Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tough Lessons in Sports

We are a sports-minded family.  Both my husband and I love to watch and follow our favorite teams, therefore, our kids are exposed to many different sports.  One of our favorite teams is the Chicago Cubs.  Yes, they may be the lovable losers, but we love them...a lot!  Our oldest son has been interested in them it seems since birth.  He has sat through many, many games and plays baseball daily.  Our younger two are learning from him and at times you can see them all playing their own little game together in the backyard.  Thanks to big brother's modeling, everyone can also sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and "The National Anthem."  

This morning we awoke to the news that his favorite player, Geovany Soto, had been traded.  We knew this would be a sad day for him and it was for us, too.  You may think that just because he's only five he'll forget about it and move on, but his love of Soto runs deep.  When he was three and four, he insisted that he be called Geovany Soto by his sister and us.  One day at preschool, a mom who was volunteering in the classroom was helping him write his name.  She began to write his name and was quickly informed that his name was Geovany Soto.  We still laugh about it today.

When it comes time for his backyard baseball game, he dons his Soto jersey with pride and takes the field.  "Geo" is always the center of the game and we get updates regularly about what wonderful (or sometimes bad!) plays he has done that day.  If there is a hero in the game, it is Soto.  Since he is a catcher, the necessary catching gear was requested for Christmas and his birthday.  He now has a chest protector and catcher's helmet that he wears in his games.  He's also improvised and turned his scooter pads into shin guards.  The kids loves this guy.  And now he's gone!  Unfortunately, he went to a team whose games are rarely televised here, but maybe he can catch and few games at his grandparent's house, because they get all of the them.  He may just move in!

It is a good lesson, though.  He'll have to adapt and find a new Cubs player to idolize.  I'm sure that  player will eventually move on as well.  This is the second player he's chosen to love that has been traded from the Cubs.  Derrek Lee was his first love and imaginary friend.  He still talks about him periodically, so I'm sure we'll be hearing about Soto for years to come.  He's learning the rules of the game early on in life!

On another note, we have been letting the kids watch the Olympics throughout the day.  They are quite into some of the sports and our little princess has already declared that she wants to be on tv someday doing gymnastics.  She's been doing her best impersonations of their moves and loves to show them off for us!  Since it has become quite the popular viewing choice around here, I thought we'd do an activity today that related to the Olympics.  I decided on having the kids create the rings with some construction paper and glue.  They thought it was fun and we got a little fine motor and color work in this morning.

Working hard!

The finished product for the princess

Even the little guy had fun!

You could also create the rings by using toilet paper or paper towel rolls, dipping them in paint, and stamping the colors in the right order.  Patterning the colors would also be a great mathematical activity.  Perhaps we'll have our own "competition" one of these days complete with some medals and a ceremony.  They would love it!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Crocking Monday

We survived our big family party weekend.  It was a lot of work and took a long time to prepare for, but it was a fun and memorable weekend.  I am completely wiped out and am looking forward to a long nap this afternoon (barring the kids cooperate!).  So today's post is going to be a short one, but contains a delicious crockpot recipe.  Don't be fooled.  Just because it's a soup, doesn't mean it's not a delicious summertime meal!

Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup

2 cups diced chicken, cooked
1 can enchilada sauce
1-2 cans chicken broth (depends on how thin you prefer your soup)
2 cans diced tomatoes and chiles (14.5 oz), if you want less spice then 1 plain and one with chiles
1 cup corn
2 bay leaves
1/4 t. chili powder
1/4 t. minced garlic (mine is from a jar)
1/4 t. oregano

Cook on high for 2 hours and low for an additional 3.  Serve with tortilla chips and cheese.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

Living With A Peanut and Tree Nut Allergy

This has been such a busy week prepping for the big birthday party for my in-laws this weekend.  I am happy we decided to host.  It has definitely given us an extra push to get some more decorating done around the house and to put things away!  I am quite exhausted, though, and am praying to hit the sack early tonight to rest up for the big festivities.  The fun begins tomorrow!

Despite our busy week, we still had some outside commitments we had to work in.  Today our oldest son had an appointment with an allergist.  We had gone to the same practice since he was just one, so change is always a little nerve-wracking.  I was hoping for a miracle that he had somehow outgrown his allergies, but that definitely was not the case.  Our poor little guy reacts so quickly and violently to the peanut antigen when they put it on his skin that it always frightens me.  I see what it does on the outside and fear what would happen again on the inside if he were to accidentally ingest a peanut again.  

Let's back it up a bit.  When our son was a few months shy of two, we hosted a family Halloween party at our home.  We were enjoying a nice dinner with our friends when our son took a peanut butter M&M off of my husband's plate and popped it into his mouth.  He had not had any exposure to peanuts at that point, as it was recommended to not give it to your child until they were two.  None of the kids had.  One mom commented, "Well, I guess we'll see what happens!"

It wasn't five minutes later and he began to cough and threw up all over my husband.  Our guests exited the party quickly and we immediately called the doctor.  They suggested we head to the ER.  We tried to clean him off a bit and with that he began to vomit uncontrollably.  We immediately called 911.  Keep in mind, this was all from ONE peanut butter M&M.  I can't imagine what it would have been like with a larger amount ingested!  It was a very scary evening for us all and it changed our lives.

For some reason, the topic of peanut allergies can be very sensitive and controversial for some.  It can be met with very negative and almost hostile reactions from people who have children that are not allergic.  This post is intended to shed some light on this very important topic for those of you who don't have first-hand experience with this issue.  I've spent a lot of time explaining to our friends and family members about the danger he faces if he's accidentally given a nut.  All have been very receptive and shocked to learn how much is involved in keeping your child safe.  

