Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bread and Beer, Anyone??

I LOVE baking bread...wait, let me be clear. I love the result of baked bread. I don't necessarily love the hassle, time and effort that goes with making it from scratch but there's just nothing like a fresh piece, hot out of the oven, seething in melted butter! So, for Christmas, I was appropriately gifted a beer bread mix. I was given the convenience of a just-add-beer mix but for those of you who want to test a new easy-peasy recipe, here you are. And the beauty of it? The beer lends the oh, so sudsy and airy texture bread needs but without the time and torture of yeast, waiting for the dough to rise...etc.
Beer Bread
3 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
12 oz. beer (make sure it's one you would drink...the taste comes through!!)
1/4 cup butter, melted
Stir ingredients together and pour into greased 9X5 loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until knife inserted into middle comes out clean. Serve warm with butter...yum!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Chocolate Brownie Bliss

Here is a recipe that I found to be delicious, indulgent and easy to make from scratch. The last part is  the real kicker...I rarely attempt homemade but this recipe was easy to follow and turned out amazingly!! With simple ingredients I usually have on hand, I was able to make a giant batch of these guys to tote along with me to my hubby's Christmas party. They have a touch of mint which, believe it or not, totally enriches and seems to intensify the chocolate flavor. Crushed candy canes add the perfect holiday touch and trust me, these will fly off the plate. Take note: keep a few to the side for yourself! Give 'em a whirl!

Brownies:
3/4 Cup Of All-Purpose Flour
1 Cup Of Sugar
3 Eggs
1/4 Tsp Peppermint Extract
1/2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Cup Of Butter
4 Oz Of 100% Cacao Unsweetened Baking Bars (I used 1/2 cup cocoa powder instead..)
Toppings:
Ghirardelli Chocolate Squares With Mint Or Andes Mints (Enough To Line Top Of Brownie Tray)
Chocolate chips
Crushed Candy Canes
Preheat oven to 350 °. Mix Brownie ingredients with electric mixer and pour into 8X8 pan lined with foil and sprayed with a non-stick cooking spray. (I doubled and used a 9X13 pan...) Bake for about twenty minutes, or until knife inserted into middle comes out clean. Do not overbake or they will be dry!! Once out of oven, immediately sprinkle chocolate over top and let melt. Spread and sprinkle with crushed candy canes. Pull out of pan when cooled and cut into squares with serrated knife. Enjoy!

                                               


Adapted from http://deanmcdermott.com/blog/post/peppermint-brownie-recipe-gift-idea

Sunday, December 16, 2012

50 Shades of Grey...Hair

Having just celebrate my 29th birthday and with my 30th looming around the corner, I realized that maybe I should start doing a little damage control. Having kids has already aged me long passed my years and given me an all-around tired finish. My metabolism has come to a screeching hault, I have too many grey hairs to count and with daily dark circles under my eyes, I've perfected "exhausted chic" so...what's next? Sure, thirty is the new twenty and fifty is the new forty...blah, blah, blah but right now I just feel...old. Daily squabbles with kids, never getting enough sleep and the constant beckoning of my to-do list has me spread a little thin and leaves me short on "me time". Sure, I could book a sitter, squeeze in a few spa treatments that would turn back the clock, start juicing, dieting, plucking, dying, and shaping if I had the money and time, but let's be real here, that's just not going to happen. Guess I have to go about it the old fashioned way.
So with a renewed fervor, I'll attempt to make small changes. Not just changes for the way I look but mostly, for the way I feel. First off, I've been working on getting better sleep and eliminating caffiene. It starts with knowing my body's clock and listening to it. That means when the Sandman arrives promptly at 9:30 nightly, I obediently hit it. No more meandering, cleaning or staying up to watch a little more TV but off to bed I go. This has made such a difference in my sleep!! I feel like I sleep deeper and stay asleep longer.
Secondly, I force myself to take a brisk walk or jog daily. I've been doing this for years but lately it's been easier to find excuses and slack off. But starting the day moving helps me stay more energized the rest of the day and gives me a little time to myself. I spend that thirty minutes or so reading or listening to music.
Lastly, I am doing my best to just go easy on myself, take things a little slower, stress less and just be. It's not going to really make a difference if all the laundry gets done or if dinner is made from scratch. What matters is that I have a healthy and happy family. And that starts with me!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas in Movies

No Christmas season is complete without watching our arsenal of Christmas movies. Starting around October, when the beginning of the holiday season arrives, I begin to rifle around for our collection of Christmas movies. Weekend after weekend, we park it on the couch with the kids, popcorn and snacks in hand, and school them on the movies that for mommy and daddy, are classics. We've added a few of their favorites along the way too!!

1. Elf (One enjoyed pre-kiddos and the namesake of our daughter, after the character "Jovie")
2. Deck the Halls (Danny DeVito. Need I say more??)
3. Christmas with the Kranks
4. The Holiday
5. Home Alone
6. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
7. The Santa Clause (Tim Allen making us laugh some more!)
8. Love Actually ("To me, you are perfect". Best line in a movie!!!)
9. The Nightmare Before Christmas (works for Halloween too!!!)
10. The Elf on the Shelf (Just got it this year and the kids LOVE it...super cute!!!)
What movie says "Christmas is coming" to you????

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Gingerbread Family

Today my daughter asked me if we could make gingerbread cookies and I'll admit, I was leary. Most of our holiday activities are set up by me in hopes the kids will appreciate the traditions I create for them. Half the time, it hardly feels worth the effort. First off, they don't follow directions too well. If we are baking, they stick their fingers in the batter, get flour all over and generally make it more work for me. At craft time, they get sticky, fight over everything and I end up having to clean it all up alone. So why do I keep trying?? Well, they love doing activities and have fun with them and I know that deep, deep, really deep down, they will one day appreciate that their mommy made the holidays fun. So I approached the gingerbread men with hopeful trepidation. I contemplated buying the cookie mix, rolling and baking them ourselves then decorating with whatever the kids chose but that's what crazy moms do. I went with the smarter, less messy option: a Wilton Gingerbread Kit. It came with four large pre-baked cookies, icing and red, white and green decorations. This was the answer. For $5.99, I would avoid all the anxiety a Type-A mother like me hopes to. So we got home and got decorating and guess what?? It was a hit! We sat at the table and the kids carefully decorated a cookie in their likeness and happily munched a few of the candies on the way. It killed about thirty minutes, gave us something to do and reminded us that Christmas is just around the corner. I highly recommend making these with your kids. It's sure to be a holiday tradition they will always remember!!
                                                                        The kit...
                                First thing's first...pop the bubble paper that protects the cookies!
                                                  Tada! The Beebe family, in gingerbread!!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

8-6

8:00 p.m. is a good time in my house. The kids are sleeping, mommy is relaxing and there are no more demands. Maybe some laundry, dishes in the sink, but nothing like the mental and physical toll that is two children. From screaming fights and bickering to the constant tug-of-war that is motherhood, I feel like I'm in a hamster wheel. But at 8:00, I punch my card and am off until bright and early the next morning. Really early, like 6:10. Sure, my kiddos get up before the sun, but I wouldn't trade it for the peace and quiet I have at night for myself and for my hubby. I'm on mommy time, and get more done in the couple hours I have to myself at night than in the fourteen spent with my babies all day. Gee, I wonder why! But then it must be the mommy in me that actually anticipates being awakened by the pattering of little feet on the wood floor, and the snuggling that ensues. Yes, I told my sister on the phone the other night that I wonder why people have kids at all (Jovie was putting soap in Logan's mouth at the time, cut me some slack!) but it is all too clear when my warm and cuddly babies climb into my bed and make me forget a time when I actually slept. All night. Without any interruptions. But I'll sacrifice sleep any day if it means spending those precious moments with my children.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Naked is the New Black

