DIY Pool Noodle Christmas Wreath - under $3 total!

Merry Christmas to you all! I hope you're enjoying the holidays, wherever you are and whoever you're with.

I've had a dream now for quite some time. I've dreamed a dream of a big, beautiful Christmas wreath for my front door. And I've dreamed of paying next to nothing for it! Surprised? But, alas, I just wasn't finding one, and I didn't have enough creative spark to see what was around me.

One day, I remembered seeing something on Pinterest--someone had taken an old foam pool noodle and shaped it into a wreath form. I had just one such pool noodle! We've actually had this blue one that has been more used as a sword than anything else, but it was starting to get beat up. So I confiscated it. You may think me selfish, but seriously...they had three other "real" swords to play with.

I was also recently walking through the garden center at my local Home Depot, drooling over all the natural wreaths they were selling--white pine, firs, boxwoods--and they were all so pretty. But I stopped and looked at the boxwood wreaths, thinking they were so pretty, and how I wished I'd taken advantage of some of the boxwoods at my old house to make one of these wreaths. Hey! Wait a second! I have these Variegated Pittosporum bushes in the front of my house that would make a beautiful wreath!!

It was all coming together. I just needed a bow! Enter Big Lots. I made a quick trip up there, found exactly what I was looking for (I paid LESS than $3 for the wire ribbon), looked up a bow-making tutorial, made my bow, took clippings from my Pittosporum bushes, made my pool noodle wreath form, and well...you'll see. So, I'll try and walk you through everything I did. It was so fun! And it was even more fun to see the end result!
  • First you can either Google pool noodle wreath form, or search for it on Pinterest. Then you can also Google (or search on Pinterest for) DIY wreath bows. Find one that you like that sounds doable, and there you go. There are lots of good tutorials for these two things, so just go with one that you like. 

  • MAKING THE WREATH FORM: I took the pool noodle, and fastened the ends together with duct tape...lots of duct tape. You want to use PLENTY, because you'll be adding the weight of whatever foliage you'll be using.

  • BUILDING YOUR WREATH: Once you've fastened the ends together securely, and you've gathered your foliage clippings, you can start inserting them into the pool noodle form, much like you would into floral foam. TIP: When I was gathering and trimming my Pittosporum clippings, I trimmed them so that the ends formed a sharp angled point, which made them easier to insert into the foam. I also made all of the clippings go the same direction--it was just a personal preferences, but you can make them look however you want.

  • FASTENING THE BOW: After I was done filling up the wreath with the Pittosporum clippings, I used a paperclip to help fasten the bow to the wreath. I just unfolded the paperclip, bending the wire into a u-shape which I inserted into the base of the bow, and then poked into the foam noodle. I'm sure there are other ways, but that's how I did it, and it worked well.

When the wreath was finished to my satisfaction, I was so excited to hang it! And here it is...

Not only do I love this wreath, I love that it cost less than $3 to make! Using the pool noodle, I was able to make it as big as the form would allow. It was exciting to use things I already had on-hand, and I ended up with a much more customized wreath that I was extremely happy with. Here's another close-up of the finished product...

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Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm so thankful this year for my family, and for the many things that God has blessed us with. My dear grandpa is close to leaving this life, and it makes me want to squeeze my kids and husband a little tighter, and tell them all that I love them...just one more time...and maybe again...and just to be sure, once more. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving! Enjoy your many blessings.


FREE Twins Poem Printable!

Earlier this year, our good friends welcomed their first children into the world--twin girls! They lived just around the corner from us, when we lived in Kentucky, and fortunately we got to hold these sweet girls just before we moved to the SC Lowcountry.

This will totally be a spoiler for them, but I've had this concept in my head for a while. I wanted to create something twin-themed that they could put in the girls' room. So, now they'll know what's coming in the mail. :) Surprise!

Searching the Web, I came across this really cute poem about twins, and I tried to create a graphic to go with it. That was several months ago. It just wasn't clicking. Then, I picked it back up yesterday, and things started clicking. Yay! Knowing there are other mamas of twins out there, I thought I would share this with you all as a FREE PRINTABLE! Woo-hoo!! So, feel free to share, print, frame, and give as gifts. I got the great bird graphic along the bottom of the print from the fabulous Graphics Fairy Web site. Click on the image to enlarge, and then save.

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3-Ingredient DIY Gluten-Free Vanilla Ice Cream (No Ice Cream Machine Required!)

Being new to this gluten-free journey, I have often found myself panicked thinking, "Oh no! I have GOT to have something sweet!! I NEEEEED it!" But, then I've been left trying to figure out what in the world I can actually eat, without paying for it. Thankfully, I did find out that Trader Joe's has started carrying gluten-free JoJo's and they got me through the rough transition, thank you very much.

Pinterest and the WWW have been my friends through this process, too. I recently scoured Pinterest for a gluten-free ice cream recipe that I saw somewhere else, but then couldn't remember where I'd seen it. Ever have that happen to you? The totally awesomely wonderful thing about this recipe is that it is so simple and only has three ingredients...THREE! I think the cost for everything was under $4. I'm sure you can do it cheaper, too, I was just in a hurry...in a hurry to have some ice cream!

