Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Mom!! He's Breathing on Me!"

The other day while my children were playing together, my son innocently leaned over my daughter to reach for something and she actually uttered the words, "Logan's breathing on me!!!"...really?? I was speechless for a second as I remembered saying those very words to my brother years ago. Sadly, time doesn't change sibling rivalry and although we teach our kids to love one another and be kind, our sage advice usually goes in one ear and out the other. Unfortunately, kids are going to be kids. They are going to fight and argue over things whenever possible. But siblings also form a bond like no other. Jovie might hit her brother at home and forbid him from touching her stuff but the second we step foot on the playground and someone comes too close, the mama lion comes out. She is the first to defend her brother, to grab his hand when we cross the street and is always a helping hand when it's time to take him potty, put on his shoes or console him when he's crying. And those moments are priceless.
I think I'll take the bad and the ugly: the loud, escalating shouting matches over x-men toys and the pushing, shoving, biting, scratching...in exchange for all the good. This morning as the kids were snuggled on the couch, I sat down and asked if they wanted me to read to them and Jovie politely pushed me aside saying "Mommy,we're having Jovie and Logan time..." enough said. Each time she morphs into mommy mode, I feel like we're taking a step in the right direction. She's learning how to nurture, comfort and share.
On those days when you don't feel like you can take another minute of your kid's naughty behavior, just remember, every day is a day closer to a better relationship, a friendship between your kids. It's happening right under your nose in those little moments. Cherishe them and foster them. Don't feel like you have to step in and help because before you know it, that moment will be gone and they'll be back to fighting in no time!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Bringing Breakfast Back

What mom doesn't want her kids to start the day with a healthy, hot breakfast?? There's nothing like awakening to the smell of pancakes, bacon (and coffee!!!!) to whet your appetite but my kids haven't always receieved my pancake breakfasts with much gusto. I enjoy cooking so naturally I enjoy making breakfast but with two picky kids, and a picky hubby, I haven't always made the effort. Making a big stack of fluffy, homemade blueberry pancakes to then be the only one to eat them is a bit disheartening. So I decided to take a few shortcuts. I wasn't going to spend all that time anymore for food that might get eaten.
First, I started playing with pancake mixes and found I like them even better than making them from scratch. It can be as simple as adding water or a little more involved with the addition of eggs and oil. My favorite is Krusteaz whole wheat. You can add your own fruit, nuts, spices and toppings to make the mix your own. I also add a side of microwaved bacon...I know what you're thinking. Microwaved bacon??? But listen, taking the time to fry bacon and clean up the mess defeats the purpose of making a quick meal. I've found the microwavable version to be just as crisp and satisfying as the original and my kids love it. I also have a new secret weapon- peanut butter! They like it on crackers, in their sandwiches and now...spread on their pancakes!! It also doesn't hurt to give them their own little cups of syrup. Somehow it's more fun when they can pour it themselves.
Some other easy favorites to try:
- A Sunny "Sandy-Eggo" whole-wheat toaster waffles with cinnamon, sugar and a side of fruit (a slice of orange with slices of strawberries to resemble, you guessed it! The sun!)
- A mug omelette...2 eggs mixed with cheese and your favorite mix-ins (salsa, ham, olives...etc.) microwaved on high for 2 minutes in a mug. Voila! A hand-held omelette!
- Digging for treasure...jazz up packets of microwavable oatmeal with fruit and nuts on the bottom that the kids have to "dig" for.
It doesn't have to be complicated to be delicious! So go ahead, feed your little (and big!) rascals a warm, hearty breakfast and start the day right.

Breakfast for my champions!

Don't forget! There's still time to get your cheesecake on...for half price! All day, Cheesecake Factory is selling their cheesecake at a discount. It's dine-in only and one slice per person. We got our four slices and boy, will we be eating it for days!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday, My Day Off....Sort Of.

