Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter Basket Gift Ideas for Babies, Toddlers, & Adults

What do you put in an infant's basket, especially when they can't eat anything? I didn't want the Easter bunny to fill my 10 week old's basket with stuffed bunnies and plastic eggs that would end up in a garage sale later.  So, I suggested he get the new Boon Squirt spoon, and a couple of snack traps, which I knew he would be able to use soon. 

Boon Squirt Baby Food Dispensing Spoon in OrangeBoon Squirt Baby Food Dispencing Spoon, BlueBoon Squirt Baby Food Dispensing Spoon- Pink
Plush Monkey Lil' Snugglers 13"3 Pack Snack Trap (colors may vary)Plush Cream Lamb Lil' Snugglers 13"

The Squirt is even kindof egg shaped and comes in springy colors so it will look great in his basket!  The Easter bunny got him the monkey cuddle toy, although the lamb is pretty cute and a great animal for Easter time too.

You can always do clothes, too.  Here are a few cute options for a little girl:
Hudson Baby Layette Set, 4 Piece, Baby Bunny, 3-6 MonthsBunny Footed SleeperCarter's Easter Bunny Polka Dot Sleeper PNK/MLT 9 Mo

A cute bunny pillow good for boys or girls:

My 2-yr-old loves those little finger puppet books, and last year got the Little Bunny Finger Puppet Book in his basket:
Little Bunny: Finger Puppet Book (Finger Puppet Brd Bks)

If you like to crochet like I do and would like to help the Easter bunny out by making something yourself to put in your little one's basket, these bunny blankies are simple to make.  I blogged about them a while back on my Junk Mail Gems blog...the pattern is free from Lion Brand Yarn.

 My 2-year-old son is a big fan of the "Max and Ruby" cartoon, so rather than get him a generic stuffed bunny for his basket, I called up the Easter bunny and suggested he get this cute set of beanies among other goodies:
Ty Beanie Baby Max & Ruby Set

In my opinion, toddlers can never have too many bubbles or too much play-doh.  Little jars of bubbles work great for "basket stuffers," and Play-Doh even has a nice set of pastel colors.
 Gazillion Bubbles 4 fl. oz with Blower StickPlay-Doh Classic 4-Pack Pastel Colors

How about some fun ideas for grown-ups? 

Here are a couple cute bunny shaped products from Alessi, their Bunny & Carrot paper towel holder and "Magic" toothpick holder:
Alessi Bunny & Carrot Kitchen Roll Holder - Green/OrangeAlessi Magic Bunny-Azure Blue ASG 16 AZ

For your anime and vinyl figure fans, check out Kid Robot's "Dunny" and "Smorkin' Labbits" figurines!
Kidrobot Dunny Series 2009 - Mori Chack Pink Gloomy BearKidrobot Dunny Series 5 Blind Box

 Just in case your cell phone isn't cute and cuddly enough, here's a solution :

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Recipe & Gadget of the Week: Jambalaya + Collapsible Colanders

Recipe of the Week: Gretchen's Hack-Job Jambalaya
I call this my "hack-job" jambalaya because I'm guessing it would disgust any true New Orleand-er. I took an actual jambalaya recipe off the web and pretty much butchered it to fit within my hubby's extremely picky tastebuds, and make it to use up whatever strange things I have in my freezer. However, this still turns out tasting good to everyone in the house!

The reason I'm sharing this recipe is it's my favorite way to use up a bunch of random meat from the freezer, or your husband's latest "lets-see-how-gigantic-of-a-cut-of-meat-we-can-grill-at-once-and-how-many-left-overs-we-can-generate" experiment. You can seriously mix together creatures from the land, sea, and air in one dish and it works. (I realize that I am making friends with no vegetarians right now.) I made this last week with my strangest selection yet: diced up breakfast sausage, left-over Christmas turkey, and a package of pepperoni from the freezer. It was delicious. No kidding. I've even used up frozen hot dogs in this.  ANYTHING goes...