  • 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk (I used the low-fat version)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream, chilled

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the condensed milk and vanilla.
  2. In either your stand mixer bowl (or another bowl with your hand-held mixer), use your whisk attachments and whisk the heavy whipping cream until slightly stiff peaks form.
  3. Then fold the whipped cream into the condensed milk/vanilla mixture, until only a few bright white streaks are left.
  4. Pour into a freezer-safe container, smooth the top, and cover with a lid. Place in the freezer until firm. The original recipe says at least four hours, but I think mine was better after being in the freezer overnight.

Ingredients (I apologize for the excessive bokeh in the photo): 

After the cream is whipped, fold it into the condensed milk/vanilla mixture:

This is what it looks like, when it's all been mixed together, and put in the freezer-safe container:

And here is the end result...

The wonderful thing about this recipe is that all the ingredients are low-moisture, so it doesn't end up watery...just delightfully creamy and oh so delicioso! Actually what I mean to say is that HOLY CRAP THIS ICE CREAM IS AMAZING!!!! Ahem. My DH said that it would also be good sandwiched between two cookies...up to you. 

My new favorite way to serve ice cream is in a wide-mouth mason jar. Doesn't it look great?! But, seriously, you will absolutely die over this ice cream, or at least you'll think you've died and gone to heaven. No joke!

And here is the original pin I found on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/185632815864027935

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FREE (or semi-free) in Charleston: Fun, family-friendly, vacation, date night things to do in Charleston, SC, on a budget!

Since relocating to the Charleston, SC, area, I've been on a mission--to search out the fun, FREE (or at least semi-free) things to do! The cost of living is considerably higher down here, because it's a vacation destination. The nice thing about living in a vacation destination is that there are a TON of great, fun things to do. Charleston in quickly becoming a foodie destination because of our many incredible restaurants, too. But, those restaurants are not cheap! Fun? Yes! Delicious? Definitely. Cheap? No. And there are a million different things to do with the kids...all of which seem to cost money. But, they are very fun! Since I'm a mom with young kids, having fun things to do with them (while on a tight budget) is really important to me.

So, that's why I've been on a mission, since moving here. I kept my ear to the ground, and I've been compiling a list of tips and tricks to help families stay within their budgets while still having fun in Charleston!

Things you can do for FREE in Charleston, SC:

  • Waterfront Park (http://www.charlestonparksconservancy.org/our_parks/view_park/waterfront_park)
    • Amenities: free public WiFi, park benches, green space, 2 large splash fountains (including the fabulous pineapple fountain), a pier with family swings, dogs welcome, walkways, close to The Market and other great shopping & sightseeing
    • Activities: biking, running, walking, bird watching, swinging, playing in the splash fountains, sunning, fishing, dog walking, photography
    • Parking: If you use one of the city parking garages (there are 2 that are about a block from the park), you will pay $1/hour. It's not terrible, but it does detract from the experience being completely free.
    • TIPS: If you're up for a bit of a walk through scenic, historic downtown Charleston, you can find FREE PARKING, so that this outing would be totally FREE! Just be sure to pack the stroller for the little ones. You can park along the historic Charleston Battery for free, and then walk around 3/4 mile (not even a full mile) to Waterfront Park. The walk is really pleasant, because it pretty much follows the waterfront the whole way, and you're walking by beautiful historic homes and businesses. There is also the East Bay Playground (http://www.charlestonparksconservancy.org/our_parks/view_park/hazel_parker_playground) along the way, if the kids need a play break. There is also a VERY SMALL, but FREE parking lot at the East Bay Playground, and you could walk to Waterfront Park from there. As a date, it's a lovely walk to the popular Waterfront Park, and there are many great restaurants nearby. Once you've had your fill, you can walk off that dinner by walking back to your free parking at the battery. 
  • Rainbow Row
    • If you choose to walk East Bay Street between Waterfront Park, White Point Garden, and the Battery, you will notice the exquisite, historical row houses...and their colorful palette! These houses are pieces of history, and are labeled "Rainbow Row" because of their multiple colors. These are an iconic piece of Charleston and the subject of many photographs. 
    • TIPS: To get YOUR best pics of this stretch, snap away at either sunrise or sunset. This "golden hour" is when your pictures will have their best lighting, and Rainbow Row will come alive!
  • White Point Garden & Historic Charleston High Battery (http://www.charlestonparksconservancy.org/our_parks/view_park/white_point_garden and http://www.charlestonparksconservancy.org/our_parks/view_park/high_battery)
    • Amenities: FREE PARKING, walking paths, sculptures, gazebo, waterfront views, off-the-leash dog areas, fishing, historical markers, short walk to East Bay Playground
    • Activities: walking, running, bird watching, dog walking, fishing, photography, playing
    • Parking: FREE along the battery
    • TIPS: This also can be a completely FREE outing. There is plenty of room for kids to run and play, and my kiddos love walking along the battery and watching the water and boats. As I said above, it is LESS THAN A MILE to Waterfront Park, and extremely close to East Bay Playground (which also has a dog run area). All of White Point Garden is off-the-leash, too, for your fun-loving pooches. Pack a lunch or snack, and enjoy a meal under the expansive live oaks that line the park, or under the quaint gazebo in the middle of the park. And to give you a little historical tidbit, the pirate Bonnet was hanged at White Point in 1718. Rumor has it that he is buried somewhere in the battery. Stop in at the Battery Carriage House Inn (http://www.batterycarriagehouse.com/), where you can stroll the gardens for free, in search of the many ghosts that are rumored to haunt the inn. 
  • The Downtown Library (http://www.ccpl.org/content.asp?id=14611&action=detail&catID=5374)
    • Amenities: free WiFi, great children's area w/ toys and play area (and books, of course), computers, lots of FREE programs & events, lots of history, great rainy day activities
    • Activities: free programs & story times (see the Website for current listings like Movie Mondays, Tuesday Newsday, Wii Wednesdays, Find Froggy Fridays, and MUCH more), computers, reading
    • Parking: 50¢/hour in their covered garage
    • TIPS: Parking is pretty cheap here...and it's covered! The downtown library offers a really great rainy day option for families. During the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, the Library offers several free concerts and events. We saw a Japanese drum group there this past year during the festival and it was phenomenal...for FREE!
  • Music
    • If you're looking to take in some classical music for free, the Youth Orchestra of the Low Country (http://yolow.org/blog) hosts primarily free events. Just check their schedule to make sure the one you'd like to attend is free.
    • The Pour House (http://www.charlestonpourhouse.com/schedule) on James Island often hosts free music entertainment on their deck. Just check the schedule to make sure there's no cover charge, the night you'd like to go.
  • The Angel Tree (http://www.angeloaktree.org)
    • The Lowcountry is known for its expansive live oaks, but The Angel Tree is a live oak like no other. It is thought to be over 1500 years old (!), and casts shade over 17,000 square feet! You can stop and gaze into the boughs of this beautiful old tree on Johns Island. Stop by on your way out the Kiawah Island. And exploring this beautiful old tree is completely FREE! Free to view! Free to park! Free to enjoy!
  • Charleston Tea Plantation http://www.charlestonteaplantation.com/
    • Located only about 30 minutes from downtown Charleston, this tea plantation is on historic Wadmalaw Island--believed to have been settled in the 1660s. The Charleston Tea Plantation boasts 127 acres, brimming with over 320 varieties of teas.
    • Activities: factory tours (FREE), gift shop, trolley tours, group tours, and comprehensive Bill Hall Exclusive Tours
    • Parking: FREE
    • TIP: The factory tour is absolutely FREE, and gives you a chance to see behind the scenes of tea making. You will see the tea making process first-hand, learn more about the history of this interesting industry, and learn about several different tea varieties and how they are made. Tours begin every 15 minutes on the quarter hour.
  • Beach: Parking at the beach in Charleston is pretty much NEVER free--but beach access is alwayss FREE. You have to pay for parking wherever you go. But there are some tips and tricks I can share, that I've learned since living here. To keep your beach experience FREE, you will have to walk. Let me just prepare you for that. You may not have to walk very far (not far at all in some cases), but you will need to walk. 
    • Folly Beach: In Folly Beach, here's the tip--you can park ANYWHERE, as long as there's not a "No Parking" sign, and ALL FOUR WHEELS are OFF the pavement. So, find one of the many public beach access points, park your car off the pavement nearby, and haul your stuff out to the beach. Voila--a free beach day! Or, if you know someone with a County Parks pass, you can always borrow their pass to enter and park for free at any of the Charleston County Parks with beach access (Folly Beach, Folly Beach Pier, Isle of Palms, Beachwalker in Kiawah, etc.). 
    • Sullivan's Island & Isle of Palms: For Sullivan's Island and Isle of Palms, you can park on the streets near beach access for free. Look for Palm Ave. in Isle of Palms. Just watch signs carefully (especially "no parking" signs of course), and don't park in private lots. Keeping all four wheels off the pavement is the rule in either of these places, as well. Again, you will have to walk a little bit, but that way you won't have to pay for parking. Alcohol is prohibited at Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island beaches, so avoid imbibing on those beaches. 
    • Kiawah Island: I should also note that Kiawah Island does not allow parking on the street to access the beaches. It's a bit more exclusive out that way, so you will have to pay to park at the county park if you'd like to spend a day at the beach out there. But, it's such a nice beach that I say it's worth it. 
  • Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge & Wonders' Way Pedestrian Pathway (http://www.cooperriverbridge.org)
    • When you visit Charleston, you can't help but notice this magnificent bridge that crosses the Cooper River and connects the Charleston peninsula with Mount Pleasant. The bridge itself is magnificent, but they also constructed an AMAZING pedestrian pathway on the bridge that can be accessed at the base of either side of the bridge. Runners, walkers, joggers, photographers, and folks just out for an incredible view of Charleston all love this pathway. 
    • Parking: Park at Waterfront Memorial Park in Mount Pleasant, and you can park for free. 
    • TIPS: Pack water! There and back again, the distance you'll cover is maybe slightly less or more than 5 miles. If you have small kids, bring the stroller. The entire pathway is in full sun, so you'll want to slather on the sunscreen, and bring shade for the kids. If you decide to tackle it in summer, just be prepared for heat. Go earlier in the morning to take advantage of cooler temperatures. But, the views and scenery are breathtaking!! And when you're done, you can say you've done it! If you park on the Charleston side of the bridge, you can do the 2-1/2 mile jaunt over to the Mount Pleasant side and then take a siesta at Waterfront Memorial Park--lay on the lawns, play on the playground, grab a bite to eat at the café, swing on the pier, etc.--and then head back over the bridge again. All that would make for a very fun, full day.
  • Mount Pleasant Waterfront Memorial Park (http://www.comeonovermp.com/index.aspx?NID=112)
    • At the foot of the Cooper River Bridge (above), this pristine park will provide incredible views and lots of fun for your family. 
    • Activities: lawn space for playing & picnics, a fabulous shaded playground directly under the bridge (my kids love this!), a café, and a 1250 ft pier with family-sized swings and incredible views of the river, the harbor, and the city
    • Parking: FREE!
  • Historic Charleston Old City Market (http://thecharlestoncitymarket.com)
    • Now, this attraction is only free if you don't buy anything...which I have done. It is still fun to peruse the wares, enjoy all the sweetgrass baskets, blown glass, jewelry, artwork, and walk around, even without buying a single item. It is open 365 days a year, and is such an eclectic and fun part of Charleston life. 
    • Parking: You will have to pay a little money to park in one of the city parking garages that are near the market. But once again, if you aren't afraid of a little more walking, you can park at the battery for FREE, and walk less than a mile to the market. Just park at the battery, and walk straight through White Point Garden to connect with Meeting Street. Walk straight up Meeting Street until you get to Market Street where the start of the City Market is. And if I haven't mentioned it yet, walking around Charleston is a wonderful way to get to know this very historical city. You notice things you wouldn't notice from your car.
  • Charles Pinckney National Historic Site (including the House at Snee Farm) http://www.nps.gov/chpi
    • This historic site has no entrance fee, so you can soak in the history absolutely FREE! Pinckney was the principal author and signer of the U.S. Constitution. 
    • Activities: walking trails, archaeological excavation sites, agricultural history, an 1828 farmhouse (also the visitors center), museum exhibits, bookstore, introductory film, pets allowed on leash
    • Parking: FREE
  • Ride the Trolley
    • Offered by CARTA, the DASH (Downtown Area SHuttle) free service operates in the Historical Charleston Peninsula area. And did I mention that it's FREE?! Just look for the green trolleys with wood trim that say FREE on them.
    • MAPhttp://www.dointhecharlestontours.com/images/dash-map.pdf
    • Parking: Park at the Visitor Reception & Transportation Center Garage. 
  • Charleston City Hall (http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/charleston/cch.htm) & Charleston County Court House (http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/charleston/ccc.htm)
    • Operated by the National Park Service, both of these sites are FREE and open to the public! Exploring these two sites offers visitors amazing glimpses of historical architecture, and loads of history. 
    • Parking: Park at the Battery for FREE and walk to these sites, choose to pay at one of the many pay-to-park parking garages located nearby, or choose meter parking (if available)
  • Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture (http://avery.cofc.edu) at the College of Charleston
    • This museum is FREE of charge and open to the public, and also offers free tours. They often host other special events, so check their calendar to see if they have something going on around the time of your visit.
    • Parking: As with most other downtown venues, parking at the Battery and walking is FREE, but you can also opt to pay for parking in a garage or at a meter.
  • The Karpeles Manuscript Library (http://www.rain.org/~karpeles/chasfrm.html)
    • Stunning architecture of the Greek Revival houses this incredible FREE collection of exhibits, displays, and artwork. Fine art is continually on display. They host a few different exhibits throughout the year, so check the Web site to see what's on diplay during your visit.
  • The Dock Street Theatre (http://www.charlestonstage.com/dock-street-theatre.html)
    • While performances do charge admission, it is free to walk around the building and courtyard. The very first opera performed in America was performed here, at The Historic Dock Street Theatre.
  • The Citadel Parades, Museum, & The Summerall Chapel (http://www.citadel.edu/root/parade-schedule)
    • Typically every Friday during the academic year, The Citadel puts on dress parades and you can watch for FREE! After the parade, you can swing by The Citadel Museum, which is also FREE of charge! Check their schedule and hours to make sure they're open when you'll be there: http://www3.citadel.edu/museum. And make sure you stop in at the beautiful Summerall Chapel, before you leave (http://www.citadel.edu/root/chapel). 
    • Parking: The campus is free and open to the public, so parking is FREE!
  • Magnolia Cemetery (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=70585)
    • If you're a history buff, and enjoy a quiet stroll through cemeteries, you'll enjoy this! I haven't visited Magnolia Cemetery yet, but I know I would enjoy it...my kids? Not so much. But, I would love it, so this will have to be something I do without them. You can visit Magnolia Cemetery absolutely FREE, and you can view the graves of authors, former governors, Civil War figures (soldiers, generals, etc.), former Congressmen, and even a British soldier. This cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
    • Parking: Parallel parking--just stay even with the road; they do not have a parking lot
  • Charleston Gateway Walk (http://stjohnscharleston.org/visitors/charleston-gateway-walk)
    • When you're in downtown Charleston, you should take in the Gateway Walk--connects Archdale Street and Philadelphia Alley, and encompasses an area between St. Phillips church and the Unitarian Church. St. Johns Luthern Church is the first of six stops along this garden tour.
    • TIP: Read this article from the Post & Courier about the historic Charleston Gateway Walk before you visit, to brush up on your history and find out the must-see spots along the walk: http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20080410/ARCHIVES/304109834.
    • Parking: Park at the Battery Park/Whitepoint Garden for FREE and take a 15-20 minute walk up King Street to St. Johns Lutheran Church to begin the Gateway Walk, or pay to park in one of the many public parking garages.