I look forward to days when my husband is home...kind of. Although he does help in his own special way, he tends to get busy with side jobs and projects in the garage that any fantasy of mommy taking a load off, getting my nails done or catching up on chores (or a good book!!) without the distraction of little ones is just that...a fantasy!
Until my neighbor dropped by. He was making mojitos and offered me one and you know what?? I'm glad I accepted the offer! It was cold, refreshing and with the combination of mint and seltzer, it hit the spot. For a few minutes, while sipping the lime-y libation, I took a few minutes to cool off, relax and listen to some music...while my hubby snoozed on the couch and the kids played nearby.
The thing is, we mostly just have fun on the weekends. I adopt my hubby's go-with-the-flow attitude, ease up on our schedule a bit and enjoy family time. We take the kids on adventures, check out fun places to eat and most importantly, spend time together. So while I don't expect my honey to pick up a broom or mop any time soon, I know the weekend will bring a little fun, a little excitement and a lot of love. Just what the doctor ordered! 
Oh, and on the agenda tomorrow?? Don't forget about National Cheesecake Day!!! All cheesecake half off at the Cheesecake Factory! We'll be there...


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Can a Girl Get a Craft Closet??

I don't know about you, but I have crafting supplies everywhere! My glue gun and paint is in a dresser, my markers, glue and scissors in a kitchen cupboard, scrapbooking supplies in a drawer...you get the idea. There is no rhyme or reason to why things end up where they do and no "method to my madness". It's just a big crafting disaster. I think this is why I don't do as many projects as I'd like...it would take too long to gather everything!
I think the time has come to get organized. Yes, it will create a mess in the process but ultimately, it will be worth the time. Are you with me?? All you need to start is a little space to call your own. If you don't have an entire closet, choose a small area such as a drawer or shelf to get started. You can get a few tupperware containers or baskets and stash them out of site. Since I'm downstairs most of the time (and yes, too lazy to head upstairs whenever the crafting bug bites...) I'm going to designate a shelf in our hutch as "Mommy's Crafting Zone". It currently houses picture frames, the kid's artwork, old tax returns and other miscellaneous paperwork so first things first. I need to get it organized and make some room! Decide what you're going to need. Gather baskets or appropriate containers and make different categories. Fabric, scrapbooking supplies, ribbon, markers, pens, glue...etc. Get them all together and find a place for them.
It can be as simple as grouping items together in shoeboxes or as elaborate as making tags and labeling pretty photo boxes. Either way, I'm sure you will feel much better after you've de-cluttered and who knows? Maybe you will be more inspired to do what you set out to in the first place-CRAFT!
Kitchen cupboard...serving many purposes

                                                             The messy, messy hutch

                                             The good, the bad and the ugly...all laid out ;(

                                             After...all items together where they belong!!

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Two-Minute Rule

Every mom needs to institute the two-minute rule once in a while. In an effort to stay sane, there are moments in the day when I need to take a deep breath and clear the cobwebs in my head. Being up with sick kids, kids who have to pee or kids who apparently need help getting a drink that's sitting a foot away leaves me feeling like a zombie most days. I chug the coffee and hit the ground running!
But I need time-outs as much as the kids! Sometimes I take an extra long stroll to check the mail, have a quick chat with a friend or spend a couple minutes browsing a catalog or gossip magazine. I’ll take a long bathroom break if I’m desperate. I’ve even been known to scatter candy across the kitchen floor just to get the kids out of my hair! I'm not kidding...
My motto has become “If Mommy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”. Ok, not the best grammar and it’s definitely not something new, but if we all took more time-outs from the crazed, hectic lives we live, I think we’d be much happier and in a better state of mind to handle the latest disaster. Things don't have to be perfect and we certainly shouldn't pretend they are.
Whether you are a stay-home mom like myself, just trying to keep your head above water while starting laundry, breaking up a fight, and making breakfast simultaneously, or a working mom who has to fight traffic, meetings and grocery store lines in a mad-dash for dinner, we all have something in common: the need for peace. So while I know there will never be a cure for being hurried, there is always the opportunity for a little break around the corner! Unless you can afford a nanny, assistant and an on-call masseuse to rub the stress away, you’re stuck in this sinking ship with me. I live my life for those two minutes at a time because if I hear “Mommy”!!!! one more time, I may just lose it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Monster, or "M" Cookies

