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Monday, November 30, 2009

Holiday meal planning

This time of year I find it more important than ever to have a good plan. This goes for menu planning as well as holiday activities - stop back in tomorrow for this year's holiday activity garland! There is so much going on that I don't want to have to think too much during the week, and I want to make sure we make time for the important things.

Today let's talk about menu planning - I will be using my slow cooker at least once a week, and I'll be doing quite a bit of freezer cooking, both meals and cookies! When you have an especially hectic week ahead, it helps to create a menu plan that uses many of the same ingredients across meals - that way you can prep several meals at once and then just finish them throughout the week. For example, this week I defrosted a large amount of lean ground beef for our meals. I cooked it all up with some onion and seasoning and then removed a third of it. The larger portion got taco seasoning for taco salads and a Mexican casserole. The smaller portion became sloppy joe.

For a day when you're planning cookie or candy making, it helps to schedule something from the freezer or a crockpot meal, both for lunch and dinner! My favorite crock pot pulled pork is a good choice because it's so versatile - serve it on sandwiches for lunch and then with mashed potatoes and green beans for dinner. It's also quick and easy to make into burritos, tetrazzini, or moo shoo pork.

For breakfast this week we'll be having oatmeal cake bars. I'll share the recipe later this week, it's based off of the delicious baked oatmeal recipe from $5 dinners. For lunches we'll be having soup, sandwiches and apples with peanut butter. Here's what's on the menu for dinner:

Monday: beef burgundy with noodles and stuffing
Tuesday: sloppy joes with baked beans and potato chips
Wednesday: cinnamon pancakes, eggs and candied bananas
Thursday:enchilada casserole with corn cakes
Friday: taco salads with chips and salsa
Saturday: steak mole with rice and guacamole
Sunday: lentil soup with grilled ham sandwiches

What's on your menu this week? For more inspiration, visit OrgJunkie's Menu Plan Monday.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Babywearing - A sweet ride

EmDee and I finally peeked out of the dark ages and decided to get Blackberries instead of the antique phones we had been carrying around. I was wearing Sugar Plum around doing some organizing and decided to try out the camera on my new phone. I've mentioned before that I have a real shortage of babywearing photos, and as with almost all of the ones I DO have, these are self portraits. The quality isn't great, but it's certainly not bad for inside. In one of them there is enough detail to tell I need to clean the mirror...{blushing}

What are you doing back there, Mommy?!

Oh, now I see. Who is that adorable baby over there?

Hey hot stuff, how YOU doin'?

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Playing Store - more play learning ideas

I mentioned last week that one of our favorite uses for the big cardboard box was playing store. I'm glad Sweetpea thinks this is so fun, because it's a great way to practice counting, vocabulary and grammar, and her manners.

Everything we use to play store are things we have around the house. We pick toys from the toy box to "sell" and they get displayed on top of the box. Then we need money, of course. For that, some small paper from a note pad will do the trick.

We decided to get fancy and decorate it to look like "real" money. (at least she got the color right!)

Now we're ready to play! We take turns being the customer. The customer gets Sweetpea's play purse filled with the money we made. Once all the money is gone, we switch places and start over.

Anyone in the market for a hairbrush or some mega blocks? :)

I mentioned before that this is a great learning game. Here are some of the things we are practicing while we play:

1) Vocabulary - we practice using the words of the toys and phrases that you would use in a retail environment. (Hello, how are you today? What can I get for you? Would you like to buy some...)

2) Grammar - it's a good chance to practice using correct verb tense and personal pronouns, for example.

3) Counting - we count the items purchased and we count the money when we are paying each other. It also gives us a chance to talk about the value of certain things, though I think this might be a bit over her head at this point - when she is the clerk nearly everything is $2!

4) Manners - we practice how to greet each other politely, when to say please and thank you, and appropriate ways to say goodbye.

What kind of play learning games do you play with your children? I'd love to hear about the games you use!

