" food - dinner & drinks not included. The table decorations were homemade.
  • MENU PLAN AROUND SALES - You won't be able to pick up all your party food for pennies, but you can also save money by planning which food items will be served based on store sales. Check out which meats, fruits, and veggies are on sale. If beef is expensive, you don't have to serve burgers. Consider chicken. Instead of a fruit salad, look for a fruit or two that's in season and less expensive. I stuck to pineapple and strawberries, which were under $1.00 each, at Aldi.
  • STRETCH YOUR INGREDIENTS - When you're menu planning, try to include foods that use the same ingredients in different ways. If you're already buying tomatoes and green onions to use in one dish, see if you can find another use so that extra ingredients don't go to waste. For N's birthday party, I put out a veggie tray. I used some of the same veggies in my side dishes, like pasta salad (a new orzo recipe - YUM!) and a black bean salad - no need to buy extra ingredients.
  • CONSIDER THE TIME OF YOUR PARTY - This is a suggestion I didn't follow myself. If you want to save money, set the hours of our party before or after meal times. Consider a party in the middle of the afternoon, between lunch and dinner, or invite friends over for an after dinner get together. By doing this, you can avoid serving a meal and can instead offer just snacks and drinks.
  • MAKE YOUR OWN DECORATIONS - While skipping decorations altogether is always an option, sometimes you want things to look a little special. Forget about store bought decor, and think about making your own. I found decor inspiration on Pinterest and then turned to programs like Photobucket to help me create my own decorations, like a photo banner and a birthday wall banner (a free printable can be found here) - tutorials to come (I hope).
Birthday wall banner, made using Photobucket.

Newborn - 6 Month Photos

 7 Months - 1 Year

Close Up

Reader Response: What frugal party tips do you have to offer?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Turning Deals Into Meals - Chicken Piccata

When we first moved to Durham, about four years ago, I discovered Southern Season, a gourmet food mega store in neighboring Chapel Hill. In addition to a restaurant, deli counter, and aisles and aisles of food and kitchen gadgets, the store offers themed cooking classes. In my pre-baby days, I attended a class every few months or so - knife skills, Southern biscuit making, tomato gardening/cooking. Each class involves either demonstrations from a "celebrity"chef or hands on cooking instruction, paired with a multi-course meal of the dishes that are taught during the class.

This recipe for Chicken Piccata comes from a class the hubs and I took a few years ago, which focused on easy, weeknight dinners. It's certainly a meal that can go from prep to plate in under 30 minutes. The level of effort and difficulty is low, but the meal plates very well and would be an impressive meal for entertaining.

The saltiness of the capers plays well with the acidity of the lemon juice, creating a very tasty sauce. I like to sneak a little extra to pour on top of my side dishes, like a good rice pilaf. :)

Give the dish a whirl; Chicken Piccata just might become part of our regular dinner rotation, as it has in our house.

Chicken Piccata - Adapted from Southern Season

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup flour
1 cup dried breadcrumbs (I use Panko when I have them)
1/4 cup olive oil
4 Tablespoons butter (time to use up all that free butter from HT)
1/2 cup dry white wine (I like to pick up Winking Owl at Aldi - don't spend too much on cooking wine)
juice of two lemons
2 Tablespoons capers (drained)
Parsley for garnish (optional, I used fresh curly leaf from the garden)
additional lemon wedges for garnish (optional)


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Pound out chicken breasts until they are even thickness. Season with salt and paper.
  • Dredge chicken breasts in flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs. Set aside.
  • Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add olive oil to hot pan.
  • Cook the chicken for a few minutes on each side, until golden brown. Remove from skillet, place in oven safe baking dish. Place in oven to finish cooking, ~ 10-15 minutes depending on thickness of breasts.
  • Wipe excess out of pan and return to heat.
  • Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in pan. Add lemon juice, capers, and wine. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add remaining butter to thicken sauce, whisking constantly.
  • Serve chicken breasts with sauce, lemon wedges, and parsley.


Nolan celebrated his first birthday on Sunday, April 22nd. Here's a sneak peak at the photos I'll be using for his birthday party photo banner. I edited the pictures and added text using Photobucket, which is a free photo editing and storage website. They just released a new version, which has some easy to use, fun features, including many new fonts.