Recently, we realized Logan is afraid of monsters, or at least the idea of them. One night a few weeks ago, he awoke in the middle of the night screaming "ma-ma" over and over (two-year-old speak for monster) We don't particularly discuss monsters but maybe in passing or while playing with his sister, he learned of them. So the fear began. I guess I'm happy his biggest fear is of something he will never actually have to face, like water, bugs or dogs, but in his little mind, monsters are very real. After the nightmare, we decided not to speak of monsters again and to refer to them only as "M's", if we needed to refer to them at all.
Out went the monster jammies and all other paraphernalia and Jovie responsibly shuns the word. So when we bought a cookie mix called "Monster Mix", M cookies were born! They got their name, I'm guessing because they have everything in them but the kitchen sink. I've also seen them called cowboy cookies or everything cookies, and they have always been my favorite. Oatmeal, nuts and chocolate chips are typical ingredients but you can throw in whatever else sounds good at the time. Making these cookies is a great way to use up random leftovers you may have on hand...coconut, raisins, cranberries, M&M's..etc. are great additions. They almost become a granola bar of sorts. So whether you typically bake from scratch or from a mix (like yours truly...) this is a great cookie to try! I would start with a basic oatmeal raisin or oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe and go from there! Part of the fun is not following an actual recipe for these cookies but going wherever the wind, and your cupboards, take you. Have fun, get a little messy and make some with the kids!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Feathers, Anyone??

Lately I have become a little bored with myself. Most moms I know have a daily uniform and I'm no exception! Sweats or shorts and a tank-top with flip-flops is my usual outfit of choice. Oh, and the hair goes up first thing in the morning. I'm usually too tired or busy to deal with it and even if I did leave it down, my son would just pull it all day! Here's where the feathers come in. I've been seeing them on celebrities (thank you, People magazine!) and thought...why not?? Once I told Jovie how neat they were, she was on board. Before I knew it, we were checking out feather websites. I was NOT about to drag two kids into a beauty supply store...
I settled for HauteHair.com because the prices were reasonable and they sold authentic feathers. Synthetic ones would not stand up to curling irons, flat irons and washings. But let's remember, feathers fall out easily and naturally so you don't have to worry about hurting birds for the sake of fashion! They have many colors and lengths to choose from.
It took about three days for our order to arrive. Here's what you need:

- Feathers
- Microbeads...one for every feather or group of feathers
- A microbead plier...or pliers I found in my hubby's tool box!
- A hair hook..again, found in the tool box (though you don't really need!)

Ok, first step. Part your hair and comb through. Take a small strand of hair and use hair hook to slip on microbead or, if you don't have this tool, twist the hair and slip bead on, pulling it up to the root. Take your feather or feathers and slip into microbead then crimp with pliers. It's that easy!! In just a couple of minutes, you've added personality to your hair. (I must warn you...it took waaaay longer on my squirmy four-year-old!!!!) It's temporary, can stay in for up to three months and is removed easily with the pliers. It's also relatively inexpensive. For $12, I got 10 feathers and microbeads, including shipping. The tools are around $10, but I bet you have something on hand that would work...Why not try it??

                                                             Go ahead, give it a try!!


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I Scream, You Scream! We All Scream for Ice Cream!

I don't know about you, but I can't think of a better summer treat than frosty, freshly churned ice cream! From the humble Rite-Aid cone to the creamy confections of Coldstone, and everything in-between, I can't say no to ice cream. Most nights, when craving the cold stuff, I have my hubby run out for shakes, our go-to when a craving calls! So why not make it yourself and have it ready any time?
Now, I'm not one for buying pricey equipment that will rarely be used, so I began looking around for recipes not requiring one, just in case my kids lost interest...a very good possibility. Expect to pay at least $40 for a good ice cream maker. If you plan to use it all summer, it's worth the investment. Sure, you can also collect a large zip lock bag, some rock salt, cream and get shaking, but I wanted something more. I wanted a recipe that yielded enough ice cream for at least four cones or sundaes and would hold up well in the freezer.
When my most recent Women's Day arrived in the mail, luck was on my side! On the front were delicious looking dishes of homemade ice cream. I read on. This recipe is too easy not to make! With just three ingredients, you can make a batch of ice cream in just a few hours. At a mere $0.38 per serving, you'll serve up savings as well as flavor! The best part is you can trasform a simple vanilla base into ANY flavor under the sun. Here it is:

2 cups heavy cream
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

That's it!! Using an electric mixer, beat ingredients in bowl until stiff peaks form (this took me about 5 minutes..) Then transfer into a freezer-safe loaf pan or bowl, cover and freeze for 8 hours (we ate ours around the 5 hour mark!) At about the half-way point, you can stir in ingredients for fun flavors. Keeps up to 2 weeks.
You can make it as simple as you want and with whatever ingredients you have on hand, or make it more exotic and fun if you have the time and energy to experiment! Whatever the flavor, you're sure to pack a little fun into your day with a homemade treat!
What are your favorite homemade flavors??