How is it that kids can think it sooo funny to run around naked?? Seems like every time I turn around, they are stripping and running free. Perhaps it is that they make me laugh, make each other laugh and because it is just plain silly to be in the buff. Now, last I checked, being naked made me want to run too. In the opposite direction of mirrors. Ask any woman, no matter how perfect you think they are and I'm sure they will have a  laundry list a mile long of their flaws. I know I do. Having kids, especially a daughter, has taught me a lesson, though. I no longer analyze every imperfection, blemish, dimple and gray hair. How can I expect Jovie to be a strong, independent and self-assured little girl if I put myself down constantly? What kind of an example would I be? So years ago, I ditched the negative voice in my head saying I wasn't smart, pretty or thin enough and started listening to that smart-as-a-whip lady who knows that being myself is just fine. Yes, my jeans get snug every now and then so I sacrifice a few bowls of ice cream and log a couple extra miles on the treadmill but I refuse to give in to my doubts, my insecurities and my weaknesses. Where would that get me? On a train to misery, that's where! So let's give ourselves a break and adopt a childlike attitude about ourselves. Ditch those negative voices already!


                                          Just chillin' under the table with our cat...no biggie.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pumpkin Cheesecake

As if I haven't experimented with enough pumpkin recipes for the year, I decided to add another...cheesecake. I wanted to make something extra-special for Thanksgiving and what's more appropriate than something boasting the season's bounty? I'm a nut for cheesecake anyway but add cinnamon, pumpkin and a drizzle of caramel (and whipped cream, or ice cream...) and I'm in cheesecake heaven. For some reason, cheesecake has always intimidated me so I never make them. After a few flops, I decided to try, try again. I chose to adapt a recipe for pumpkin cheesecake bars into a cheesecake (and by adapt I mean I used a springform pan instead of the 8X8 pan called for). No biggie. If you have never tried to make your own cheesecake out of fear, let me put your worries to rest. Follow the recipe and you'll be fine. Make sure you let the cream cheese soften, really soften. Leave out for at least two hours prior to use or else you'll end up with lumps, no matter how much you mix. Next, cook until just set and starting to crack. Nothing says failure like a dry, burned cheesecake! Lastly, Let chill for 4-5 hours but preferably overnight. Warm cheesecake is a no-no. But it turned out to be a perfectly yummy farewell to pumpkin. I think it's time to move on to the chocolaty, minty, and cinnamon-y flavors of Christmas. Goodbye, fall, hello winter (almost!) Here's one last hoorah before bidding adieu to pumpkin!!
Here's the recipe:

CRUST:
20 cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies, blended into crumbs and pressed into pan.
FILLING:
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Press cookie crumbs into desired pan then combine remaining ingredients and pour into pan. Bake at 350 ° for about 45 minutes, or until center is set. Let cool and chill overnight if possible, but at least 4 hours.



adapted from http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/pumpkin-cheesecake-bars-10000002012849/

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmastime in the 951


Christmas has come early this year. If it wasn't for the fact that I hosted Thanksgiving and felt it only fair to give my guests one last glimpse of fall, Christmas would have been in full swing much sooner. But the next day, it was on! Our tree is up, candles are lit and garland has been hung. There was no fooling around. My kids and I started early and by lunchtime, Christmas had arrived. I only hoped my hubby wouldn't be too put that we didn't wait for him...he survived. Happy trimming!! What are your favorite decorating traditions??
 
 
Preparing for Thanksgiving...
 
                                                                 Hello, Christmas!!!

                                                                Don't forget the stairs!!!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Party Favors

I hosted Thanksgiving this year and as with any gathering, I must make favors. No party or get-together is too small for favors, in my opinion. It's so much fun to see guests off with a small, handmade token! So Thanksgiving was no exception! I racked my brain for the perfect treat...toffee? cookies? mini pies in mason jars? Cute, but no. Everyone would be stuffed to the gills and probably wouldn't be in the mood for more treats so I came up with butter mints. You know the fluffy, soft and sweet mints you get from restaurants? Yep, I made them! There were plenty of recipes out there, most very simple so I figured I'd give it a whirl. They were so easy to make, I let my kids help and since a double recipe is no more work, I doubled it! Here is the recipe if you want to copy and make this delicious minty treat! Note: I omitted the food coloring.

Butter Mints
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 cups powdered sugar plus more for rolling out
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
Food coloring (if using..)
Combine ingredients and mix with electric mixer until dough comes together. Dust counter with powdered sugar and roll out small logs and cut into bite-sized pieces. Let air-dry 2-3 hours then store in covered container.

                                                          Gather your ingredients...

                                                          Mix and form into a ball
                                                Separate into several logs and start cutting!

                                                    Enjoy the buttery bits of mintiness!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving...on $50???

Recently, while reading a holiday magazine, I came across an article on how to create a Thanksgiving dinner for ten people under $100. "That's easy", I thought, "give me a real challenge!" So Thanksgiving under $50 was born. Now you may have already done your Thanksgiving dinner shopping but Christmas is just around the corner, and then New Year's so with all the parties and hosting you'll be doing, here are a few ways to keep your budget in check.
- First, keep your main dish around $15. Think it can't be done? Think again. Whole turkeys and hams are usually around $0.79 a pound during peak season but that doesn't mean you're stuck with just those options. A big lasagna, a bag of chicken, or a large roast can easily be transformed into a mean main dish!
- Then, choose one or two killer appetizers. Think a yummy homemade dip or cheese platter with fruit. You don't need the chips/dip AND the veggie platter AND the fruit!!
- Keep your drink selections to a minimum. It's amazing how quickly your drink tab can add up! Choose a main beverage like iced tea or lemonade and water and call it a day! 
- Keep side dishes simple. Potatoes, casseroles and salad go a long way.
- Don't go crazy with dessert. So many times, people are so full by the end of a big meal, they either decline dessert altogether or choose something small. So keep dessert options basic. Apple pie a la mode or brownies and cookies are enough!
Lastly, keep your eyes peeled for coupons around the holidays. I always get great coupons from Vons in the mail and from Target with my receipt. Just this week I got a 4-pound bag of chicken breast with a FREE marinade, bag of rice and veggie. At Target, I've gotten several $5-off coupons towards groceries. Shop wisely, keep your menu simple and you will save!!! What are you making this year???