Consider the pictures that follow a year in review.


1 month

2 months

3 months

4 months

five months

6 months

7 months

8 months version 2

9 months

10 months

11 months


Monday, April 23, 2012

CVS Trip 4/23 - $0.83 OOP

I've cut back, way back, on CVS shopping. But today, I found myself with $8.99 in Extra Care Bucks in hand (from buying contact solution a few weeks ago) and in urgent need of deodorant (hubs dropped his and it broke into a million little pieces). It was time to work the CVS system.

In order to take full advantage of my Extra Bucks, I would need to spend at least $8.99. The price of deodorant alone wouldn't come close, so I did some quick deal research to figure out items to buy that would bring me to that $8.99 goal AND earn me more Extra Bucks in the process.

In my first transaction, I bought three $0.99 American Greeting cards. When you purchase three cards this week, including the $0.99 cards, you receive $3.00 in Extra Bucks. I had printed a CVS coupon for $2.00 off three cards, which meant that I spent $0.97 for the cards AND earned back $3.00, a profit of $2.03! I also bought Blink Eye Drops, on sale for $8.99, which earned $8.99 in Extra Bucks. I used a printable coupon for $1.00 off, which meant that I paid $7.99 and earned $8.99 in rewards, a profit of $1.00.

Here's an easier look at transaction #1:

3 American Greeting Cards ($0.99 each)
Used $2.00 off 3 American Greeting Cards CVS coupon (coupon might be gone, but still a good deal without it)
= $0.97
Earned $3.00 ECB, $2.03 profit

1 Blink Eye Drops - $8.99
Used $1.00/1 Blink Drops printable coupon
= $7.99
Eared $8.99 ECB, $1.00 profit

Total = $8.96 + tax
Paid with $8.99 Extra Bucks from previous visit = $0.00 + tax (paid using remainder of CVS gift card)
Earned $11.99 Extra Bucks!

Next, I wanted to use these Extra Bucks to buy the deodorant. In order to use the $11.99 in Extra Bucks, I added in a few items that I had coupons for, like soda, and one that would earn more Extra Bucks, the Physicians Formula makeup ($7.00 ECB for buying any Physicians Formula product).

I could have been a more savvy shopper with this transaction, but really, I wanted out of the store. As a heads up, the soda rang up at the wrong price, and the Physicians Formula Extra Bucks didn't print. I had to ask for both issues to be fixed, and the CVS cashier was very accommodating!

Transaction 2:

2 2-Liter Bottles of Soda (b-day party coming up!) - $0.99 each
Used $1.00/2 Bottles of 7-Up, Sunkist, A&W, etc. printable
= $0.98

1 Degree Men's Deodorant - $3.59

1 box Act II popcorn - $1.00

1 Physician's Formula Concealer Stick - $5.99  
There are coupons for $1.00 off available, but for some reason I'm missing coupons from those weeks
Earned $7.00 ECB, $1.00 profit (Be sure to ask if it Extra Bucks don't print!)

Total = $11.56
- $11.99 Extra Bucks = $0.00 + $0.83 tax
Earned $7.00 Extra Bucks!

So...for pocket change, I came home with the deodorant the hubs needed, bags full of extras, and I still have $7.00 in rewards to use another week. :)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Turning Deals into Meals - Noodles & Co. Pesto Cavatappi Revamp

Today was my Little Love's FIRST birthday!!

I'll be writing more about his day later, but this post is all about his B-Day dinner (pictured below - I'll get to that soon).

Nolan is our first baby, so I could be wrong, but it seems pretty traditional to serve a kid their favorite meal on their special day. I thought this over, trying to decide if N has a "favorite" meal. He's far from a picky eater, and he usually eats the same foods the hubs and I are having, but there are a few foods that N seems to devour more quickly than the rest, begging for more using his little sign language request (how could you say no to that??).

A menu of N's Favorites would read something like this:
Cold, unseasoned tofu cubes
Cold, unseasoned black beans
Cheerios, hold the milk

While I'm all for indulging the boy on his birthday, I needed to eat dinner too...and that food combo sounded terrible.