Got everything?

Five  minutes of mixing...

A bowl of creamy deliciousness!!

By the way, if you have a sweet tooth like mine and adore the decadence of cheesecake, mark your calendars for National Cheesecake Day at the Cheesecake Factory...yes, it really exists!! All day, cheesecake is half price! They are introducing a new flavor, Oreo Dream Extreme, which I plan to try! It's dine-in only and one slice per person so get a group and get ready for lunch or dinner (or both!!) Monday, July 30th!! If you've never been, you are seriously missing out! What a perfect time to try one of over thirty flavors!! http://www.thecheesecakefactory.com/

Monday, July 23, 2012

I Smell a Project!!

We have been in need of kitchen chairs for quite some time now. I don't really didn't feel like two almost-broken chairs, a high chair and a camping chair were going to do it anymore! So on the search I went. Being too frugal to buy new chairs, I have been scouring Craigslist and yard sales and FINALLY found a set this weekend. They were not perfect but the price was right. Four chairs for $20...sold! After getting them home and realizing they simply would not work in their current condition, I decided spray paint would be the quickest and easiest solution. Oh, and probably the cheapest. I found a sea-blue color at Lowe's for $4/can. For a total of $36, I have a new set of kitchen chairs that I love! If you, like me, don't like to spray paint or take on projects that feel like an ordeal, then stick with me here.
I simply wiped them down, laid a sheet in front of my garage and went to work. If you plan to spray paint, here are a few tips:

- Make sure you paint in an open space with lots of fresh air! There's no way to completely avoid the fumes so do your best to ventilate (or just do it outside) and take lots of breaks.
- Wear rubber gloves unless you want to end your project looking like a graffiti artist.
- Wipe down any grime or dust and if needed, lightly sand.
- Enlist help if it is a larger project. I eventually needed my hubby to come to the rescue. My hands got a little sore and I wanted to finish before nightfall.
- Buy an extra can! I had to send Mike out for more. I needed a little less than one can per chair. Better to have extra for touch-ups!

Sometimes it seems easier to just go out and buy what you want but if you're on a budget or just want something unique, go for it! A small change can make big impact. Although I don't plan to spring for a new table any time soon, I think I've made an improvement. Here are my before and after pics:

Chairs and messy table before


New chairs pre-spray paint

Making progress!

I couldn't resist! ;)


Sunday, July 22, 2012

I'll Drink to That!

Being another hot day, I dream of being transported to some tropical island, propping my feet up and sipping an ice-cold drink. Since that's not happening any time soon, I'll take the next best thing: Sitting outside while my kids play in the water and sipping that ice-cold drink. I've got a dynamite recipe for a fun cocktail (or mocktail if you prefer...that's what I'm drinking since this mama cannot hold her liquor! Oh, and I guess I should be lucid with kids around...) It's sweet and cold, the perfect combination to beat the heat and whisk you away to paradise if you don't have the luxury of hopping on a plane and heading down south...

Here it is...the "Oh Screw It" Screwdriver courtesy of Redbook:
First, pour orange juice into an ice tray and freeze. Dump some cubes into a glass and pop in some sliced strawberries (I used frozen ones) Fill the glass about a third of the way with vodka and top with 7-Up (obviously omit vodka and fill with only 7-Up if going virgin...) and I added more ice as the drink got melty...Put your feet up, get those kids busy and chill out. You've had a long week and earned a little break so take it!
Sometimes it just takes a few minutes and a fun umbrella drink to give you that  little escape you need!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bath Time is Me Time...Sort of.