The worst part of having a child who has been diagnosed with a peanut allergy is the constant fear that they will ingest something containing a peanut allergen.  Well, that seems easy, right?  Teach your kid to avoid peanuts, peanut butter, and goodies that contain peanuts as an ingredient.  Wrong.  When your child has a severe allergy to peanuts (and in our case tree nuts as well), you have to avoid any item that may have been made in a facility that also uses nuts.  If you check a food label it may say one of the following:  contains peanuts/tree nuts, may contain peanuts/tree nuts, or made in a facility that also processes peanuts/tree nuts.  You have to constantly check products that you may have found to be "safe" in the past, as sometimes their lines change and they are no longer okay for your child to consume.  

Things that you may not even consider to be unsafe may be.  For example, Wal-Mart's Great Value brand is one of the worst at cross-contaminating.  One may think cheese would be just fine!  Wrong.  Saltine crackers?  Wrong.  It's a very extensive list of unsafe items.  Going grocery shopping no longer means taking your list and throwing items in the cart.  You now have to check every label to make sure that what you're bringing home to feed your child is "safe" for them to eat.  Bakeries are a thing of the past as are most baked goods at the grocery store.  It can be a challenge.  Eating out at restaurants also feels like navigating your way through a mine-field.  We have a few safe go-to restaurants, but for the most part we eat at home.  

Aside from the obvious risk of food, everyday experiences that you take for granted are no longer easy.  We attend story time at our local library and at the end of the session they provide a snack for the kids.  Unfortunately, it is animals crackers that are not safe for him to have.  School is a scary time.  You are no longer there to make sure that everything is okay.  Sure parents are asked to only bring in peanut-free snacks or treats, but each holiday I've had to pull out candy that was not safe for him to eat.  

Playdates are a natural part of growing up, but they become nerve-wracking for us and the parents of his friends.  Luckily we have been blessed with parents more than willing to welcome him into their home.  When we drop him off, though, we have to give a quick lesson on how to use an Epipen and hand over the bag of all of the information they would need should they need to call 911.  Birthday parties should be fun, right?  "Sorry, son, you can't have the cake, but I brought you your own cupcake from home!"      

 One year we bought season passes to Six Flags thinking it would be so much fun to take the kids there for a few hours on the weekends to burn off some energy.  We set off for our first day all excited and it quickly turned to panic as nuts were sold all over the park and we had to worry about the residue being on the rides where his hands touched.  What if he put his hands in his mouth?  He was only 3!  We love to go to baseball games at Wrigley Field and other major league ballparks.  We now take the time to wipe all of the seats down, wash hands frequently, and hope that the neighboring spectators choose a snack other than peanuts.

Taking a family vacation is fun, but a lot of anxiety finds it's way into the suitcase as well.  Airplanes are the worst.  Regardless of whether or not peanuts are served on your flight, someone before you may have had some.  The fold-down trays are the only place to put anything on to occupy your kids and keep their tummies full.  One of my greatest fears is being in the air and having him react.  This concern became very real on a flight that served peanuts and he began to cough and clear his throat.  How quickly can they land that plane?  I have been on discussion boards for a few major airlines where people get infuriated when "allergy parents" suggest banning peanuts on planes.  It very often goes something like this, "Why should I not be able to have my peanuts because YOUR child is allergic.  Who do you think you are to make the rest of us suffer on a flight?"  

Really, that statement is a walk in the park.  People get really fired up about this topic.  I often suggest putting yourself in someone else's shoes.  How would you feel if it was your child that could potentially die because the person next to you HAD to have peanuts in order to make it through a flight.  There are plenty of other snacks out there people.  I'm sure you don't sit around and regularly snack on peanuts.  If you do, perhaps you could survive a few hours without them.  Is it really worth risking someone's life miles above the ground over some silly peanuts?  Unfortunately, peanut residue can be airborne and those with the most severe allergies can have a reaction from someone simply opening a package of peanuts.   

I could continue to give you examples, but I'm sure you are starting to see that this is no walk in the park.  Having a child with a peanut allergy means doing all you can to make sure that your child is safe from a common little nut that is life-threatening.  We always have an Epipen and Benadryl with us, but it's still a very scary problem.

As a mother, I naturally feel very protective of my son.  When he was diagnosed with this allergy, I was devastated.  I knew that this would change his life and and it made me very sad.  It seemed like some of the innocence of childhood was gone.  We had to be so protective and teach him that he could not just eat anything he wanted without asking first.  At first he couldn't understand why he couldn't have what other were having.  Unfortunately, it put fear into him, but on the bright side he has become very cautious about accepting any food from someone other than us.  He asks everyone, "Are there peanuts in that?"    

Christmas was our first holiday that we really had to deal with this and of course homemade cookies are everywhere that time of year.  I made several kinds of "safe" cookies myself and took a tin whenever we went to a party.  We were so concerned that he would grab a bite of something that year since he was so young, but we made it through unscathed!  Our families were great at helping out and keeping the nuts out of their baked goods that year.

One thing that really bothered me was the fact that kids with a peanut allergy can be isolated.  Like I mentioned before, playdates are stressful for both sets of parents.  Going over to someone's house to play is one of the highlights of a child's life.  I always fear that he will not be invited over to other people's homes or be excluded from birthday parties because of his allergy.  This issue also concerns me as he heads off to school.  He will be starting kindergarten this year and will be "the kid with the peanut allergy."  I pray that he doesn't get made fun of and singled out because of it.  You may think that sounds silly, but it happens to my niece all of the time.  It's often helpful if there's another child in the class with the allergy, too, because they feel an instant bond because they realize they are not alone.

