Friday, January 29, 2010

Yummy Brownie Recipe

If you are looking for a good brownie recipe, check out this recipe!  I used Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa. Really yummy!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Some store brands we like

We are usually pretty name brand loyal in our house, but we are also loyal to many store brands. I've mentioned in the past that buying store brands can save lots of money.  Here are some store brand products we have found we like without compromising quality.

Up & Up Dishwasher Soap (Target)
This compares with Cascade Dishwasher soap and runs about $2.69.  Now with coupons and doubling a coupon you can get Cascade cheaper.  But if you don't have a coupon or there isn't a sale, Up & Up retails cheaper and works the same for our dishwasher.

Up & Up Ibuprofen (Target)
This is on sale this week for $4 for 250 count (and is $4.94 not on sale).  Hands down cheaper than name brand and works the same.  And 250 will probably last us a really long time.

Great Value Potato Chips (Walmart)
These run $1.75 and taste as good as any other potato chip.  My price point for chips is normally $2.50 for a bag.  This saves quite a a bit.  We don't go through a bag too fast either.

Tortilla Chips (Dollar Store)
We like to eat salsa and other dips with tortilla chips.  Those can be really expensive even on sale.  At the Dollar Tree you can find decent tortilla chips at half or more the cost as they are only $1 each.

Other Store brand items we buy:

  • canned vegetables (any store)
  • canned tomatoes (any store)
  • canned olives (any store)
  • canned mushrooms (any store)
  • Saltines (any store)
  • Oyster crackers (any store -- I use these for breadcrumbs)
  • Up & Up tissue
  • Up & Up toliet paper
  • Up & Up napkins
  • Up & Up paper towels
  • Up & Up dental floss
  • Floor pads for Swiffer (found at the Dollar General)
  • Multivitamins (any store -- I usually pair with a BOGO deal)
  • Plastic baggies (store brand or Dollar Tree)
  • Aluminum foil (any store)
  • Spices (Walmart or any store)
  • Baking soda (any store)
  • Milk (grocery store brand -- always 25 cents or more cheaper)
  • Eggs (any store)
  • Sponges and scrubbers (Dollar Tree)
  • Flour (any store)
  • Sugar(any store)
  • Orange drink (any store)
**If you get on Target's mailing list they often send out coupons for the Up & Up brand making those items even cheaper**

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


You don't need anything fancy to start working with preschoolers and the calendar.  I bought a Dora calendar from the dollar store.  Each day we record the whether on the calendar with simple symbols. A sun for sunny, a cloud for cloudy, snowflake for snow, raindrops for rain, many clouds for foggy.  We also list birthdays and special events on the calendar.

Skills we focus on:

  • Learning the days of the week
  • Learning the months
  • Recognizing numbers
  • Counting (sunny days, cloudy days, days until an event, etc)
  • Listening to directions
  • Recognizing different weather

Days of the Week Song 
(tune: Clementine)

There are seven days, there are seven days,
There are seven days in a week
Sunday, Monday
Tuesday, Wednesday,
Thursday, Friday

Today is (fill in day), Today is (fill in day)
Today is (fill in day) all day long
Today is (fill in day), Today is (fill in day)
Today is (fill in day) all day long

Repeat chorus

Monday, January 25, 2010

$5 Dinner Challenge -- Nachos

I've posted this before, but I wanted to share it with $5 Dinner Challenge over at $5 Dinners.  I also wanted to add some thrifty ways to make these so the cost is cut back.


1/2 ground beef (80 cents)
1 cup refried black beans (40 cents)
1/4 cup taco sauce (15 cents)
1 cup tomatoes (free from garden -- frozen or 60 cents)
1/4 cup onion (10 cents)
1 tsp dried cilantro (5 cents)
1/2 to 1 cup cheese depending how much you like ($1)
Taco shells ($1)
 2 to 4 Tbsp Veg. oil (20 cents)

Total: $3.70 to $4.30

1. Heat vegetable oil on medium in small skillet.  Add taco shells for 20 seconds each side. Set aside to cool.
2. Ground beef. Drain.
3. Place tortilla shells on platter or casserole dish.
4. Mix together ground beef with black beans and taco sauce.
5. Mix together tomatoes, onion and cilantro. Blend in food processor if desired.
6. Place ground beef/bean mixture on top of tortilla shells. Pile toward middle.
7.  Place tomato mixture on top of beef/bean mixture.
8. Sprinkle cheese over all.
9. Bake on 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.

