March 30, 2014

Apple Carrot Turkey Burgers

One of the dinners on my weekly meal plan for this week is apple carrot turkey burgers. We had these last night and they are quite tasty and baby approved. If you have kids that don't like their fruits and veggies. these burgers are a good way to sneak them in.

 I love these burgers because turkey meat itself is healthier and cheaper than traditional ground beef. We rarely eat ground beef. Adding the apple and carrot to the turkey not only makes the burgers even healthier and more flavorful, it stretches your meat so you can get more burgers. That means extra money savings as well.

Please note, I usually go by smell and texture to determine how much of each ingredient to add. You can adjust the amounts below to your preferences.

Ingredients
1 lb ground lean turkey (93% or 99% lean)
2 apples, peeled
2 large carrots, peeled
3 tbsp poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp ground rosemary
1/2 tsp ground thyme
Dash of ground sage
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp celery flakes
2 eggs
Yield: 5 burgers

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Place ground turkey in a bowl.
  3. Add poultry seasoning, salt, pepper, celery flakes and eggs. Mix well with your hands. (Or, you can use a stand mixer).
  4. Finely chop apples. Grate carrots with a coarse grater. Chop any long pieces of carrot, you want small slices. Mix both together in a bowl.
  5. Slowly add apple and carrot to the turkey, mixing as you go with your hands (if you use a stand mixer, stop to check texture often). The mixture should be moist but still stick together in a patty shape. Test it as you go. If it starts getting too moist, discard the remaining apple and carrot. The juicier the apples, the less you'll need. If you happen to overdo it, add in some bread crumbs to absorb the excess moisture.
  6. Using your hands, form the mixture into 5 patties. The thicker you make them the longer they will take to cook.
  7. Place the burgers on a cookie sheet. Bake until they reach an internal temperature of 170 degrees. If you prefer, you can use an indoor or outdoor grill instead. 
Notes:
You can add cheese, but we actually prefer them without.
The burgers freeze well. The ones we had last night were frozen back in October and were still tasty. 




March 29, 2014

The Benefits of Weekly Meal Planning (and a Printable)

Each Saturday or Sunday, I write out our menu for the upcoming week. This handy printable helps. I find that it makes life so much easier. Having a predetermined meal plan has a number of benefits.


  1. It reminds you to defrost meat ahead of time so that you don't have to use the microwave. This is healthier and saves on electricity (ok, not every much, but it does!)
  2. When you have something planned and/or defrosting in the fridge, you're less tempted to eat out.
  3. You're not scrambling last minute trying to decide what to cook, madly digging about in the freezer and fridge wondering what you can throw together before the kid(s) and husband start begging for food.
  4. No more, "What's for dinner?" "I don't know, what do you want?" "I don't know, what do we have?" "Stuff, but I don't know what to cook." "Well, what do you want?" "I don't know, what do you want?" in an endless cycle that lasts so long you end up eating late or, worse, eating out.
  5. You know what you'll be cooking so you'll know when to start dinner.
  6. It gives you an excuse to go through the freezer, fridge and pantry each week so you can use up items about to expire and see what items you're low on.
  7. You'll be able to plan portions so there are lunch leftovers. When the hubby has a packed lunch for work, there's no need to spend money eating out. It's healthier, too.
  8. It allows you to go through your recipes, pick something new to try or cycle in something you haven't made in awhile.
  9. When produce is on sale, you can build it into your meal plan for the upcoming week. That way, it doesn't accidentally get forgotten about in the fridge and go bad.
  10. You'll save on trips to the grocery store because you'll know all the ingredients you'll need ahead of time and can plan that into your usual shop.
  11. You can balance out the whole week's meals nutritionally.
Remember, even with a plan, it doesn't mean you have to cook what's on the menu; you can swap days or work in something unexpected. Planning is meant to help, not hinder. There are many times that I'll decide to make something else with the defrosted meat or find we have so many leftovers we can have those one night instead. 

To help you with your own meal plan and give you some dinner ideas, I post my weekly plan each Sunday in the Cooking with M: What's for Dinner series. If there is something specific on the menu that you'd like a recipe for, leave a comment and I'll share it. Don't forget the printable for easy menu tracking!