1 Tbsp butter
1 large onion, minced
1 1/2 C rice
2-3 lbs meat...pork, sliced smoked sausage, ham, pork, veal, chicken...
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp parsley (or 1 sprig fresh)
1/2 tsp ground thyme (or 1 sprig fresh)
2 bay leaves, crushed
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste (or real red and green peppers; my hubby doesn't like these either so I use red pepper flakes for flavor)
small can tomato paste (or 1 diced tomato; my hubby doesn't like tomato chunks so I use paste)
salt and pepper to taste

Fry onion lightly in butter. Add meat. Add remaining ingredients, except for rice and seafood (if any). Cook and stir about 5 minutes; careful not to scorch. Add 1 quart hot water. Boil for 10 minutes. Add the rice and cook about 1/2 hour longer, gradually adding up to 2 more quarts water as needed/desired, until the rice is tender and it's at your desired consistency. At this point you can add cooked shrimp or other seafood too if you have any!  You can also toss in those half-full bags of frozen veggies you have in your freezer, or other left-over cooked veggies from previous meals.

Above is my photo of last week's sausage, turkey and pepperoni variation. Every time I make it it's a little different! Sometimes I'll toss in some frozen veggies too...just experiment and have fun using up your weird left-over meats and making more room in your freezer again!

Kitchen Gadget of the Week: Collapsible Silicone Colanders
I recently purchased this 6-quart collapsible strainer from Progressive through Amazon:
Progressive International 6 Quart Collapsible Over-the Sink Colander, Blue and White
PRO's: The thing I like about this particular one is that, besides being collapsible and taking up less storage space, as opposed to my old Tupperware one, it has a nice stable base.  So, it's not rocking around in the sink, spilling my pasta down the drain as I try to pour it in just right.  It's also square, so it utilizes more of the room in the sink and is more forgiving when aiming a pot of whatever you may pour into it.  Last but not least, the pull-out handles stretch to the edges of the sink so it can balance up above the drain.

CON's: It's definitely not as compact as it could be.  The hard plastic pieces are still quite bulky.  Also, the holes for the water to strain through are really only on the bottom surface and slightly up the edges.  It would do a much better job straining if the holes were all the way up the sides.

For these reasons, now I'm kindof wishing I had paid a little more for one of the OXO strainers instead:
Oxo Good Grips Silicone Collapsible Colander, Red Oxo Good Grips Silicone Collapsible Colander with Two Handles, GrayOxo Good Grips Silicone Cooking Colander, Red
While they aren't square, the silicone is thinner, easier to collapse, and has holes up the sides.  The wire frame also gives it a MUCH thinner profile compared to the thick plastic frame of the Progressive one.  So, if mine wears out, I'll definitely replace it with an OXO one...but overall I love the idea of a collapsible strainer in general as it sure does save me some cabinet space!

Monday, March 29, 2010

ID Mommy Tip: Free Online Exposure for MOMtrepreneurs

You can have the most fantastic business on the planet, but if nobody knows about it, then you will never reap the rewards of your hard work and creativity. So how do you get the word out? And more specifically, on a tight budget? How about NO budget?

While I have been utilizing Google's AdWords campaigns for my face painting business, I have yet to pay for any advertising for my two other businesses. Yet, my Junk Mail Gems website for instance, receives an average of around 300 unique visitors and over 8,000 hits daily. How is this possible? Well, besides the fact that I'm cheap, or maybe because of that fact, I've utilized quite a few strategies via the web to get myself out there for free. Here are some of them. I'll continue using Junk Mail Gems as my example...

Post Yourself
Find other websites and blogs frequented by your target market that allow readers to post their own unique finds on the web. Being a green business, I sought out other green websites with message boards and forums and posted links about my site. One was Treehugger...they have a place where anyone can post links to green stuff. I simply went in and posted a link to one of the products on my site. Readers could "hugg" their favorite posts. I became one of the "most hugged" links that week, and was then featured in their green e-newsletter. From there I was picked up by blog after blog, and links to my site spread around the blogosphere. After doing this on just a couple sites, visitors from external links started rolling in from all over the world.