**I use corn taco shells that are about $1.20 for a 12 pack.  I will use about eight shells and fry them in a little oil about 15 seconds each side.  This gives the shells a really good crisp taste.  I simply break the taco shells a part into tortilla chip size.**

**Homemade black refried beans make this meal a little cheaper, yet.  Here's a good tutorial on how make dried beans.  To make them refried, warm up in skillet and add fat.  I added shortening, but you could use butter, oil, bacon fat.  Just keep adding more fat until they are mashed about a 1/4 cup.  They will not look like canned refried beans.  When you add the taco sauce with the ground beef they come together really well.  The taste is great, too**

This post is also linked to Life as a Mom recipe swap!

Rotating Toys and Books

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I think it's a really important concept.  Rotating books and toys is such a great way to keep children engaged. Too much can be overwhelming and they they don't play with anything.  Here are some tips to making rotating toys and books effective.

  • Separate toys into categories.  For example, blocks, puzzles, talking toys, music instruments, small manipulative, dramatic play. 
  • Once you have them separated, them pick a couple toys from each category to have.  Whether you have a living room full of toys (like we do) or you only keep toys in a playroom, find a way to put some toys away in a closet or in bins.  
  • Keep it organized. We even plastic shower caddies that you can pick up at the dollar store for storing books and toys.  The dollar store has lots of great options for storage.  Cost is cheap and if it breaks, it's not a lot of money lost.
  • If your child doesn't play with it anymore because they outgrew it, then donate it or put away for future child.  
  • For rotating books, I have two baskets that we keep books in.  One is in the living room and the other in my daughter's bedroom next to the rocking chair.  Actually, we just added a basket in the bathroom, too.  I find it's too hard for toddlers to put books back on the shelf and it's a challenge for them to find the books they want when they are stacked on a bookshelf. A basket works great. 
  • We own tons of books to rotate, and I put new books out each week.  If you don't have a lot of books, you can borrow them from the library.  I will have seasonal books out, but I also pull out favorites and books we've never read.  If your child has an interest in something check out many books from the library and rotate them in.  (Hint:  Most libraries have online services where you can put books on hold from the comfort of your home.)
Share your tips on how you organize toys and books.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What's Cookin' --Crockpot chicken drumsticks

I took this original idea form Make it Fast, Cook it Slow, by Stephanie O'Dea.  Her recipe was for fried chicken in the crockpot, but after I changed the recipe some it didn't turn out like fried chicken at all. Since I changed enough to make it my own, I thought I would share.  It was still really good even though it wasn't the fried chicken I was hoping for.

12 drumsticks, unthawed
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp celery salt
1 tsp salt
Dash chili powder
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup butter (I used dairy-free Smart Balance)

1. Mix spices together with flour.
2. Put spices in ziplock bag with chicken.  Shake.
3. Spray bottom of crockpot with cooking spray.
4. Put chicken in crockpot. Pour melted butter over top.
5. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, or high for 4 hours.

For more great recipes, check out The Grocery Cart Challenge!

Graco Stroller Recall

This looks like a big recall. Graco strollers made from 2004 to 2008 have a recall.  For model numbers and more detailed information, go here.

FYI:  I found our serial number on the bottom of the frame under the foot rest.  Ours was not affected.  Thankfully!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Surprise Box -- Snowmen

In this surprise box the theme is snowmen with a focus on colors.

Books:  The Biggest, Best Snowman, by Margery Cuyler. Frosty the Snowman , by Steve Nelson (we sing it).  Baby Donald makes a snowfriend.

Activities:  I used this pattern for the snowman, hat and scarf.  I cut out 10 snowmen and laminated them.  I put velcro on top of the head and on the neck.  I copied hats and scarves on 10 different colored pieces of paper.  You could color them with crayons or markers, too.  I put velcro on each hat and scarf.  To play game, have child match the hat and scarf color on each snowman.

Toys: Stuffed snowmen

  • To listen to stories
  • To sing along
  • To match colors
  • Enjoyment
  • Follow directions
  • Talk about winter and snow
  • Pretend to make a snowball

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Clean stains out of clothes

My husband's work shirts often get stained in the underarms.  We think it was caused by the deoderant he used.  I searched high and low for a solution to get the stains out.  I tried many different things.

What works best is to get a spray bottle, fill it with vinegar and spritz both the inside and outside of the shirt just prior to washing.  Wash as normal.  Stains disappear.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thrifty Thursday

I was in desperate need for new tennis shoes.  We have been working out almost daily and my trusty shoes were really starting to get worn out.  I have small feet, between size 5 and 6.  So, finding tennis shoes can really be a challenge (well, any shoes for that matter).  Plus I have some sensitivity from old injuries that I forget about until I get new shoes and have to break my feet in (not the shoes, my feet).

