Play Dates Made Easy (with Cascade Platinum + A Giveaway!)

This review was made possible by Double Duty Divas and Cascade. I was provided the featured product free of charge to facilitate my review, but all opinions are 100% mine.
Cascade Platinum

My kids love play dates with their friends.  I love chatting with other moms and grownup time while the kiddos play and exhaust themselves for nap time (or bedtime depending on the play date time).  Even though I seemingly love everything about play dates….I don’t.  I really hate the pressure of hosting them.  That’s not really fair to my friends or the parents of my kiddos so every once in a blue moon, I suck it up, and host a couple of moms and their kiddos.  I always have a blast and it’s never as big a deal as I make out of  it but there’s still some added clean up, cooking and entertaining to be done being the host of one of these shindigs.

Party Food

I find this Extra Creamy Mac & Cheese recipe is a crowd please for both kids and adults and it is fairly simple to whip up.  I invited a couple friends over to try it and check out my new secret cleaning weapon; Cascade Platinum.  With Cascade, clean up is much easier and makes the idea of dishes far less cumbersome.  This means I might be more inclined to invite people over (if only Cascade could clean my whole house before and after said play date!).  I fully expected to have to bribe guests to come to my play date with the products sent to me by Cascade but instead I had an overwhelming response to come play and hang out.  Perhaps it was my offer of food?  Or maybe just my winning personality.  Cascade Platinum

I packaged up the Cascade Rinse Aid and Cascade Platinum packets with a ribbon and a homemade ‘Thank You” tag using alphabet stickers.  I added a lollipop for the kids that were leftover from a recent birthday party we had for my youngest son.  I would like to say that, usually, for play dates, we don’t hand out goodies or gifts, but this was a special occasion.  We were testing Cascade Platinum!


I made brownies the night before and let the pan just sit.  I resisted the urge to soak it or wash it immediately.  Cascade boasts that it actually works better without pre-washing- something science-y about the enzymes latch onto that food and break it down so it can wash away.   I wanted that well-known hard crust that happens after you bake something.  I made the Mac & Cheese while guests were arriving and when I was done I loaded up my dishwasher with the pot and pan used for the mac and cheese AND that gross brownie pan that had just been sitting on my counter.  I put the Cascade Platinum products in and started the cycle.  We played, ate, visited and laughed while my dishwasher did the work.

Cascade Platinum

Before everyone left I showed off my clean dishes and handed out my little gifts.  Everyone was impressed and rightfully so!  Check out the Cascade Platinum reviews (and if you have used it; leave your own using #cascadeshiningreviews)!

Cascade Works


Enter to win your own special Cascade Prize Pack!

The Prize Pack includes:
·       Cascade Platinum
·       Cascade Platinum Rinse Aid
·       Whisk
·       Spatula
·       Cheese grater
·       Oven mitts


Have an opinion to share? Head to the Cascade website to leave a short review of Cascade Platinum ( including #CascadeShiningReviews. One reviewer will win a Kitchen Aid Dishwasher!

Extra Creamy Mac & Cheese Recipe

This Mac ‘n cheese recipe is inspired by one from The Pioneer Woman.  I haven’t tried her exact recipe but changed and tweaked it to fit my family’s needs.  My foster son/nephew is allergic to mustard seed so we omitted that; made it extra creamy with half and half and cut back just a tiny bit on the amount of cheese to save some money.  This is a hit with both the kids and adults and, although it does take a bit more effort than simply opening a box, it is well worth that extra bit of time!

Mac & Cheese Recipe

You will need:

16oz of uncooked pasta (I use elbow usually; but whatever you have on hand works, too)

2 cups shredded cheese (plus 1/3 cup for topping if you bake this dish- see below)

2 1/4 cups half and half

1 egg beaten

1/2 stick of butter

1/4 cup flour

salt and pepper to taste

Cook your pasta but leave a bit firm (if you plan on baking this dish after mixing, leave it really firm), drain and set aside.  Use the same pot to melt the butter.  Add the flour and whisk; careful not to burn.  Whisk for about 5 minutes and then add your half and half.  Stir regularly until smooth and thick.  Reduce heat to simmer.  Remove approximately 1/4 cup of this mixture and let cool for a minute (I start cleaning up at this time).