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Holiday Dinner

What do you make year after year for your holiday dinner? Turkey? A ham? Something less traditional? Well, this year, being in my streamlined mode, I decided to make Thanksgiving and Christmas easy. No stress, no fuss even though I am hosting family. I promised myself that after years of being tense and terse prior to those holiday get-togethers, I would finally let go. No more scouring aisle after aisle in search of the perfect gift that does not exist, no more going over budget to make more treats and purchase "one more gift", and no more running like a chicken with it's head cut off in the hour before guests arrive for dinner. What's the point? Are people coming over to critique my housekeeping and cooking skills or to fellowship, laugh and share their blessings of the year? Exactly. So everyone is pitching in and I am keeping our meals pared down to a couple good appetizers, a mouth-watering main dish and a handful of homemade sweets. I'm going to focus on making memories this year and developing traditions for my children. I want them to look back on the sweet treats made in the kitchen with mommy and remember the fun, not the stress on my face when the powdered sugar was spilled or the frosting was smeared. And I want them to remember what the reason is behind the season. Here's to living in the moment! 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Christmas Nightmare

Saturday night was the Bass Pro Shop opening night for their Christmas Wonderland. They were going to have carolers, milk and cookies and coloring books for the kids, fun activities and of course, visits with Santa. Although we'd been fighting the sniffles and I would have rather been in bed, we waited patiently for Daddy to come home so we could go. Dressed in their Christmas best, my kids were bouncing off the walls, eager to get out the door and on with the fun. Only fun was not to be had right away. First, walking into the shop, we realized that there was just no way we were going to see the big man. The line was wrapped halfway around the store, and the store is HUGE. So with my daughter in tears, we walked around, trying to engage the kids in the activities...letters to Santa, remote control cars, the carousel and shooting range, all to no avail. They had one-track minds that night, Santa.
So after a failed attempt at making the night better, we tried to console the kids with the milk and cookies...that they had run out of. Not to be deterred, we bought the kids a snack and took a little break. As my daughter continued to fight tears, we were about to give up and head out when, wouldn't you know it, the line had eased up. Finally! We got in line and while the kids watched The Elf on the Shelf to pass the time, we were there before we knew it! A cute picture and a chat with Santa and we were on our way. Our night was salvaged and after I popped some Thera-Flu and headed off to bed, I was relieved that somehow what started as a Christmas disaster ended a fun family night! And you better believe we are heading back with the free kids meal coupons we received!! I highly recommend going now that opening night is over and things have settled! http://www.basspro.com



                                                  Finally happy after their visit with Santa!


Monday, November 12, 2012

Starbucks Copycat Cakes

I simply adore Starbucks coffee cake. It's moist, full of flavor and that topping is to die for. Crumbly and sweet and full of cinnamon, it's a splurge on the rare occasions I actually go to Starbucks. So I considered myself lucky when I stumbled upon the recipe for it a couple years ago and I've been making it ever since. It's what I bring for potluck breakfasts and brunches and something I like to have on hand for a snack. It is definitely a treat though, as it's full of sugar and butter and quite frankly, I don't even want to know the calorie count. Ignorance is bliss. Anyway, I've been thinking about making small loaves of this for my neighbors this year for Christmas but decided to do something a little different. I thought a chocolate spice cake would do the trick and let my fingers do the walking in search of a perfect recipe. As luck would have it, and thanks to my Pinterest obsession, I found another Starbucks copycat recipe! This one is a Chocolate Cinnamon Loaf that sounds amazing. I've never actually had it at Starbucks but I gave it a try and it was awesome!! Soft, chocolaty, with the slightest bit of kick thanks to ginger, cloves and cinnamon, it is perfect with a cup of coffee. Here are the recipes for both cakes...which is your favorite??

Chocolate Cinnamon Loaf
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cocoa powder
pinch ground cloves
pinch of ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 350F and thoroughly grease a 9×5″ loaf pan.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time, waiting until the previous egg has been completely incorporated before adding the next. In a medium bowl, sift together all purpose flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In a measuring cup, whisk together buttermilk, water and vanilla extract. Working in two or three additions, alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture to the sugar mixture. Begin and end with an addition of the flour mix. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. In a small bowl, whisk together topping ingredients: sugar, cinnamon, cocoa powder and ground cloves. Sprinkle evenly on top of the loaf cake.
Bake at 350F for about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Allow cake to cool in pan for 10-15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and turn out onto a wire cooling rack.
Cool completely before slicing.
Adapted from http://www.staceysnacksonline.com/2009/02/chocolate-cinnamon-loaf-w-sugar-spice.html

Coffee Cake
1 Box Yellow Cake Mix (plus ingredients on back of box)
2 Sticks cold salted butter
2 1/4 Cups flour
1 1/2 Tablespoons cinnamon
1 3/4 Cups sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Prepare cake mix in large bowl according to directions on box. Spray 2 9X13 loaf pans or one 9X13 pan with non-stick spray. Pour batter into pan. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until center is just barely set. While cake is baking, prepare crumb topping. In large bowl of electric mixer combine, butter, flour, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla until all crumbly. Immediately after cake is removed from oven, break crumb topping into marble size pieces with fingers, sprinkling over top. Put back in oven and bake an additional 10-15 minutes (topping will begin to look a little less wet/raw). Let cool fully then dust with powdered sugar, using a sieve.
Cut into squares and serve.
I like to serve this one chilled, like they do at Starbucks!!!

share with friends
Adapted  from http://www.bakespace.com/recipes/detail/Copycat-Starbucks-Coffee-Cake/11265/

Sunday, November 11, 2012

This Week's Menu

This week I decided to ditch my boring and blah "same-old, same-old" dinner routine. I had gotten a recipe recently that both my sisters raved about and decided to give it a shot. It was a sweet potato and black bean taco dish but being that my hubby is a carnivore through and through, I decided to twist it up and add some ground chicken, some extra veggies and make it my own. Now, I hate to admit this, but aside from throwing some frozen sweet potato fries in the oven here and there, I've never made a sweet potato. Boy, was I missing out! I simply diced the potato and cooked in a skillet with some olive oil for about ten minutes, until the potato was soft. My son wanted a taste and LOVED it just that way, plain and simply. But I wasn't done. I added some onion, garlic, chopped red pepper and ground chicken to the mix. Then, as if that wasn't hearty enough, I threw in some Mexican rice to seal the deal. Not only did this dish taste great, but it yielded a ton...enough for two meals! I urge you to try sweet potatoes if you haven't! They will add body and texture to meals and are also chock full of vitamins a and c and picky kids will go for them!! So here it is, this week's menu, including the tacos:

Friday: Chili
Saturday: Dinner out!
Sunday: Sweet potato tacos/black beans
Monday: Grilled cheese/fruit smoothies
Tuesday: Teriyaki chicken burgers/oven fries
Wednesday: Pasta/garlic bread
Thursday: Leftovers

Here's the original recipe for the tacos! http://www.oprah.com/food/Roasted-Sweet-Potato-and-Black-Bean-Tacos-Recipe

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Great Gifts for $10 or Less!

This year, I'm streamlining my gift-giving and trying to keep my gifts simple, practical and thoughtful. Also, I'm trying to avoid a ton of unnecessary "extras" and use our Christmas cash wisely. Here are a few inexpensive but useful gift ideas:
- Gift cards to coffee, fast food, the movies...etc. I can't think of anyone who would not appreciate this. If you include babysitting in the deal, even better!! We are all watching our spending these days and it's nice to be able to treat yourself!
- Bake something!! Giving a homemade gift is priceless and neighbors, co-workers, and friends alike will appreciate a goody. Think outside the box, though- instead of more cookies or brownies, make something like granola or jam or create a do-it-yourself baking mix. Don't forget the packaging!Cellophane and a ribbon go a long way!
- Splurge on quality votives and tuck them into a clear gift bag with chocolate kisses and a few gift basket shreds (don't forget the ribbon!!). For under $5, you've got the perfect gift for your hairdresser, your kid's teachers or the women in your bible study or bunco group. It's a great gift for a group as it's inexpensive but looks pretty and come on, who won't use a candle??
- For parents and grandparents, buy a holiday themed frame and add a picture of your kids!
- Buy small, hand-picked boxes of See's Candies chocolates for everyone. Or choose from a TON of gifts under $10 and let's not forget the best part...the free sample!!!

