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Seriously. I might be ahead of schedule, but my wedding dress has arrived in perfect condition for 80 percent off of the price I found it for in a local boutique.

How did I find such a deal? I went shopping with my sisters, my best friend, my mom, and my MOL to be. We went to all the fancy boutiques, and I tried on dresses that would have really stretched my budget. My wonderful entourage took photos of me in each gown, and we wrote down the style number of any contenders. Luckily, I had an open mind and managed to make a list of 5 or so gowns I loved rather than looking for The One.

We had lunch at The Cheesecake Factory and headed home, where the work began. I spent the next hour or so scouring the internet for the style number of my top 5 favorite dresses of the day. Here are some sites I found helpful:

EBay

Preowned Wedding Dresses

Once Wed

Bravo Bride

I found my dress on the Preowned Wedding Dresses site listed by a boutique in another part of the U.S. who had used the dress as a try-on. They were selling it on their sample rack for a fraction of the price, and it was in my size. I checked with the seller to be sure there were no rips, stains, pulls, or tears. We used Paypal for a secure transaction, and the dress arrived within a week.

Soon I will get it cleaned and preserved so it stays white throughout the 17 month wait. It was well worth the extra effort to have a few extra wedding bucks in my pocket.

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So, you’ve gotten engaged, maybe selected a venue, and want to start putting some details out for your guests to see. A great way to keep guests informed on the happenings of your wedding is to put together a wedding webpage. You might start by searching for a wedding webpage host, but I am guessing it won’t be love at first “site”. There are so many to choose from, it can be overwhelming.

Websites for the Somewhat Tech Challenged

Many wedding advice pages offer a free, easy to edit wedding webpage host. Some even offer your guests a way to RSVP online. The Knot offers a nice wedding webpage host page with an RSVP tool and a guestbook tool. This is free to use when you sign up for a free account. On the other hand, The Knot webpages give you a long wedding website name (http://www.theknot.com/ourwedding/yourname), which might look a little long on your Save the Date cards. You can purchase a domain name (www.johnandsam.com) for about 20 dollars a year. They also offer a limited amount of templates, so you may have trouble finding a color and design you like.

Eweddings hosts free wedding websites. The website address is long again, but they have a few more themes to choose from. On the other hand, the themes are less personal. Once you pick a theme, you can only customize the color. The rest is done by filling out form boxes, which is really simple, but allows you less control over the look of your page. The great thing about Eweddings is that they offer some really neat frills. Online RSVP, polls (“Where should we go on our honeymoon?), quizes (“Where did Joe purpose to me?”), music, photo slide show, wedding countdown and more. You could probably spend hours playing around with this page without getting frustrated.

Check out this adorable Ewedding Page.

For the Technology Whiz

If you want a fully customized page, try a free host like www.yola.com. You can make your own banner by using a Royalty-Free image, insert your own pictures, and add free gadgets. You could use the ideas from other wedding website hosts to find out what subpages and gadgets to include, but create your own, unique look.

Love These Gadgets

Wedding Wire Countdown

Map to Your Venue

Free Photos for Your Site 

*Alissa

Have you ever felt that terrible guilty feeling when you throw out perfectly good food that went bad when it didn’t fit into your recipes for the week? I used to be someone who habitually had a garbage full of food that could have been used, but went bad first. When the guilt finally consumed me, I decided to find a way to do something about it.

What’s Left?

The day or two before you go grocery shopping again, check your cupboard for anything that you bought the week before that isn’t already rotting away. It’s impossible for me to predict what you might have, but take it all out of your fridge and put it in front of you. It really could be anything. Maybe you have a chunk of cream cheese, a stalk of celery, half an onion, and some stale chips. I can’t tell you what to do with the stale chips, but I bet you can make a hearty dinner out of the rest of your leftover food.

What to Keep Stocked

There are a few things you’ll need to keep on hand each week for this last meal, but they are things that can stay a while without going bad. Keep a roll or two of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls in your fridge, keep your condiment shelf full, and have some veggies in the freezer. I love the steam-in-a-bag kind–so simple.

Filling for the Braid

With the dough, condiments, frozen veggies, and the leftovers out on your counter–get creative! The possibilities are endless. What you want to do is think of which ingredients would go together nicely as a casserole or a dip. You will turn those ingredients into a filling for a dough braid. If you’re really stumped, do an ingredient search on Allrecipes to find out if there are any casserole or dip recipes using the ingredients you have. Pillsbury has some recipes for dips too, all of which could be put into a braid.