I could really talk about this forever.  I'm very passionate about it and do all that I can to make sure that our son doesn't feel like he's getting the short end of the stick because of his allergy.  Each year for his birthday I make him a homemade cake for the theme that he has chosen.  He gets some input and has been thrilled with all of them to date.  I bake him plenty of fun treats to take along to parties where I know the desserts will not be safe.  I educate parents who have questions and want to learn more about his allergy so that they will feel comfortable inviting him into their homes.  I volunteer in the classroom as a party coordinator to help make sure the snacks, projects, and treat sacks are "safe."  I do my best to make his childhood as normal as possible.  

I guess my advice to you if a peanut allergy does not directly impact your life, is to be compassionate and understand that we, as parents, are only trying to do what's best for our kiddos.  We are doing our best to protect them from harm and advocate for their well-being.  I know that it can be an inconvenience to some, especially those with kids in school, but please consider that by creating a peanut-free environment in the schools, our kids can avoid a potential deadly reaction.  Don't you think a child's life is worth it?

My Little Peanut Allergy Guy

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

You Are My Sunshine

One of my favorite songs to sing to my kiddos is "You Are My Sunshine."  They have grown to love the song and can all sing along with me now.  It is so funny to hear the little guy sing.  He sounds like one of the Chipmunks!  Precious memories!

Given that it's summer and hot, we made a sun for our craft project today.  All you need is some yellow or white construction paper, some scissors, and glue.  This activity can be adapted for many ages and I will give you a quick run-down how!

For my little guy, I gave him a yellow circle and strips for the rays.  He loves to use the real bottle of glue, so I helped him put some dots around the outside and asked him to put his strips down on the glue dots.  He did as he was told and his project turned out like this:

As unique as he is!

The princess was given a white circle, strips for the rays, glue, and some smaller pieces of construction paper.  Her first task was to glue the rays on the white circle (yes, she got to use the glue all by herself!).  Next, I had her rip pieces of the smaller pieces of yellow construction paper to glue onto the white paper.  This was a little difficult for her and definitely something we will continue to work on!  Her sun turned out like this:

Working hard

The finished product

If you would like to make this project a little more challenging, provide a pre-cut circle (or let them cut out a large circle), have your child cut on straight lines to make the rays, and then have them rip or cut small pieces to glue on the circle.  A very versatile project!

I'll leave you with one of my favorites tonight.

You Are My Sunshine

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
You make me happy when skies are gray.
You'll never know dear, how much I love you.
Please don't take my sunshine away.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Summer Fun

This has to be one of the hottest summers we've had in recent years (though two years ago was pretty awful when I was pregnant!).  My kiddos love to be active and be outside, but there it is just not safe for them to be spending a lot of time out there right now.  We've had to get a little creative around here and we started off our day with a little "snowball fight" turned into "air hockey."

Our Kindness Jar poms are turning out to be quite the versatile little entertainers.  This morning's activity required straws, poms (though you could use cotton balls or torn tissue paper), and some small containers that can open up to make some goals.  To begin the activity, I gave each of my kids a flexible straw and told them to blow the poms at each other.  A "snowball fight" in the middle of summer!  After a bit, I pulled out a few storage containers, flipped them up on their sides, and told the kids to blow their poms in the "goal."  They loved it and as an extension to the activity, I had them pull out the poms and count them.  For my oldest guy, he had to figure out how many he won by.  They loved it!

A little "snowball fight."

Blowing his puck into the goal!

As you know, we are entertaining our large family group this weekend.  To cut down on my last-minute prep time, I decided to make a refreshing frozen fruit salad last night.  We will be eating these yummy treats with our BBQ on Saturday afternoon.  It should be the perfect way to cool everyone off a bit (and I can avoid cutting up a ton of fruit on Friday!).   These would be perfect to store in the freezer for a grab-and-go treat. 

Frozen Fruit Salad

Fruit Salad

1/2 cup sugar
6 oz. water
8 bananas
2 pints strawberries or one large bag frozen strawberries
1 large can crushed pineapple with juice
6 oz. frozen pink lemonade concentrate
6 oz. frozen orange juice concentrate
1 can lemon lime soda

Dissolve sugar in water.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix carefully.  Scoop into plastic cups and freeze.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Preparing For Company...A Lot of Company

I mentioned a few posts ago that I would be very busy over the next week, but I didn't mention why.  With less than a week to go, I'll share:  we are hosting my husband's family next weekend for a big beach birthday bash to celebrate his mom and step-dad's 65th birthdays.  To most of you, that probably wouldn't seem like a big deal.  If I were to host my family, that would be ten people (half of them us!).  My husband's family, however, is much bigger.  In fact, it's over twice as big.  Next weekend we will be hosting twenty-two people overnight and two more who have chosen to stay at a nearby hotel.  I love to plan parties and entertain, but this is a big undertaking!  In the  end, though, I know it will be a fun weekend.

Where does one begin on the laundry list of "to-do's" when you're hosting a large group?  For me the natural response to that question is food!  In my opinion, that's the best part of a party.  We will be serving three main meals and I wanted to create a menu that had variety, but was easy to prepare and able to serve our large group.  I decided on chicken tacos, a BBQ of burgers, brats and hot dogs, and BBQ pulled pork sandwiches.  I am hoping that these will please most of the crowd and fill everyone's bellies!

I am trying a new recipe with my BBQ pulled pork this time around.  My mom has made it in the past and it is pretty tasty.  Whenever I make pulled pork, I use a shoulder roast.  It shreds very nicely and if you keep your eye out you can find a decent sale on this cut.  I am optimistic that this will turn out great and be quite tasty with baked beans and coleslaw on the side.