Cookie Mix Jar            St. Nicholas Square Jingle Bell 5 x 7 Frame

Happy shopping!! Got any other ideas for under $10???

Friday, November 9, 2012

Santa is Tightening His Belt This Year

As I prepare my gift list for this year's Christmas shopping, I am trying to keep our budget in mind. It's hard to stick to a certain dollar amount when you find the perfect gift that is over the limit, want to buy extras like jammies for the kids, baking ingredients for special treats and fun photo cards. It's no wonder most of us either go into debt during the holidays or dip into funds beyond our Christmas cash! Here's what I have in mind to stick to our budget this year- simplify, simplify, simplify!!
It really does make a difference when you streamline your shopping and put blinders on, avoiding potential spending on items you didn't want in the first place. For example, I was lured into the cosmetics section the other day at Kohl's because there were a TON of "buy-one, get-one" deals on items like body wash, lotion and perfume spray. The thing I failed to remember in that moment?? I didn't need those and nobody on my list was getting them so I moved on!! Here's how I'm keeping myself in check this year and maybe my tips will help you too!
- First, set a total spending limit then divide it by how many people you have to shop for...easy enough, right?? Don't be discouraged if you have a smaller budget this year. You can find some great gifts for under $10, believe it or not!! (more on that tomorrow...)
- Write down your ideas for people before you shop or you might end up in a Bermuda Triangle, circling the store and wandering aisles aimlessly..
- Keep gifts simple and useful. Also, consider a "theme". For example, if you know the women in your family or a group of girlfriends really will use bath and body products, then by all means, stock up and take advantage of the deals and give them all the same gift. Or give everyone pajamas, coffee gift cards or subscriptions to magazines.
- Instead of ordering expensive photo cards, print them yourself at Walgreen's, Target or Wal-Mart for as little as fifty cents each. Or, buy boxed cards (they even have them at the 99 Cent Store...) and let your kids decorate them.
- I'm going to forgo matching jammies for my kids this year. They have sooo many already and it's just not necessary!
- Host a clothing swap with friends and put together fun holiday outfits. There's no reason you have to buy new outfits for every Christmas party, photo session, dinner...etc.
How will you save this Christmas???

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Zesty "Garbage" Soup

Normally, I'm not a fan of the garbage soup. Perhaps it's because it took on a new meaning growing up. My dad could make soup out of anything but it didn't always have the most appetizing end result. I could never be sure if there were leftovers from people's plates in there or perhaps leftovers gone bad...So I never partook (love ya, Dad!) But now that I'm an adult and not only cook the food but have to pay for it every week, I have a new appreciation for the saying "waste not, want not". The worst thing I can do in the kitchen is throw food away. I hate doing it!!
So as the leftovers from the other night's chicken and couscous sat for a day or two, I decided to turn them into a delicious soup. I started with an onion, garlic and green pepper, the veggies I had on hand and simmered on low with some olive oil. After letting them cook about ten minutes and soften, I added chicken broth (36 oz. box..), a can of tomatoes and the leftover chicken (diced) and threw the couscous in at the end, when the soup was boiling. I also threw in some random seasonings I had on hand, but most of the flavor comes from the broth. I topped it with some crushed tortilla chips and sour cream and turned something drab into something fab!! What will you (re) create tonight???

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Homemade Holiday

I know, I know...Halloween just passed and I'm already on to the next holiday...Christmas!! I know what you're thinking, "that's not the next holiday, Emily!" but really, it's the next big thing. Yes, we have Thanksgiving to contend with but it's just really the opening act for the main event. So out come the tubs of Christmas decorations and off I go planning, making lists, turning up my Christmas music, and most importantly, getting my DIY activities going. No, I don't do it all homemade and I take the help where I can, but part of the fun of Christmas is putting together a gingerbread house with the kids, making a Christmas wreath and baking homemade goodies for the neighbors. So with projects in mind, I have the perfect one to get you started!! It's super easy, requires very little effort but has a stunning outcome. Oh, and it's very inexpensive to make. Last year, I crafted the perfect wreath for my front door using some bulb ornaments, foam, tissue, and hot glue. That was it!!! Here's how it turned out!


First, cut your foam (or cardboard, or wood...) into the desired shape. I chose rectangle as it would look a little more modern and give my door some character. Next, hot glue tissue all over (cut tissue into squares and twist bottom to make little "puffs" to give dimension...) then glue bulbs in tissue, placing all over and creating a pattern so the bulbs are evenly distributed. Then hang!! It takes less than thirty minutes to create this one-of-a-kind Christmas decoration that you made yourself!
To get more ideas, I always check out Pinterest, the Martha Stewart website and am constantly scouring magazines for displays I want to copy. What are you going to make??

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Santa Clause is Coming to Town...Rancho Cucamonga, to be Exact!!!

Yo, check it...every year since my daughter was born, we've taken her (and now my son..) to Bass Pro Shops to visit Santa. It is the best Santa by far, we have ever experienced. Being that my hubby is keen on all things for an outdoorsman, off to Bass Pro we would go on any given weekend...to browse, to eat, to window shop..but the year we had our daughter, our eyes perked at the sight of the Santa display. Actually, a display doesn't do it justice. It's a wonderland. They have a working carousel, a kid's area with activities that include coloring, games, and a shooting gallery and most importantly, visits with the big man, including a picture, absolutely free. Oh, and they usually have coupons for free kids meals at the restaurant, the Islamorada Fish Company, which has great food and is the perfect way to end the day. This year, Santa will be arriving Saturday evening, Nov. 10th at 5:00 and stay until 8:00. It sounds like it will be amazing, complete with cookies and hot chocolate for the kids, free giveaways and carolers on top of everything else I mentioned. Don't miss this first night with Santa!! If you can't make it, fear not for Santa will be there until Christmas eve. I highly recommend going, even if you have to drive a little to get there. If you plan to take your kids to see Santa this Christmas season, this will not disappoint. Oh, and there are plenty of photo ops for your Christmas cards!! We plan on going this weekend so I'll keep you posted!! Here are some pics from last year:

                                                                  At Santa's village
                                                          Getting in on the drawing!!
Photo op out front..
For more info, check out basspro.com

Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Son Sleeps in My Bed...Wanna Make Something of it??

