Category Archives: Shopping

Finding That Perfect Gift: Picket Fence Baby Store Pittsburgh (Giveaway – Now Closed)

Can you believe that the first day of spring is one month away?

I’m practically counting down the seconds because I am definitely not a winter person.  Bring on the warm weather and sunshine — the sooner the better!

Spring is the season of showers … and weddings and graduations and other events. For special occasions like these, I like to give unique, one-of-a-kind gifts. And I also like to support local small businesses, especially those that are women-owned.

The Picket Fence Baby Store Pittsburgh meets all of my criteria. And, while this adorable boutique is conveniently located in Shadyside (which is one of my favorite Pittsburgh neighborhoods for shopping and dining!)  online ordering via The Picket Fence’s website makes shopping even easier.

That means that even if you’re not in the “Burgh — or if you are like me and busy with work, family, volunteering, freelancing, etc. — you can still enjoy a delightful shopping experience at The Picket Fence, which is known for its baby and children’s collections, including hard-to-find distinctive toys, clothing in current and classic styles from U.S. and European designers, and special keepsakes.  The boutique also offers gifts for the home, women, and jewelry.

In addition to its curated inventory of items from all over the world, The Picket Fence also keeps things close to home by featuring a selection of Pittsburgh gifts for yinzers of all ages.

You probably have a few special occasions coming up where you would like to give a one-of-a-kind gift.  Is someone in your life getting married or welcoming a new baby or moving into a new home?  Perhaps a new piece of jewelry or clothing would be the perfect gift … for yourself.

If so, then you’re in luck.  The Picket Fence is offering one of my readers a $50 gift card toward a purchase from their shop!   And because they provide online shopping, you don’t even need to be in Pittsburgh to take advantage of this giveaway opportunity.

Simply comment on this blog post by telling me about the most perfect gift you ever received — or the most perfect gift you gave someone — and you’ll be entered for a chance to win a $50 gift card from The Picket Fence. I’ll keep the giveaway open until March 7, 2017 and will draw a winner at random. Good luck!

UPDATE:  Congratulations to Ava who was chosen by as the winner of this giveaway!

The Picket Fence
5425 Walnut Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15232
phone: 412-246-0350 or 800-250-6002

Instagram: @picketfencepgh #FenceFaves
Twitter: @thepicketfence 

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currently …jing-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling-ling

Christmas 2012 (30)

poinsettia, at my mom’s

“It’s that time, Christmas time is here
Everybody knows, there’s not a better time of year
Hear that sleigh, Santa’s on his way
Hip, hip hooray, for Christmas vacation

Gotta a ton of stuff to celebrate
Now it’s getting closer, I can’t wait
Gonna make this holiday as perfect as can be
Just wait and see this Christmas vacation.” 
~ “Christmas Vacation” ~ written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, performed by Mavis Staples

Currently …
Quiet Sunday afternoon here, with the usual football on TV (we’ll get to see the Eagles tonight!) reading the papers and blogs, and a simmering crockpot on the counter.  I’m on the third day of a stubborn headache which isn’t responding much to the usual remedies (Advil, lots of water, several doses of my prescription Maxalt) but hopefully this disappears soon.  I know I had some gluten on several occasions last week, so that could be to blame along with the crazy weather. After near-record highs last week, colder (and more seasonal) weather has returned — along with the first dusting of snow —  but I’m hearing that the warmth may be making a comeback for Christmas.

Vacationing …
Thanks to having an abundance of use-’em-or-lose-’em vacation days remaining this year, I’m off from work until January 4!  (There’s one day that I’m planning to head into the office, but I’m anticipating that will be fairly casual and low-key.) Since the time off that I had at Thanksgiving was spent in the hospital with The Husband, I’m more than ready for this. I’m very much looking forward to a week of downtime with family, friends, maybe a movie or two, and some good books.

The WitchesReading …
Not much this week, actually. Still working on The Witches. This is good, but taking forever to get through.