Cheap or low cost things to do in Charleston, SC:

  • King Street
    • The main shopping street in Charleston, King Street provides lots of shopping options and opportunities to people watch. Pretty much EVERYONE loves King Street. Now, you can walk up and down King Street window shopping and keep this option absolutely free. However, I put this in the "semi-free" category, because odd are you'll end up buying something, or stopping to eat, or something else. Parking isn't free either. So, while you may spend a little money on King Street, it's still one of the main things to do in downtown Charleston.
    • Parking: There are plenty of city parking garages where you can park for $1/hour.
  • Carriage Rides
    • Carriage rides are a great way to hear about the history of Charleston. Carriage tour drivers have their routes selected for them by lottery, so you're never sure about where you'll be going on your tour. Exciting, eh? We've taken one carriage tour since moving down here, and it was really educational and fun. The kids loved being in the carriage, and seeing the horses, so it's a fun thing to do as a family. However, the cost can be prohibitive, unless you know how to do it on a budget. Most carriage companies charge around $20-22 per adult, and around $12 per child. So, for our family of four, we're looking at between $60 and $70 total. Yikes! 
    • TIPS: Most of the time, Groupon and LivingSocial are running some kind of deal for carriage tours. You can pay HALF the price if you take advantage of one of these deals. We purchased one that was around $20 for BOTH adults. The other thing that's good to know is that if you have a child that would be content to sit on your lap, they are FREE! Lap riders ride for $0! We went with two other families, and ended up getting a Groupon for myself and my DH, and then we split another Groupon for two of the kids that would do better in seats of their own. So, instead of spending almost $70, we only spent $30, and one of our kids rode for free on our laps!
    • Parking: Most carriage companies have their own parking lots where you can park for free. Just ask them where to park when you call to make your reservation.
  • Farmer's Market 
    • Charleston: http://www.charlestonfarmersmarket.com/
    • Mount Pleasant: http://www.comeonovermp.com/index.aspx?nid=110
    • The reason I'm including this in the "semi-free" section is because you'll most likely want to spend at least a little bit of money when you go. However, if you like just going and experiencing the market, without spending money, this could be completely free!
    • Activities: Both the Charleston and Mount Pleasant Farmers Markets are wonderful! Walking through the markets gives visitors a chance to see and sample local wares, produce, meats, and seafood, and also listen to local musicians, see the work of local artists, and so much more! If you're looking for a chance to absorb some local flair, visiting the farmers markets is the way to go. At the Mount Pleasant Market, you will find FREE PARKING, and free children's activities!
    • Parking: Mount Pleasant=FREE!
  • Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site (http://www.southcarolinaparks.com/ctl/introduction.aspx)
    • I just love Charles Towne Landing! I love going there just for myself, but I love it for my kids, too. They have an animal forest with animals that are native to South Carolina, or that would have been here when the settlers first came. There are many, many historic buildings and features to explore. Bikes are allowed, and dogs are allowed (on a leash, of course) most everywhere except the animal forest. 
    • Activities: Birding, Historic Trails, Nature Trails, Animal Forest, Interpretive Trails, river & marsh views, incredible live oaks, magnolias, an immense English park garden, The Adventure (a replica merchant ship that you can board and explore), live cannon fireings on the 3rd Saturday of each month, and a gift shop/visitor's center with free WiFi.
    • Admission: $7.50/adult; $3.75/S.C. Senior; $3.50/youth age 6-15; FREE for kids 5 & under. 
    • Parking: FREE
  • Walking Tours
    • While ghost and walking tours are a really great way to get a taste for the history and culture of Charleston, they're not usually cheap. 
    • TIP: The best way to get discounts on these tours is through Groupon or LivingSocial. Subscribe to the Charleston deals, and keep your eyes open for walking tour deals. Like the carriage tours, you will often save 50% off the usual prices.
  • Irvin~House Vineyards & Firefly Distillery (http://www.charlestonwine.com)
    • This is Charleston's only domestic vineyard and winery! It is located about 30 minutes from downtown Charleston on Wadmalaw Island. Couple a visit to the vineyards with a visit to the Charleston Tea Plantation (mentioned above) for a fun day! Stroll around the vineyard grounds, taste the wine, enjoy the walking trails, garden, pond, and petting zoo! Bring a blanket and picnic to enjoy while you're there. Pets are permitted as long as they are on a leash. All the wine labels are created by local Charleston artists!
    • Activities: $5 wine tastings--includes all 5 wines, and you keep your glass; $6 distillery tastings--includes 6 tastings (out of 24 varieties); stroll around the vineyard on self-guided tours for FREE; walking trails, a petting zoo, a garden, large pond, and gift shop
    • Parking: FREE
  • Fort Moultrie (http://www.nps.gov/fosu/historyculture/fort_moultrie.htm)
    • Part of the Fort Sumter National Monument system, Fort Moultrie is located on pristine and quaint Sullivan's Island. It is a short 20-minute drive from downtown Charleston (it doesn't feel like 20 minutes, though--it's so pretty). I really enjoy this fort. The grounds and buildings hold a lot to explore, and it doesn't cost very much at all! The fort covers a history from the Revolutionary War to World War II! It's chock full of history and fun passageways to explore. There is also a great visitors center with exhibits, gift shop, and an introductory film. Don't neglect to stroll the grounds and beachfront while you're there, too. 
    • Admission: $3/adult, $1/Seniors, FREE for Children (15 & under)
    • Parking: FREE and on site
  • Fort Sumter (http://www.nps.gov/fosu)
    • While the tour of the actual fort can be rather pricey, especially for a larger family, the visitors center in downtown Charleston is totally FREE and open to the public. The visitors center is packed with historical exhibits and information. Even if you don't actually visit the fort by boat, the visitors center is a great place to visit--especially since this site played such a pivotal in our nation's history. If you'd like to do it for free, skip the boat tour out to the fort, or see my "tip" below.
    • Fort Tours: For more information on tours and pricing, you can visit the Fort Sumter Tours page. 
    • TIP: However, if you have your own boat, or know someone who does, taking your own boat over to the actual fort is completely FREE, and won't cost you anything but the gas to get out there.
    • Parking: Park at the Visitor Reception & Transportation Center Garage and take the FREE DASH trolley down to the Aquarium & Fort Sumter area.
  • Audubon Center & Sanctuary at the Francis Beidler Forest (http://beidlerforest.audubon.org)
    • The Audubon Center and Beidler Forest afford visitors a REAL swamp experience. Walk the boardwalk through 1,000-year-old old growth forest, and observe the many species of wildlife and birds. They also have "the largest remaining stand of virgin Bald Cypress and Tupelo Gum swamp forest left anywhere in the world." I've been dying to visit, but haven't had the chance yet. It sounds amazing! The swamp has actually been the setting for several major motion pictures, and is internationally recognized. It is less than an hour from downtown Charleston, and from what I hear, it is well worth the trip.
    • Admission: Adult non-members (13-64) are $8/each; Members (& accompanying guests) are $7/each; Seniors/$7 (65+); Children (6-12)/$4; Children (under 6)/FREE!!
    • Parking: FREE and on-site