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzCIY54TZaytZXhMSkxpQWM4UWM/view




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The Star of Multi-Purpose Cleaners

I don't know about you, but I've spent years looking for a cleaning product for the kitchen and bathrooms that truly works. One that doesn't smell horrible, doesn't cost a fortune and actually cleans is dang near impossible to find.

With our budget, those handy little one-time-use Lysol and Clorox wipes became impractical. Especially when it takes a whole bunch of them to clean anything and they don't even clean that wonderfully. Multi-purpose sprays came with a host of issues from the smell to not working at all. I hate bleach since the smell gives me a horrible headache and makes me sick to my stomach. It's also not safe around kids. There are plenty of natural products on the market but they tend to cost an arm and a leg while not always working the best. Nothing I tried even began to touch hard water stains on the sinks, toilets, counters or faucets, no matter how hard I scrubbed or what tools I used.

I had sadly resigned myself to Lysol until, one day, I could take it no more. I was totally fed up with the scent not coming out of the rags unless I washed them repeatedly with an insane amount of scented detergent. Many washings and lots of soap negated saving money by using rags. Plus, all the soap left the rags hard and icky (and still smelling a bit like Lysol). I was tired of smelling it all over the house, having M2 breathe it and it burning my hands.

As I stared at my hard-water stained sink with despair, a light popped on in my Lysol-smell-filled brain. A glimmer of hope existed. I'd been leery of trying it for years, fearing it was so simple it would never work. K had suggested it herself, extolling its virtues, a few weeks before as I told her of my Lysol woes. Finally, at my wits end, I pulled out the white vinegar from under the sink. It seemed to glow, like a be-decked Christmas tree. Angels sung from above. With one use of that vinegar on my kitchen sink, I discovered the most wonderful, cheap, effective and safe cleaning product I'd even laid my desperate-for-clean eyes on--white vinegar. Yes, folks, plain, simple white vinegar diluted with water.

After the kitchen, I quickly scampered into the bathroom to test it there. Lo and behold--my kitchen and bathroom sparkle. All the hard water stains disappeared with minimal effort. The rags came clean on the first wash leaving no nasty residual smell. The toilets gleam and lost their rings. My hands don't sting or burn. Everything is disinfected. No nasty, harmful fumes hang about. It is AMAZING! And cheaper!

Simply keep a large jug of white vinegar ($2.50 or less a bottle) on hand along with a spray bottle. Mix a 50/50 solution in the bottle and clean away. It works in the kitchen, bathrooms, outside on patio furniture--anywhere. If you want the vinegar smell to go away faster, dry surfaces with an old towel after cleaning. I don't know how I ever lived without it. You've got to try it. Seriously.

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March 28, 2014

Saving Money on Kids' Clothes: Easy Money Saving Tips Round Two

This article is part of a series. You can read the other articles here, here, here, and here.

As parents, we all know our kids grow so, so fast. One day, your adorable son or daughter is happily crawling along. The next, her or she is running all over the place. It also seems that the wee ones wear an outfit once or twice and then, suddenly, it no longer fits.

Off she goes! This is also her new Easter dress, mentioned later.

It's as if the clothes were shrunk in the washy by magical clothes-shrinking evil elves. Or, more likely, demons since elves are the nice little creatures that make cookies. They couldn't possibly be the ones taking your adorable baby's cutest outfit and making the pants into shorts and shirt into an inappropriate crop top.

To make an upsetting situation even worse, those twee little outfits can cost a shocking amount. An amount that gets even more shocking when you realize a new wardrobe is mandatory every few months. So what is a money-conscious sticker-shocked mama (or dada) to do?

Simple: shop KACTS.

Shop in the Know
Know what your child has and what he/she needs. This is the foundation for the rest of the tips. You have to know BEFORE you can acts (get it?) Think about your child's current size and the next one. Have you already gotten a ton of jammies? Is there only one pair of jeans? How many socks are in the drawer? This helps you shop with a mission so you're not grabbing a ton of things you don't need (just because they're cute) and wasting money on them rather than getting the items that are on your to-get list.

