Thursday, July 30, 2009

Check Engine

The check engine light came on my car as I was driving to the zoo earlier this week. I called around to find out how much a diagnostic test would cost.

Here's what I found out:

Toyota Dealership: $100 to $140
Goodyear Auto: $92
Auto Zone: Free

Can you guess which one we went to? It took about 5 minutes (no appointment) and they were able to give us the codes detecting the problem. Turned out that it was that the gas cap either wasn't on tight enough or is starting to rust a little causing the light to go on. Sure glad we didn't pay around $100 to find that out.

What's Cookin' -- Pretzels

A while back I went through a phase were I ate Aunt Annie's pretzels when I went to the mall -- a treat for myself for being out without the little one. Recently, I started eating them again and really haven't been that impressed with the quality. I looked up several recipes for soft pretzels and tried this one the other day. I just cut the dough into strips because I'm not talented enough to figure out the pretzel twist.

1 1/4 cup warm water
1 TB plus 1/4 teaspoon yeast
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 2TB powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup butter, melted (optional or use dairy-free margarine)
kosher or pretzel salt

4 cups warm water
1 1/4 cups baking soda

1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a small bowl or cup. Let sit for a few
2. Combine flour, powdered sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add water with yeast and vegetable oil.
3. Stir with a spoon and then use your hands to form dough into a ball. Knead the dough for 5 minutes on a lightly floured surface. (Dough will be nice and smooth when ready).
4. Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover it, store in a warm place for about 45 minutes or until dough rises to double in size.
5. When dough has risen, preheat oven to 425 degrees.
6. Make a bath for the pretzels by combining the baking soda with the warm water and stir until baking soda is mostly dissolved. Note: This seemed like way too much for what I needed.
7. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 8 even portions. Roll each portion on a flat non-floured surface until it is about 3 ft long. Pick up both ends of the dough and give it a little spin so the middle of the dough spins around once. Lay the dough down with the loop nearest to you. Fold the ends down toward you and pinch to attach them to the bottom of the loop. The twist should be in the middle. I just cut my dough into strips.
8. Holding the pinched ends, dip each pretzel into the bath solution. Put each pretzel on a paper towel for a moment to blot the excess liquid. Arrange the pretzels on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray. If you want salt, sprinkle pretzels with kosher salt or pretzel salt. DON'T salt any pretzels you plan to coat with cinnamon sugar. You will likely have to use two baking sheets and bake them separately. Bake the pretzels for 4 minutes and then spin the pan around and bake for another 4-5 minutes or until the pretzels are golden brown.
9. Remove the pretzels from the oven and let them cool for a couple of minutes. If you want to eat some now, brush them with melted butter first before serving.
10. If you want the cinnamon sugar coating, make it by combining the 1/2 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon in a small bowl. Brush the unsalted pretzels with melted butter. Sprinkle a heavy coating of the cinnamon sugar on the pretzels over a large plate.

Sorry for being behind

I've caught a summer cold and just haven't been on top of blogging the last couple days. I have another post for yesterday coming and another post for today. Until then here's an interesting article on how "mythical" saving money can be.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Jack's Big Music Show

We were scanning the On Demand a few weeks ago and I saw this show called Jack's Big Music Show on Noggin. We instantly fell in love with this show. The story lines are simple to follow with good lesson taught. My almost 2-year-old loves the puppets and different characters that stop by. The music is fantastic. We already loved Laurie Berkner before we watched Jack and know many of the songs we see on the show. The other music is very well written and well sung. I also like the different cultures that are represented in the songs. While we watch the show ON Demand it can be found on Noggin's regular programing or on DVD, which can be rented from the library. The show itself is only 23 minutes long -- the perfect length for entertaining a busy, busy toddler while I get dinner ready.

Open a Jar

Before I was married, I lived the single life for more than 10 years. I didn't have a problem too often opening jars, but it happened on occasion. What to do when there is no one to ask? I used an old fashioned bottle opener to pry it open or just enough to let a little air in. That's it. I had a jar that wouldn't open this morning so instead of hurting my hand and getting frustrated, I just grabbed my bottle opener and popped the jar open.

On a side note, when my husband and I were first married I handed him a jar that I couldn't open. He smirked and I asked "what?" He smiled and said "You need me." It wasn't until a few months later when he couldn't open a jar I showed him my little trick. I do, however, let him open the jar if he's at home before grabbing the bottle opener.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

All You Blog

This daily savings blog on www. has great money saving tips posted every day. I notice with many blogs I read, I see the same ideas and tips. This blog seems to have some different ideas to consider.

What's Cookin' -- French Fried Onions

The other night I was making my Tuna Mac and Cheese and realized I didn't have any French Fried Onions. We've been cutting back on a grocery bill the last three weeks and eating up the freezer and pantry. I usually buy a big can of French Fried Onions every couple months that takes care of two or three recipes. So, I searched the Internet so see what a copycat recipe would require. The meal just doesn't taste the same without them. I was shocked and amazed by the simplicity of this recipe. And of course I love that it doesn't have all the preservatives as the store bought can.