When planning you visit, I also recommend that you check out "Word on the Street"--a blog supported by Lowcountry Parent Magazine's Web site: http://blog.lowcountryparent.com/word-on-the-street. She typically posts lots of useful information on family-friendly events coming up on the weekend--many times they're free or low cost! 

The Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau is also another helpful resource when planning your visit: http://www.charlestoncvb.com. Also check out Charleston.com for event, tour, restaurant, and other visitor information. 

I just discovered Charleston Family Fun, too! This Web site specialized in all fun things for families. And they have a special area coupon section that has discounts on everything from tours to frozen yogurt and so much more! View the current coupons at http://www.charlestonfamilyfun.com/special_offers/coupons. Your family can also register to be part of their Charleston Explorers Club--a FREE program that allows your family to scout area attractions and collect souvenir stamps in your passport book, and then redeem those stamps for great prizes! This is one of my new favorite sites. Subscribe to their newsletter, too, to get up to date information!

My hope is that this post is helpful for both visitors and residents alike! There are plenty of things to do while you're here, that either don't cost a thing, or that can be done on a budget. I look back through my list and think, we could definitely fill up a week with fun, cheap things to do. It almost makes me feel exhausted thinking of all the things we can do. I need a vacation now, after thinking about my pretend vacation. Haha!

Be sure to check back in with me, and leave a comment letting me know what you've been able to explore and enjoy in Charleston. If you also know of other FREE or semi-free things to do in the area, be sure to share that, as well. Have fun!

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Things I'm working on...

I'm so excited about a couple of articles I'm working on right now, and I just didn't want to wait to post them to tell you a little about them. I've been on a mission for a while to search out all the fun FREE (or at least semi-free) things to do in and around Charleston, since we moved here 3-4 months ago. And I'm including some insider secrets to help keep costs down if you live in or visit the area. I just can't wait to share them with you!

Another journey I began about a month ago is the gluten free journey. Unfortunately, this wasn't by choice, but out of necessity. My body just couldn't take it anymore. Ugh! But, I jumped in with both feet, and went cold turkey. And of course, I've been blown away by how expensive gluten free options can be. So, I'm working on the first of many articles about being gluten free on a budget. The first one is about how to stay gluten free on a road trip, which can be a challenge for a first-timer like me. But, I just got back from my first gluten free trip, and I definitely learned some things that I'd love to share with you.