Watching …
Speaking of Christmas vacations, last year we introduced the kids to the classic “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” We watched it again on Friday.  I can count on one hand the number of movies I’ve watched more than once (I’m not big on repeating many things) but this is one of them.

Not Watching …
Who else is completely uninterested in anything related to Star Wars? I saw the first three when I was little, and they never held much of an appeal for me. I remember having a Princess Leia doll but that’s about it. None of the three people I live with have any desire to see it either, which is good. (It’s also good for clearing out a lot of posts in my Feedly!)

Cooking …
I’m making a new crockpot recipe today (Yellow Split Pea Chowder) from 5 Ingredients or Less Slow Cooker Cookbook by Stephanie O’Dea. I’m using Trader Joe’s vegetarian soy chorizo in this, which is a new ingredient for us.

(Update: Of the four of us, only The Husband liked it. Too spicy for my taste.)

Shopping …
We’re only buying for the kids this year. No adults, so that helps. My kids usually don’t ask for very much at all, which makes them difficult to shop for. I have iTunes gift cards for both kids as well as our nephews and niece. I’m probably going to go shopping tomorrow and get a few little things, plus some clothes that they need.

Anticipating … 
Christmas week with family and friends!

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Project: Food Budget: Week 11

Project Food Budget 2015

Hard to believe we are at the penultimate week of this project, huh? (I love the word penultimate.) It’s a cliche, but it’s crazy how fast a summer goes. We started this right around the time school let out in June and here we are with back-to-school time on our heels.

I’m starting to think about school lunches (I just bought new insulated lunch bags at Aldi over the weekend) and mentally preparing myself for what I know is going to be a battle with The Boy regarding taking his lunch more often. I’m trying to compromise with him (three days taking lunch, two days buying) but he’s stubborn and used to buying his lunch five days per week – plus, I’ve always looked at this as a way for him to experience some independence, which is so important for kids on the autism spectrum, as he is. At least, it has been for our boy.

This Week
This week at ALDI made up for the disastrous overspending that was my Week 9. To my surprise, I only spent $119 which is $31 under budget! My actual total was $160, but that included the usual things like toilet paper, etc. along with two backpacks for $6.99 each, the aforementioned insulated lunch bags at $2.99 each, and an ottoman ($12.99) to go with an old chair in our living/family room.

Menu Planning
We have one of those weeks where meal planning is somewhat challenging. One kid has a dentist appointment on Tuesday and then the other kid gets a tooth pulled on Thursday. Both appointments are late in the afternoon, so because I’m not sure how that’s going to impact dinner, I don’t really have much planned other than things I can wing at the last minute: pasta , soup in the crockpot …

Or, just maybe, ice cream for all of us.

People I’d like to share a penultimate Project Food Budget ice cream cone with:





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Project Food Budget: Week 7

Project Food Budget 2015

I was thinking about why it is that I’ve stuck with this project (because, let’s face it, I do tend to have a habit of signing up for blogging things like this and, despite all best intentions, life tends to get in the way).

I think it’s because I’ve seen some success, which definitely helps. The accountability factor is also significant; knowing that I’ll be reporting on my progress or lack thereof is a definite motivator.

Regardless, this was another successful week. I brought my lunch to work four out of the five days. I think my grocery receipt got thrown out, so I can’t provide a breakdown of actual food versus other grocery items like the toilet paper and trash bags I purchased. But I do remember that my total was $134.00, which is $16.00 under my goal of $150. And that definitely includes some non-edible items like toilet paper, trash bags, and paper towels.

Oh, this was an ALDI shopping trip. I’ll probably stop at the farmers market this week, too.

Menu Plan

Sunday 7/12:  Vegetarian Chicken Cutlets (we like Gardein’s gluten-free version); Sauteed Portobella Mushrooms; Tortellini Pasta Salad for The Husband and kids (it wasn’t gluten-free); Plums

Monday 7/13: Spaghetti (gluten free) with Vegetarian Meatballs

Tuesday 7/14: Chicken Enchiladas … or something using corn tortillas, possibly in the crockpot.

