Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Dinner and Homemade Costumes

Tonight is the much-anticipated trick-or-treating night.  It's rainy, but not cold, so we'll see how we do!  We've started a little tradition to have a Halloween-themed meal before we head out.  I make the kids mummy-dogs and we have some "witch's fingers" (carrot sticks), "eyes" (grapes), and this year we'll be adding some jack-o-lantern mandarin oranges.  We've already had a ghost cheese stick for a snack and some mummy juice boxes, too.  Halloween all around today!

Pumpkin orange cups

The spread

This year two of my kids needed homemade costumes.  My little guy wanted to be a firetruck, so I made that one afternoon and my mom worked on my oldest guy's ghost.  We were pretty pleased with how they turned out considering we only had a few hours to work on them before we needed to head to a party!

The whole crew!
Mr. Fire truck
Mr. Ghost

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Halloween Fun

Today we are prepping for my daughter's preschool Halloween party tomorrow and thought we'd have a little fun of our own, too.  Awhile back I had searched Halloween ideas on Pinterest and saved a few for later.  Some I plan to use for the party and others I thought my kiddos would enjoy (and doing them with 16 little kiddos sounded like way too much of a task!).  Here's what we came up with:

Jack-o-lantern oranges

Frankenstein Pudding Cups

We'll fill these with green pudding and crushed Oreos

Body Part Wall Art (just a sneak peak!)

A ghost

This will be a bat.

Monster Cups

We're going to glue on some googley eyes and poke some pipe cleaners in for arms/legs

The kiddos are so excited for Halloween.  Though the weather looks like it's going to be wet, we hope to make the best of it!  Tomorrow I'll share our trick-or-treat night menu and the homemade costumes we made!  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Making My Way Through the Clutter

A few weeks ago I wrote about my goal to de-clutter and organize our house.  Let me tell you-this is a slow-going process with four little people in the house.  I've come to the conclusion that our house is going to get a whole lot messier before it appears to be cleaned up and organized.  I have wonderful ideas pinned, images of what I want it to look like in my head, and all I have to show for any of it is a large pile of clothes thrown on the couch downstairs and some put in boxes and bins.  Someday we'll get there...someday.

One of the most difficult parts of this process is parting with the outgrown clothes.  I know it is just "stuff," but I have so many memories of my kids in those clothes.  I have a real problem with being sentimental and my photographic memory is a fault in this case.  I can remember who gave us the clothes, when my kiddos got them, and several occasions when they were worn.  I really don't think it's the "stuff" so much that's the problem:  it's the reality that my kiddos are growing up (a little too quickly for my liking) and it is quite unlikely that there will be any other little kiddos to where those clothes again.  Ugh, just typing those words makes me teary.  While I am sorting them into bins to sell, I am not quite ready to part with everything just yet.  Someday I'll get there...someday.

Purging is a liberating feeling, but it's an emotional process, too.  There are a lot of little memories tied up in the "stuff" we have lying around this house.  I know that we have years of great memories to make, but parting with those little outfits and accessories is proving to be an emotional ride for me.  I'm thinking I may need to take a break from that and go through some of the stuff in this house that I won't even give a second thought to:  magazines, old papers, items from our move that are still in the boxes.  There's so much to do and not enough time in a day!  Someday I'll have more time on my hands...someday (but I probably won't like it much, because that means all my kiddos will be in school!).  

Are you having success with organizing and de-cluttering your house?!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Budgeting for the Holidays

I can hardly believe that I'm going to write a post about the holidays in October, but I am actually a big believer in shopping well in advance for Christmas, so this isn't really too far out of my comfort zone to be talking about this already!  In a day and age where financial ease seems rare, it is my hope to be able to share some tips that will save you money and keep you on or under budget!

Did you see that word that ended that first paragraph?  BUDGET!  Really, that's the best thing you can do for yourself.  Look at your finances and figure out what you can afford!  You don't need to go into serious debt during the holidays.  Spend what you can afford, not to keep up with the Jones'.  The holidays should be about spending time with family, not competing to see who can buy the best gift or giving your children everything they want.  In the end, it's all just "stuff."  The memories that you make as a family will long outlive the $400 IPAD Mini that your son/daughter HAD to have.  