I found a pair of Nikes at Kohls a couple weeks ago that were size 6 and fit really well.  Nike tends to be my go-to for tennis shoes.  But they were $40 on sale (originally $60), but still more than I wanted to spend.  I had just purchased some really cheap items from with a free shipping code and 20 percent off.  So I went home and bought the shoes online for $32 after the 20 percent off.  Ah, a much better price.  I know they will last a while, but I just can't spend a lot on anything anymore.

Last week I got an e-mail saying that my order was cancelled because they didn't have my size.  I was so disappointed.  Typical, I thought.  My size is hard to come by.   I called Kohl's customer service, and they told me they would honor the online price in the store.  I was shocked because we are finding that often stores won't match online prices (Wal-Mart won't).  I went to the Kohl's last night and hoped they would have my size.  I found the shoes in my size, and the checkout at the customer service was simple.  No questions or auguring -- they just honored the price.  Hooray!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What's Cookin' --Homemade Vegetable Stock

Simple, simple recipe for vegetable stock on my other blog.  Check it out!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Highly Recommend

This Taco Mac recipe over at Cooking During Stolen Moments is fantastic.  Her recipes are predictably good.  I was particularly impressed with this one because as I was making it, I was worried that it didn't smell right and wouldn't taste right.  But it was delicious.  I love that it's a one pot dish, too.

Toddler Friendly Magic Wand

We love Abby Cadabby from Sesame Street at our house.  The other day at lunch I was talking about her magic wand and said "I bet we can make one."  Here's what we did.

Paper Towel Roll
Ribbon (variety of colors)
Hot Glue gun

1. Let child color and put stickers on paper towel roll.
2. Cut ribbon to desired length. I let my daughter pick the colors.
3. Adult's job: Hot glue ribbon inside magic wand and Abracadarba you've got a wand.

My daughter just loves it.  She walks around with it doing magic.  I know it might not look like much, but she created it and really that's the best part about creating anything.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What to do with extra lemon juice

I always have a lemon or lime in the fridge for fresh juice for many recipes I make.  But it occurred to me last week that I often end up tossing what ever I don't use.  I'll put the unused lemon in the fridge, but it doesn't last very long.  I hate wasting anything.  As I was making dinner,  it dawned on me that there has to be a way to freeze a lemon.

Freezing lemon juice

  • Squeeze lemon juice into a pourable measuring cup. 
  • Pour juice into a ice cube tray (the one I used were 1 Tbsp each). 
  • Then put the ice cubes into a ziplock bag and use for individual use.  

So easy and great way to use up a lemon.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

No need for cable, dish or satellite

Last week duing my year-end reflection on saving money I mentioned watching TV online.  Here are a couple suggestions of how to find your shows online.

  • Go to the network website and try to watch full episodes there.  Sometimes shows aren't listed here, but many are.  I dislike that many of these will have commercials included.
  • Youtube is usually a good option for older episodes.  However, the quality is not very good.
  • I really like using this site.  They have a really good selection of current shows and excellent quality. You might have to wait a couple weeks for the most updated episode, but if you don't have cable you don't even know what the schedule is.  Bonus is that there are no commercials.  There is however a time limit on usage about 55 minutes.  But you can watch again after an hour.  
  • We also rent TV shows from the library.  It's a fun way to watch a series with out commercials.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What's Cookin' -- Homemade Cheese Ravioli

  • No way I could possibly have even thought a few years ago that I could tackle homemade ravioli.  But a couple weeks ago I accomplished it and it was so good.  My husband went back for seconds (which is always a good sign).  I followed the recipe from the Food Network for the ravioli and made my own filling. 

  • Ravioli

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

4 oz feta cheese (ricotta would be a good substitute)
1 to 2 cups shredded cheese (I used pizza cheese)
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup grated parmesean

1.  Slowly mix the flour and salt with the eggs, water and olive oil. The original recipe calls for using a food processor, but I did mine with a mixer.
2. If using a pasta machine wrap in cling wrap and put in fridge for an hour.  If rolling by hand, kneed by hand (the mixer's kneeding attachment didn't work too well here) for 8 to 10 minutes.  Wrap and put in fridge for an hour.
3. Mix cheeses and egg together.  I found I didn't need the whole egg to make this bind.  Too much egg will make the filling taste eggy. Put mixture aside.
4. After an hour, roll out dough paper thin.  I found using smaller portions was easier to roll out than a large ball.  The dough is really elastic.
5. Cut into equal squares (or as close as you can get) with pizza cutter.
6. Put a small amount (about 1 Tbsp depending on the size of your ravioli) in center of half the squares.  Cover filled squares with empty squares.
7. Use a fork to seal the ends.  This is very important otherwise your filling will come out when boiling.
8.  Boil homemade ravioli for 2 to 4 minutes or until ravioli is floating.
9. Serve with jar pasta sauce or homemade sauce.  I used the homemade sauce and add 1/2 pound of browned meat.  Italian sausage would taste good, too.