French Fried Onions
Not sure where I found this, I searched many websites looking for consistency. This makes enough for one topping on a casserole.

1 cup milk
1 medium to large yellow onion
1 cup flour, more if needed
Vegetable oil (I like to buy the store brand Blended Vegetable oil because it only has 5 percent saturated fat, versus 10 percent that most have)
Salt (optional)

1. Heat oil on high to 350 degrees in a skillet (size is up to on how much you want to do at a time. I used 8 inch and that worked fine.)
2. Soak sliced onion in milk for 5 minutes.
3. Drain milk.
4. Coat onions with flour.
5. Fry for about 5 minutes or until onions are brown. If you have more onions that room for in the skillet, do them in batches.
6. Drain on paper plate.
7. Use as a topping.

A couple notes: You need to have a little knowledge of frying foods to get this one right. It took me a couple tries and I fry food all the time. Also, in several of the recipes I saw online they said you can store in air tight container for a couple months. I haven't tried this yet.

Monday, July 20, 2009

No pacifier for you

The morning started out at about 5:30 a.m. when I heard my almost 2-year-old playing in her crib. While her daddy was showering around 6:15 a.m. I still heard her. Note: lately she's been sleeping until 7:30 to 8:00 a.m. and will play in her bed for a while before needing attention. I went in and rocked her for a few minutes and put her back down to sleep. Whether she did or not, I don't know. Then I got to thinking -- she's going to be really tired today, maybe it would be a good day to get rid of the pacifier. She's only used it at night for a long time now. She just needed it so much with moving, teething and just for comfort. But now things have evened out. We are home all week so we can adjust, she's not sick, and whether I take it away today or in three weeks she's going to have to grieve. And that's what she did for two hours while we tried to nap this afternoon. I tried to let her cry it out and I rocked her. We went back and forth on that for the whole time. I found a note that Elmo left us saying he came and took the pacifiers for the new babies. She seemed to grasp that idea and we through the tears we talked about all the things she can do as a big girl. She was just so sad and it really has to be tough for her. After we got back up, we made a big girl snack and she helped. And we just kept talking about all the big girl things she can do. Every now and then I would hear her say "pacifiers all gone." We talked about it with Daddy when he came home. Tonight she was wiped out. I read stories before bedtime and I rocked her for about a half hour until she fell asleep. We might need to go backwards a little and rock again for a little while until she can figure out how to fall asleep without sucking on her pacifier. But every day should be better. Hopefully, she sleeps through the night.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Snack idea

Check out my other blog Life with a Dairy-Free Toddler for a great snack idea (cheap and easy!)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Many radio stations have promotions for half-priced deals. I found this website that allows you search the half-priced deals for restaurants, oil change places, salons, etc. Simply type in your zip code and see what deals are near you. I especially like that if you travel you can search that zip code, too.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What's Cookin' -- Recent recipes

I've been trying some new recipes lately. Here are two that I greatly enjoyed.

Crispy Potato Rounds with Rosemary found on Queen of the Castle Recipes. (See July 6 post)

Project Ideas

Here are simple ways to re-use a calendar. You can even purchase cheap calendars at dollar stores or other clearance racks throughout the year. I tend to look for those with interesting photos and colorful photos. Also, watch for different sizes of the same calendar. You can easily find a way to make some games. Magazines are another cheap source to find interesting pictures.

Dogs and Cats Peek-a-boo Book
These pictures came from a calendar. I used photos from a smaller version of the same the calendar for the cover. I taped (or you can glue) each picture to a manilla folder. Then over each picture I cut out a shape on another manilla folder for the picture to peek through. For this particular book, I wrote "I see something hiding, what can it be?" on each page. I focused either it was a cat or dog and added the number of dogs or cats as part of the answer. Even though I was told by my supervisor not to add numbers to the text (they thought toddlers shouldn't be exposed to numbers, colors, letters, etc.), I still did.

Animal Matching Game
The board for this matching game is the back of a calendar. I copied it, cut it apart into game pieces. Then I laminated the board and the pieces. And there you have it-- instant matching game. I love matching games because the concept becomes familiar to young kids, yet new items to match is a lot of fun.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Planning a Budget

We have a major project coming up that will have us using money differently for the next few months. In order to keep everything straight, I've been creating budgets. I've never done this before. When I've asked others (even at a bank) for a worksheet to follow, there are none to be found. Hmm, maybe the cause of our economic problems in the country. Maybe if we taught people how to budget and manage money, there wouldn't be so much debt in our society. Sorry for the diversion, but that's what come to mind. So with limited knowledge or guidance on how to really create a budget for our project and created one of my own. It's not fancy and I hardly remember how to use a spreadsheet, but that's coming back. In creating one for our project, I realized I had to create one for our personal expenses, too. I did this by month. Here are some tips on creating a budget.