Weds 7/15: Breakfast for dinner

Thursday 7/16: I have a work event, so The Husband and kids will likely have ravioli.

Friday 7/17: Pizza Night

Saturday 7/18: I need to be at a work event in the morning, so I’ll probably postpone grocery shopping until Sunday. Not sure what dinner will be; maybe a crockpot something-or-other, leftovers, or pasta with sauce.

Let’s see what’s cooking with the other Project Food Budget participants!

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Project Food Budget: Week 3

Project Food Budget 2015

Week 2 Recap:

We were on vacation last week, which completely blew our food budget out of the water given that we ate every meal out. I know some people don’t mind cooking an occasional meal in an efficiency-type of hotel room while on vacation, but I’m not one of those people. I hate lugging groceries to the shore and I hate going food shopping once I’m there. That’s precious time that could better be spent on the beach.

We did a few things to save money on our meals, though. I opted for water with almost every meal, as did The Boy on several occasions. We skipped appetizers and salads (at most of the places, meals were a la carte).  And with the exception of the last night, we skipped expensive desserts in favor of ice cream elsewhere.

I bought snacks for the 5 hour car ride to Philadelphia (the vacation was bookended by a few days at my mom and stepfather’s house) and for the beach itself.  I hit Target for some necessities beforehand and bought our snacks there (trail mix; dried fruit; shelled edamame; mini-muffins; veggie straws; chips; GF cookies for me and probably some more stuff I’m forgetting).  We came home with a decent amount left, so I didn’t need to purchase many snacks this week.

This Week:

Both kids are spending a few days back in Philly with the grandparents, so one would think our food expenditures for this week should be considerably less than usual. At least, that’s my hope. We will likely go out to dinner one night because it is highly unusual for us to be sans-kids.  To counter-balance that, I am going to be more diligent about bringing my lunch to work. (Possible lunch ideas: cheese sandwich on GF bread; salad; hummus/guacamole dips with chips; trail mix; plums.)

I went shopping at Giant Eagle on Monday afternoon and was pleased to have spent a total of $152.27.  (As we’ve discussed, GE is not my preferred supermarket; I only went there because we had prescriptions to pick up and I didn’t want to spend my last day before heading back to work running around doing errands). So, of that $152.27, the breakdown was $124.80 for food-related items and $27.47 for things like toilet paper, OTC allergy medicine, dental floss, etc.  My biggest splurge food-wise were 3 packs of Sprite for $10 (that will last us the rest of the month) and some frozen foods (pizza, Stouffers mac and cheese) because The Husband requested those for his lunches. (He’s off from work for a few additional days yet).

Dinner Plans
– We’ll order pizza. I have a Glutino pizza for myself (our preferred pizza place has GF pizza, but I strongly suspect it is Aldi’s. While I don’t mind their GF pizza – it’s OK, not my favorite – I won’t pay $9 for what I can get for $4.99).

– Tortellini for the husband; big salad for me, hopefully with leftovers for Wednesday’s lunch.

– Grilled cheese. Maybe with fresh fruit as a side.

– I’m planning to go to a book journal making program at a local library, so The Husband will be on his own. Mac and cheese for him, most likely.

– This is usually pizza night for us, but we might go out.

– We are contemplating going to the Heinz History Center because we really want to see the Mister Rogers Neighborhood exhibit (the kids weren’t too enthused about that idea awhile back so we’ve been saving that for ourselves). This could be a dinner out instead of Friday night. Not sure.

Time to see what the other Project: Food Budget participants have been up to. Follow along with us by checking out posts from:


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State of the Blog: My Top 10 Most Popular Blog Posts of 2014

Delaware State Fair 2010

In some ways, 2014 was not my best year of blogging.

In other ways, it was excellent.