Okay, you've created your budget.  Now what?  Start looking online now.  Today while I was at the gym, I saw a segment on the Today Show about  Admittedly I haven't tried it out yet, but it looks intriguing.  You can add items that you are interested in purchasing and then receive an email when the price drops.  Coupon codes are also listed on the site and at first glance it looks like it could saves hours of surfing for deals.

I do the majority of my shopping online and have saved hundreds of dollars using Ebates.  It may seem like it will take you longer to do your shopping, but it's really just one extra click.  Go to the website, search for your store, and enter their website through Ebates to receives a percentage of your purchase as cash back.  Often times the cash back percentage will double or even triple during the holidays and it really adds up!  You can choose to receive a check or receive instant Amazon credit (which is my new favorite thing to do!) every three months.  As a bonus, you can choose a $10 gift card once you make a purchase.  I love this site and have not had any trouble with it in the three years I've participated.

If you like to shop in the store, there is an awesome app I use called The Coupons App.  This app has deals at restaurants, stores, and other entertainment venues.  Just click on the offer you want and the code will come up.  It uses your location and provides the offers in your area.  It's really awesome for vacations, too, to save some money on meals or entertainment.  There are usually discounts for Old Navy, Kohl's, Hobby Lobby, Michael's, and Ulta just to name a few!

One last tip for the day!  Check your area for a half price deals or other discount site.  I frequently use QCUPickem and get some great deals on gift cards.  Generally you pay half of the value of the gift card and the restrictions are fairly limited if any.  I've begun to give these as gifts to teachers and family.  It's a great deal!

Stay tuned for some more holiday posts to come!  We'll be trying out some new crafts and recipes this year and be passing them along before you know it!



Friday, October 11, 2013

Peanut-Free Halloween Treats for Classroom Parties or Home

As the time of year draws near where treats and snacks abound, I'd like to just touch quickly on addressing the seriousness of peanut and tree nut allergies.  Many children, like my son, have life-threatening allergies to these foods.  While we thoroughly enjoy our holidays, this is the time of the year where our stress level increases significantly because treats abound and we have to be very diligent about keeping our little guy safe.  If your child does not suffer from food allergies, please find it in your heart to respect those who do and be kind, especially if you are assisting with classroom parties.  I can assure you that we, as parents of a child with a food allergy, are not being over-protective or difficult by advocating for nut-free classrooms.  We understand that your child may not be able to celebrate with some of their favorite foods. The reason we are vigilant is really quite simple:  our children can die from a nut.  Yes, my son has an Epi-Pen, but the goal is to not have to use it and it is not a way to "cure" a reaction.  It just buys time until medical professionals can get to him.  Even then, there is no guarantee.  Speaking from personal experience, anaphylactic reactions are very scary and dangerous.  I have had two myself (I suffer from a bee sting allergy).  Please remember that these children did not choose this path.  Be kind, be empathetic, and teach your children to be the same.  We thank you.

Okay, now that my PSA is over let's get to it!  With Halloween just three weeks away, it's time to start planning those classroom parties!  This year I have two to plan for and am looking forward to helping in both of my kid's classrooms.  Given that many classrooms are now nut-free, I thought I'd share some fun treats that are peanut/tree nut safe since we have a lot of practice with this!  Many schools require you to bring pre-packaged food and all of these ideas will accommodate those rules.  You will notice that I have suggested brands with each idea.  These are brands that I have found to be peanut/tree nut safe.  Please double check the labels, however, as there are times that the manufacturing lines have been compromised and there may be a warning present!

Ghost Pudding

This one is quick and easy!  Draw round ghost eyes and mouth on a cup of Hunts Vanilla Snack Pack pudding.  

Scary, right?

Jack-o-lantern Cookies

Purchase Pillsbury sugar cookie dough.  Cut out in pumpkin shapes.  Spread with Betty Crocker Halloween frosting.  Make a face using Hershey Chocolate Chips.

4-year-old made independently!

Halloween Sandwiches

 For this you will need Sara Lee Soft and Smooth Whole Wheat or Whole Grain White bread, Kraft or Borden Cheese Slices, and 20 deli turkey slices.  Assemble a sandwich and cut out with an assortment of Halloween cookie cutters.