Slowly, pour your 1/4 cup of mixture into beaten egg.  Stir to avoid cooking the egg.  Once well incorporated, add the new egg mixture to the old mixture in your pot.  Whisk together until smooth.  Add shredded cheese and stir to melt.  Your creamy, cheesy mixture should be thick and smooth and then you can add your pasta!  Stir together and serve immediately, unless you are baking it (see below).  This can be served at a later time but won’t be nearly as creamy and I suggested adding a bit of milk during the reheating process.

Optional:  Bake this dish!  Add cooked mac and cheese to greased baking dish and preheat oven to 350.  top with 1/2 cup shredded cheese and back for 10 minutes or until golden brown.


Kids Academy Apps (Perfect For Ages 2-5)

Thank you to Kids Academy for sponsoring this discussion!  All opinions are, as always, 100% my own.

Free Educational AppWith three kids under the age of 5 and I am forever trying to entertain them with educational games.  Cut to me finding Kids Academy!  These apps are visually appealing and the best part is definitely the fact that they can figure it out themselves!  We’ve all been there…new app downloaded and kids start playing while we run to the kitchen to whip up some dinner.  5 seconds into chopping you hear ‘Mom!  I need help’.  Ugh.  These apps are simple enough for the kids to do independently but still educational.  They are learning new skills AND enforcing old ones.  Score.  Icing on the cake?  These are free apps.

Educational Apps fro Kids



Easy Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed Bell Pepper

When bell peppers go on sale I buy tons.  I use them in my spaghetti sauce, in casseroles and make one of my favorites: stuffed peppers!  This is a twist on an old favorite and I especially love using multiple colored peppers for a fun visual effect.  Another great part is the serving sizes are perfectly proportioned and the smaller rings work great for my younger kids while he middle slices are hearty enough for my husband.

Simply slice the top and bottom off your bell peppers and remove seeds.  Using a sharp knife cut approximately 2 inch rings, you can make them thicker or thinner, depending on your family (just remember cook time will be a bit longer with a thicker slice).  Set the rings in a shallow pan with only a few inches of water and cover.  Steam those over low to medium heat for about 5 minutes; I perfer my peppers very tender, do what works for you.  Remove from heat and set aside.Easy Stuffed Bell Peppers

The filling is very basic but delicious.  Throw some onions and garlic in a pan on medium heat.  Cook until the onions are becoming see through adn then add apound of ground beef (or turkey) and brown in the pan.  You can change it up based on what you or your family likes.  Add tomatoes or mushrooms or diced peppers or omit onions if you have a picky eater.  It all works in this filling!

Place your bell pepper rings on a baking sheet and carefully spoon filling into the rings.  Top with shredded cheese and place in oven on broil for just a few minutes until the cheese gets golden brown.  I serve this with rice for a nice hearty and healthy meal!

How To Plan A Stress-Free House Move And Enjoy It

People reckon that moving home is one of the most stressful things you can do. The stress begins when you put your existing property up for sale and nervously twiddle your thumbs until a buyer turns up. You also have to find a beautiful new home that ticks all of your boxes; that can be a headache!


Image source Here

Let’s say that you found a new place and have just accepted an offer on your old one. Now is the time to start making plans for moving day. Whether you buy or rent a new home, the process is identical. Preparation now will save a lot of stress and heartache when the time comes, so don’t assume that any detail is too small to consider.

Make A Timeline

Now that you have found a property to let in Harborne, the clock is ticking. Draw a timeline that starts tomorrow and ends on moving day. You must populate that line with details of every aspect of the move. Note the date you must start a task, and the date by which it must be complete. Many of items might only be telephone calls, but others could take weeks to complete. Here are things to include in your plan.

  • Contact removals companies and invite them to your home to quote a price for their services. It is not always wise to accept the lowest quote; listen carefully to what they have to say. Sometimes your gut feeling will help you to choose the right people for the job. You might be able to give them the exact date for the move, particularly if you are renting a new home, so place a firm booking with them.
  • Do you intend to pack your belongings yourself? If so you must allow plenty of time to do so. If you think it will take two weeks to pack; allow three. It is better to sit for a week with your belongings in order, than to suffer the stress of last minute packing. Ask the removal company to supply you with sturdy boxes that stack well in the lorry. They will charge, but it is worth the cost.
  • Find the phone numbers of the utility companies and ask them what the procedure is for moving your account to the new place. Energy suppliers might ask for a final reading on the day, so keep those numbers handy and mark it on the timeline.
  • Look for kennels or catteries where you can send your pet pooch or cat for a couple of days while you move. Pets are a cause of stress that you can remove from the equation.
  • Ask relatives if your children can stay with them until you are in your new home. You cannot afford the distraction of children if you are to concentrate on the job in hand.
  • Inform the school that your children will be off for a couple of days. Maybe you are taking them to a new school; let their old school know about it. Look for the new one in plenty of time too.