The not-so-good was in the quantity of posts.  I ended the year with 137 new posts. By my standards (admittedly, pretty high to begin with), that’s pathetic. How do you call yourself a blogger when you ONLY BLOG FOR A THIRD OF THE DAMN YEAR?!

But you know what? We’re not going to dwell on that. Another year is here and there’s always room for improvement, right?

Instead, I want to focus on the 10 most popular posts in 2014 here on the blog. By most popular, I’m talking number of views.

Unless you happen to be a big-name blogger with thousands of followers and a book deal (or three), every blogger wonders if anybody is out there reading. Even when you check your stats and see numbers that indicate that someone, somewhere in the world is paying attention, there’s still a lingering doubt that wonders if what you’re saying in this space makes a difference.

I’m not a big name blogger and I certainly don’t have a book deal (yet), but I know this: I’m incredibly proud of the 10 blog posts I wrote that received the most views in the past year. thanks to all of you. (Some of these were written pre-2014, but for various reasons, experienced a bit of increased traction over the past 12 months.

Links take you to the actual post.

10. The Sunday Salon: Yet Another Best Books of 2014 List
I love lists. I especially love lists that feature books. So, when everyone was sharing every possible incarnation of best books lists several weeks before the end of the year, I had to jump into the fray by offering up my list of “best books I read in 2014 that were published in 2014.” Apparently, other people like lists of books as much as I do. (That’s good because I have more such lists from 2014 in the works.)

9. Book Review: My Beef with Meat, by Rip Esselstyn
A post from 2013 that continues to get a decent amount of traffic. I’m not sure if this is linked someplace, but it resonates with people for some reason.  

8. Book Review: The Returned, by Jason Mott
I’m guessing that this review got some attention because of the TV show that it is based on. Of all the books I’ve reviewed, it was just okay … not one of my favorites.

Seinfeld - show

7. Punch Lines: On Jerry Seinfeld and Autism
When comedian Jerry Seinfeld mentioned in a November 2014 interview with Brian Williams that he thought he might be on the autism spectrum, several people saw Mr. Seinfeld’s statement as less than … what? Less than genuine? Less than heartfelt? In the ensuing backlash, I wrote, “If we truly believe that there isn’t one autism, then there’s no room for throwing punch lines when one of our own is vulnerable.  We need to truly reflect on what the meaning of “not one autism” means and we need to truly embrace the spectrum for what it is – as a place where we all need to co-exist together.  This isn’t a battle of who has the more difficult autism – because we are all fighting difficult battles.  And through it all, there is too much at stake for us, for our kids, for our friends and our loved ones.”

Kristin text

Text message Kristin Mitchell sent to her boyfriend, who was later charged with killing her. Photo credit: The Kristin Mitchell Foundation,


6. forever 21: remembering kristin
I never met Kristin Mitchell, yet her murder at the hands of her boyfriend has profoundly affected me in a way I can’t quite put into words. I am humbled to use this space to remember her with this post (which has been repeated here several times) and to honor her memory however I can.

5. Book Review: Sea Creatures, by Susanna Daniel
My most popular book review, one that was written for TLC Book Tours in August 2013 but continued to get a lot of traffic this year. 

Philadelphia Flower Show

4. For Sonya
Probably my most controversial post, but one that I don’t regret publishing.  This case brings out the nasty in people in a way I never imagined.

3. #SaveDallas and a Piece of Our Childhoods
I was pretty active on Twitter during the six weeks after “Dallas” was cancelled by TNT and fans were trying to save this iconic show. Unfortunately, our effort wasn’t successful but I still think it was worth it.

Daffodils in snow 4

2. On National Adoption Day, Baby G. Still Waits
I am beyond humbled that this post is #2. Thank you for caring so much about Baby G. As we go into Year 4 of this ordeal, her story and that of my friends becomes even more heartbreaking and maddening. I hope and pray that 2015 is the year they are reunited as a family … because as we turn the calendar to another year without a resolution in this case, they are still waiting. (A disappointing update on this is that the ACLU of Wisconsin declined to take the case.)