Let’s say you had some leftover cheddar cheese, half an onion, a little bit of cooked chicken, and a slice of red pepper. Doesn’t seem like much, but mix it up with some mayo, broccoli steamed from your freezer, salt, dill, and garlic. Now you have the perfect filling for a dough braid!

How to Make the Braid

Spread your dough onto a greased cookie sheet. Place the filling down the middle of the braid horizontally. Cut one inch strips on either side of the chunk of filling. Fold the ends over the filling, sealing them together on top. Seal the ends. Brush with a beaten egg-white. Cook in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until crisp and brown.

You will be amazed at how almost any combination of ingredients tastes good when put into a braid. Follow these steps and you will feel a lot less guilty on refrigerator clean out day.

More Filling Ideas

Buffalo Chicken Braid

Cheese, cream cheese, cooked chicken, hot sauce, chopped celery, chopped onion, shredded cheddar cheese, blue cheese

Greek Braid

Black or Kalamata olives, feta cheese, chopped cucumber, chopped salami, cream cheese

Reuben Braid

Deli turkey or corned beef, sauerkraut, chopped onion, Thousand Island dressing

Spinach and Artichoke Braid

Sour cream, artichoke hearts, frozen (steamed) spinach, shredded cheddar cheese, garlic, parmesan cheese

Recipes That Could be Made Into Braids

Hot Crab Dip

Nacho Dip

Broccoli Casserole

Corn Casserole

.alissa.

This pizza is a crowd-pleaser. When you offer your guests homemade pizza, they are probably expecting the very bland, soggy taste of premade pizza popped into the oven. This simple pizza recipe honestly tastes like take-out. Try it once, and you will want to keep these ingredients handy so you never have to pay 20 bucks for a take-out pizza again.

With that said, the simple switch in your traditional pizza ingredients to these ingredients is really what makes this pizza, so substitutes really won’t work here. Try to get exactly the ingredients listed.

1 package bakery made pizza dough (I buy a local brand called Villa’s. Usually your grocery store will have dough from a local bakery in their specialty aisle.)

1 package Boboli Pizza Sauce

1 package sliced Provolone Cheese

EV Olive Oil

2 cloves chopped garlic

Any other toppings you like

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Let the dough sit out on the counter while you put the groceries away; it’s easier to handle this way. Stretch the dough gently to fit your cookie sheet or pizza stone. I always PAM my cookie sheet, but that is up to you. Place the dough on the cookie sheet and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle the chopped garlic over the oil. Spread the sauce out over the dough covering everything except the crust. Overlap the Provolone slices to cover the pizza. Pinch the crust to the thickness you like. (I have stuffed the crust with mozzarella cheese sticks before, that was yummy.)

Cook the pizza for about 15-20 minutes, be sure to watch it carefully. Take the pizza out when it is lightly browned and bubbling. Delicious! There are so many possibilities using this basic recipe.

Oh my goodness, the weather here has been absolutely fantastic this past week. It is mid March in zone 5 and we’ve had 60s and it even hit as high as 80 today. Even though it is supposed to get colder again next week, it has been so nice be outside and know that spring is just around the corner!

In the past I have started seeds indoors, done winter sowing, and planted directly after last frost. I have not ever had a lot of success with starting seeds indoors, which would be started at about this time here, or winter sowing. So, this year I have decided to plant my seeds directly into the ground. 

I recently discovered how to make seed mats and tapes, which make planting seeds in the ground easier and could be used for direct sowing or container planting. I started a couple of days ago and have made up about 50 square foot mats so far! These can be used for container gardening, the square foot gardening method or rows.

There are several different glues that you can use to glue the seeds to the mat or tape. The easiest thing to use would probably be just a plain old nontoxic glue stick. I did not use this, though, as my fear was that the larger seeds would fall off. Plain old white glue could also be used, which worked really well for me. This held large and small seeds just fine. The only issue with this is that if the seed mat/tape is not thick enough the glue can leak right through the paper and stick to the table a bit. I was able to gently finagle them off of the table keeping the mats intact and the table cleaned up fine, but it was kind of a pain. I only used this for my nonedible flower seeds because even though it is nontoxic I was a little uneasy on using it on my edibles. You can use a paste of flour and water as your glue. Just use a little flower and add water slowly while mixing until you get a nice glue consistency. I used a mixture of cornstarch and water for my mats/tapes with edibles. I heated a cup of water with 2 liberal tablespoons of cornstarch to boiling, which thickened it nicely. It cooled down into a thick gel and then I plopped it into an old cleaned out honey mustard squeeze container. If you don’t have a squeeze container to use, you can use a toothpick or spoon to dab it on your mats. It’ll just take a little longer to do.