Ghost sandwich

Witch's Brew

In a witch's cauldron, create a mix of Honey Teddy Grahams, Rold Gold Pretzel Sticks, and Kraft marshmallows.  


Place Betty Crocker vanilla frosting between two Nabisco Nilla Wafers.  Break Rold Gold Pretzel Sticks in half and stick in frosting.  Or place Sunbutter between two Ritz Crackers and place Rold Gold Pretzel Sticks in the Sunbutter.  

Nilla Wafer Spider 

Jack-o-lantern Mandarin Orange Cups and Mummy Juice Boxes

Draw a face on the lid of a Dole Mandarin Orange Cup.  Remove straw from a juice box and wrap with white crepe paper (make sure to leave top open for straw) and tape.  Draw on eyes with a sharpie or glue on googly eyes. 

Mummy juice box

Ghost Cheese

Using Borden or Kraft string cheese, draw a ghost face on the package.

Great for the lunch box, too!

Witch's Hats

Place a dab of frosting on top of an Oreo cookie and place a Hershey Kiss on top.  (Make sure to double check Hershey Kiss package as their seasonal items may be different than the regular!)

You can remove the frosting and just use the top/bottom, but they taste better this way!  

Halloween Fruit

Draw a Jack-o-lantern face on a clementine, peel some grapes to make squishy eyes, cut a banana in half and poke some Hershey Chocolate Chips in where the eyes and mouth should be.

Mummy Dogs

If you have an oven handy, wrap an Oscar Meier turkey dog in a Pillsbury Crescent Roll.  You can also place a half slice of Market Pantry cheese on the crescent roll before adding the hot dog.  Bake per Crescent Roll directions on a parchment paper lined pan for easy clean up!

Mummy dogs all ready to cook

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Too Much Stuff (and a Stuffed Cookie Recipe!)

For quite some time now I have found myself looking around our house thinking, "We have way too much stuff!"  Clothes, toys, movies, magazines...stuff!  Perhaps it is due to my lack of proper organization, but I feel like there are always piles of stuff everywhere!  I know that we are a society that believes that we never have enough, but really, my house has more than enough and then some.  

What am I to do about this problem?  Well, I'm going to devote the next month (or maybe two!) to going through our stuff room by room.  Once I've cleared out the unnecessary stuff, I will sort it into donation, sell, or trash piles and then figure out the best way to organize that room.  I have been on the hunt for some good treasures online that I can turn into nice looking storage for very little cost.  My first score was a $10 bookshelf with some character and nice rectangular shelves for baskets.  We plan to refinish or paint it and hopefully it will be useful by the end of the month!

As I progress with this project, I hope to show my before and after pictures.  Currently I am focusing on clothes.  Mostly it is the children's clothing store we have housed downstairs, but our closet is getting a good cleaning out as well!  Do you have too much stuff, too?!  Join in the fun and share your progress!

In the spirit of "stuff," I thought I'd share this awesome cookie recipe with you:  S'Mores Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies  Healthy?  Not one little bit.  Delicious (yes) and they're monstrous, so be prepared to share!

S'Mores Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Picky Palate

2 sticks butter, softened
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 T. vanilla
3 1/2 c. flour
1 t. kosher salt (don't cheat, buy this!)
1 t. baking soda
2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
24 graham cracker squares
12 large marshmallows (cut in half lengthwise, use a wet scissors to help with stickiness)
3 Hershey bars, broken into rows of 3 bars

Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla and continue to beat until well combined.  Place flour, salt, and baking soda into a bowl and mix until blended.  Slowly add wet ingredients along with the chocolate chips.  (Use your muscles as this dough is stiff!).

Layer graham cracker with a marshmallow and chocolate row.  Top with other graham cracker.  Top s'more with a large scoop of cookie dough.  Place in hands and put another scoop of dough on the bottom then front and back sides as needed.  Form dough around the s'more.  It's messy, but you can do it!  Place 4 large cookies onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 350 for 15-17 minutes or until edges are golden and centers are cooked through.  Repeat until done.  Let cool for 10 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.  YUMMMMM!!!!

Makes 12 large cookies.

*You can also make these into bars!  Line square pan with parchment paper.  Layer the bottom of the with cookie dough.  Build s'mores on top and cover with the rest of the dough.  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until dough no longer looks raw.  Best served warm!