If you populate the timeline well and act on the information there, the move will go without a hitch. There are many more things to consider; put them in their proper place. It’s easy when you know how.

A Guide to Doing the Food Shop on a Budget

Everybody needs to eat, but not everybody has the funds to eat like a king or queen. Sure, you could just stock up on packet noodles and Pasta in Sauce, but this isn’t terribly nutritious. Everybody deserves to eat well, with a range of fresh food including vegetables, meat, and veg. So how can you buy all of this on a budget? Read on:


Photo Credit

Compare Supermarket Prices

Compare supermarket prices before you go shopping to see where you can find the cheapest deals. You may need to travel to a couple of different supermarkets to get everything you need at the best price. However, you’ll need to weigh up whether this is worth your time and effort. If it will cost you more in petrol to drive to these places to buy the items, then choose the cheapest overall place to go shopping. You can use sites like to give you an idea of the best prices.

Collect Vouchers

As you browse through magazines and newspapers, you’ll more than likely flick past vouchers that could get you a great deal on certain items. If you regularly shop somewhere like Tesco, you may even get vouchers sent to you through the post, ready to save money on things that you buy regularly.

Collect Points

Some supermarkets allow you to save points with them, which can usually be built up until you have enough to pay for one whole weekly shop, for example. You could get a couple of pence back for every pound that you spend, which can really add up in the long run. In some cases, you may be able to get money off petrol the more you spend.You can get other kitchen essentials with your points too, like a colander for example.

Buy in Bulk

Although buying in bulk may seem like it’s costing you a lot of money at first, it will save you money in the long run. It can be hard to part with that initial amount of money if you’re on a budget, but the things you’re buying will last you longer. Buying more also generally costs less than buying less. For example, you may find a pack of 180 teabags for 4 pounds, but for an extra pound you could get double the amount. In many supermarkets, you can also buy 3 packets of fresh meat for a cheaper price than you’d get them separately. Make sure you look for offers like this!

Grow Your Own

Remember, there’s always the option to grow your own produce. You could have your own chickens to lay eggs, grow your own vegetables, and grow your own herbs too. All you need is a suitable garden environment. There’s plenty of information online to help you get started if this appeals to you. This will save you loads of money and you’ll have nice fresh food available at all times.

Although it can be tempting to stock up on cheap micro meals and Pot Noodles, you need to nourish yourself with as much natural food as possible. Try these tips to stock up your kitchen!

5 Tips To Save Money On Groceries

A similar post was really popular when I first started blogging.  I’ve done a bit of editing to update it and hope it helps!  Don’t forget to PIN it for later and/or to share with your friends.

5 tips to save money on groceries I used to walk into the grocery store and just start putting things in my cart. While I was there, I would start to think about what I’d make throughout the week. I used to take Hub-to-be with me to the store. I also used to walk out of the store having spent $200 bucks thinking “That doesn’t really seem like a lot for 200 dollars…”.  Inevitably, I forgot critical items for the meals I planned while strolling down the aisles. I’d either surrender to fast food, ordering in or going back to the store at some point in the week.

1.  only go to the store 1 time a week (or once every 2 weeks, whatever works for you)!! How many times have you gone into the store for one or two things and left with bags full? Budget Breaker. The less you are in the store the less time you have to spend your money!

Some of my friends say my money saving planning seems like too much work. I won’t lie, it does take some effort but the more you do it the easier it gets. I promise! I sit down every Sunday with the ads and my coupons. I ask my family members if anything in particular sounds good for dinner this week. I try a new recipe once every two weeks or so (new recipes often call for spice or items I don’t usually keep in the pantry/fridge so I limit how often I try a new one so I’m not constantly buying extra or new things). We have a list of ‘go-to’ means that are crowd pleasing, easy and often call for similar items. I’m aware of what each meal needs and base my other meals around that (example: Jelly Bean wants Taco Salad one night. I know I will have extra lettuce so I plan chicken sandwiches for the next night). I try to make sure I do not waste. Produce has always been hard in this house so I try and make sure I am storing the produce properly (thank you Pinterest!).