** Note this is very time consuming.  I plan to make some up one morning we are snowbound and freeze a bunch.  Freeze before boiling.  Simply put on a cookie sheet in freezer for an hour.  Once froze store in freezer or foodsaver bags. No need to unthaw before boiling.**

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Surprise Box -- The Mitten

If you aren't familiar with the author Jan Brett, you really should check out some of her books from the library.  They are so interesting and the pictures are very well done.  This week's surprise box theme is "The Mitten."

Surprise Box Contents

Books: The Mitten, Jan Brett. Footprints in the Snow, Cynthia Benjamin. Bear Snores On, (I picked this on because it has similar animals as "The Mitten" and the bears sneezes in both stories).

Activity: Felt MItten with laminated animals to go with the story "The Mitten."  Follow the patterns here and here.  I traced the mitten on two pieces of white felt and hot glued the pieces together.  I colored the animals and laminated them.  If you don't have a laminator they can be paper, just be ready for them to get a little worn down.

For the first day we reviewed with the story to put the animals in the mitten in order just as the story.  As you do this throughout the week you can challenge your child to do it from memory.

Skills worked on

  • Recognizing similar animals in different stories
  • Sequencing in a story
  • Animal recognition
  • Following directions
  • Enjoyment 
  • Listening to Stories
For more surprise box ideas, go here!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Lessons learned

It's okay to be hopeful that things might have changed.  It's okay to want something that's you think might be attainable. Be prepared to find inner strength to combat the nonsense.

Friday, January 1, 2010

year-End Reflections: Saving Money

Lessons I learned this year on saving money and still having the things we need.

  • Stock up when it's on sale.  Just yesterday we were at the Dollar Tree and there were 28 oz cans of whole tomatoes for 50 cents each.  How could we pass that up?  I bought six.
  • Make goals.  Exceed goals.
  • Be accountable where your money is going.
  • Shop sales.
  • Buy toys and books at thrift stores and garage sales.  I bought so many toys this year for under $3 that my daughter now has a good selection of toys to rotate each week.  And when you pay less than a $1 for a book you don't worry about it getting ripped.  Books are meant to be read and re-read and re-read again, but they are pricey new.
  • Rent movies from the library or find discount coupons for video stores.
  • Purchase a fundraising book for your area with discounts.  We got two for our area.  One was $15 and the other was free for joining our health club.  We got these at the end of October and have saved more than $40 already just from using the coupons from the books.
  • Watch TV shows online and ditch cable.  When it comes down to it decide how much you really watch and compare that to the price.  We also rent TV shows (currently watching the X-Files series and Curb Your Enthusiasm) from the library. 
  • Sometimes you have to spend a little more to save in the long run.  We concluded this with some items in our newly built home.  But we didn't upgrade much to start with -- there's always time for that down the road.
  • Learn the sales trends of your favorite stores.  JC Penny is my favorite place to by toddler T-Shirts and long-sleeve shirts.  Right now they are marked down to $3.19 and if you have a 15 percent off coupon from a survey, they are only $2.71.  I buy a bunch each time this sale comes around at the end of the season.  I go back a couple weeks from now to see if any are really discounted.  You do have to be careful not to wait to long initially because sizes will be picked over.
  • Have a price point in mind for certain items.  For example, I can get my husband's coffee on average for just under $6 at our regular grocery store.  However, I sometimes can find it really on sale somewhere else for around $4 with coupon.  It can go for more than $8 at another grocery store.   Be aware of prices, so you don't pay more than you have to.
  • A dollar savings here and there really can add up.  It's worth the time if you have it.
  • It's okay not to grab every sale.
  • Utilize double coupons on household items, such as detergent, toilet paper, etc.  Even though these are usually more expensive at a grocery store, if you double a dollar off coupon you end up saving more money.  You really have to look hard for these.
  • Buy less to save more money.  Yes, sometimes buying the larger pack with a coupon doesn't save more than buying a smaller pack.  Again have a price-point in mind for per ounce or item.
  • Don't abuse the system.  I hate when I see bloggers brag about the fifteen coupons they got through a product testing service and use for themselves getting items free or extra cheap.  Please spread coupons around like those companies intend. I also noticed that Target recently changed their coupons to have a limit.  It's because people were printing dozens to get free items instead of just using one or two coupons for a discount.  Don't ruin it for everyone.
  • Make if from scratch.  Whether it's cleaner or food.  It really does save money.
Read more of my money saving ideas and adventures here!


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