For your mats and tapes you can use any kind of paper you would like. I used cheap paper napkins doubled up, which were nice because they were each one square foot in size and had folds in them when opened for easy measuring out. Paper towels, printer paper, toilet paper, cardboard, or black and white newspaper can be used. To make tapes, cut the paper into strips and stick them each together into one long strip before gluing seeds on.

Just lay the paper out on a flat surface, glue the seeds onto the paper, and let it dry. The seeds can be placed on your paper first and then glue over top, or put dots of glue on the paper and then seeds on top.

The glue is not too wet and dries quickly, so the seeds do not have time to germinate. The seed mats/tape eliminate having to kneel down for prolonged periods to plant individual seeds in the ground. When seeds are spaced out on the mats/tape, space them out according to the final spacing directions after thinning. This will eliminate the need for thinning later on. The paper will make a nice mulch and smother weed seeds long enough to give your seeds a good head start. Making up these seed mats has been a fun and relaxing task for me and gives me something spring-like to do even when I can’t plant anything yet. The hardest part about the whole process is going to be having the patience to wait for that last frost date to roll around before I put my seed mats in the ground!

I am an addict, and I am not ashamed. But it’s not what you may think…my weakness is actually magazines! O, Allure, Women’s Day, Family Circle, Family Fun, I could go on and on. I just love the information and inspiration that I get. The only trick is finding a way to manage all that random information so it becomes memorable and useful, and not letting the piles of magazines take over my living space!

The way I stay organized is by keeping a journal. Two, actually, since I keep recipes that I’ve taken from magazines in a binder. The journal I’m referring to today, though, is for all the other bits of wisdom that you don’t know quite what to do with, but want to remember.

Take a trip to the bookstore and find a journal that you love. I’m all about online shopping in most cases, but there’s something about a journal that should be a brick-and-mortar experience. You have to make sure it’s a journal that you love the feel of, the way the pages turn, the way it’s bound; don’t use just any old notebook. It makes a world of difference.

Once you find your perfect journal, arm yourself with a small bag or basket of supplies. I actually use an extra travel makeup bag. In the bag I keep small scissors, pens, tape, a glue stick, and, surprisingly enough, crayons. You just never know when the urge to color will strike.

When I’m leafing through the magazines, if there’s anything that really appeals to me, whether it’s an inspiring quote, an idea, something about my family that I relate to, a picture, or a place I want to visit, I pull the whole page or pages out. I will leave the pages sticking out of the magazine until I’m finished reading it, and then I’ll put them in a folder until I have a minute to work with them and put them in the journal.

At this point, you can go ahead and recycle the rest of the magazine. Ahhhh…doesn’t that feel good? No piles of clutter! Well, no piles of magazine clutter, anyway. One thing at a time.

Now, with a few free moments and your supplies at the ready, you can cut, tear, glue, tape, and color to your heart’s content. There are no rules. You can write notes alongside, or not. You can include an entire article, or just rip out a paragraph or a sentence that moved you. You can jot down why the words were meaningful, or you can just color a smiley face or heart next to it. You could also just copy down the passages and information yourself onto your journal pages. This may appeal to those that don’t like the random, “messyness” of the cut-and-glue method. Either way you’re keeping a log of personal, meaningful information. It’s easy, and it makes for a fun journal to keep. You’ll be surprised how revealing it can be to flip back and see your past inclusions, and what you may have otherwise forgotten about!

Have fun!

-Kerry

I do love to have a traditional meal on holidays with a meatless twist. This St. Patty’s Day, I will be trying Potato and Leek Soup adapted from RecipeZaar and Pinch My Salt.

Ingredients:

3 leeks, thinly sliced

1 small onion, thinly sliced

6 medium potatoes, thinly sliced

3 stalks celery, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

4 tablespoons butter

3 1/2-4 cups vegetable stock

1 cup heavy cream

S & P

1 tablespoon parsley

3 scallions, finely chopped

Hot, crusy bread or bread bowl

Directions:

1. Soak chopped leeks in cold water for 5 minutes. Scrub out loose dirt.

2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, cook vegetables until soft.

3. Add the sliced potatoes and cover with the broth. When the potatoes are soft, turn down the heat and begin to mash with a potato masher.

4.  Stir in heavy cream. Cook an additional 15 minutes.

5. Serve in bowls alongside crusty bread. Top with parsley and scallions.

Irish you luck!

:)Alissa