All this is coming really soon, and I'm so excited! Look for more in the next few days. Hope you all had a great Labor Day weekend!


Time Saver: Dusting baskets & knick-knacks with ease

I love home magazines, and have subscriptions to pretty much all of them--Midwest Living, BH&G, Southern Living, etc. I just love 'em! And of course, I "like" many of them on FB, follow them on Twitter and Pinterest. That's not stalking right? I mean, they're magazines. Right?!

Midwest Living was recently looking for cleaning tips & tricks on their FB page. I thought and thought about what tip I might offer. I knew I had several of them up my sleeve, but just couldn't think of any of them. Then, it hit me! And I just knew I had to share it with you all, too! Maybe some of you already do this. But this is what I shared with the good folks at ML.

For several years now, I've been using air dusters to dust my baskets and any little collection of knick-knacks (glass bowls full of shells or rocks, etc.). It's so easy and so fast. Instead of meticulously combing through the individual weaves of each basket, I just spray one of these babies over them, and the dust just gets blown away! It's awesome! And instead of dumping all the shells out of my glass bowl, I just spray one of theses puppies around in there, and poof! Now, mind you, the dust does go elsewhere in the room, but I do find it so much easier to clean it up that way with a dust rag than to labor over the little intricacies of my collections or baskets. 

So, hopefully this little tip is helpful to you! It certainly saves time and energy, and they normally don't cost very much either.

Summer Savings


Online Grocery Shopping--Time & Money Saver?

I recently discovered a beautiful thing...online grocery shopping through one of our local grocery chain stores. Going into it, I was extremely skeptical. I didn't think I would have access to the whole store--just figured there would be a small selection of items available. I didn't really know how it would work, either. I saw large "online shopping" coolers in the front of the store, and just figured you picked them up there. I just had no idea, and wasn't sure it would work well.

Photo credit
But one day, I decided to try it. I logged onto their Web site, and clicked on the "online shopping" link. To my wonder and amazement, I found every single item in their store at the click of a button. I thought, this is too good to be true (a skeptic still). However, as I clicked my way through and searched for the items on my shopping list, there they were...with sale prices and specials too! Before I knew it, my "cart" was full, my list was completely checked off, and the only thing left was entering my shopping card to get my discounts. I entered it, and sat back as I watched all those savings get added to my total. Wow! I think my jaw literally dropped. I selected a pick up time--for same day orders, I had to allow 4 hours advance. That didn't really matter to me, so it was no big deal. The instructions said that if I needed to change anything on my order, to simply call the store. I ended up having to change a couple of items, so I did end up calling the store twice, but they patched me right through to the person who was SHOPPING FOR ME and she changed those items on the list right then and there!

Normally, this service costs $4.95/per online shop, or you can pay $16.95/month for as many orders as you like. However, since it was my first time, they waived the $4.95 fee--yippee!

So, up to this point, I was pleasantly surprised. After being so skeptical, all my my skepticism was laid aside after I placed my order. I was blown away by the fact that my DSs could run around the house doing whatever they wanted, and I could just sit at the computer and order my groceries. Oh--and I could sort the selections by price, unit price, or brand, so I was sure to get the best deal, and the product I wanted. It was so nice to not have to peruse the shelves to make sure I was getting what I wanted for the price I wanted. With the click of a button I could sort them and select the best deal! YAY! Now I just had to wait for them to call and let me know my order was ready.

Right around the time they promised, the phone rang and I was informed that I could come pick up my groceries. I hopped in my car, pulled into the parking lot and into their special pick up lane, called to let them know I was there, and then waited 5 minutes (at the most). They brought my groceries out to me, and loaded them in my car, while I paid on their handy-dandy portable card swiper thing. Badda-bing, badda bang...done. I did leave a tip for my personal shopper, but that was it!

I am sold! In my opinion, the shopping fee or monthly fee (whichever you choose, if you can afford it), is so worth it! The other nice thing is I could see my cost total as I shopped, and could make sure I didn't go over my budget. The fee for the service is so insignificant compared to the value this store is providing, that I will definitely be using their online shopping again.

I would definitely be interested to hear other folks' take on the online grocery experience. Have you had good experiences? Bad experiences? What is your opinion of the value.

For me...this was a winner. And I felt like a winner. :)

REMINDER: Don't miss your chance in our $50 Shabby Apple giveaway!

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Win $50 to spend at Shabby Apple! (CLOSED)

Hi, ya'll! Well, I guess that's how they'd say it here in the Lowcountry, but this Midwest girl still says, "you guys." I can't help it! But talk about culturally confused--I've lived in a total of five states now, ranging from the heart of the Midwest, to the deep South, to the upper Midwest, and now the Lowcountry. I know this doesn't hold a candle to some of you military folks, but goodness gracious, I've traversed a wide range of cultures in a brief amount of time. Or at least it feels like a brief amount of time.

But, here we are! And I'm getting more and more settled, and continuing to brainstorm some great ideas for posts on all things BARGAIN SHOPPING! Woo-hoo! To get things started (after a regrettably long absence), why don't we have a...(read this in my best Oprah voice, ala Maya Rudolf of SNL) GIVEAWAY!!!!