As I sit in the bathroom watching my kids play and splash in the bathtub, I try and squeeze in a few minutes doing something productive. Never one to be a time waster, I figure time not spent checking a task off my to-do list is basically just time wasted. Sure, it’s fine to just sit and enjoy a little time off my feet but if I can fit in a ten-minute job or mini pamper session, even better! So while my kids make a mess, get water all over the floor and attempt to turn our tiny bathroom into a water park, I get busy.
You’d be surprised what you can get done while supervising bath time! A few of my favorites are a quickie mani or pedi, catching up on my reading (but you must beware of the water!) clearing and cleaning the counters…you get the idea. I figure, whenever the kids are occupied, that’s a good time for me to get to work. With so little free time in the day, a girl’s got to take what she can get…am I right? So when you find yourself merely supervising or waiting…like at the doctor’s office, during meals when the kids are strapped in safely and yes, even during bath time, pick a job and get to work.
I am not immune to “supermom syndrome”, the impossible expectations I put on myself to limit TV, serve healthy snacks, have craft time daily, and coordinate outfits…oh! And be a good wife too! It’s endless and sometimes it’s those few minutes during the day when I can catch up or wind down, whichever is needed at the time. I’ll give you a guess…it involves glitter vs. pink! So take five and have a great Saturday night!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Up All Night...

I'm so grateful that yesterday I attempted a delicious biscotti recipe from Ellen, our in-house pastry expert and sister extraordinaire. Not only did it turn out wonderfully, but it gave me something to munch on when I was awakened by the monst...I mean, munchkins at 2, and 4 and 5:45!!! Normally, I consider myself lucky to have kids who are asleep by 7:30 and up around 7:00. I will take an early morning in exchange for a quiet evening any day. When else am I going to catch up on bad reality tv, read and fit in a quick devotional or boardgame with my hubby???
Last night went south. First, my daughter "wasn't tired", was "scared" and wanted to "sleep in Mommy's bed"...oh dear. It took some wrangling but finally, at 9:00 she was asleep. On went Tori and Dean reruns followed by my first stab at slumber. Round 2: Logan awakened and was fussy so I brought him in my bed (as I do nearly every night. Yes, the kid is almost 2. What??) Back to sleep. But not for long. Jovie awakened from a bad dream so a potty break and drink were in order. Again, back to bed we went. In her bed. With my legs dangling off the edge. Side note: Apparently, I'm the only parent with auditory capabilities after 11:00 at night. It's a strange phenomena but one that I live with gracefully, sort of.
Finally, in the home stretch and after a quick potty break for Logan at 4 a.m., I blearily made my way to the couch in hopes of a little shut-eye. The CAT then demanded to get in from the garage so after one last interruption, I was off to sleep. Again, not for long. At 5:45, Jovie came downstairs wondering where I was. So we drifted off together on the couch until the alarm for Mike went off just an hour later. It was a sad night for any mommy. The only two luxuries I long for these days are sleep and peace and quiet once in a while. I was zero for two.
This long story brings me to my saving grace...the biscotti. I savored it with my daily cup of coffee and after a sleepless night, it hit the spot. Slightly sweet, nutty and crisp, it was perfect! Sleep was lost, but my sanity remained. As my son sits in front of me, carefully putting my hair behind my ear to access my cheek for a kiss, I realize there's no one else I'd rather be awakened by.

Here's the recipe:

1 cup whole hazelnuts, preferably blanched (not gonna lie, I used pecans. Target doesn't sell hazelnuts and I wasn't ABOUT to go to another store!)
2 1/2 cups flour, plus flour for work surface
1/2 cup Dutch-style cocoa powder
1 tablespoon espresso powder (left out, regretfully)
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sugar.

Note: I halved the recipe, which you can do if you only want about 10 or so biscotti. Or, make the whole recipe and freeze half the dough for later!

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread hazelnuts on baking sheet and toast about 10 minutes, until lightly browned. If hazelnuts are not blanched, toast them until the skins begin to crack, then remove them from oven and wrap them in clean linen or cotton towel (not terrycloth). Rub them to remove most of the skin. Set aside. (I toasted the pecans in a pan, about 2 minutes, or until hot and fragrant.)
2. Sift the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, salt, baking soda and baking powder together and set aside.
3. Beat eggs lightly, just until blended, in mixing bowl with whisk or in electric mixer. Beat sugar into remaining eggs until blended. Stir in flour mixture to form soft dough. Divide dough and shape into two logs, flattened slightly. Top with toasted nuts and press into dough. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until set to the touch. Take out, slice on a diagonal with a serrated knife. Place pieces on their sides and bake another 20 minutes or so, until they are no longer soft.
Let cool and enjoy! These make the perfect gift as they hold up well and only get better as they dry slightly. And may I point out the obvious?? They have NO oil or butter, making them an almost guilt-free indulgence. Almost.