No, I'm not trying to pick a fight!! We all have our weaknesses, the chinks in our armor as moms. Maybe you give your kids sweets before breakfast, fail to follow through on punishments or in my case, allow your baby in your bed long past their infant days. Actually, I may do all three...but I don't think I'm the only one. Despite our best efforts as moms to feed our kids healthy, balanced meals, take them outside to play, dress them nicely and teach them manners, we all fall flat at one point or another. Some days I am just way too tired for another stinkin' craft, don't have the energy to walk to the park and don't always get the bath in at the end of the day. So when my son cries at 2:30 a.m. because he wants mommy, I'm not fighting it. I know at some point, he's gotta outgrow it and I pray daily that he will sooner than later 'cause mommy is tired but I'm not ready to face that battle just yet.
All too often us moms are hesitant to disclose our weaknesses and it's no wonder. With Pinterest crafting projects, Facebook posts with pictures of perfection and bloggers boasting their kids latest accomplishments (cough, cough)...it's no wonder it looks like we have it all together!! But that's just on paper. The day to day?? Forget about it! My floors are always sticky, my kids seem to have perpetually dirty faces and clothes, and I never, I mean never seem to have enough time in the day to do it all. Scrapbooking?? Color-coordinating outfits on Sunday with a perfect homemade lunch to follow? Forget about it!! I do my best to keep it together and I'm betting you do too. So let's go easy on each other, sisters. And go easy on ourselves!!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

My Menu

This week I was a little unprepared for grocery shopping. I didn't have time to compile recipes and make the usual 7-day menu but have a few meals in mind...

Saturday: Chicken salad on croissants
Sunday: Pesto pasta with garlic bread
Monday: Chicken with couscous and broccoli
Tuesday: Grilled cheese w/fruit
Wednesday: Dinner out!
Thursday: ???
Friday: Shopping day, thank God!!
What's your meal plan?? Any good recipes? Share them here!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Supermarket Savings...How I Did!!!

So last month after facing the music and reconciling our bank account, I was SHOCKED to see that my hubby and I had spent a whopping $776.49 on...food for the month. Just food. I'll let that sink in for a moment. Of course, we have to eat but not to this excess! Half was spent just on fast food alone and the other was on groceries but also included things like soda, unhealthy snacks, odds and ends for the house and indulgences like ice cream and sweets...things that we certainly did not need (also..our Jack-In-The-Box shakes...sigh.) So I sat my hubby down and gave him the cold, hard facts. We were overspending.
We decided for the month of October we would set some parameters: spend no more than $100 a week on groceries and limit our eating out to once a week each and once a week as a family, which kept things realistic. We were also very conscious of frivolous spending. No trips to Target just because (I would end up spending money on nonsense, naturally) no more random drive-thru stops for cookies and a soda (did we need either?? don't think so!!) and most importantly, less eating out altogether! Eating more at home would naturally cause us to eat healthier, or so we hoped. So how did we do??? Drum roll please....we spent $453.88 on food in October. That gave us a savings of $322.12 in one month, not bad if I do say so myself!!
Over the course of a year, that's over $3600!!!! That's A LOT of money! In just a year, we'd have enough for a family vacation, a new car, a huge chunk o' change toward debt or hello, money in our  savings...not eaten. So how can you save money too????
- Make a list and menu for the week with a meatless night or two thrown in. It's amazing how much food is wasted when you don't have a plan and meat every night can be pricey.
- Rethink dinner out. If you need a break from cooking, (who doesn't??) hit places with coupons or where kids eat free.
- Pack lunches for work. This is huge!! Lunches cost at least $4 so that's $20 in just one week!
So, are you up for the challenge??? How will you save?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Things Pumpkin

Being Halloween, I decided it was time to equip you with all things pumpkin. There is something heavenly about a pumpkin candle burning, sipping a pumpkin latte, or munching delicious pumpkin muffins. Or pancakes. Or cheesecake...you get the point. And since Thanksgiving is less than a month away, I figure we need to enjoy these warm flavors before St. Nick comes a' calling. So here goes, a few fun and delightful (and slightly indulgent!) recipes to get you into the spirit of fall. Treat yourself today!

Silver Dollar Pumpkin Pancakes (thank you, Pioneer Woman!!)
  • 3 cups Cake Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Baking Powder
  • 3 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 2 cups Canned Pumpkin Puree
  • 2 whole Eggs
  • 3 teaspoons Vanilla
  • 2-1/2 cups Milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • Butter, For Serving
  • Maple Syrup, Warmed, For Serving
  • Finely Chopped Pecans, For Serving
  • Caramel Sauce, For Drizzling (optional)
  • Mix first nine ingredients and drop tablespoons of batter onto hot griddle. Flip after about a minute and let cook until golden brown. Toppings optional but what good is a pancake without all the accoutrements?? Enjoy!!


    adapted from http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2012/10/silver-dollar-pumpkin-pancakes/

    Here are a few more ways to use canned pumpkin (15 oz. can):
    Easy Pumpkin Pie- Combine one can pumpkin puree with one block softened cream cheese, one cup sugar and half tub Cool Whip. Pour into prepared graham cracker pie shell and top with the remaining Cool Whip. Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve!
    Pumpkin Brownies- Combine one can pumpkin puree with one box brownie mix and bake according to box directions. That's it. Seriously!!
    Pumpkin Spice Latte-  Are you sooo over paying $4+ for a cup of Jo?? Me too!! Prepare your own coffee (one cup) to taste with sugar and milk, then add 2-3 tablespoons pureed pumpkin and about 1 teaspoon cinnamon, to taste. Simmer over low heat until pumpkin has dissolved.
    There are endless ways to use this year's bounty of pumpkins so get crackin'!! What will you make?? Happy Halloween! Be safe!








    Sunday, October 28, 2012

    Getting My Groove Back...Slowly

    Recently, I've felt more tired than ever. It's like four-and-a-half years of being a stay-home mommy have finally caught up to me. The sleepless nights with a two-year-old in my bed, running after toddlers and caring for a home, planning meals and potty training have all got me feeling like a train wreck. Oh, and I gave up caffeine. And after a short bought of the stomach flu, I finally feel like I'm getting back on my feet. It's taken a couple weeks, but I'm slowly pulling things together. I decided I needed to ditch the excuses and get back in the game. So what did I do?? First, I started walking again. It was easy to get off track while I was sick and all the pathetic justifications to myself piled up...as did a few pounds!! It's amazing what a difference a daily dose of exercise makes!! And I'm getting outside, taking the kids for walks, doing projects and just keeping busy. So I'm getting there one day at a time. Whatever is going on in our lives, it's so important to find a way through the mess and take time for ourselves. "Mommy" is the best and hardest job I've ever had but I'm doing it and surviving!! How do you beat a case of the "blahs"??

    Friday, October 26, 2012

    My Menu

    Today I did my grocery shopping and spent a little more than usual. A couple snacks/some candy for Halloween parties..etc. and I racked up $70.00! Normally, my total is anywhere from $50-$60 and people have asked how I do it?!? Well, by the end of the week we are scraping by and eating peanut butter and jelly for lunch, I don't buy any drinks except for milk and sometimes mixes from the 99 Cent Store and I plan inexpensive, but healthy meals ahead of time and save by keeping things simple. Oh, and the "dinner out" night is usually something we have coupons for like Del Taco, Subway or an In-N-Out splurge!! Here's how this week looks:

    Saturday: Hash brown casserole with cinnamon rolls (hubby's request!)
    Sunday: Shepherd's pie
    Monday: Rigatoni with meat sauce/salad/garlic bread
    Tuesday: Hot dogs/organic oven fries
    Wednesday: Halloween!! Grilled cheese and turkey "batwiches"/carrots and broccoli
    Thursday: Tuna casserole
    Friday: Out!!
    What are you eating this week??

