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Thursday, February 28, 2013

February Goals In Review

  • Do a fun food treat and/or special activity for Valentine's Day. We made French toast with Valentine's Day M&Ms on top for breakfast, and got treats at Caribou (coffee for Jesse and me, and a muffin for the boys to split).
  • Make Jonah some Lego busy bag patterns, as well as a few more busy bags for when Matthew is napping. I participated in a busy bag exchange, for which I made bead and pipe cleaner bags.
  • Read a personal devotion every day. I read through Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow.  I didn't read every day, which I think was because I didn't designate a specific time for it.  I'll be working on being more consistent with it next month.
  • Add a photo to my Menu Plan posts each week. Not the greatest quality photos, but I have started adding these to my menu posts.
  • Learn more about my ads, and look into affiliate links for coupons and Amazon. I played around with this a little bit, but didn't get to the affiliate links.
  • Continue to do at least one "content" post per week besides my day-specific ones. I thought this would be easier this month, with all of the projects I had planned, but I ended up not working on most of those until the end of the month, which made it a bit trickier.
  • Find a good granola bar recipe. I started testing some recipes out, but since I'm doing one at a time, this will carry over into next month at least.
  • Research alternatives to canola oil. We bought some coconut oil at the local co-op, and have used that a few times, plus we use butter and olive oil regularly.
  • Try at least 4 new recipes this month.  I have boards and boards on Pinterest, as well as some torn out of magazines.  We really should try some. I've discovered that I have a different palate than my family the majority of the time, so usually when I think something is really good, no one else likes it, or vice versa.
We tried these new recipes:
  • Pasta with White Bean Alfredo (so-so, but kind of bland)
  • Homemade Hummus (pretty tasty, but was too garlic-y for the rest of the family, so I ended up throwing some out)
  • Black Bean Brownies (really tasty! and definitely a keeper)
  • Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls (I ended up using a bit of all-purpose flour, because I ran out of whole wheat, but these were moist and delicious, and a great side for our soup)
  • Easy Potato Pancakes (the boys turned up their noses at pancakes that aren't sweet, but I thought these were really good)
  • Black Bean Taco Soup (super easy to make, and a good, filling soup for lunches)
  • Spinach Ricotta Shells (I thought this was good, Jesse thought it was okay, and even when I pureed the sauce and called it "green dinosaur sauce", the kids wanted nothing to do with it)
  • Easy Whole Wheat Bread (This was still pretty dense, but it tasted good and sliced well for sandwiches and toast) 
  • White Bean Burgers (I liked these better than our usual black bean burgers, but everyone else disagreed with me)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Great Granola Bar Search, Part 1

One of Jesse's favorite breakfasts, and my favorite snacks, is a granola bar.  When I can find deals on them, I try to stock up, but since we've also been trying to get rid of processed foods, I knew I would end up searching for a good recipe.  Here's a breakdown of what we've tried so far, and how they turned out.

No Bake Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars
(recipe here)
  • Taste. These are really good! With peanut butter, chocolate chips, and sugar, how could they not be?
  • Easy to make. It took me about 10 minutes total to put these together, and they only even took that long because I had the kids help with the dry ingredients.
  • Lots of sugar. 2 cups of sugar.
  • Chewy and a bit crumbly.  This isn't a big deal for me, but Jesse likes crunchy bars, or ones that at least hold together, and these didn't quite.
  • Requires stovetop for part of the prep. I'd rather mix and bake than have to watch something on the stovetop, especially since I usually bake things while the kids are awake.
  • Dishes: one bowl, one pot, two spoons, and one knife. I guess the pot kind of cancels out the pan I would bake them in (they set in a pan that was lined with parchment, so it didn't get dirty), but if I hadn't been doing dishes right away, I think the pot of sugary syrup would have been a bigger pain.
Overall: These are a good treat bar that taste pretty much like a no-bake cookie, but not quite what we're looking for as far as a go-to granola bar recipe.