The dough, slighty mixed...needs kneading

On the pan

Nuts toasting

On the dough they go

After baking 20 minutes..

Slice and place on pan sideways


Recipe adapted from http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/07/chocolate-hazelnut-biscotti/

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Taking back my sanity

Perhaps I've been watching too much Dual Survival, but yesterday I decided my kids and I needed to have a little adventure. I was determined I would teach my kids to make a fire (with the motivation being s'mores at the end, obviously) so we collected tree branches, leaves and newspaper and our galvanized bucket and got to work. Being the trooper I am, I actually attempted the methods of rubbing two sticks together and using a knife and flint rock, to no avail. Meanwhile, as I was busy showing them the ropes, sweat pouring down my back, my children grabbed our bucket, turned on the faucet and played in the water.
Though we didn't make fire in the end, they had fun cooling off and we got our s'mores fix back in the house once we were all dried off. Today, with adventure fresh in mind, I had my hubby pull our tent out of cobwebs and it got quiet fast! I think the key to staying sane while staying home is maintaining that delicate balance between keeping your kids busy and allowing them to keep themselves busy for a while. How many times have you attempted writing an e-mail, paying bills or making a phone call only to hear a loud crash and screaming the second you walk away?? Too many to count. Gone is the luxury of using the restroom with the door closed! That's what crazy women do!
Finding quiet time is not as easy as suggesting your children go play quietly or read a book. Unless they are older and more self-sufficient, they usually want you to play with them, read to them or just be there...my son is scaling the kitchen chair right now to get to my lap, for example.
So the tent was put up. Sometimes you have to use a little ingenuity and trick your kids into submission. I loaded the tent with books, toys, a couple chairs, snacks and their sleeping bags and guess what? They didn't seem to notice that these are all the SAME things they normally have lying around, the tent just makes it fun and different.
So grab one yourself and set that sucker up in your living room. If you don't have a tent, you can fashion a mean fort out of blankets and chairs. And hey, while your kids are busy, sit down! Read a book or do your toenails! Maybe hit the treadmill like I plan to...I said maybe. But enjoy that quiet and don't feel guilty for doing so. While those bills call out to be paid, the chores pile up and laundry demands to be done, there's one more thing a little more important. Your sanity. Take it back.
Water play (pre- jumping in the bucket fully clothed!)

Chillin' in the tent

Yes, it takes up our entire living room

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What's Cookin??

There is something magical about chicken, specifically chicken breast. It can be transformed into too many savory dishes to count, is inexpensive and readily available. It is the healthiest, leanest part of the chicken. A boneless, skinless chicken breast boasts a modest 250 calories and packs a protien punch. The best part? Most kids will gobble the poultry powerhouse happily. Here's where the best recipe for kid-friendly chicken I've ever made comes in! My kids LOVE chicken nuggets, specifically Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets. When I asked my four-year-old daughter, Jovie, why she likes them, she simply replied "Because I just like them." Enough said.
These are the only ones my kids will touch, probably because they are the only ones I will let them touch and so a refined palate was born! Don't get me wrong...I serve my fair share of frozen foods, pre-packaged snacks, and sugar-filled delights, but I do my best to make sure that when time and finances afford, they get the best.
There are many scary nuggets out there, some containing carcinogens, preservatives and tons of added salt! I don't want that stuff in my kids bodies so if it means making them myself, I will. Not only will you save time by making large batches of these and freezing for later, but you will save money too. A Chick-Fil-A nugget meal with a drink and fries is roughly $7. This one costs just around $2 (including fries) to make at home. Here's what's for dinner tonight, a copycat recipe from our favorite place! They taste darned close and the kids devour them:

2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 cup milk
1 egg
1 1/4 cup flour
2 tbs. powdered sugar (I started with 1 tbsp. and added gradually, to taste)
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper (optional...I omit as my picky ones would ask what the black stuff is!)
Canola oil for frying

****Whisk egg and milk together. Place chicken in milk mixture and let stand 2-4 hours in fridge.*** Yes, you have to plan ahead a bit. This step makes for a tender nugget but in a pinch, you can skip the waiting. I've done it...
When ready, place 2 inches of oil in deep pan and heat until bubbles rise to the surface. Place remaining ingredients in zip lock bag and shake chicken to coat. Place one layer of nuggets in pan and cook about a minute on each side, or until golden brown. Place on paper towel to drain oil. Let cool and enjoy!! (Serve with criss-cut frozen fries and your dinner will truly resemble Chick-Fil-A!)