I keep bins of M2's clothes for upcoming sizes and keep track of what she has. That way, when I'm applying all the other tips, I know what we really need and don't waste money stocking up on something of which she already has a ton. (Though, there will always be that one cute item she doesn't NEED but is too cute not to HAVE. ;) )

Shop Ahead
Near the middle to end of each season, clothes go on sale to make room for next season's duds. Figure out what size your child will be in when that season comes around again. For example, winter clothes tend to go on sale soon after Christmas. What size will your child be in that time next year? Once you know that, you can shop the sales for next year. This saves a ton of money as you won't be stuck at the start of next winter having to pay full price (or getting a smaller discount) for items. True, they won't be the "current" fashion, but as long as that doesn't bother, savings will add up. Also take note of what brands don't fit your child right, or run small, so you can avoid them or buy up a size.

All those cute holiday items for Halloween, Valentine's Day, Christmas and the like that cost a fortune in season? Wait until the holiday is over to buy them for the next year.

I wait until holiday items are on clearance and then stock up. On Halloween, I grabbed M2's costume for next year for about $2 at Carters. It was $40+ regularly. It's just not worth paying full price for something that's so seasonal and worn so little. I also found her cute jammies and shirts for next Christmas at 75 percent off, a fraction of what I'd pay if I waited until the next Christmas season to get them. I avoid buying Osh Kosh brand as no matter the size, it never fits M2 right. Target's Circo brand runs small on her so I skip it or buy up a size. Every other brand I've bought, she fits true-to-size.

Christmas jammies and shirt bought in 2013 for 2014. 

Shop with Coupons
Many stores, such as Kohl's and Carters, offer decent coupons regularly. When you pair these with other sales and discounts, your final total will plummet. If you're not close to a store you like, keep an eye out for a coupon or deal offering free shipping. Also know when your favorite stores run their best sales and pair your coupons accordingly. Many stores run sales often, but when are the BEST ones? It's easy to figure out over time. As I mentioned in the shop ahead section, end-of-season and after Christmas sales tend to be the biggest at any store. If you time it right to jump when the sale starts, you can get the best selection.

For M2's Easter dress this year, I found an adorable dress that was $24. There was no way I wanted to pay that much, even though it was a dress she could wear for spring and summer as well. Lucky for me, Kohl's had a 50 percent off sale. I then combined that with a $5 off coupon they'd sent me and a 20 percent off deal that was running when you paid with a Kohl's credit card. After tax, I walked out of the store with a beyond adorable dress (that M2 LOVES) for $5.90. I couldn't even find something that cheap at a thrift store and this was brand new! You can see a side shot of the dress in the top picture of this post--M2 didn't want to stand still for her photo shoot.

Shop Thrift 
Check out thrift and consignment stores but remember to be picky. Is it stained? Does it have holes? Is there a button missing? Zipper broken? Something else wrong? And remember, just because it's at a thrift store doesn't mean that it's a good deal. Try different stores to see which has the best deals and selections. Dig around the racks at the good ones and you'll find some deals. Hand-me-downs from friends, siblings and cousins are always the ultimate thrift shopping.

I've found that many thrift and consignment stores have items that are way too worn, but when I dig, I can find some that are like brand new. When I go, often there's only a small handful of items worth considering. Given the fact that I can save so much when I buy on clearance, that allows narrows the options as many times, thrift store prices are the same or more than what I'd pay for brand-new clothes. If it's really cute, I still get it even if it'd cost the same new. It's not always just about price! Dressing up little girls is way too much fun.


Consignment sale finds.


Shop Savvy
More than one store may carry the same item. For example, Kohl's, Carters and TJMaxx all carry the Carters brand. Check them all out to see who has the best price, sale and coupons before you buy. It's also helpful to know about how much you'd pay for an item at its lowest price so you can know when something is or isn't a good deal. When you walk into a store, skip the front racks and go straight back to clearance. Though, remember, just because it's on clearance doesn't mean it's a good price. It really pays off to know your prices and how much you're willing to pay for an item. Because clearance racks can be iffy (sometimes selection and prices are good, sometimes not) do a run through whenever you're at the store. Just be careful not to fall into the trap of having to get something every time you look; that will just end up costing you more! Walmart and Target have a great clearance section. Many of their items are a great price to start, like Walmart's new $5 footie jammies.