Crispy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
(recipe here, I used some crushed Cheerios instead of Rice Krispies because that's what I had)

  • Taste.  These remind me of the Quaker bars in both look and taste, and since I know all of my family members like those, that's a big plus.
  • Easy to make. Again, even with the kids helping with the dry ingredients, these were done in under 10 minutes.
  • Taste. These do have a slight coconut taste because of the amount of coconut oil. I thought they were good, but that might bother some people.
  • Didn't quite hold together. I hope this was because I didn't squish them quite enough, because otherwise, these were pretty awesome.
  • Requires stovetop for part of prep. These also have a melt-on-the-stovetop step, but I'm starting to wonder if that isn't a common thing for the type of bar that I'm looking for.
  • Dishes. Another sugary pan to scrub.
Overall: This will be a repeat recipe, so hopefully I can fix the crumbly issue.  If that works, we may have found a keeper!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pretty Mod Podged Boxes

One of my goals for this month was to decorate some boxes to hold my extra greeting cards and my paper scraps.  For some reason, I kept putting off my projects this month, and this one was really easy, so I'm not sure why I took so long to get around to it.  First, I grabbed an old mailing box and cut off the top flaps.  Then I measured (!) and cut pieces to fit the four sides with a bit of overlap.  I mod podged those onto the box and let it dry.

Meanwhile, I cut some coordinating purple cardstock dividers to separate my categories.  For my cards, I have birthdays, weddings/anniversaries, baby, thank you, and other.

I used some extra file labels that I had on hand to label the sections.  Functional and easy!

While I had my mod podge out, I also did a second container.  This bin came with my House Party kit when I threw the Pull-ups Party last month.  I had some cool square paper that I cut into pieces, and did an argyle pattern around the bin.

I love all the colors! Jonah had fun helping hand me the squares too, so yay for bonus time working on colors with him!

I still have to make some cardstock dividers for this one, but once I do, I'll put my paper scraps in here, which will be much better than the binder clips I've been using to hold stacks together.  Maybe then I can finally get to using some of them to make some more cards and other projects...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Menu Plan Monday and Apple Pear Muffin Recipe

My lunch one day last week: Open-faced jalapeno popper sandwiches (cream cheese, cheddar, bacon, and jalapenos toasted under the broiler for a few minutes until melty and delicious) and a strawberry pineapple smoothie (frozen strawberries, canned pineapple with a bit of the juice, apple juice, and strawberry yogurt).  These are the kinds of little splurges I make that help me not go out to eat, but still enjoy delicious food at home.

  • Whole Wheat Chocolate Pancakes
  • Oatmeal with Dried Fruit and Nuts
  • Cereal
  • Apple Pear Muffins (recipe below)
(Monday and Tuesday's are carry overs from last week. We had Potato Corn Chowder instead to use up some extra potatoes)
Monday: Bacon and Veggie Pizza
Tuesday: White Bean Burgers, Homemade Fries
Wednesday: Sausage Breakfast Scrambles
Thursday: Toscana Soup, Olive Garden Breadsticks
Friday-Sunday: TBD, since it's a new month and I haven't figured that out yet.

Apple Pear Muffins
(makes 12-15 muffins)

  • Pulp from juicing 3 pears and 3 apples, or 1-2 of each fruit, peeled, cored, and grated
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In large bowl, mix grated fruit, milk, applesauce, and egg.  Add dry ingredients, and mix just to combine.  Scoop into greased muffin tins, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until knife inserted into center of muffin comes out clean and tops are slightly browned.

Recipe adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

What I'm Reading...