My result ended up identical to the original...

To see this original recipe, check out http://www.mynameissnickerdoodle.com/2011/03/fabulous-food-friday-79.html

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cheap Dinner Tonight!!

This just in! My mom called to invite us out for dinner tonight and though karate class and an early bedtime for my kiddos make it a bit tricky, I'm up for the adventure. Tonight Don Jose's & Ricardo's Mexican Cafe is transporting it's patrons back to 1972 and serving up their signature enchilada/taco combo for just $2!! Take the kids out for a cheap meal or have an impromtu date night that will leave you a little left for dessert too! It looks like this meal-deal is one for Southern California readers only. Not to worry...I'm keeping my eyes peeled for more deals down the road! http://www.donjose.net/index.html

I'm bored!! The dreaded words...

With summer in full force, the days are feeling longer and longer. The sun sets later and kids seem to have more and more energy as the night wears on! My husband and I joke that while we're tucking our daughter into bed with the sun still shining and sounds of kids playing outside, we feel bad...but not too bad. Keeping a normal schedule during the summer can be hard but is important to do. Though kids thrive on routine, it's always fun to deviate a little and bend the rules once in a while. Here are some fun and fresh ideas to keep your kids busy while keeping your bank account intact!

1. Check out http://www.kidsbowlfree.com/. Every state offers 2 free games a day during the summer with some age restrictions.
2. Free or discounted movies! Edwards, Phoenix and Century stadiums, to name a few, offer discounted showtimes or even free movies all summer. One site to check out, that I use is      http://www.phoenixtheatres.com/summerkids.asp
3. Pack up the kids and head to the mall!! I know, malls are a breeding ground for spending but just strolling, getting a lemonade and looking at the puppies at the pet shop make for some good entertainment. Some even have play areas.
4. Go to the library! I take my kids almost every week and as long as you return your books on time, it's totally free. I've had upwards of $30 in late fees though, so watch out!
5. Hunt for change and head to Chuck-E-Cheese's. This place is great because the kids can run around safely (they won't get far as you are all stamped upon arrival and the entrances and exits are monitored), it's air-conditioned, and games only cost a quarter! It's not just for parties!
6.  Craft. Many stores like Target, Michael's and the 99 Cent Store have paints, stickers, construction paper..etc. for $1 or less. Let your kids loose and have them each choose things to paint or decorate. Or, if you don't even feel like leaving the house, do a treasure hunt for objects to work with. Old boxes, toilet paper and paper towel tubes can easily become works of art!

Here's my activity for today...cupcakes in a cone! It's the perfect handheld treat for a party, fun dessert or in my case, just because! I used a cake mix but prepare your favorite batter, fill cones halfway, follow baking instructions and decorate. Voila! A sweet dessert for any occasion.

Got the ingredients?

Fill about half-way

I baked slightly longer than regular cupcakes

The result? Yummy....

I hope you and your kids are having a wonderful summer! Stay busy, stay cool and have fun! What are your favorite summer activities on the cheap??

Monday, July 16, 2012

In Season

On the heels of a sweet date with my hubby last night, (we ended up at San Manuel Indian Casino!) I decided a batch of cookies was in order!
While flipping through Parents magazine, I came across a yummy looking strawberry cookie recipe. Although I don't normally choose fruit-themed desserts, (I go straight for chocolate!) this one looked too sweet to resist trying! This time of year, strawberries are abundant, making them very inexpensive. I found 1-pound cartons of them at Target for $1 each and stocked up! I sliced some to freeze and saved a few for this recipe.
Here it is, light and airy, tangy and buttery! Enjoy:

1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. finely shredded lemon peel
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped strawberries, divided
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350° and in a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium to high for 30 seconds. Beat in sugar until fluffy. Mix in egg yolk, lemon peel and vanilla. Beat in flour and 1/4 cup berries. With your hands, work the mixture until a smooth dough is formed.
On a floured surface, roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness and use a cookie cutter to make rings and cut centers with 1-inch round cutter. (I skipped this step and made drop cookies, I just don't have the patience for the rolling and cutting but they were sooo good anyway!) Place rings on cookie sheet and bake 10 minutes or until edges are light brown. Remove and let cool. Puree and sieve remaining berries and stir the puree with powdered sugar and lemon juice. Drizzle over cooled cookies.
My son Logan wolfed them and daughter Jovie said "too sour" as she spit them out...you decide.