I've come to know the cheapest price I can (usually) get an item at. This helps me figure out the most I'm willing to spend on something. Jeans? $5, tops. Tshirt? $2-$5. Shorts? $2-4. Outfit? $7 or less. Jammies? $8 on the very high end, $5 on the lowest. My lowest price ever was 30 cents for a brand new adorable pair of shorts at Kohl's. If something doesn't fall in my range, I skip it, watch for sales and scour the clearance racks another time. Target is great for clearance racks so I check every time I'm in there.


Now that you're in the Know and can shop ACTS, happy shopping AND saving!




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March 25, 2014

Easy Money Saving Tips: Round One

This article is part one of a series. You can read the other articles here, here, here, and here.

I don't know about you, but at our house, we're on a tight budget. As a SAHM, determining and managing that budget is part of my job. So is finding cost-cutting measures we can use. I've found that budget tips are more of a "one-size-fits-most" deal as not all of them work for everyone. We'll never be those people who get the fattiest cut of meat or bone-in just because it's cheaper. We're also not a cloth diaper family. With all the tips out there, my number one money-saving tip is simple--find the ways to save money that work best for you.

Here are a few I've implemented for our family.

1. Use rags instead of paper towels. We have a stock of rags that I keep in the kitchen drawer for cleaning the kitchen, bathrooms, baby, stains, you name it. They're washed (very thoroughly in very hot water) once a week. As each rag is used, it gets tossed in a dirty laundry basket until the next wash day.

2. Wash clothes in cold water. Only sheets, towels and the aforementioned rags are washed in hot water. This saves a bunch on electricity, as does having energy efficient appliances.

3. Cut the cable. We discovered that most of the time, the TV was tuned into random junk we didn't care about. For the $90+ bucks a month we'd have to pay to get it, it wasn't worth it to us. Instead, we watch things online and use Amazon Prime Instant Video. Honestly, we don't miss having cable at all. Not having it also means that M2 doesn't get much TV exposure, which is something we fully support.

4. Skip theater movies. Movies in the theater means paying for a baby sitter and the ticket, which can get pricey. We only see a movie in the theaters every now and then. The rest of the time, we rent from RedBox. It's cheap and when you sign up for their email alerts you can get great coupons (often, a totally free rental).

5. Don't buy any meat at the store full price. Watch for the little yellow (at least they are in our stores)
clearance stickers and stock up when it's a good price. A sale and a clearance sticker is a big win. Be sure to check the price per pound, even when it's reduced, as reduced doesn't always mean it's a good deal. If it looks funny, that also means it's not really a deal. I stock up when meats are cheap and store them in a deep freeze. This trick helps us avoid having to get the bone-in or fattier cuts. Chicken is also a good bet for money saving--it usually is cheaper than beef and pork, plus it's healthier. A whole roasting chicken can be bought cheap and used for many meals.

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Chicken Soup for Nasty Cold Extermination

Poor little M2 has a nasty cold, complete with slight fever, non-stop running nose, red eyes, cough and other icky things. She's been super cranky, whiny, fussy and in need of cuddles. She's generously shared it with Mama and it's only a matter of time before Daddy falls ill with the nasty ick as well.

What do we do in our house when there's a cold raging rampant? Have lots of low-sugar, high-vitamin C juice (something M2 doesn't get much otherwise) and...make homemade chicken noodle soup! This also means making enough to last a few days as you can't have chicken noodle soup just once when you're sick. You have to eat it a few days in a row so that all it's magic properties can take hold and drive the germs right out.

Chicken noodle soup is actually easy to make, it's not at all time consuming or scary like it may sound. it's quick and easy enough that it's handy when you're sick yourself and don't feel much like cooking. Leftovers mean that there's a few days you won't have to cook at all.

A full pot for plenty of leftovers.

I make a few different versions, the best starting with a whole chicken that I bake, have a meal from, then use the leftovers for the soup. Today, I did the easier version.

Ingredients
3 large chicken breasts, chopped into smallish pieces
2 large cartons of low sodium chicken broth
1 16oz bag of frozen peas and carrots
Part bag of frozen onion pieces
3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
16 oz box of your choice of noodles--I used wheat rotini this time
Parsley flakes, celery flakes and salt-free bouillon to taste

Be sure to chop the chicken and potatoes on separate board with different knives to avoid the whole cross-contamination thing. The chopping and peeling take the most time.