    Wednesday, October 24, 2012

    The Tooth Fairy Debacle

    Yesterday, my daughter's first tooth finally fell out after being loose for months. Of course that meant Daddy and I had some work to do. Some Lalaloopsy stickers, a couple gold coins and a little fairy dust and we were good to go! Or so I thought. After placing the treats under her pillow carefully and leaving a sweet but urgent note from the tooth fairy, (be a good girl!! Obey Mommy and Daddy and no hitting your brother!!) she awoke excited and surprised. But then something unexpected happened. Jovie wanted to look online at all the Lalaloopsy girls so I obliged. After perusing the different dolls,  there was one that looked a little...creepy. At least to a four-and-a-half year old. So the meltdown began and for the next hour, she sobbed, wailed and cried. I tried to distract her, refocus her attention on books, play-doh..etc. to no avail. Finally, finally after her brother and I were almost done with a princess puzzle, she came around to help. This left me wondering why I even bother. No, I can't always foresee what will set my kids off but I guess I just need to be a little more discerning in the future. So the Tooth Fairy tried. She did her best and hopefully by this afternoon my little lady will forget all about the horror of the Lalaloopsy doll. Sometimes you win some and sometimes you lose, but I guess that goes with the territory of being a parent.

                                                                            Pre-meltdown...

    Monday, October 22, 2012

    Every Night is Date Night

    Ok, ladies..I don't know about you but I'm pretty sure when we become mommies, date night goes out the door. It's just a fact. Along with long, hot showers, pedicures, shopping in peace, and peeing with the door closed, date night goes bye-bye. Don't believe me?? Then you are a freak. And I envy you. Ok, there. I said it. So for the rest of us harried, wary, tired, cranky and just-barely-treading-water mommies, stay with me. Oh, and I have to confess. Date night has lost it's luster a bit in light of the fact that I'd much rather be in bed in my jammies at 9:00 than out on the town. Glad I got that off my chest. But with all that said, I actually do grasp the importance of it. And Mama's going to start embracing it. Yes, we are busy. We are tired and my hubby works a lot but you know what I've realized? It doesn't really matter how fancy, how unique or how long your date night lasts, it just matters that you have one once in a while. Last night, we went to the movies (Taken 2- really good, by the way..) and got dinner after and it was awesome. But if you can't get a sitter or don't have it in your budget to go out, pick a movie, a board game, a meal and go at it. Have some fun together, some time to talk and to really enjoy each other. When the kids are grown and it's just the two of us in the house, I want to still know my hubby, to still have things to say to him and for him to know that I'm still making an effort. Oh, and that I am still in love with him too. Yes, we are all trying to survive these crazy years with little ones and it's not always easy but it's so worth it. So pencil him in and get started! What will you do for date night???

    Friday, October 19, 2012

    Grocery Store Savings: My Menu

    I went to the grocery store today instead of tomorrow, my regular shopping day, since I got some awesome coupons from Vons and additionally, they always have special deals on Fridays! For example, $5 for various bulk items such as toilet paper and snacks and $5 pizzas. So with coupons in hand, I spent the next forty-five minutes or so wrangling my kids and shopping cart and filled up on the great deals. The coupons from the mail (keep an eye out..they don't expire until Oct. 31st..) had $10 off $50 or more, a $5 rotisserie chicken and a FREE bagged salad, french loaf, and box of Rice-A-Roni!! Talk about saving money!! So I shopped wisely and spent a mere $41.30 on my groceries for the week. Now, as is my usual disclaimer, I will probably need a few odds and ends during the week (a cookie mix from the 99 Cent Store, perhaps??) but I am well below my weekly budget of $100!!! I try and use the grocery budget for other incidentals during the week as well like a contribution towards my bible study potluck or snacks for my daughter's play group. It all comes out of that $100. Here's how my menu looks:

    Saturday: Rotisserie Chicken/Rice-A-Roni
    Sunday: Date Night!!!
    Monday: Spaghetti/Garlic Bread
    Tuesday: BBQ Chicken Wraps/Organic Oven Fries
    Wednesday: Chicken Salad (with leftover rotisserie chicken..) French Bread
    Thursday: Chicken and White Cheddar Flautas
    Friday: Out!!
    I know there's a lot of chicken dishes but with my $5 chicken and organic chicken on sale, I couldn't pass it up!! What are you cooking this week???

    Thursday, October 18, 2012

    Halloween Fun: DIY Style

    The past couple of weeks, my kids and I have been ensconced in all that is Halloween. From crafts to goodies and everything in-between, our home has been transformed into a festive fall fest. There are sooo many things you can do with your kids. All they need is a blank canvas and their imaginations will go wild! Blank paper, wood frames or shapes, cupcakes and more can be turned into a wonderful afternoon project. On our agenda?? Painting frames and decorating cupcakes. All you need are a few supplies: paint, stickers, pom-poms, pipe cleaners and for the treats? Frosting and sprinkles! Kids are just begging to get their hands dirty and create something all their own! So get going and get into the spirit of all that is Halloween!
    And speaking of the spirit of Halloween, there's no better DIY project than making your kids a one-of-a-kind costume! Here are some ideas:
    - Bugs! Ladybugs, bees and butterflies are easy to make. A pair of wings, leggings and an antennae headband are simple to put together.
    - Superheros can easily be made by creating a no-sew cape out of an old t-shirt (cut the sleeves off and leave the back and neck to slip over their head..) Add a mask and voila! Superhero!
    - Turn your little one into a cowboy or girl by throwing them in jeans, a flannel shirt and a hat from a discount store.
    - Recycle an old holiday dress and add a wand and tiara and you'll have a princess in no time!
    Check out marthastewart.com and Pinterest for more fun ideas!!
    What will your little one be??


                                                                          paint...
                                                                          more paint...

                                                                      Gobbling cupcakes!

    Wednesday, October 17, 2012

    Hot Dog Diaries

    I have a confession. We eat a lot of hot dogs around here. I mean a lot. For instance, my son just requested one for a late-morning snack and my daughter will eat a hot dog as her main course daily. Now, I know they are not the best dish ever but I buy either organic or kosher hot dogs and serve them with fruits and veggies so as not to feel quite as bad. But still, a hot dog is a hot dog. They are relatively inexpensive, go perfectly with homemade mac n' cheese (or the boxed kind, let's be real..) and are a super easy go-to as they simply require a quick zap in the microwave. I know, I know...I should switch it up and offer my kids a bounty of options at mealtime but when I find something they LOVE and will eat happily (with no arguing or whining or fits, I might add...) then I stick to it!! So come on and confess, what's the one thing you can't keep from your kiddos???