Since I love to bake, I have spent a lot of time looking for cute beach-themed or summer cupcake ideas.  One day I came across these beach bear cupcakes.  They are just too cute to pass up!  I plan to use a vegan chocolate cake recipe I received from a friend and top it with some blue buttercream frosting.  While the beach blankets are a cute idea, I am just going to put a Teddy Graham in a Gummy Lifesaver and poke a cute little cocktail umbrella into the cupcake.  I think these will be a hit with the kiddos!  For an adult pleaser, I plan to make vanilla cupcakes from scratch with a raspberry cream frosting.  Perfect for someone with a sweet tooth!

I have many more goodies I will be making as well and I'll share them with you if they turn out well.  Desserts are a very important part of a party weekend and I hope to be able to squeeze in some time to make some extra treats.  My husband has requested the homemade ice cream sandwiches I shared with you previously and I am craving some homemade caramel corn.  I better sneak in some extra workouts this week, because it is not going to be a healthy weekend!

Since this is the first time that the majority of his family will see our new home, we have been working hard decorating the interior and finishing up some projects.  What great motivation it has turned out to be!  It has made me so happy to update the pictures in our frames and finally pull them out of their storage boxes.  My oldest guy came up to me today and said, "Mom, I really love the family sign and the pictures you put on top of the fireplace downstairs.  It looks so nice.  I love coming out of my room and seeing what else you've done."

Too sweet!  All this work, though, is making me incredibly tired at night.  Back in the day weekends were meant for going out, sleeping in, and relaxing.  Now they consist of waking with the sun, running errands and working on the house all day, and being ready to climb into bed at 9:00 exhausted.  My guess is that once the whirlwind weekend is over, I'll be ready to crash at 7:00 when my kids go to bed!  I wouldn't trade it for anything.  Life is good!

Ten Silly Cousins (one has escaped to the floor!)

Friday, July 20, 2012


Let me preface this post by saying that I understand how fortunate I am to stay at home with my kiddos.  I know that staying at home is not for everyone, but there are many of you out there who are working moms that would love to be at home with your kids.  This post is not intended to make you feel any guilt for working or suggest that you are any less of a mom because you do.  I just want to make that clear and not offend anyone!  This is a peaceful blog.  :)

This week I have been contemplating interviewing for a part-time teaching job.  While it is five days a week, it is only in the morning.  This job could give me an opportunity to re-enter my "life before babies," but still allow me to be at home with the kids half of the day.  While on the surface it sounds like a dream job, I am suffering from an extreme case of "mom-guilt."

If you're a mother, then you understand that dreaded term.  By my definition, "mom-guilt" is that sinking feeling that you are somehow letting your kids down or not being that "supermom" that you have set out to be. Perhaps since I have been fortunate to be at home with all of my kids since they were born, I feel an overwhelming desire to share the same experiences with all of them.  I guess this is my overachieving personality trait coming out.  I admit, though, I suffer from "mom-guilt" on a daily basis!    

This is a big year for us, as our oldest is heading off to kindergarten and the princess is beginning preschool.  When I was thinking about all of the ways taking this job would change our current situation, one of the first things that came to my mind was that I would not be able to see my boy off to kindergarten or take my daughter to her first day of school.  I understand that many parents don't get this experience, but being a stay-at-home mom, these are the experiences that I treasure.  It made me feel very sad.  I also really enjoy helping out in the classroom and would love to get involved in school activities now that our oldest will be in elementary school.

On the flip side, I would really enjoy having the opportunity to teach again.  There are times when I miss interacting with the little kids, their parents (most of the time!), and other teachers.  I always felt very passionate about teaching and young children.  I loved babysitting as a youngster and it was very easy for me to choose my career path when it came time to enroll in college.  When I was in the classroom, it was very rewarding to watch my students succeed and master new skills.  While it has been very rewarding for me to watch my own children grow and meet their developmental milestones, I sometimes miss the structure and responsibility of a classroom.

Of course it would also help us out financially and take some of the burden off of my husband to be the sole "breadwinner," of the family.  It could reenergize me and make me appreciate the time I spend at home with my kiddos more.  Perhaps it would be beneficial for everyone, but there is still this sinking feeling in my gut that it's just not the right decision at this time.  I would need to be at work in about three weeks, I have no one lined up to care for my kiddos (and that person would have to be top-notch!), and the logistics of getting the princess to and from preschool is proving to be a little too complicated.

While I am a little disappointed about letting this opportunity go, I am sure there will be another opportunity in the future that will be great as well.  At least for now I can set my feeling of "mom-guilt" aside and continue to focus on raising our kids.  The entrepreneurial side of me is starting to take over, though, and I am working on a few creative ideas to put my college education to work while still being at home with the kiddos.  Only time will tell if any of these ideas actually come to be!  

I can't leave this cute bunch!  :)


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Beat the Heat: Fine Motor Fun

Given the recent scorching temperatures, we haven't been able to spend a lot of time outside during the day.  My kids have been getting a little stir crazy, so I decided to revert back to "teacher mode" and bust out some fine motor activities to keep them busy.  After all, you can only color, paint, and play with Play-dough so long before the troops get restless.  Most of these activities are inexpensive and can be used over and over again!

Colander and Pipe Cleaners

I have a friend who was a former early childhood teacher as well.  She has a great website full of ideas. You can view her site here.  One day, I saw that she had busted out her colander and some basic pipe cleaners and let her girls have fun.  I thought my younger two might really enjoy this activity and it turns out I was right!  Once they had moved on from putting them into the holes to decorating the bedroom with them, we did a little extension activity.  I asked the princess to gather all of the pink pipe cleaners, red pipe cleaners, etc. until she had picked them all up.  She thought it was a lot of fun and took her "job" very seriously.  Even the little guy got in on the action.  Turns out it was a great imaginative activity as well.  The little guy must have thought they looked like candles on a cake, as we spent a considerable amount of time blowing them out.