Chopped berries

Creamed sugar and butter

End result...not too shabby!

If you enjoy trying new recipes as much as I do, you're going to love my weekly dessert recipes courtesy of amazing pastry chef, Ellen (aka, my little sis) She is going to bring us new and exciting recipes to try. I'll attempt them and give you all a review. Welcome to A Sweet Bite, Ellen!

My beautiful sis graduating from Portland Culinary Institute!!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Date Night for Less

The countdown has begun...just a couple more hours before my fabulous parents show up and my hubby, Mike and I get to escape for the night! What couple doesn't jump at the chance for a night out with free babysitting?? So this week we began thinking of things we could do that were fun but wouldn't break the bank. Just dinner and a movie these days can easily cost fifty dollars...not to mention babysitting! We're lucky my parents are usually available (and willing!) to stay with our wee ones but I know not everyone is so blessed. We talked about going to a movie or dinner but I thought we should venture out a bit so the brainstorming began...
You don't have to spend a ton to have fun. Here are a few ideas for $10 or less...you have no excuses!!
1. Wait until the kids are in bed and send your hubby out to a Redbox! For $1, you can watch the newest releases in the comfort of your living room. Have him drive through for shakes or run into the store for some candy on the way home and you have a movie night!!
2. Have a dessert date or go to a local happy hour and share an appetizer or dessert. When you just want a night out, sometimes that does the trick!
3. Have a picnic. Cheese and crackers, wine and other snacks can be affordable and being somewhere with different scenery like a park or even your own backyard make for a nice escape.
4. Have a bonfire at the lake or beach. Bring the fixins' for s'mores, a couple blankets and you've got yourself a pretty cozy date night.
5. Go to a bookstore, order some coffee and browse!

These are just a few but I'm sure with some creativity, you can come up with many more great ideas under $10! Share them here!
I'll let you know how our date night turned out...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Home Sweet Home

I am NOT an interior designer by nature. My usual "look" is furniture covered with children's books waiting to be returned to the library, floors with piles of laundry ready to be done, and sticky fingerprints and dust everywhere! My kitchen counters are normally cluttered with magazines, mail, dishes- you name it...that counter space is fair game! Lately I have begun to feel like the walls are closing in on me. The kids do a pretty good job at keeping their rooms neat and there are always clean clothes to wear and mostly a clear path from here to there but was my standard slipping? I think so. Instead of appreciating my home and making it as presentable and enjoyable as possible, I have simply been getting by.
When things are neater, cleaner and smell and look good, I have more mental clarity and motivation. Who wants to sit in the living room and read with a cup of coffee when it's a mess or bake cookies in a kitchen that's filthy with no room to spread out? So, I got to work. Little changes can make a difference. You don't have to paint every room or spend a fortune; it's the small things that you notice the most. I took a few areas in my home that were nagging at me and turned them into my little spaces of calm. Here are a few tips to get started:

1. Choose a color scheme. I've chosen green, yellow, blue and white as a start. Choosing colors makes it easier to find pieces when out shopping.
2. Display items in groups of three and alternating height.
3. Make a list! This is so important because while out and about, especially with little ones in tow, it can become overwhelming to shop with no plan in mind.
4. Choose small areas you want to work on, say a powder room or shelf. It's easier to start with a corner than a whole room.
5. When on a budget, Michael's, Target and Kohl's are great places to start. My two favorite words? Coupons and Clearance!
First I decluttered! Then I repurposed a serving tray, hurricane and decorative basket that were collecting dust. Then I spent roughly $30 on 2 artificial plants, 2 pillar candles, a large bag of potpurri, 2 8X10frames and a candle holder. Here are a few before/after pictures from my home to inspire you!


    Entryway table before

kitchen counter before




I Hope this has been helpful and I hope you got some ideas for your house too! It doesn't matter how big your place is or how much money spent, as long as it feels like home.