Parenting The First-Born vs. Parenting The Second-Born. (Jason Good)

How-To: Darning.  I might try this some time (although a few weeks ago would have been more useful, as many of my socks got holes).  (Zero Waste Home)

The Myth Of Giving 100%.  I am similar to this - I have days where I get a lot done, the kids are happy and doing extra fun things, and everything goes well.  And then I have a lot of average, kids-in-front-of-Netflix, computer-time lazy days too.  It evens out. (The Happiest Mom)

52 Different Ways To Save $100 Per Year: Make Your Own Homemade Mixes.  I don't mix most of these up beforehand, but I do use a lot of these recipes to make homemade versions of the boxed mixes. (Money Saving Mom)

A 24-Hour Challenge To Unplug.  I think I need to do this. (The Minimalist Mom)

My Not-So-Routine Cleaning Routine.  This sounds like what I do, except that I do have Monday for laundry day every week.  Otherwise, things get cleaned as they need it. (Simple Organized Living)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Weekly Coupon Shopping


  • 5 General Mills Cereals: $2.50 each, get a $5 gift card when you buy 5.  Used four $1.25/1 printables and one $1/1 Fiber One printable (plus got $0.05 off for using my own bag) = paid $5.45/5, got a $5 gift card!

  • W Honey (32oz.): $4.99 with ad coupon.  Used $3RR from last time = paid $1.99! That's a steal for that much honey!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Menu Plan Monday

I made these black bean brownies last week, and we've already made a second batch.  You can't even taste the beans - these taste just like normal brownies!

  • Oatmeal with Dried Fruits and Nuts
  • Cereal
  • French Toast
  • Morning Glory Muffins
  • Quesadillas
  • Muffin Tin Lunches
  • PB&J/Soups
  • Seminary Marriage Retreat - eat out (Saturday)
Soups will be Winter Minestrone and Simple Chili (with leftovers put in the freezer for next week)

Monday/Tuesday: Black Bean Taco Salads
Wednesday/Thursday: Crockpot White Bean Chicken Chili (minus the chicken), Mini Corn Muffins
Friday: Pasta with Spinach, Mushrooms, and Cheese (similar to this) (after finishing the menu plan, we actually ate this on Sunday night, and will have Stir Fry on Friday instead)
Saturday: Pizza with Veggies and Bacon
Sunday: White Bean & Sage Burgers


Sunday, February 17, 2013

What I'm Reading...

I actually did more reading in the real world than online this week (gasp!).  I finally finished Anne of Avonlea and moved on to Anne of the Island.  I've owned this series for a long time, but haven't read past Anne of Avonlea before, so I'm excited to get into these when I have time.  Here are a few things I found online this week...

Cut High Fructose Corn Syrup.  There's a lot of good information in this post. (Kitchen Stewardship)

The Truth About Fats: Fat Is Essential, And The Type Of Fat Matters.  Here's another post I've found in my research on healthy fats. (Don't Waste The Crumbs)

Renters And Keepers.  I actually think both of these have their merits at different points in peoples' lives.  For instance, right now, we fall more into the "renter" type, but I hope we can eventually be more of "keepers". (The Simple Dollar)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Easy Bead And Pipe Cleaner Busy Bags

Earlier this week, a few friends and I got together to do a busy bag exchange.  I put together this pipe cleaner beading activity, with my trusty helpers, of course.  We used small yogurt containers with lids to store beads, and then hot glued felt flags onto coordinating pipe cleaners.  The child can then practice threading the beads onto the matching pipe cleaners, working on both color recognition and fine motor skills.

Both boys loved helping me sort out and match the colors, and Jonah had a blast threading the beads on.  Matthew isn't quite capable of the threading yet, but he still had fun helping put the bags together.

We're already looking forward to doing another busy bag exchange sometime soon.  I just have to figure out what activity we'll do next!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Weekly Coupon Shopping


  • Chloraseptic Spray: $3.99, get $3RR.  Used $2/1 (Walgreens February - manager had to manually change the price) and $1/1 (SS 1/6/13) = paid $0.99, got $3RR!
  • 2 Lindor Truffles: $3.50 each.  Used two $3/1 printables (no longer available) = paid $1/2!
  • Total spent: $2.51, got $3RR!