Pipe cleaner fun

Sun Catchers 
One of my favorite craft supplies is tissue paper.  It can be used for a wide variety of projects and I always have some on hand.  This week we made some ice cream cone sun catchers.  I cut out an ice cream cone shape from construction paper leaving the outside edges in tact and covered one side with contact paper.  I had the kids place some cut up tissue paper (you can also let them rip it) on the sticky side of the contact paper.  Once they filled the picture all in, we hung it up on our patio door.  Beautiful summer art!


Working hard

The finished product (excuse our outside toys!)

Sticker Names
We have an abundance of stickers in our craft cabinet.  Our kids have created beautiful "sticker pictures" over the years, but this time I decided to give the princess a pre-writing activity to work on.  I wrote her name on a piece of construction paper and asked her to put stickers on the lines.  She worked very hard peeling her stickers off and putting them on the lines for a good twenty minutes, her tongue sticking out as she concentrated so hard on her task.  I was impressed with her attention span on this project, as it's usually quite short!   

The concentration!

All done!

Poms and Tins

My little guy loves to be in the kitchen, especially when I am trying to make dinner.  I have begun to give him activities to keep him busy and give him the opportunity to "cook" while I am busy doing the same.  We are using poms to fill up our Kindness Jar and as luck would have it we had just filled it up.  That meant I had a lot of poms sitting around to keep him busy!  I got out my cupcake tins and told him to go to work making his own cupcakes.  He worked hard on this for awhile, but had to be stopped when he tried to put his cupcakes into my oven.  Yikes!  If your kids are a bit older, you could make this activity more challenging by having them pick up the poms with tongs.

Making some dessert!

Easy Letter Practice

My oldest son is getting ready for kindergarten and loves to practice his letters.  A wonderful activity for all three of my kids is the Aquadoodle.  He loves to practice his letters on it, as it is a big workspace and pretty forgiving!  After all, if he makes a mistake, it will disappear in a few minutes.  I love that it folds up and can be easily stored.  I learned from a friend that they sell extra pens for it as well.  I need to pick some of those up so all of the kids can play together.

Practicing his "kindergarten" name

While it may be hot outside, there are plenty of activities you can do to keep those kiddos busy and engaged!  Use your imaginations, as most any safe household item can be turned into some kind of art!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Money Saving Tips: Whittle Away Wednesday Week 1

I am really working hard on this budget (as if you couldn't tell), so I thought I'd share some tips on how to save on everyday purchases.  This post could take hours, but I'll just share a few today and pass some more along next week.  We'll affectionately call it "Whittle Away Wednesday."

Let's start with an online shopping tip.  I know I've mentioned this before, but it is really one of the simplest ways to save money if you purchase anything online.  Sign up for an Ebates account and start saving!  It is so easy and worth your time, especially during the back-to-school shopping season and the holidays.  It's just one extra step and you'll love the check in the mail every three months!    

As I mentioned last week, I was going to work very hard on staying within our budget for groceries for the next few weeks.  I headed to the bank, withdrew my money, and set off to save!  My first stop was Target.  Normally I get a lot of my basics at Wal-Mart, but I was at Target for a few other items and decided to shop around a bit.  I ended up getting the majority of the everyday items I needed for the week there (and came in around $38.00).  Many of the purchases I made were their generic brand, Market Pantry, which cut back on costs. 

There are many benefits to shopping at Target.  The most important, for me, is my Target Red Card.  It provides a 5% discount on all of my purchases which is a nice bonus.  I know, I know, it's not cash, however, after I checked out, I went straight to customer service and paid the total amount I had charged with cash.  Problem solved!  I can also get free shipping when I make an online purchase, as well as contributing up to 1% of my purchases to my child's school.  Win-win all around!

In addition to the savings from the credit card, I receive coupons via text message and can also use the printable coupons from their website.  These can be combined with manufacturer coupons, so the savings can really add up quickly.  I've also found that I get a lot of good coupons at checkout that I can use in the future.  There is one more way to save at Target:  price matching!  Bring in your ad, take it to customer service, and get some money back.  If you can't tell, I love Target!

I also followed through with my trip to Aldi (we've now been there twice!).  As promised by some friends, the produce prices were often less than what I was paying at Wal-Mart or the local grocery stores.  This week we stocked up on blueberries ($1.49/lb) and strawberries ($1.19/lb), as well as pineapple ($1.19).  I found their grape and apples prices to be lower as well, though I had a little mold issue with my grapes as they were very wet.  We picked up a bag of carrots and a package of two zucchini (that I used in my cake) for 99 cents each.  I haven't been able to find a store yet with a good selection of organic produce that's not ridiculously expensive,  so this is where I'll be picking up our fresh fruits and vegetables for the time being.  

Since the price of the strawberries and blueberries is so low, I am planning to go back and buy several pounds to freeze.  We love to make fruit smoothies, so this will be a great way to save money in the long run.  If you'd like the recipe, I've included it below. 

I was quite pleased with my grocery trips this week.  I've stayed within our budget thanks to switching up my stores a bit and buying our meat in bulk when there is a good sale.  I have also been planning my meals with our budget in mind and adapting as necessary.  We love Barilla Pasta Plus noodles, so if I need to make a meatless dish, this is my go-to for protein.  Cutting out some meat cuts cost!

Fruit Smoothie

Fresh or frozen fruit of your choice
Apple Juice
Vanilla or French Vanilla yogurt (try Greek for a thicker smoothie)
Ice (if fresh fruit is used)

We use the Magic Bullet Express 17-Pc. Blending System to make our smoothies.  (You could also use a blender, but my directions pertain to the Bullet).

Fill cup 3/4 full with fruit, add juice, and top off with yogurt near the top of the cup.  Blend for 30 seconds.  Shake it around and blend for 20-30 seconds more.