Write a Press Release
Getting yourself out on the web is cool but there's just something about seeing yourself in print and being able to hold it in your hand. Even if you haven't been featured in any articles yet, create a "press" page on your site. If you think you've got an interesting story behind your business, write up a press release and send it to your local newspapers. Many have business sections that feature entrepreneurs. Here's a nice summary of how to write a press release. Include photos! You can submit them online as well to many places and include links to your site. Find magazines that publish in your field and send them your press release. If you're lucky, they'll either print your press release as-is, or a reporter will contact you to arrange for an interview. Google "press release submission" and you'll find many sites where you can submit a press release too. At minimum, put a link to contact you "for press inquiries" on your press page, and copies of your latest press releases so reporters can find you. Here's my Junk Mail Gems press page, and my Paintertainment press page, full of exposure that I've gotten for free!

Create a Blog
Creating a blog can really drive traffic to your website. Make sure stick to a specific subject matter that is of interest to your target market. My Junk Mail Gems blog brings dozens of people to my site every time I post something. I've had over a thousand unique visitors this month alone, and have only posted 5 times. (a very slow blogging month for me!!) Most of my postings somehow mention my business name with a link back to my site. I also have a widget along the side that always links to my business site. If you can find enough interesting things to write about, you can get a nice group of followers who will visit your site often, and you'll keep your business at the top of their mind the more you blog. Blog postings create many more opportunities for you to pop up in search engines as well. I use Blogger but there are others out there as well!

Utilize Other Social Media & Networking Sites
Facebook allows you to create pages for businesses for free. If you're already a Facebook member, Just go here and click "Create Page" to get started. Be sure to include links to your site. Once you have a page established, you can click "suggest to friends" and send out messages inviting your friends to become fans. Also on Facebook, join groups that consist of your target market and post there where appropriate. For example, I'm a member of several face painting groups. When I see someone asking a question about what type of paint people recommend, or where they can find a good silver paint, I of course can give a recommendation and direct them to the perfect site to purchase it from. I have yet to venture into the Twitter world but it can also be valuable! Also, some of the more business-minded sites like LinkedIn & Plaxo can help you keep track of your business connections, and greatly increase your network by connecting you to people that your friends and colleagues know. If you're in the creative field like myself, be sure to get your work up on Coroflot too.

Create an e-Newsletter
I use wufoo, a free web form company, to make a spot for people to sign up for my e-newsletter via my website. When someone signs up, I get an email with their address and add it to my list. I now have a list of almost a thousand people all over the world who have literally asked me to send them stuff to their inbox. This is very valuable. I don't do a ton of newsletters, just a handful per year, but when I do I try to make them interesting and include coupons for my products. If it offers something of value other than just advertising to your customers, you'll get more people to sign up. There are also many other services online that will help you manage your e-newsletter subscribers and the creation of your newsletter for a fee.

Get Listed
If you have a physical location for your business, you can list your business for free on Google's local business directory. This way people will be able to find you if they search for you. Do a Google search for free business listings in your field as well. I've found some green business directories that allow you to list for free, as well as kids party entertainment listings for my Paintertainment business, and have been contacted many times through them.

These are just a few of the big ones that I've utilized for my businesses. If you're a fellow MOMtrepreneur and have more ideas that have worked for you, do share! We'd all love to learn from each other! Once your business begins to grow, it still becomes necessary to put money into some advertising to keep up the growth. But, hopefully some of these tactics can help you give your business a little kick start to bring in a little cash to put toward more exposure. By utilizing these ideas, my business has been featured on blogs, on the local news, and in several magazine articles. My products are now for sale at several online retailers, as well as physical retail stores across the US, Canada, and England. And all without spending a dime! Of course, it does take some time to find the right sites, do the blogging, and keep up with the social media sites. But, if you weren't willing to put some time into this, you wouldn't be a momtrepreneur now, would you?! ;-)


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