Just bake 4 at a time.  6 was too many!



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Being Vulnerable and Owning My Story...To Be a Better Mom

I've completed Daring Greatly by Brene Brown for the second time and made a commitment to really do some self-reflection and work through some tough issues that have bothered me for years.  To start, I have challenged myself to being vulnerable and owning my story.  While reading the book this time around, I found myself thinking, "This is how I feel" so many times when she talked about shame in different environments in our lives.  Typically I would push my feelings under the rug, but I feel like I need to work through some of these uncomfortable parts of my life to not only be more comfortable with who I am, but to be a better mother.  

So, today I'm going to be vulnerable and I'm going to begin the process of owning my story. (And no, I don't plan to document it all on here!  This particular part just happens to tie in with being a mom).  Last night on Facebook I posted this status, "Tonight I am opening myself to the feelings that come with being on the "outside" looking in and feeling left out. I have always tried to bury these emotions, but to be a better mother, I feel like I have to work through them for myself and be at peace in order to help guide my kids."  

This is a part of my story that has been difficult.  There have been many periods in my life where I have struggled to figure out where I belong.  From middle school to college, I was always part of a "group," but never quite felt like I belonged.  I experienced rejection, felt misunderstood, and had my feelings hurt on many occasions. I felt embarrassed, ashamed, and insecure and had a hard time understanding how people could change so quickly, but I never really talked about any of it with anyone.  Instead, I stored those feelings inside and the shame that came with them.

As an adult, those experiences and feelings have stuck with me, but I like to think I have learned from them.  It seems that when we are younger, we think that having a ton of friends is important and somehow makes us worthier.  I have realized that it isn't the quantity of friends but the quality.  I have lived in several different places since graduating from college and have developed some wonderful friendships with some fantastic women, but it took me some time to develop these relationships.  I find that those earlier life experiences have made me cautious, but it has not prevented me from meeting some wonderful people along the way.

So how does this pertain to being a mom?  With one child already in elementary school and others to follow, I know that as issues arise, I want to be able to help guide my children without my feelings of hurt and shame getting in the way.  To some it may sound silly that events that occurred years ago still affect me, but if you really look within yourself, I'm sure you can still feel the pain and hurt of certain events that occurred in your lives dating back to your school years, too.  I know that experiencing rejection, insult, and being picked on are all a part of life and growing as a person, but it doesn't make it any easier.  

Yesterday one of my kiddos had a case of hurt feelings and it broke my heart to hear him explain the problems he was having.  I listened and tried to offer encouragement.  I also made a mental note to find time to discuss it with my husband (out of earshot of my son) before he went to bed.  My husband is good at having the father/son talks at bedtime and I wanted him to be able to sit down with our son and talk while it was all still fresh.  The incident was a typical childhood experience, but we still felt it was important to talk through it with him.  

When I look back on my childhood, I feel like either I wasn't encouraged to talk about my feelings about incidents like these or I chose not to.  This is not what I want for my children.  I hope that we, as parents, will encourage our children to talk about the problems they are having and the feelings that go along with them so that they can work through these experiences, learn from them, and move on.  While it was difficult to feel this way as a child, I have a feeling it is going to be even more difficult as a parent!

In the end, we all want to feel a sense of belonging and be accepted for who we are.  One of my favorite excerpts by Brene Brown about belonging is this, "There are so many terms we use every day whose meanings are gauzy, if not downright imprecise -- which makes it hard to get your head around what's really going on in your life. For example, contrary to what most of us think: Belonging is not fitting in. In fact, fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. Fitting in, I've discovered during the past decade of research, is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them. Belonging is something else entirely -- it's showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are -- love of gourd painting, intense fear of public speaking and all.

Many us suffer from this split between who we are and who we present to the world in order to be accepted, (Take it from me: I'm an expert fitter-inner!) But we're not letting ourselves be known, and this kind of incongruent living is soul-sucking.

The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you're enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect. When we don't have that, we shape-shift and turn into chameleons; we hustle for the worthiness we already possess."