You've read about Shabby Apple before on my site, and they've offered another incredible gift to you readers! I just love that they feature up-and-coming designers with a fun, funky, flirty, classy, vintage vibe. They have some beautiful clothes! I've been keeping my eye on them for that perfect vintage dress or just-right little black dress. They have a gorgeous collection of dresses that are perfect for an afternoon tea, special night out, and I've even seen some vintage-inspired dresses that would be out of this world for bridal parties! Check out the Shabby Apple "I'm Late! I'm Late!" dress ($102)...

Yes, please!!

They have a vast array of collections to peruse, as well as tops, bottoms (skirts, pants, & shorts), swimwear, shoes, and accessories, too!

 So, so fun, right?!

You can win $50 to spend at Shabby Apple, and you can use it to buy WHATEVER YOU WANT! (I can hear the angels singing now) All you have to do is complete the two mandatory steps via the Raffelcopter giveaway thingy below! That's it! There are also a couple of optional extra entry options. The giveaway is only open to those with a valid US shipping address.

I'm crossing my fingers for each and every one of you, because I would enter this giveaway myself if I could. AAAAHHHH! I'm so excited! Good luck! The giveaway is open for one week!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Life looks different now!

When I say "Lowcountry," what do you think I mean? I'm sure some of you are VERY familiar with that term!

I was unfamiliar with that term until April of this year. That's when we found out we were moving to the South Carolina "Lowcountry." So life looks a little bit different now! We sold our house in Lexington after it was on the market for two and a half weeks! We packed up all our stuff and moved to SC, immediately after that. Then, we got to shopping for a how as soon as we got here, found one, and made an offer. The offer was accepted, and we closed thirty days later. Phew! It all happened really fast, but we're thankful to be getting settled in our new house. 

Now, I'm trying to learn the ins and outs of the Charleston bargain shopping scene! They seem to have an active Craigslist down here--always a good sign. :) There are also plenty of thrift and second-hand shops near my house, and I'm dying to explore them! So, as much as I can tell so far, I should be a very happy bargain shopper here. 

So, if you're a resident of Charleston and/or the Lowcountry around here, let me know! I'm happy to be your new neighbor! 

More to come very soon!

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"I Love You to the Moon and back" Printable

I've recently been searching the Web for the perfect little subway art printable to frame and put up in my kids' room. I like some of the "I love you to the moon and back" printables that I've seen, but nothing's quite been the way I wanted it (no offense to those of you who have been creative enough to make some of these--they're so cute!!). My DS really likes the book that quote came from: Guess How Much I Love You. I wanted a slight pop of red, and a little bit of yellow, with a blue-ish/green-ish background. So, I sat down and made my own this evening! I love it! I can't wait to pop it into a white frame and hang it! Yay!

So, I thought I would share it with you...in case you're looking for a pop of red and a splash of yellow. :)

PLEASE READ: I have made this printable FREE and available for your PERSONAL use only. Please, do not sell it or redistribute it. If you would like to share this free printable, please send people to this post. Thank you so much!

UPDATE: I have decided to open an Etsy shop, and offer this as a download through that. If you would like to purchase the download, please visit: SweetgumAvenue




Project Quick Breakfast: DIY Make-Ahead, Healthy Egg McMuffin Copycats

As I said in my previous post about my "Homemade Freezer Waffles," I was faced with the challenge of trying to get my DH to eat breakfast again. I wanted quick options that were sustaining, healthy, and good. The waffle idea hit my out of nowhere, and this idea was much the same...although "nowhere" in this case was Pinterest. :) I can't remember which of my friends pinned this idea, but I just have to say a HUGE "thank you" to them! Oh, and of course a huge "thank you" to the Monica from The Yummy Life for coming up with the idea in the first place! Here are the fabulous "Make-Ahead, Healthy Egg McMuffin Copycats!"

Now, I did change a few things with this egg muffin recipe. I decided to use American cheese, because of the creaminess, and I opted to use turkey sausage instead of the Canadian bacon--but she has instructions for that as well. This project turned out better than I imagined. It sounded pretty good when I read about it, but it also tasted REALLY good!! I had to try it before I gave it to my DH, just in case it was a flop. But, I was able to unabashedly tell him that they're fabulous, and I expected him to eat every last one! :) I excitedly put them all together, wrapped them in freezer-safe wrapping, and loaded them into a convenient spot in our freezer.

I couldn't wait for my DH to try them!! When he finally did, he was pleasantly surprised! And wouldn't you know...he forgot to take one this morning, after having them for about two weeks each day, and he missed them! He said he was so hungry by 10 AM, this morning, and just hadn't realized how much he'd been depending on them for his morning energy. They're filling and they're good! When I did the cost break-down, they only ended up costing me about $1.05/each for 12 muffins. YAY!! He's eating breakfast, and it's not breaking the bank! I couldn't be happier. I know I could probably make them a bit cheaper, too (not that it really matters at $1.05/each), so I'll update you if I'm able to get that cost down even more. For now, it's a HUGE success!

Sierra Trading Post

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