And the most popular post of 2014?

1. Weekend Cooking: Hits and Misses with ALDIs LiveGFree Products
Seriously, I should send ALDI an invoice for this one because this has been my #1 top-ranked post since I hit publish on it back in May 2014. I even had the guy who worked on the LiveGFree packaging email me! For real. This has to be on some website someplace (I can’t figure out where) but it is has staying power. Who knew?

As I typically do at this time of year, I’ve been reflecting on the blog and my writing and what I want I do here. I have some thoughts and goals, but would like to hear from you. What posts resonate with you most? Do you most enjoy the book reviews? The food posts? The advocacy posts, such as the ones about Kristin and G.? What do you want to see more of in 2015?

Wishing you and yours a very happy, healthy and safe New Year!

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Weekend Cooking: Hits and Misses With ALDI’s LiveGFree Products

I’ve been doing more and more of my grocery shopping at ALDI because, like a lot of families, money is often tight in our household. We’re the typical squeezed-just-a-bit-too-much middle class family with two working-full-time parents and two kids. We’re able to meet our basic bills, but then there are weeks when we fall a little short or when there isn’t enough for unexpected expenses, like when both kids need new glasses simultaneously or the car needs new tires.

Our grocery bill was driving me especially crazy when I decided to try ALDI. Believe me, I had all the same hesitations and misconceptions as anyone who hasn’t tried them yet. How would the food taste? Were the stores clean? Would I really save as much as people (and the ads) claimed? And how did the whole put-a-quarter-to-unlock-the-cart thing work?

I got the hang of shopping at ALDI pretty quickly and even though I still stop at The Store That Used to Have FoodPerks for certain items (ALDI powers-that-be, please start carrying prune juice), I’ve seen the light.

I love ALDI even more now that they have started carrying a line of gluten-free products, LiveGFree.


photo credit: ALDI’s blog

Some of the gluten-free offerings include: granola, crackers, cookies, pasta (penne, fusilli, spaghetti), pizza, baking mixes (cornbread, pizza crust, chocolate chip cookies), pancakes, frozen cheese lasagna, frozen ravioli, stuffed sandwiches, and macaroni and cheese. Very smart marketing on ALDI’s part, as these are excellent (meaning popular) choices, because these are some of the more pricer gluten-free products (pizza, cookies), frozen pasta) in traditional supermarkets.

Supposedly these are only around at ALDI for the proverbial “limited time.” Hopefully ALDI will listen to their customers on social media, who are clamoring for these items to stay permanently.

Count me among them. After hearing good reviews about LiveGFree, I loaded my cart up with a plethora of goodies last Sunday at ALDI. Since then, I’ve had the chance to try a few  (although not all) of these products.

ALDI GF Cheese-Lasagna

The frozen Cheese Lasagna was all right. The sauce was a little more watery than I would have preferred, but this made for a good, quick dinner on an evening when I got home after everyone else had eaten. The pasta cooked nicely and the ricotta was pretty good.  It could have used a little more mozzarella.  I added some additional Parmesan cheese to this. Overall, it’s probably not filling enough for a main meal, but for lunch at your desk or a dinner after everyone else in the household has eaten, it’s fine. This was $3.29 at my ALDI.  Rating: A hit! 

ALDI - Glutino pretzel sticks

Glutino pretzel sticks aren’t an ALDI product, per se, but I found them at my store last Sunday for $3.49. That’s cheaper than at The Other Store, where these can usually run close to $6 or even more, so I snatched them up.


I haven’t tried the Buttermilk Pancakes, but my daughter did. (The Husband made breakfast for dinner on that night I wasn’t home and gave The Girl these by mistake.) She reports that they were very good. I paid $2.69 for these. Rating: A Hit! 