    Tuesday, October 16, 2012

    Too Busy For TV

    Lately, as the weather has taken a cooler turn, my kids and I have had the joy of going outside more without worrying about sweltering heat. It's amazing how much fun kids have just running, playing, digging and being outdoors. Lately, there have been more and more times where a whole day will go by and we haven't made any "deposits" in our TV account. I see it like this: TV, for me, is used as a chance for my kids to relax a bit and take a break from a long day of hard play and/or a chance for mommy to have a little quiet time. Sure, there are plenty of ways to keep them occupied but sometimes, TV is the answer. I allow my kids no more than two hours a day and honestly, most days we rarely hit that quota. Between reading, drawing, outdoor time, playing in their room, doing puzzles...etc., it's easy to forget about TV altogether. And the more I just let my children "be", without feeling like I need to plan their entire day, the better they play. It seems the less I meddle, the more they come up with things to do on their own. Yes, most of my day is spent sitting cross-legged on the floor playing or sitting at the table doing projects with my kids but as they get older, they are becoming more independent and playing better together. At first, it kind of freaked me out. I've had moments where I think "ummm...what do I do with myself??" but I quickly find a project, a pile of laundry or my very favorite...a  good book!! So let your kids be kids and give them time to find things to do when the boredom bug bites. The less TV they watch, the more time they will have to learn, play and explore!! What are your favorite activities to do with your kids?

    Saturday, October 13, 2012

    My Menu

    Today, after spending $43.32 at Sprouts, I knew I would need to hit Target also but was off to a good start with my menu. I LOVE Sprout's for their abundant selection of healthy and organic options, low priced fruits and veggies and for their bulk bins. However, they do lack certain items I use like Nathan's hot dogs and Gatorade. So yes, I will have to go to another store this week but with our new $100 a week food budget, I have plenty to spare. Here are a few tips to stretch your grocery budget that have helped me:
    - Spread your meat through the week. Use it as an accent to a meal instead of it being the star of the show. Instead of using a 20 oz. package of ground turkey for a meatloaf, use half for tacos and half for spaghetti. Be creative in your cooking and go meatless now and then!
    - Buy your produce in it's most simplest form. A head of lettuce, for example instead of a bagged and washed variety or carrots whole instead of pre-cut in a bag. All the prep work you do will cost you a little time, but save money!
    - Quit buying boxed and packaged snacks. This is a toughie...I would much rather hand my kids a granola bar than cut up apples, cheese and carrots but the extra work is worth the time and health of my children! Make it easy by prepping food as soon as you're home from the store!

    Here's how my menu looks:

    Saturday: Spaghetti with ground turkey/garlic bread
    Sunday: Hot dogs/organic oven fries
    Monday: Organic chili/cornbread
    Tuesday: Meatball subs with mozzarella
    Wednesday: Breakfast for dinner!! Blueberry pancakes, bacon and hash browns
    Thursday: Grilled cheese/salad
    Friday: Dinner out!!

    What will you make this week??

    Thursday, October 11, 2012

    God Made Dirt...

    And dirt don't hurt! At least that's what I've been telling myself the past couple days as my kids have discovered the joy of making mud. It's incredible how much time they can spend digging in the dirt, covered from head to toe in pure delight. Although today is cold and calling for rain, I acquiesced when my daughter begged to play in the dirt on the patio. She had to make her mud creations, her hot chocolate and cakes. How could I say no? So out my babies went to play in the dirt. The same dirt we had covered with mulch in an effort to make our patio presentable. I can't complain though because I am crossing things off my to-do list in no time! Just this morning alone I was able to make a grocery list after perusing various websites for recipes, check my e-mail, pay some bills and most importantly, get some reading in. All thanks to the mud. Yes, I'll have a mess to clean up later on and the kids will no doubt traipse in barefoot, bringing the yard in with them. But for some peace and quiet, I will pay the devil his dues! A little water will make it all better. How do your kids stay outta your hair...er, I mean how do your kids stay busy??




    Wednesday, October 10, 2012

    Crisis Averted

    We went to Palm Springs this past weekend and although we had a few speed bumps along the way, I'm soooo glad we went. First, I left our Knott's Soak City passes at home (the reason behind the trip!!). I didn't realize until we were almost there so on to Plan B we went. Trying to fill that empty day with fun for our kids proved easier than I thought. A trip to the mall, a park, and the movies all proved to be delightful time spent as a family. But then, while we were waiting for our horse and carriage ride, my kids found a patch of dirt and got...dirty...really, really dirty. But Logan had an even better surprise for Mommy. He had an accident...a messy, messy one. His legs, underwear, shorts...it was everywhere! But I was undeterred. A visit to the car and a whole pack of wipes later, we were back on track. And while my kids had trouble settling in to sleep in the hotel beds and were grouchy in the morning, a cooked to order breakfast made us all a little happier. All in all, we had a great time soaking up the sun, swimming, playing and having an adventure together. We are blessed that my hubby has a stable job (with vacation time!), healthy kids, and a car to take us on our not-so-perfect trips together. I'll take time with my family any way I can get it! So take some time to enjoy your family, in whatever way your budget allows. As long as you are together, it doesn't have to be perfect. What will you do??

    Pre-poop disaster..
     
    At dinner
      
    My boys ;)
     
    Posing for Mommy after much arm-twisting!
     

    Monday, October 8, 2012

    A Week of Groceries

    Here's my meal plan for the week, based on a mere $55.47 spent at Sprout's. Because we were out of town this past weekend, I shopped today instead of Saturday. Here's how it looks:

    Monday: Chicken Ranch and Bacon Paninis with Potato Chips
    Tuesday: Talapia with salad and baked potatoes
    Wednesday: Chicken Tacos
    Thursday: Penne with Homemade Meatballs and salad
    Friday: Dinner out!
    So far, we have stuck to our fast-food budget and have cut loads of calories as well, I'm sure! What  are you making this week??

    Thursday, October 4, 2012

    Budgeting 101

    October being the Beebe Family Money Challenge kickoff, I wanted to think of more ways to save besides at the supermarket and drive-thru. I got to thinking where I might be able to cut corners even more and realized there are little things that add up. There are the obvious things like brewing your own coffee instead of hitting Starbucks daily, cutting back on cable and internet service and eating more meals at home. This one is hard for us. Normally, when my hubby and I are craving something sweet once the kiddos have gone to bed, Mike immediately heads out for Jack in the Box shakes. We don't think twice to run out for dessert or snacks as a treat. But those treats add up. Not only do they cost dollars, but calories as well...a LOT of calories. So last night, craving a treat after dinner, we decided to take the kids for a walk to the 99 Cent Store. I got a small snack size cookie mix for just a dollar and made us a little bedtime treat with waaaay fewer calories and it took some walking to get them!
    Speaking of walking, I happen to be lucky to live in an area of my city where my kids and I can walk to a lot of places. The park, library and a small shopping center are all less than a half a mile from our house. Walking not only gives us something to do to get out of the house and get fresh air, but it also gives us a chance to save money on gas. We try to fill up no more than once a week and there are some weeks when we're on fumes by Sunday. I try to plan my week strategically, making sure I'm not taking too many long trips. The gallons add up and while pinching pennies doesn't seem like the most fun family activity, I challenge you to start small and see where you can save. Maybe you've been wanting to kick the fast food and get into better shape, start that savings account, or just have a little more at the end of the month to help someone in need. Where will you start??

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012

    It's a Wrap

    Here's a great dinner idea that's fast and easy...my requirements for meals around here! I slow cooked a 2-pound portion of chicken tenderloins with half an onion, reserving about a quarter of it for enchiladas tonight. With the rest, I added BBQ sauce and rolled it into spinach wraps and added shredded cheese. I served it with a quick boxed pasta salad mix and that I added fresh veggies to. Wraps are a little different and a little more fun than a regular tortilla because there are so many varieties to choose from. They can also be high in calories so keep an eye out. Mine had 210 calories each but I used lean chicken breast and just a sprinkle of cheese so I ate dinner happily and guilt free! These are also a great use for lunch the next day as you can stuff them with anything....veggies, salad, beans, rice...you name it!!! What will you put in yours?