Dump all above ingredients into a slow cooker and cook it on high for 7 hours. Mine has a setting for 4/6/8 or 10 hours, I set it to 4 and then after 4 hours reset it for that again (it goes to the warm setting once the time expires). You don't have to cook it that long or that high, I just like to be sure everything is well-done when it comes to meat for M2. As long as it's all cooked, you're good!
Cooking on high, lid on.

In the pot, nice and hot! Ready to eat. Mmm.

About a half hour before dinner, I cooked the noodles in a pasta pan. TIP: While you can cook the noodles in the soup by adding them right at the end, I've found that they get mushy in the leftovers. Hence having the noodles separate.

Once your noodles are done, drain as usual. Add however much you'd like to the bottom of a bowl, ladle up some soup and put it over the noodles--voila! Homemade chicken noodle soup! Simple bread and butter makes a nice side. Really, you don't have to add anything to it as it's a one-pot meal.

M2's bowl, sans noodles (she ate those separately).

Put any leftovers in individual containers, let them cool, then stick them in the fridge for the upcoming sick days. If you want an extra-large batch, you can add more of all the ingredients and cook it all day on low in a large stock pot. Any leftovers you're not going to use in a few days can easily be frozen for later.

What are your go-to recipes when your family is sick?








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March 23, 2014

Overcoming the Hurdle One Ounce at a Time

As I know many moms struggle with weight loss and gain, I thought I'd share my journey (so far) with you all. I'll also post tips, ideas and updates as the fat expulsion continues.

During my pregnancy with M2, I gained about 40 lbs. Considering I was overweight when I got pregnant, this was not a good thing! Luckily, with hard work I lost all 40 plus another 10 by the time M2 was 5 months old. Sadly, my weight loss then stagnated. Working full time plus having a new baby, house hunting, packing up our old place and life in general got in my way. I shouldn't have let it, but I did.

Gaining and losing the same 10 lbs. over and over again was an endless cycle. It was also endlessly frustrating and disheartening. However, during the past month I've put a renewed effort into weight loss and have lost 13 lbs. (knock on wood) and am on my way toward reaching my goals.

My downfalls are sweets and being an emotional eater. If I'm happy, I eat. Sad, I eat. Mad, I eat. Depressed, I eat. And then I just feel more depressed and horrible after I eat. Willpower against food is something I don't have a whole lot of, that's for sure--especially as I love to cook and bake. Slowly, I'm learning to eat healthier foods and that just because I bake or cook it doesn't mean I need to eat all of it or a large portion of it.

Any junk food in the house I keep hidden so it's not easy to access and have little bits at a time. Even the junk has gotten healthier, such as ice cream to fat-free froyo. I baked a cake the other day and gave much of it away. What I have eaten is a tiny fraction of what I would normally.

The fridge is stocked with plenty of fruit while rice cakes inhabit the pantry in case I want something crunchy/salty. I also cook most of our meals myself so that I can control what goes in them (plus, I love cooking and it's cheaper than eating out).

As the weather warms, I plan to spend more time walking and exercising to add in that arm of weight loss. I love weight lifting so that is being worked in as well.

The scale and I are still not on good terms, but the numbers are going down and my clothes are getting looser! Slowly, one ounce at a time, I'm getting closer to my final goal.

Tie-Dye Donut Cake

In stores tie-dye cakes are everywhere it seems. Boxes and boxes of dyed cake and tubs of dyed icing as far as the eye can see (ok, maybe not that much, but it still seems like there's a ton of it!). Two friends of mine and I were celebrating all three of our birthdays together so, of course, I decided to make a cake. After much debate as to what kind, I figured, "Why not give the whole tie-dye thing a go using my own custom colors and dying everything myself?" Doing it myself, rather than getting one of the kits, also meant I got to pick the colors.


Cake
For this cake, I cheated and used a box of butter cake mix, stirred it all up, then pulled out the box of food dye. I wanted deep green, medium orange, indigo blue and dark purple--my friends', A's and my favorite colors. 