I want to teach my kids that they are enough.  I want them to stay true to who they are and not change to try to fit in.  We will make it a priority in our home to accept each other for our strengths and our weaknesses, talk about our feelings, and create an environment where everyone knows, without a doubt, that they are important and belong.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

200th Post?! I Stuck With It!

Today I was checking out my blog stats and noticed that today will be my 200th post.  This seems like quite a milestone to me, as when I started this I had no idea how long I'd stick with it.  This was supposed to be an outlet for creative ideas, the ups and downs of parenting, and of course, keeping track of the recipes that we've tried and liked.  I have no idea if I'll make it to 200 more, but it's been fun!

"Sticking with it" seems like a great theme for today!  Yesterday I posted on FB that I was bummed that I let my running routine go.  I had several excuses (don't we all!), but know that in the end it boils down to one thing:  me.  I completed my 5K (which I later learned was actually 3.9 miles-explains why I wanted to die!) and then let up...a lot.  Today I decided enough was enough and hit the pavement on this unseasonably warm morning and ran a mile.  Far from what I was doing before, but at least a step in the right direction.  In June I would have never been able to go out and run a mile without stopping.  Today it was with relative ease.  Progress is progress.  I hope to continue to build my distance back up and add some new elements to my routine.  I'm saying it here:  I AM going to stick with this.  There, now you can hold me accountable!

A few months back we committed to cleaning up our diet.  I am happy to say that we have stuck with that plan.  Adding organic food and other healthier options costs more money.  I get that, I really do.  We are on a budget and for the most part, I have been successful keeping us on track with our goal even while purchasing as much organic food as I can.  Do you know how?  We cut out all of the crap!  If you avoid stocking your pantry with "filler" snacks, you'd be amazed at how much cost is cut out of your monthly grocery budget.  I've also been diligent about planning meals, so I can adjust as needed.  Some meals are just more cost-efficient than others!

Today I thought I'd share with you all of the wonderful products I've found in my local grocery stores.  Target continues to stock more and more organic food and it has been a true gift.  Not only for the money, but for the convenience.  Someday when you have the time, check out how many options they have!  While we are doing much better, we are still working on stocking our freezer with healthier meat and poultry and I'd like to find some farm fresh eggs, too.  Baby steps!   Here's what you will find on a regular basis in our home (of course all of these items are peanut and tree nut free!):

Found at Target:  Tortilla chips, Cascadian Farms granola bars (MOST are peanut safe-double check), apple juice, pizza sauce, Cascadian Farms cereal and granola (once again double check for peanut/tree nut), soy sauce, spaghetti sauce, butter, lactose-free milk, and spices.  I usually also purchase macaroni and cheese and yogurt here, too!

Found at Hy-Vee Ketchup, crescent rolls (part of the NON-GMO project, grapes, jelly, milk, cheese slices, string cheese, and yogurt  Generally we have a pile of apples, and a bag of carrots too, but we were out.  Hy-Vee has A TON of options for produce, as well as an entire health market devoted to healthier and/or organic food.  Call and find out what days they have a discount on their health market products!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Crocking Monday (Wednesday?!)

I have been MIA for a few weeks!  My life was busier than normal, as we completed our first donation for our organization From Cover to Cover last Friday and the preparation took a long time!  On top of that, we put on a fundraiser for the organization on Saturday, so needless to say I was busy, busy!  Both events were amazing and we are looking forward to a bright future!

This meal is perfect for a busy schedule.  Of course I found it on Pinterest and we tried it out a few weekends ago.  Olive Garden Pasta Fagioli sound good?  It was delicious and healthy!  Here's the recipe:

Olive Garden Pasta Fagioli

 2 lbs. gound beef, cooked and drained
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
2 (28 oz) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (16 oz) can red kidney beans, drained
1 (16 oz) can white kidney beans, drained
3 (10 oz) cans beef stock
3 t. oregano
2 t. pepper
5 t. parsley
1 t. Tabisco (optional, we omitted)
1 (20 oz) jar spaghetti sauce
8 oz. rotini pasta

Add all ingredients except pasta to the crockpot.  Cook on low 7-8 hours or high 3-4 hours.  Add pasta in last hour on low or 30 minutes on high.  DO NOT ADD MORE PASTA THAN CALLED FOR!  (It will lose it's liquid.  Trust me, I know!).