                                                                          Wrap it up!!!

    Monday, October 1, 2012

    Potato Cheese, Please

    My hubby and I have been fans of potato cheese soup since way back when. The warm, creamy flavors hit the spot without hitting your pocketbook! I made a big pot of it just yesterday and for about five dollars for 8 servings, it's a deal indeed! It's velvety and rich, thanks to the addition of cream cheese. I was skeptical at first...cream cheese in soup??? But let me tell you, no other recipe I've tried for this soup even comes close. Here's my version, adapted from a few online and I highly recommend doubling it so you can freeze half. It's a bit time consuming but worth every minute!!

    Potato Cheese Soup
    4 cups chicken broth
    4 cups peeled, cubed potatoes (I baked mine in microwave 10 minutes first to speed things along!)
    1 tablespoon butter
    1/4 cup minced onion
    1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
    1/4 teaspoon pepper
    1/4 teaspoon red pepper
    1 8 oz. package cream cheese, cut into chunks
    Saute the onion and butter until onions are soft. Add broth, potatoes and spices and let boil until potatoes are tender. Mash soup slightly to release starch from potatoes then turn heat to low and add cream cheese. Let simmer until cheese is completely melted. Enjoy!




    Sunday, September 30, 2012

    Grocery Store Redux

    True to my word, I developed a plan to save money and eat better: stick to a budget and menu plan! Sounds easy enough, but was it?? Well, for my first week (though I don't start officially until Oct.1st) I'd say I'm off with a bang! I decided Saturday would be my shopping day. It's the last day of the week and the perfect time to prep in peace while my kiddos take it easy, resting from a long week. So yesterday we hit Sprouts, my favorite market, shopping list in hand. My budget was $100 for the week and I came in way under...$61.25! But that does leave me a little wiggle room in the event I need to run out for toilet paper! Although some items are more expensive there, (such as cheeses and staples like ketchup and peanut butter) they have an awesome selection of dry goods in the bulk bins and produce is dirt cheap. I'm trying to avoid processed and packaged foods anyway. I compiled a few recipes before leaving the house, planning to cook five out of the seven days this next week. We have a dinner plans one night and are "allowed" one night out to dinner a week. Here's how my menu looks:
    Sunday: Homemade potato cheese soup with french bread
    Monday: Dinner out!
    Tuesday: Crock Pot BBQ chicken wraps with salad
    Wednesday: Chicken enchiladas
    Thursday: Baked potatoes with salad
    Friday: Bowtie pesto pasta with garlic bread
    I'll post the recipes each day if you want to follow along! Wish me luck!

    Saturday, September 29, 2012

    Fast Food Frenzy

    A few days ago, I had a little banking scare. I got notice that there was a "fraud alert" on my account. After going in and double-checking everything, getting a new card and going over my accounts, everything turned out to be fine. But I did leave with some food for thought...literally. While going over my most recent debits to make sure everything was okay, I was a little chagrined as the banker read aloud the charges: Del Taco, Alberto's Mexican Food, In N Out, Taco Bell, Jack In the Box and McDonald's. Now, I didn't think we ate out that much but perhaps I've been in denial. I tend to look at fast food as a "treat" that I "deserve" because I'm home all day with the kids and just want to get out etc., etc....but between my "treats", my hubby's lunches during his workday and our splurges on the weekend, we were spending a fortune on food! And not healthy food either...we were spending our hard earned money on junk. So what a coincidence that at my last MOPS (Mother's of Pre-Shoolers...www.mops.org) meeting was a speaker on, wouldn't you know it, healthy eating on a budget. Wow. It opened my eyes and re-motivated me to get my butt back in gear and start cooking up some healthy meals and get some easy and nutritious ingredients on hand for lunches for my kids and I.
    There were no excuses for the poor eating habits we had developed and for my being a poor example to my kids. Yes, I'm tired and no, there's not a ton of time to carve out for eyeing circulars, cutting coupons and meal planning in my house but I'm going to do my best. As our speaker, Jesse Brown of inthebrownbag.com reminded us, as a stay-home mom, I am the gatekeeper of what food comes in the home. Further, part of my job is to stretch my hubby's hard earned dollar as far as it will go! So I brought up a challenge to my hubby this morning: to spend $100 max a week on groceries, cut our eating out back to twice a week and see how much we can save in a month. He is on board!  Starting Oct. 1st, I'm on a mission...feed my family healthy, tasty meals and save money in the process. I'll let you know how it's going.
    What are your tips for saving more and eating better at the checkout line???

    Tuesday, September 25, 2012

    Costo...the New Girl's Night Out??

    Yesterday I got a break from the kids while grocery shopping since my hubby was off work. Doesn't sound like the most glamorous outing but throw in a friend, Costco and some sampling and window shopping and it turned into a fun way for mommy to spend some time outside the house. I've found that as demands at home increase, time for myself has decreased so why not make fun of your errands?? So as I chatted with my girlfriend and browsed the aisles of the wondrous warehouse that is Costco, I found I came home relaxed and ready to face the daily demands once again. I had a spring in my step as I wiped a sticky table, swept lunch crumbs off the floor and put away dishes (hey my hubby can't be perfect!) Sure, a girl's night out would have probably set me back far less (I dropped $95. sigh.) But while I got snacks and stuff for dinner, I also got something much more valuable...a small glimpse of my sanity! Though I don't always have the luxury of shopping in peace, I'll take it when I can! Sometimes you gotta let the kids wreak some havoc while you catch up with a friend, take an extra long shower, or buy those impractical and expensive shoes just because. Oh, and maybe have that girl's night out! You deserve it! Take it when you can.

                                                Frozen tilapia fillets from Costco....yummy!!!

    Sunday, September 23, 2012

    Coffee Break

    Every morning as I stumble downstairs, bleary eyed and reach for the coffee pot like a bad Folgers commercial, I think, I'm getting old! Why am I so tired?? Even my kids know mommy just isn't herself before coffee. And then before diet coke and I'm so tired most nights that by the time my little ones are sawing logs, I'm just about right there with them. A "late night" for me these days is watching a show until ten with my hubby. Much to his chagrin, the night owl that he is, I'm turning off the lights and headed upstairs before the scenes for next week's episode.
    As mothers, we all tend to put our kid's needs first. If they make a mess, or are hungry or need to go potty, they need to be tended to whether we like it or not. But besides the mental demands of waking early with kids, carrying them around and picking up after them, the mental fatigue is just as bad, or worse. Tantrums, twenty questions and constantly breaking up fights can lead to an unparalleled mental exhaustion. Add to that a sick kid, one with the stomach flu, perhaps (like mine today), and there's just no time to rest!
    I know someday I will look back and miss these times with my kids. I will be able to sleep in, but miss the pattering of little feet. I'll get to eat a meal in peace, but miss preparing lunch and feeding two little mouths. And I will undoubtedly miss the story times, snuggles and the way my kids hug, kiss, and hold my hand with abandon. So I will take the lack of sleep and enjoy today for all it's bloody demands. And for now, cheers to caffeine!