1. I divided the batter up into four bowls, with one having more than the others.
2. Following the directions on the box of dye, I added the appropriate drops to each bowl until I had deep, rich colors. The bowl with the most batter was the purple. 
3. Once that was done, I poured the purple into the bottom of a well-greased bundt pan (hence the round shape), since there was the most of that. 
4. Next, I made  a ring of the blue, then a ring of green, and lastly the orange. The rings didn't totally cover one another and weren't overly neat as I wanted it to be a tie-dye rather than rainbow look. 
5. Lastly, into the oven it went, baked per the directions on the box. 
6.Once the was done baking, I let it cool on a rack for about an hour then flipped it out onto the rack to cool completely. An hour or so later, it was nice and cool so onto the wood tray it went! 
Note: It didn't have to be a bundt pan, I just wanted a different shape than what I usually do. Square, round, 9x13 or even cupcakes work as well.

Frosting
Now, for the frosting fun. I wanted to do a mish-mash of colors but not exactly the same as inside. Yellow, green, blue and red were the final choices. 

1. The frosting (two regular size tubs) went into five new bowls which I then dyed until I got the shades I wanted. One bowl was left without dye for the white base which allowed the colors to pop more. Knowing the blue and red would take the most, I put more frosting in those bowls. 
2. Once everything was dyed, with a knife I put the yellow around the inside, then green, then did a big loop of blue, then red. 
3. Finally, the fun! With my handy-dandy pastry brush (mine is silicone and awesome for some many things) I smeared the colors together, being careful to spread the colors around but not turn them into mud by mixing them too much. I did this until I liked the pattern that had been made (I kept playing with it trying to get it "perfect" and had to stop myself before I had mud! :) ) 
4.To top it off, I tipped on some clear  sprinkles. It turned out great and the inside was just as awesome, each slice different from the last with a new beautiful color array. 

Voila! Tye-dye donut cake! I forgot to get shots of the inside (it was awesome), but got plenty of the outside. 

Yes, it tasted as good as it looked! It also didn't dye everything it touched (like our mouths!) as many store-bought kits do since I could control the amount of dye that went in. 

















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March 18, 2014

Welcome to The Stay-at-Home Life

A blog is similar to a new baby -- lots of planning, a bit of worry, and many dreams of what is to come. I am celebrating the birth of my new blog by introducing myself and giving you a little taste of the fun to come.

What's in a name
The Stay-at-Home Life sums up my life -- I'm a stay at home mom -- and the blog -- anything and everything about the life of a SAHM. I figured I'd name it something that sums it all up nicely.

What you'll find
You'll see posts sharing the things I love, home improvement and DIY projects, crafts I do with the kids, recipes, ways to save precious moola, the insanity of being a SAHM and wife, and so much more. It's a big, decadent, sweet smelling potpourri of country charm, Southern hospitality, and mommy goodness all wrapped up for your reading pleasure. 

About the author
I'm Melissa (M) -- wife, stay-at-home mom, freelance writer and editor, cook, baker, child educator, planner, budgeter, child fit mediator, diaper changer, household manager, crafter, shopper, DIY-er, and multitasking extraordinaire Southern country mom.  I have a toddler girl, M2, and baby boy, B.

My husband, A, and I married while living in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Our wedding took place outdoors at a historic venue in the mountains of Virgina. We thought it would be great to live closer nature but didn't think it would be possible. As it happens, it was.

We left big city life for small town, country living in Virginia soon after M2 was born. That meant leaving my office job at a health care company and moving away from friends and family. In exchange, I get to spend more time with my kids, blog, and freelance. B joined our family about a year and a half later.

With this new life we own our first house, yard, garden, and space for my culinary endeavors. It's taken some adjustment, but I find country living is the life for me.

Before becoming a SAHM/blogger/freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, I worked as a writer, editor, and proofreader (surprise!) for a variety of non-profit and for-profit companies doing marketing, public relations, and journalism. I love being a mom and writing and editing, so what I do now is really what I love most.

I appreciate all your support and am so excited about what is to come.

Connect with me
You're always welcome to email me directly at TheStayAtHomeLife at gmail.com or via the Contact Me tab with questions, comments, feedback, and suggestions. I LOVE hearing your responses to articles via post comments as well. I read every single one, I promise!

You can connect with me, find additional content and find out when there are new blog posts by following me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


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