Friday night is Pizza Night in our house. Usually I have a frozen GF pizza (I like Glutino’s Duo Cheese) or a salad. Last night I had an ALDI’s LiveGFree Cheese Pizza and thought it was quite tasty. Gluten-free pizzas are ridiculously expensive and this was a very nice alternative. I especially liked that the crust (it’s a thin crust) wasn’t too hard and that the cheese had a very “melty” consistency. This is a “personal size” pizza – about the size of a regular dinner plate – and at $4.99, it filled me up at a price that’s a few dollars less than gluten-free pizzas of a similar size.  Rating: A Hit! 

ALDI - GF wraps

I was THRILLED to see the Wraps because Mexican Night is a weekly occurrence in our house. I’m also anticipating taking more wraps to work for lunch during the summer. On Thursday, I used these in one of my new favorite recipes, Creamy Enchilada Casserole from Mayim’s Vegan Table, and they were delicious. This is quickly becoming one of The Husband’s favorite meals – and mine, because everyone likes it and can eat it. These sound pricey at $3.99 for six wraps, but gluten-free bread products can be nearly double that amount elsewhere so I consider these to be A Hit. 

Speaking of work lunches, I had the Southwestern Stuffed Veggie Sandwich for lunch on Monday. Well, I should say I tried to have it for lunch. I managed three bites before guzzling my entire water bottle (it’s an oversized one) and giving up. Entirely way too spicy.  I’m not a fan of spicy food but I can tolerate a little bit. This was over the top intense. I wound up buying my lunch that day, which annoyed me. Especially because two sandwiches come in this package (sold for $2.69, a very reasonable price) and that could have been another lunch. Oh well.  Rating: Major miss.

ALDI - GF Spaghetti

I had the Brown Rice Spaghetti for dinner tonight, along with some olive oil, grape tomatoes, and feta cheese. The package says to cook for 8-9 minutes; on my gas stove, nine minutes was probably a little too much. Next time I’ll taste-test it sooner.  As a result, this was okay. A bit on the gummy, sticky side. You’re definitely not going to mistake this for regular pasta. That said, I’m not a big fan of gluten-free pasta to begin with, quite honestly. In my opinion, it’s really hard to get right. LiveGFree is on par with other brands I’ve tried and for the price ($1.29!!!!) you can’t beat it.  I think this would be good in a dish where pasta isn’t the star attraction, like a pasta primavera, perhaps. I have the other varieties, penne and fusilli, which I’m looking forward to trying. Rating: A Hit. 

ALDI - GF Cookies

My favorite item is (no surprise here) the Double Chocolate Brownie Soft Baked Cookies. These are fantastic. They’re small, like brownie bites, and so damn addictive. I like that they’re soft cookies. They tasted fresh. Love the $2.49 pricetag. LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THEM. Rating: Major hit! 

I bought more LiveGFree items, too, but just haven’t gotten around to trying them yet. When I do, I’ll do a post about them. I was concerned that these purchases would make my grocery bill higher, but it was pretty close to an average ALDI week, which is usually about $110 or less for our family of four. With our other items purchased at ALDI, my total came to $136, and considering what comparable products would have cost me at SuperExpensive Store, I can certainly live with an additional $26.

I really hope LiveGFree becomes a permanent addition to ALDI’s offerings. A lot of people are gluten-sensitive and many people are struggling financially. I’ve talked to other ALDI shoppers (this is super-friendly Pittsburgh, after all) and more and more shoppers seem to be like me – fed up (no pun intended) with high prices and abandoning traditional supermarkets for discount grocers where the food is oftentimes just as good (or better). I’m no expert, but I think the days of the traditional, average supermarket are marked and just like our country’s demographics as a whole, that the future belongs to higher-end places (like Wegmans) and the discount grocers, like ALDI.

Note: This post was NOT solicited, sponsored, endorsed, or affiliated in any way by ALDI. It represents only my thoughts and opinions. No one at ALDI asked me to write this post and all products mentioned were paid for out of my and The Husband’s hard-earned paychecks. 

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) Weekend Cooking - Newreviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page. For more information, see the welcome post.


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