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Easy peasy Mac n Cheesy - quick and easy mac n cheese

Does your kiddo ask for mac n cheese on a regular basis? I love making mac n cheese from scratch and hubs makes a great box mac n cheese, but there are days when Sweetpea asks for it and I don't have the time or ingredients to grant her wish. On those days, if I still want to grant her request, I pull out this quick and easy fake out:

~1 cup of small cut pasta, I like using alphabet pasta
1 slice of American cheese (I always have these on hand for EmDee's lunches
1 "slice" of light laughing cow cheese or 2 tablespoons of cream cheese
a splash of milk

Cook pasta according to package directions and then stir the cheeses and splash of milk into the hot pasta. Add some meat and vegetables if that will go over...or not. Presto, a pretty tasty mac n cheese substitute. For a "cheesier" taste, use 2 slices of American cheese instead of the combination above.

With this, as with any other meal, if Sweetpea loses interest or doesn't want to eat her food I pull out my "secret weapon" a big wooden spoon. She will eat just about anything off of a big wooden spoon...

Do you have any go to fake out meals? I'm always looking for quick and easy favorites.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

10 uses for a big cardboard box - the best toy ever!

We've all come down with some pesky colds and have stayed home this week keeping our germs to ourselves. Thankfully, we have the best toy ever on hand to help keep Sweetpea entertained throughout the day. What is the best toy ever, you ask? Why a huge cardboard box, of course. Here are a few things we've been doing with said box this week:

1. Playing store
2. Playing house
3. Decorating said house inside and out with markers and stickers
4. Playing hide and seek
5. Pretending to be a Jill in the box
6. Pretending the box is a boat and sailing the high seas
7. Putting chairs in the box and pretending it is a bus or train
8. Putting a sleeping bag and pillow in the box and pretending to camp under the stars
9. Getting in the box with a flashlight and making silly faces
10. Pretending the box is a library and "checking out" books to read

What kinds of things do you do with the big boxes that occasionally show up at your door?

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Feeling worn out? 5 quick and caffeine free energizers

photo by Corrieb
With a newborn and a preschooler I'm not getting much sleep these days. I often find myself dragging by mid day, but any additional caffeine would ruin a nap if the planets aligned and both girls napped at the same time, so I've been looking for other alternatives. Here are 5 that have been working for me:

1. Take a quick shower! Start with things warm and relaxing and end with a refreshing cold blast - slowly turn the water colder and colder while you stand directly under the shower head. When the water gets as cold as you can comfortably tolerate, stand under it for an additional 5-10 seconds. The cold water will help increase the shine in your hair as it energizes you.

2. Play some energizing music - choose an upbeat favorite and turn it up, dance around for an instant pick me up.

3. Whip up an energizing snack like the ones in this article from Fitness magazine. Look for food combinations that include fiber, carbs and protein, like bananas or apples and peanut butter or a cereal parfait.

4. Try some aromatherapy - peppermint and citrus scents are especially invigorating.

5. Have a few quiet minutes to yourself? Try visualization. Close your eyes, relax and visualize a countdown from 10 to 1. Then imagine yourself in a location that excites, energizes or relaxes you. Spend a few moments thinking about doing something that makes you feel good and well rested. When you're done, visualize your countdown again and open your eyes!

What works when you find yourself tired out and worn down?

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sweet moments

My days are jam packed with sweet moments, and I'm trying to soak it all in and stay in the moment even though there is so much else to do. I used to post in the early morning before anyone was up and during my lunch hour at work, can you tell? :)

It's been awhile since I've done a Sunday gratitude post, so here's a little taste of what I'm grateful for these past weeks:

sweet chubby cheeks and tiny baby feet

sister lovin'

lots of kisses

how is she 2 months + already? Thanks to Aunt JoAnne for this adorable sleeper!

And a few more things from my journal:

* the colors of fall, in the leaves and the brilliant sunsets*

* the crunching of leaves under foot*

* watching Sweetpea exuberantly run headlong into great piles of leaves, then agreeing to take the plunge with her*

* the smell of fireplaces being cleaned out and lit up in the crisp evenings*

* being introduced as, "this is my friend Mommy" *

* watching Sweetpea walk into a room and immediately make friends*

What are you grateful for this week? For more reflections of the everyday, visit Chatting at the Sky and Heavenly Homemakers

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Halloween revisit

A big thanks to my friend Heidi for loaning us this adorable flower costume for Sugar Plum - so cute and most importantly warm. We had a cold front move through the night before beggars night, but at least it was dry.

Whatcha lookin' at? Who put me in this? Why is everyone staring?! It must be the way I'm workin' these petals...