Some fruit combinations we enjoy are strawberry and banana; strawberry, banana and pineapple; strawberry and blueberry; and strawberry, blueberry, and banana

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Healthy" Cake

I love to bake.  I also have a horrible sweet tooth, so this is often a bad combination.  Today we decided  to incorporate a popular summer vegetable into our baking.  I like to call it "healthy" cake.  After all, who can feel guilty indulging in some chocolate cake when there's vegetables in it?  My mom passed along a delicious chocolate zucchini cake recipe to me last year, so I decided to treat us all to some dessert.  It was definitely a great decision!

Let me put this to you bluntly:  you MUST make this cake.  If you do not, you are missing out on a wonderful treat!  My first thought when my mom told me about this delicious chocolate zucchini cake she made was, "Yuck!  How could a cake with zucchini be good?"  

If you recall, I am a picky eater, so this was out of my comfort zone.  I made it anyway and quickly realized my mistake.  Delicious!  So, run out to your gardens or head to the store.  You need a big zucchini!!!

I want to hear your comments once you make this!

"Healthy" Cake:  Chocolate Zucchini

1/2 c. soft butter
1/2 c. oil               

1-3/4 c.sugar

1 t. vanilla

2 eggs

2 c. zucchini

2-1/2 c flour

1 t. bkg. soda

1/2 t. cinnamon

4 T. cocoa

1/2 cup buttermilk (can make with powdered mix)

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. chocolate chips

Cream together butter, oil, and sugar.  Stir in vanilla and eggs.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and cocoa.  Mix in alternately with buttermilk.  (If you use the powdered mix, combine powder with flour mixture and alternate with water).  Stir in zucchini.  Put in 9x13 greased cake pan and sprinkle top with 1/2 c. brown sugar and 1/2 cup chocolate chips.  Bake 45 minutes @ 325 degrees or cake tester comes out clean.  Top with Cool Whip or ice cream.  

Sure kids, you can have dessert!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mama's getting organized!

I've slowly been working on getting everything organized in our house.  My first focus was on the kids' rooms and after a busy Saturday of decorating, I can happily say that I am about ready to close the door on that project.  Our house is starting to feel like a home and much more progress will be made in the next few weeks.  There is a motivational factor that I will share with you on another day!

I am trying to get my "stuff" organized.  As you know, I like to make lists and I wanted a place to keep my tally of items we have run out of before I get around to making my grocery list.  I also usually have some pile of papers that I need to scan, mail, or file and I needed a place to put them until I can complete the job.  I decided to make my own covered cork board.  I'm really not that crafty, but I am pleased with the way it turned out.  I like the color scheme so much, I think I am going to use it in our half bathroom!

It was a very simple project.  I purchased a cork board at Hobby Lobby when they were 50% off.  I took it over to the fabric department, chose a pattern that I liked, and had the nice employee measure how much I needed.  It was a very low-maintenance project.  The only trouble I had was using the staple gun.  We only have a heavy-duty gun, but I used it anyway.  It was much more powerful than I needed, but it did the job.  The whole time I was working on my project, I felt like I was on an episode of the old TLC series Trading Spaces.  I always wanted to create my own decor!  Success story #1.  

The supplies all ready to go!
The finished project!


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Crocking Monday

We had a very awesome Sunday funday!  We entertained the congregation at the small church near our home with our little cuties.  We frequently find that at least one of our kiddos makes our section of church laugh out loud at least once a week.  Today the little princess took a back dive off of the kneeler and promptly yelled, "I'm okay, Mom!"  It echoed throughout the church and was followed by some laughter.  We took it in stride and moved on.  After church, the nice people behind us made sure to tell her that they were glad she was okay.  I guess we didn't upset them too much with our busy, not-so-quiet crew.

This afternoon we celebrated my mother's retirement.  It was a wonderful party attended by family, many friends she has had for more years than I have been alive and some colleagues that she has worked with for many years.  We pulled off the surprise event and she enjoyed the day.  My kids had a blast as well and were all so tired that they fell asleep the minute their heads hit the pillow.  The princess was up for entertaining at the party as well.  You could find her picking up chips off of the tray, licking all of the salt off, and politely returning them to where she found them.  Once we shut that activity down, she moved on to the cake and began dragging her finger through the frosting, licking it off, and returning for more.  She told me that she just needed to have more.  Thank goodness we had already served the cake!  

Tomorrow is already the start of a fresh week.  Monday can be hit or miss when it comes to the mood of the kiddos, so I hope to avoid any problems during the witching hour by making a low-maintenance dinner in the crockpot.  I used to reserve one day a week for a crockpot meal and I plan to get back to it.  It's too hot to run the oven every night, so this will be a perfect solution. 

We will be enjoying Italian Chicken with Mushrooms.  If you're looking for a delicious recipe that tastes like you slaved for hours, this is it!

Italian Chicken with Mushrooms

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 envelope Italian salad dressing mix
1/4 cup water
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened (I use the 1/3 less fat)
1 can cream of chicken soup (I use Healthy Request)
4 ounces of mushrooms (I will add more)

Place chicken in greased slow cooker.  Combine salad dressing mix and water; pour over chicken.  cover and cook on high heat 3 hours.  In a small mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and soup until blended.  Stir in mushrooms.  Pour over chicken.  Cook 2 hours longer on high heat, or until chicken juices run clear.

Serve over hot noodles.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sweet Moments to Cherish

Do you ever have days where you feel like nothing is going right?  The kids are cranky, your house is a mess, and you wish you could start the day over.  We all have those days, but they are quickly forgotten when your kiddos pull out one of those "that is the cutest thing ever" moments.  Today was one of those days.  