1. Write down everything and how much you think it will cost. I like to estimate high, just in case something costs more. Also, don't forget to include tax.
2. Break it down into categories. For our personal budget, I have shopping, bills, personal, grocery, etc. For our big project, I included categories, such as payments, allowances, additional cost, future costs.
3. Create a column on your budget that has "difference" of what was spent. This will guide you in future budgets.
4. Balance your checkbook. Okay, this isn't really a budget tip, but so many people don't. I use a software program called "My checkbook." It works great to keep the checkbook balanced. It is a simple program and doesn't cost much $20.
5. Stick to it. Not just by spending within your means, but by recording every purchase you make. You will be much more aware of how much you spend and how much you save!

I suggest if a full household budget it too daunting of a task. Start simple. Budget just one category to begin with. Start with bills. These are about the same each month. Try that for a month and add a shopping budget.

For more budget tips, Money Saving Mom posts often on this topic!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Reminder for next time

Okay I confess. I shop at Victoria's Secret for essentials. I do however only shop when I have a coupon or during their semi-annual sale, which is held in June and January. I had a coupon for a free pair of underwear and stopped in the store the day after the semi-annual sale. They had a bin of underwear for $1.99 that originally were priced $7.50 to $8.50. That's better than their best sale of 10 for $25 that they had just a couple months ago. So next semi-annual sale, stop by the day after. If you're not picky about styles and colors you will find a great deal.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Reward Programs

I've been buying Pampers diapers for two years now. I've collected every
Gifts to Grow point located on each package (and even some free ones along the way). The Gifts to Grow program allows you to accumulate points and cash them in for toys, coupons and photos. Normally, I just cash my points in for diapers or Cheerios. But they haven't added those options lately to the rewards catalog. In the past the toys have come with a shipping cost -- making the cost close to retail price. About two weeks ago, I saw a magnetic calendar made by Melissa and Doug on the website. I was shocked when I saw that shipping was included. I got it today and can't wait to use it! The morale of the story is that even if it seems like a waste of time or you don't see something you want today, it might be worth it in the end. Even the free diapers and Cheerios have been worth it for me. I highly recommend signing up for the reward programs especially if it's something you spend a lot of money on.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What's Cookin' --Pork Fried Rice

I made this when we had some leftover pork steak, however you could use any type of pork in this for good flavor. I obtained the idea for this on Cooking During Stolen Moments. This is a awesome site if you are interested in recipes. Most have ingredients that are familiar. And every recipe I've tried has turned out great. Here's what I did with her Pork Fried Rice recipe.

Pork Fried Rice
This simple recipe tastes like Chinese take-out. Take-out without the cost that is. I looked at my husband after our first couple bites and said "Soy sauce -- that's it." Sometimes I think there has to be lots of fancy items to make food taste really good. This recipe proves that's not the case!

1 Tbsp oil
2 cups cooked rice
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped leftover pork steak (or any pork)
1 green onion, chopped
1/4 cup carrots
2 Tbsp soy sauce

1. Cook rice. I used Minute Rice and it actually worked out pretty good.
2. Heat oil in medium skillet on medium to medium-low heat.
3. Add rice for about 5 minutes.
4. Clear a center of the rice and scramble egg in same skillet. Rice will be on the outer rim of skillet.
5. Stir egg with rice after egg is scrambled.
6. Add pork, carrots, and green onion. Heat through for about 5 minutes.
7. Add soy sauce and mix well.

**I love the idea that I had all this in my fridge when I needed to make it. Chicken or shrimp could easily be replaced for the meat. **

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tons of great ideas

If you haven't checked out Family Fun for a while, now is a great time. Go here for baby and toddler fun. You will find games, activities, crafts, indoor and outdoor fun -simple, fun just for toddlers. So many great ideas!!! I'm going to try the Alligator Swamp with my little one.

Planning for a Party

We are just a month away from my little girl turning 2. Here is where the planning phase is now.

Theme: Moon and Twinkle Stars. I'm going to hit up some store today and see if we can find some "star" items on sale from the 4th of July decorations.
Cake: Star. That is if I can find a mold. Funny when you are looking how hard it is to find something. Alternative: Cupcakes with stars on the paper. I'm making a cake (or cupcakes) because of my daughter's milk and egg allergy. I'll probably make a regular cake with an egg and make a dairy-free frosting. Still need to find recipes.
Invitations/Thank Yous: I sent out a "save the date" e-mail only because this time of year is so busy. We are going to make thank you cards and hand them out when guests leave. Right now I have two vision of what these cards will look like.
Misc.: I've got balloons, crepe paper, a banner, a 2 candle, and stars. We will probably be making some moons to hang around the house. I also like to make signs that have her picture on them saying "Happy Birthday."
Budget: For food and everything else that I need is $20. Should be easy to beat.


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