Sweetpea with her friend, J. Not the best picture of Sweetpea (she has her eyes closed) but the best I could get with them so excited about trick or treating that they couldn't hold still. When Sweetpea saw this picture, she said, "Sweetpea has her eyes closed - Sweetpea, open your eyes!"

Checking out the loot once we arrived home...

Sweetpea had a hard time deciding between Princess Sweetpea and Super Sweetpea for Halloween this year. She wore this princess costume to her party at daycare, so she got to be both! She loves putting this on and dancing around to Dancing with the stars.

Speaking of Dancing with the Stars, (did you like that random segue? Ha!) what did you think about the judges going with Aaron after the dance off? I don't usually talk about this kind of thing, but I was so disappointed to see the judges go with Aaron after the fans spoke so resoundingly for Mark! Both contestants managed flawless dances in the dance off, so why not go with the fans choice at that point? What do you think?

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Gift ideas "for him"

I will be the first to lament that my husband is hard to buy for...he will either buy what he wants or tell me specifically what it is he's wanting, which is nice but not very romantic! His birthday is also 12 days before Christmas, which presents its own challenges.

A few years back we implemented a spending limit on our gifts to one another at Christmas - it forced us to get creative with our choices and allowed us to pool our money instead on one big gift for the family. That said, here are some gifts that always seem to go over well with hubs and the other men in my family:

Photo gifts: whether it's a handmade photo album or scrapbook, a flip book from shutterfly, or a framed photo, photo gifts always seem to go over well.

If you're looking for an affordable framed photo, check out Real Memories. I received a free credit from Real Memories to try out their service and I was absolutely impressed - the frames and mattes are high quality, the printing is top notch and the prices are fantastic.

Destination gifts: For my husband that either means a vacation or a trip to the OSU/Michigan game...I love giving the gift of time together and memories created, rather than something that will take up space and possibly collect dust.

Food: I love making special treats to give as gifts for holidays - this works especially well for kids to give as well because they can help. Whether it's a special meal or a big batch of cookies or cinnamon rolls, food always seems to go over well with the male set!

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Monday, November 2, 2009

No spend month in review

Today was a bit hectic, but I wanted to get my menu plan up and reflect a bit on our no spend month...my laptop battery has died, and I can't tell you how hard it is to be newly tethered to a desk again!

Monday: Beef stroganoff, mashed potatoes and peas
Tuesday: Chicken tetrazzini and green salad
Wednesday: General Tso's chicken (modified from this recipe) rice and baked crab rangoon
Thursday: Turkey, mashed potatoes and green beans
Friday: Turkey soup, crusty rolls and milkshakes
Saturday: leftovers
Sunday: Turkey pot pie

We ended no spend month just a few cents over our budget. It was an empowering experience to know we can cut our budget by nearly 40% and still enjoy ourselves. I spent nearly $100 in diapers and wipes for the month, leaving us roughly $50 per week for groceries, gas and miscellaneous spending.

Having little ones in the house makes it both easier and more challenging - on the one hand, there are lots of things that are just too challenging to do with an infant and a preschooler. (shopping comes to mind...) On the other hand, I tend to want to buy everything in one location, or to choose the easiest place to buy things because shopping can be so challenging. I normally buy several things at Sams club, but this month I opted out, even though it would have been a bit cheaper, simply because it was too difficult to fit a trip in without the girls.

I really didn't miss going out and spending money - we found plenty of free and nearly free things to do. While I enjoyed the freedom of not counting every penny when I was shopping yesterday, I think I've retooled my menu planning to a point where I will consistently spend less than I had been. For anyone that has been considering a no spend month or budget challenge, I would highly recommend it. This month's adventures will pay dividends (literally) for months to come!

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Gift ideas "for her"

I love the idea of sharing gift ideas for the upcoming Christmas season! I'm always looking for Christmas gift ideas, by shopping year round I can find the best deals and free up valuable time during the hectic holiday season.

Today is "for her" and since I'm the "her" in our house, let's talk about what I like! :)

There are a few standbys that EmDee knows to go for when he's buying for me - a pedicure or massage, a date night in or out.

I also think my new necklace is a sure winner too, don't you?

I'm a sucker for jewelry that is personalized and also simple and elegant. If that sounds good to you, check out the vintage pearl!

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