So, I gave the fridge a once over and decided that I wanted to use some of the free pasta I picked this week up at Harris Teeter, as well as a few ingredients leftover from a Greek pizza I made a few days ago (cheap veggies from Aldi). The idea for a tweaked version of Noodles & Co. Pesto Cavatappi was born.

For those who are unfamiliar, Noodles is a counter service restaurant - think Moe's, Q-Doba, Panera, etc. - serving, well, noodles. Their Pesto Cavatappi dish looks like this.

It's basically a corkscrew pasta with a pesto sauce, tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms. Nothing too fancy, but fairly tasty. My version was similar but kicked up a few notches.

The birthday boy LOVED his special meal, and Momma LOVED the glass (es) of wine she had from the bottle used in the dish. Win, win!

Allison's Revamped "Pesto Cavatappi"- Minus the Cavatappi - Feeds 4

1/2 box Whole Grain Penne (or other tube or corkscrew pasta)
a few tablespoons of olive oil
1 pint baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
prepared pesto (I used ~ 1/2 of a container from the Trader Joe's cold food section)
1/2 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 roasted red pepper, thinly sliced or chopped
a "splash" of white wine
a "splash" of whole milk or cream (could leave out and use reserved pasta water)
crushed red pepper flakes to taste


  • Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, heat a large frying pan over over medium to medium high heat. Add olive oil. Add onions and cook until tender and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. 
  • Add sliced mushrooms to pan. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook 3-5 minutes until tender.
  • Reduce heat to medium low and add drained pasta to pan. Stir in pesto, a splash of white wine, and a splash of milk or cream. Mix until pasta is evenly coated. 
  • Add tomatoes and roasted red peppers. Stir to combine and continue to cook for a few minutes, until pasta is heated through and tomatoes have wilted (would that be the correct word??).
  • Plate and top with parmesan cheese, if desired.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Harris Teeter Super Doubles - $1.84 OOP

Though I haven't been posting coupon deals recently, I haven't completely given up deal shopping. I did let my Sunday newspaper subscription expire last week (GASP!), but I've noticed that, at least for now, I'm doing just fine relying on internet printables.

Harris Teeter is running another Super Doubles promo this week, which means coupons with a value up to $1.98 will double in value. Shoppers are limited to 20 doubled coupons each day, and you may only double two of the same internet printable in a given transaction.

I went to HT this morning and using my coupons, I was able to pick up the pictured items for just $1.84 + tax, saving almost $30!

The promo runs until Tuesday evening, so there's still time to score the same deals. I've included the coupon matchups for my purchases, but to see a more complete list, check out Homemaking Mom. As you print coupons, keep in mind that you are able to print two of the same coupon per computer.

Hillshire Farm Gourmet Creations Sausage - $3.99
Use $1.00/1 Hillshire Farm Gourmet coupon attached to product x 2 (doubled)
and Use $1.50/1 Hillshire Farm Gourmet e-vic coupon (must load to store card) = $0.49

Gain Laundry Detergent - $3.77 (Saturday only special)
Use $1.00/1 Gain coupon (P&G home mailer) x 2
and Use $1.00 e-vic coupon (must load to store card) = $0.77

Silk Soy Milk Half Gallons - $3.29
Use $1.50/1 Silk Product Printable (must register) x 2 = $0.29 each
* Silk quarts are less than $3.00 and would be free using this coupon - chocolate wasn't available.

Uncle Ben's Original Rice Cups - $1.00
Use $1.00/2 Uncle Ben's Original Rice Printable x 2 = FREE when you buy 2

Barilla Whole Grain Pasta - $1.69
Use $1.00/1 Barilla Whole Grain Printable x 2 = FREE

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter - $2.15
Use $1.25/1 ICBINB Printable x 2 = FREE

Other Deals I Like - Not Pictured

Wholly Guacamole - $2.50
Use $1.00/1 Wholly Product Printable x 2 = $0.50

Emerald Breakfast On the Go - $2.50
Use $1.00/1 Breakfast on the Go Printable x 2 = $0.50

Alexia Fries and Sweet Potato Fries - $3.00
Use $1.00/1 Alexia Product Printable x 2 = $1.00

Starbucks Coffee Beans - $5.97
Use $1.50/1 Starbucks Printable x 2 = $2.97