2. I use less meat than recipes call for- If I buy a 3lb ground beef pack I usually get 4 meals out of it. My family is none the wiser if there’s 3/4lbs of meat in the spaghetti instead of 1lb.

3. We do not have any ‘must-haves’. We don’t buy particular brands or items each week. If it’s not on sale or it doesn’t fit in the budget we don’t have orange juice that week (or pop tarts or whatever else).

4. I make as much as I can from scratch; I double the recipe and freeze what I can. Muffins and pancakes are great breakfast options and so inexpensive to make and freeze!

5.  I know everything I can offer for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. I don’t exactly plan out each meal but I can offer the kiddos X, Y or Z and know I have that on hand. Hubs-to-be takes leftovers for lunch often.

There are many other ways to save I’ve found over the years but that’s all I have for you this time. Just for reference our family of 6 has a budget of $80 a week for groceries.

Don’t forget to leave a comment with your best money saving tip for the grocery store!

Baby G Turns THREE! Carnival Themed Party in Scottsdale, AZ

Summer is over and we are right back into the swing of our school year schedule!  So time has passed but I didn’t want to miss the chance to share details about our youngest child’s 3rd birthday party.  Baby G was still young enough when I started planning his party that I was able to pick the theme (though he and the other kids LOVED it, but he may not have picked it for himself).  If you have been following me for some time you know I love a theme!  When we booked our party location they offered face painting and from that the Carnival/Fair/Circus theme emerged!Ticket Invitation The party location in Scottsdale Arizona we decided on for Baby G’s party was Daydreams Drop In Childcare.  I was really excited when I found out they offered parties.  When I was pregnant with Baby G, my older son occasionally went to this location (called something else but still the same owner) when I couldn’t find someone to watch him but had to go to the doctor.  He referred to it as ‘The Play Place”, as in, “Mommy, I go to Play Place today?! Please?”.  They are typically a drop in childcare facility that charges only for the time your child is there, not rounding up to the hour but prorating to the minute.  They now offer bulk minute discounts which is a great option to save some money and there are no membership fees.  I knew it’s be the perfect place for all ages and love that they offered a private party before opening.Carnival Birthday Party Let me say now, before you continue reading, choosing this place was the best decision I could have made.  The staff went above and beyond and took care of everything so I could enjoy the party too.  Usually, I am running around refilling snack bowls, cutting and passing out cake, rounding up kids for singing and trying to make sure every kid leaves with a goodie bag…they did it all and more.  The icing on the cake, for me, was when they announced it was photo time and got all our kid guests together for pictures.  Plus, they encouraged us to take family photos, too.  It’s so nice to have a couple shots that I am in too (I know I am not the only one who can relate to always being behind the camera)! Carnival Party Decor I got most of the supplies, decor and favors from Oriental Trading.  The carnival games were a fun addition and a way to really bring the theme to all aspects of the party.  The food was simple and classic carnival or fair food.  The staff set up the food table with all the items I brought it; cotton candy, popcorn and circus lollipops.  I wasn’t sure how to display the lollipops and the staff had just the thing!  An adorable box with foam for easy display.  I loved the way it turned out.  The tables were set with some animal crackers and carnival candy packs- the party venue had already put table clothes on the little tables for the kids.  The party favors were from a treasure box that included 50 items (and again, the staff rocked and put favors in bags and passed them out so no child left without one!) that reminded me of the kinds of items you might win at a school carnival. Carnival Cake I used a giant cupcake pan to make the carnival/circus tent cake.  The homemade butter cream frosting started getting too warm while I was decorating but I had left it until the last minute and didn’t have time to let it sit in the fridge a bit more.  No one seemed to notice the sloppy decorating and everyone was impressed (and it was so easy).  I also made a simple birthday banner using 8×8 inch pieces of paper.  I cut them into triangles (in half diagonal) and used a stencil to spell out a message.  I loved the added touch above the food table and it took less than 20 minutes.  Balloon animals where around the tables as decor and given to any kids who wanted one as they left.  They were fun to make (I made them the night before) and an inexpensive way to add more to the theme. Scottsdale AZ Birthday Party The party was amazing and I have been raving about the location and staff for over a month now. With the party package we got 2 free hours of drop-in care for the birthday boy, which will certainly come in handy some day soon!  Plus, he keeps asking to visit the ‘ birthday play place’.  It will certainly be hard to top this party!  I love planning parties, especially birthday parties, and luckily, with 4 kids, I get the chance often! Birthday Party in Arizona

Delicious Lunch At Home Or Work with Chili’s® at Home Frozen Foods

Thank you, Bellisio Foods, for sponsoring this discussion on tasty and bold meals!