As I was putting the kiddos down for their naps, the little guy was following me into each of the older kids' rooms.  After I tucked my daughter in and got ready to walk out of her room, the little guy ran over to her bed and said "give kisses."  He smooched her on the cheek and it was the sweetest moment between siblings.  He then took off for his brother's room, climbed onto his bed, said "give kisses" again and began kissing him all over the face.  Both got to laughing so hard.  Those are the memories to treasure!

I love keeping track of these sweet little moments, funny sayings, and milestones.  I have a journal for all of the kids that I keep in my nightstand to record these moments.  Kids really do say the funniest things and I have enjoyed keeping track of their little "kidisms."  I also like to keep track of what activities interested them, what play schemes they were involved in, and their favorite songs and books.  There are times when I will have daily entries or sometimes a few a week.  I track them by months and it is a great way to look back and see how far they've come and to remember where their imaginations took them.  

This is easiest to see in my oldest kid's journal.  He has gone through many imaginative play phases in his life:  trains, church, golf, baseball, basketball, racing cars, etc.  He's been Santa, Tiger Woods, Geovany Soto, Derrick Rose, and had Derek Lee for an imaginary friend.  We've been treated to many songs, from his first, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," to the latest, "The National Anthem."  He's "read us" numerous books and we've laughed at the witty thoughts that have come from his mouth.  

These journals really are a treasure.  At times when I am looking through them, I get a bit sad thinking about how much time has already passed.  It just seems like yesterday that I brought my first baby home and now my youngest is quickly approaching two.  If you haven't already, I highly recommend buying some sort of a book to record those moments that you think you will remember, but in all likelihood will forget.  I know that mine will love reading these as they get older and hearing about what they did when they were young.     

 Just for fun, I'll treat you to some of my favorite moments:

"I want to be on the naughty list.  I want coal.  I need it for my train."
"Mom, is this anguish?"  (English)
"The second president was Fatherham Lincoln."
"And today's guest conductor, legendary third baseman, number 10, he had lots of surgeries, Ron Santo!"
"Never, never, never.  I'm never going to eat vegetables!"
"I need a patkin!" (napkin)
"I hold you."
"I love Crosty the Snowman." (Frosty)
Me:  "Mommy says no."  J:  "J says yes!" (the sassiness began!)
My littlest guy's latest, "See you later!  Bye!"  

There are so many little memories tucked away in those words.  I really do remember most of those moments like they were yesterday.  You know how the saying goes, "The days are long, but the years are short!" 

 Priceless Memories

Friday, July 13, 2012

Time Management 101

Today I woke up and felt much more optimistic about tackling the parts of my life that need a little help.  I have a Type A personality and really like to have all parts of my life very organized.  Moving caused us to become a bit disorganized, as we are trying to get our house in order and adapt to the changes in our lives due to our relocation.  We are coming up to our two month anniversary of being Iowans again and it would be nice to feel some sense of organization!  I am doing my best to not worry and let things happen as they may, but some parts of our lives just need a little improvement.  I'll think of it as a makeover.   

Time management is the focus of today.  I've decided to create a little DIY project to help organize my daily life.  I hope to complete it this weekend and share it with you early next week!  Creating a "to-do" list is my main method of attempting to complete tasks.  It's time to take it up a notch, though.  I've decided that I really need to create a system where I can visually see what tasks need to be accomplished each day and those that belong in the "it would be nice" category.  Once I come up with that list, I can "schedule" my day.  It sounds a little crazy, but I am a planner and I think that this will be right up my alley!  

When I think about what I need to do each week, the list seems overwhelming.  Cooking, cleaning, laundry, activities for the kids, exercise, household shopping, paying the bills, blah, blah, blah.  You know how it is, the list goes on and on.  Thinking about it this way makes me crazy!  I realize that I need to break it down by day and make sure that I am "scheduling" the activities I must complete that day.  This includes activities that are beneficial to me keeping my sanity, like exercise.  Some days it seems like I just have too much to do to fit that in, but I need to make the time.  Perhaps something else could wait until the next day or if I don't have time to make it to the gym, I could do a workout at home.  I know there's 30 minutes somewhere in my day to make it work.  This is why I feel like a visual presentation will work to solve these scheduling problems.  I can see where I can squeeze that in.

I am trying to slow down a bit and not feel so rushed when it comes to our daily life.  There is never going to be enough time in the day to get everything done that I'd like to do.  If everyone is happy, healthy, and safe, though, then I will consider the day a success.  Today I'll leave you with a little quote that I'm going to print off and post in a place where I will see it often.

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters...compared to what lies within us."  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Some Days are Overwhelming

There are some days when I wake in the morning and before I even get out of bed I feel overwhelmed. Nothing has changed in our household, I just begin to think about all of the things I'd like to accomplish that day combined with what needs to be done and I feel a little suffocated.  Today is one of those days.    We wrapped up breakfast and I was torn in several different directions:  cleaning up the kitchen, gathering the laundry and getting it started, creating a grocery list, and contemplating heading to the gym.  I had to slow myself down and focus on one task at a time.  After a bit, my kitchen was clean, the laundry was started, and I was rounding everyone up for a trip to the gym.  I should have felt better, but I didn't.  It was time to check-in with myself and try to figure out the root of my anxiety.

After I thought about things a bit, I realized there were two areas in my life that were bothering me:  our budget and my time management.  Today I'm going to tackle the budget.  I need to prepare my grocery list, so it seems like the perfect day to do so.  Time management will wait until tomorrow!

As I have mentioned before, we are trying to switch over to a cash system and put those magic debit cards to rest.  I've been working hard to begin this process with grocery shopping and I have seen some improvement.  The problem, however, is that eventually the cash runs out before it's time for the next round.  I need to shake things up a bit.  Obviously what I'm doing isn't working!

