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

This post is sponsored by Cascade Platinum and Double Duty Divas.  As always, my opinions are 100% my own.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


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!

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. 

Awesome Tips for Moving House for Less

Moving house is an expensive business. There’s the cost of moving vans and labour, having the property you’re vacating cleaned and buying boxes and packaging. You also might have to pay agency admin fees, plus extra fees for the privilege of being credit checked and referenced. If you’re renting you usually have to pay a deposit and the first month’s rent up front, and if you’re buying you could be saying goodbye to a huge chunk of your savings.

Shop Around for Removal Quotes

Don’t just pick the first removal company you find. Of course, you want quality service, especially when you need to move fragile or valuable items. But don’t go for the most expensive company when someone cheaper might be just as good. A ‘man with a van’ might be better value than a larger company, and provide a more personal service too. You can get quotes from a number of companies with several online services.

Do Your Own Heavy Lifting

If you don’t trust removal men, and to keep your costs down even more, hire your own van. It does mean you’ll have to do all the heavy lifting, but you won’t have to pay labour costs. Of course, you’ll need a driving licence and a few friends to help out couldn’t hurt either. But with only the van hire and petrol to pay for, it could be better value if you have time to put the work in.


Have less to move by getting rid of some of the things you don’t need. With less to move, you can hire a smaller van. Be ruthless with what you truly need to keep and what you can throw away. If you haven’t used something for a year, stop kidding yourself that you will soon.

Rent Privately

If you’re renting, try renting privately. Private landlords who don’t rent out their properties through agents are less likely to charge extra fees. Though you’ll probably still need a deposit, you don’t want to skip out on that. You usually don’t need to pay an admin fee with a private landlord and, depending on how picky they are, you won’t have to pay for referencing and credit checks either. You should have references at the ready though – even if they don’t charge you for referencing, they will still want to see them.



Thanks Avi for the photo


Find Estate Agents with Lower Fees

Shop around for estate agents too. Many estate agents in Westbourne and the rest of the UK don’t charge fees that are as high as others. With estate agents fees being one of the main costs of moving house, you can save yourself a lot of money. But don’t choose a less reliable estate agent for the lower prices.

You don’t have to accept that moving house will cost you all your savings. Make moving less stressful by saving money where you can. Treat yourself to a relaxing massage with the money you’ve saved!

Top Tips for Decorating on a Budget

Picture the scene. You’ve found your dream home after months of looking. You’ve scrimped and scraped to come up with a deposit. And finally you’re given the keys to your new home, you unlock the front door, look around and realise the place is actually all yours. But then you take a really good look around and realise something isn’t quite right. You can’t seem to put your finger on it until finally it clicks. It’s the decor. The place hasn’t seen a paint brush since the late nineties, and boy does it show. You take a deep breath and start thinking what you’d like to do with the place. Until it dawns on you that the move has left you with little money, and you just simply can’t afford to do what you’d like to do.



Image from: Flickr

Well, worry not, because we’re here to show you that you need not spend a fortune to give your house the makeover of your dreams. In fact, decorating on a budget actually forces you to get that little bit more creative and ‘think outside the box’. So, just follow our awesome and easy-to-follow- tips. And you might just find that the finished product ends up better than you could have ever imagined.

Make Do and Mend

‘Thrift’ culture was a big thing back in the 1970s. It was through sheer necessity rather than by design. With so much political and social unrest, not to mention mass unemployment, people had very little money to spare. So, they had to use their imaginations. Fast forward to today and thrift culture is once again making a comeback. Retro, vintage and distressed furnishings are all the rage. And the great thing about it is you don’t even have to buy anything new. If you’ve got a chest of drawers that you were thinking of throwing out, don’t. A lick of fresh paint and some new upholstery is all it needs to make it look new again.


It truly is amazing, what some people choose to throw away. You can find some real hidden treasures in the form of rugs, throws and scatter cushions, to name but a few. Don’t just go rifling through skips without the owner’s permission though. It’s common courtesy to knock on the door and ask first.

Charity Shops

If you’ve found your dream home in an estate agents in Mildenhall, it’s always worth having a look around the local Suffolk charity shops. You can get some quality stuff that’s in great condition. People think that charity shops are full of used goods, but this isn’t always the case. People often give things to charity shops that simply weren’t to their taste. So you can find some real gems that are either brand new with the label still on or hardly used.  

Thrifty makeovers allow you to give your new house a whole new look without ‘breaking the bank’. So, if you’re willing to experiment and get a little creative, you can create a truly unique and individual home to be proud of.

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