Chili's at Home

Usually I try to pack leftovers for my husband to take to work.  On days I slack or there where no leftovers the night before he tends to spend anywhere from $5-10 (or more!) bucks on lunch.  That really adds up!  Since we are a one income family we have to be careful with our budget.  Especially, because we are saving for Disneyland and even $5 a week for a year would cost us $260.  It might not seem like much but that total could really come in handy while our kids (and foster son/nephew) experience Disneyland for the first time! So to save, I have been buying easy frozen meals for him to take on those occasions he doesn’t have a packed lunch.  Chili’s at Home meals are perfect!

Chili's At Home Frozen Food

I found tons of options at my local grocery store.  The flavors all sounded amazing (and I had to grab some for myself, obviously).  Think gourmet comfort frozen foods; like, my favorite, Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese.  And it’s not just single serving options, either.  You can choose from Multi-Serve and Family Size (and I saw on their website that Snacks/Appetizers are coming soon), too.

Chili's at Home Single Serve

The single serving is a generous size, big enough to get Hubs through the day, and the price is right! Plus, if you head to the website, I saw a coupon link, which would make this already affordable meal even cheaper.  The Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese was ready in 5 minutes and making it was the easy part (letting it cool was much harder; it looked so delicious).

Bacon Mac 'n' Cheese

Hubs and I agree, these Chili’s inspired frozen meals are perfect for home or work.   These big, bold, tasty flavors would be a fantastic and easy dinner choice, too.  What would you pair your Chili’s At Home with to create a perfect meal?

Craft Ideas For Your Children To Try Through The Long Winter Indoors

wintercraftsWendy Piersall

The winter is long for our children thanks to the long nights and cold temperatures. There will be times when we have snow, and they are only too happy to get out into the freezing air, but most of this season is dull and tedious.

There are a few things that they can do around the house. They could build a den under the dining table or make a mountain of pillows, but sometimes they need some supervised activities in which you can join. Crafts are perfect for passing the time in a harmless way. You get to sit around the table and interact with your children in a way that often eludes you. There are millions of things you can do under the crafting umbrella, and we will only be able to look at a few of them here.

Tools Required

You can use many tools for crafting; these are very useful.

  • Safety Scissors
  • Pencils
  • Ruler
  • Hot melt glue gun
  • Paint Brushes
  • Plastic Table Cover


Again, the hobby is vast, and there is an endless choice of materials, but always keep a supply of these.

  • PVA Glue
  • Glue Sticks
  • Paper
  • Crepe Paper
  • Cardboard (keep old cereal boxes, etc.)
  • Glitter
  • Pipe Cleaners
  • Beads
  • Plastic Cartons
  • Egg boxes

The list could go on and on. Ask your children what they use at school and try to keep those things in the house.


Always consider the safety aspect of crafting. It is normally the adult that will use a hot glue gun, but if you give them some gloves and supervise them closely, they can have a go.  Craft knives are sharp, and you should not allow them at your table.

Here are a few ideas to keep your little ones busy.

Craft Ideas

  1. Build a robot. Keep all of the boxes that you would normally throw away and construct something big with your kids. If not a robot, how about a Viking ship, or tank? Kids like  something they can crawl inside. It will make a mess in the room, but  it is easy to clean up afterwards. Projects of this scale can take more than a day to construct and paint.
  2. Make pipe cleaner people. You don’t need glue for this activity; just twist the pipe cleaners into shape.
  3. Use some glue gun sticks to attach beads to plastic cartons. When the beads are in place, cover the rest of the carton in paper mache and wait for it to dry. They can then paint it and pretend it is a medieval goblet.
  4. Make masks. Use some cardboard for the mask and cover it with paper mache. When it is dry and stiff, they can paint it to be a monster, or an alien. How big is their imagination?
  5. Greetings cards. Card making is fantastic fun, so if you know someone who has a birthday on the horizon, encourage you kids to make one.

As you can see, crafting is easy. If you give your kids the material, time, and space; they will create wonderful things. While they are busy and not in need of your supervision, you have a chance to catch up on a few jobs around the house.

You can survive the winter boredom if you let your children use their imagination. It doesn’t cost much, and you will hold onto your sanity. 

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