Here's a little background about our thoughts on food.  Please don't judge (I won't judge you!), it's just where we stand.  Since I am a stay-at-home mom, it is important to me to prepare meals for our family that are fresh and nutritious.  I do my best to avoid processed foods, high fructose corn syrup, and MSG.  We buy organic milk and yogurt, as well as some produce.  I have stopped buying "filler" snacks, like Goldfish crackers and other munchies, and focused more on offering fruits, smoothies, and vegetables as an alternative.  Naturally, this drives up our food bill a bit.  Now I am trying to compensate for this price difference.

I do prepare our menu for the week and try to work in some of the sales at the local stores.  While I like to use our money to buy just what we need for the week, some of the meat sales are a bit hard to pass up.  I guess by the end of the month it will have probably balanced out, but it's hard to see right now in the middle of the month.  It seems like many of our essentials (cereal for example) have drastically gone up in price and the "sales" just aren't great anymore.  It is really making sticking to this budget difficult!

I am going to really get serious about sticking to this budget.  Payday is tomorrow, so I'll be heading to the bank and getting my cash out.  Per some tips from some of my Facebook friends, I am going to check out our local Aldi.  I am hoping that I can find some items there that will help cut our costs.  I am most optimistic about the produce, though I'm sure there is not an organic selection.  I will continue to shop around and pick up the various sale priced items at each store.

Eventually I will figure out where I need to be shopping in this area to meet our budget.  It will just take some time.  Stay tuned for weekly updates on this project.  If I can find some money-saving tips, I will gladly pass them along!  If you have any ideas, please leave a comment.  We can learn a lot from each other!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sleeping Woes

We were not blessed with good sleepers.  All of our kids had reflux as infants and I believe this greatly impacted their sleep the first year.  Unfortunately, their sleeping problems continued well past that year. Our oldest finally started sleeping through the night consistently a few months after her turned two (and just in time for the new baby to arrive).  Our middle child beat him by an entire year, but just a month before our little one came along.  The youngest was in the middle, finally deciding at 17 months that he was ready to sleep all night.  When you add that all up, it was about 5 years of not sleeping through the night for me.  I tried desperately to correct their sleeping issues.  I read the books, internet articles, and watched a few DVD's.  I had no luck with any of it.  Crying it out wasn't really an option for me, as I always felt horrible on the few occasions I did let them scream and there really was something wrong with them.  Eventually all of them began to sleep and I couldn't have been more excited....until we moved.

Two out of our three kiddos sleep all night.  The oldest and the youngest are doing great.  The princess, not so much.  She was a great sleepier in her crib.  She was potty trained through the night and I was optimistic she would continue on this path.  When we moved, we transitioned her out of her crib and into the toddler bed.  I knew from experience that this wasn't the easiest of transitions, but I was hoping that it would be some short-lived trouble and we'd all go back to sleeping through the night after a week or so.  Unfortunately, this has not been the case.  I knew we were going to be in trouble when we showed her her room and her first reaction was, "I can get out of my bed all by myself!"

We have tried many different approaches to this problem.  At first we would just put her back in bed multiple times a night hoping that it would pass.  Once we realized this was not going to work, I got online and bought an owl that is programmable.  I can set the time that is acceptable for her to get out of bed and the cute little owl will turn green.  Surely this was going to be the answer to our problem.  While she loved the owl, it was not keeping her in bed all night as we had hoped.  We would send her back to her room multiple times and eventually at 6:30 that owl would turn green and she'd rush up to show us.  That's great, if only she'd stay in bed until the darn thing actually turned green.

I know that these things can take some time, so we continue to use the owl, but after awhile I thought I'd try an incentive...the sleeping fairy!  She usually eats those ideas up.  The concept was simple.  If she stayed in bed all night and waited until her owl turned green in the morning, the sleeping fairy would visit and leave a lollipop for her.  Oh, was she excited.  I knew I was onto something!  First night, up and down like usual.  This continued.  It's been three weeks and the sleeping fairy has been able to visit twice.  Ugh.

Time to re-evaluate once again.  We still use the owl, which is working a bit better come morning time, but not keeping her in bed throughout the night.  Since we have been using the time-out stickers during the day, it has worked in helping her understand her limits.  She does not like to take the stickers down and usually shapes up by the time there is only one sticker left.  I decided to give it a shot at bedtime.  She now has three time-out stickers next to her bed.  If she gets up, she loses a sticker.  So far, she's only lost one per night, though it's only been a few days.  If she loses all of her stickers, her animals must be taken out of her bed.  She loves to sleep with them, so I'm hoping it's motivation enough to stay put.

Figuring out what is motivational to her has been a challenge.  With our oldest, he had a sticker chart next to his bed.  He received a sticker each night he stayed in bed and once the chart was full, he was rewarded.  We had some rough nights, but he soon figured out that he really wanted to earn that sticker.  She is not so into that when it comes to bedtime.  I like to try to make things positive when we can, but it is not doing the trick with sleeping for her.  This freedom is too much!  Last night she did not get up until right before six when she had to use the bathroom, but she went back to bed for another hour.  This was great.  I made a huge deal about how proud of her I was.  She glowed with excitement.  I'm praying we have another good night.

For those of you out there struggling with sleep, know you are not alone.  I think all of those books and DVD's are bull-honky.  We have followed a strict bedtime routine, kept their bedtimes consistent, and done all of the "right" things, but all of our kids have had issues and go through periods of time when they don't sleep well.  At first, I wondered what we were doing wrong, but as time has gone on, I've realized that it's really not our fault.  This too shall pass and soon I'll be waiting up late at night, unable to sleep because the kids are out on their own.  I've now realized that once I became a mother, the guarantee of a good night's sleep has gone out the window.  I'm glad I "rested up" all of those years!