Whenever I go shopping with my husband, something extra ends up in the cart.  Like soda.  And then he makes fun of my for my total being higher than I said it was going to be.  Good thing I love him...
  • 5 Hershey's Simple Pleasures: $3.00 each, get $5ECBs when you buy $15+.  Used four $1.50/1 printables and $1.50/1 (SS 1/6/13) = paid $7.50, got $5ECBs!
  • 2 Halls Vitamin C Drops: 2/$3, get $1ECB when you buy 2.  Used $1/2 (SS 1/6/13) = paid $2/2, got $1ECBs!
  • Colgate Max Fresh Toothpaste: $3.00.  Used $2.50/1 (CVS kiosk) and $0.50/1 (SS 2/3/13) = free!
  • Fanta 1.25 liter: $0.99.
  • Used $5ECBs from last time = paid $7.11, got $6ECBs! 

I got a coupon in the mail to get a $20 gift card for creating a baby registry.  Since Hannah will be our third, we have no need for a registry, but it only took me about 5 minutes to come up with one online, and I'd say that's a pretty good return on my time!
  • 4 Pampers Jumbo Packs: $8.99 each, get $5 gift card when you buy 2.  Used four $1.50/1 printables = paid $30, got $10 in gift cards
  • 2 Pampers Wipes: $1.97 each.  Used two $0.50/1 printables and two $1.50/both diapers and wipes Target coupons (SS 1/27/13) = 2 free!
  • Got $0.10 off for using my own bags.
  • Used $20 gift card, so spent $9.81 out of pocket, got $10 in gift cards back!
Other Coupon Savings:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Iron Craft Challenge 3: Hearts And Flowers

One of my favorite things to do while watching tv is plastic canvas stitch.  (Is anyone else like that, where you can't just sit there and watch?)  I found a picture of these for sale on etsy via pinterest, and thought "I could make those!" so I did.

We have no magnets on the bottom of our fridge because my kids have destroyed them all, so I'm hoping that since these are a little bit sturdier than cheap-o magnets we get in the mail for random things, that the kids won't ruin them.  And, since they're seasonal, they won't be up there super long, although I do have plans to make some Thomas the Tank Engine magnets in the near future.

Jonah thinks the magnets are pretty neat.  He also thinks his new vest and tie are pretty neat (we have awesome friends who gave us a bag full of hand-me-downs).  I think he may have inherited my lack of fashion sense...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Menu Plan Monday

While Jesse was traveling last week, we had baked sweet potatoes and apples, with craisins and feta on top.  It was delicious!

  • Morning Glory Muffins from the freezer
  • Pancakes with M&Ms for a Valentine's Day treat
  • Oatmeal with Dried Fruits and Nuts
  • Cereal
  • PB&J/Soups
  • Quesadillas
  • Leftovers
  • Muffin Tin Lunches
Soups will be leftover Minestrone from the freezer and Black Bean Taco Soup, which I didn't get around to making last week.

Monday/Tuesday: Multi-Bean Soup, Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls
Wednesday:  Breakfast Skillets (fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, veggies, cheese)
Thursday: Homemade Pizza
Friday: Taco Twice-Baked Potatoes
Saturday: Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup (carry over from last week)
Sunday: Stir Fry (carry over from last week)


Sunday, February 10, 2013

What I'm Reading...

The Connection Between Your Receipt And Your Life.  This is kind of a cool way of shifting your mindset about finances. (The Simple Dollar)

Use Those Beans! Yay for dried beans! (Kitchen Stewardship)

The Art Film Phase Of An Epic Adventure. "Really, my days are mostly spent changing diapers, getting dinner on the table, paying our mortgage, and going for runs. It’s hard to believe you’re in the thick of something exciting when your days are—well, less so." (InCourage via Simple Mom)

Why I Gave Up Organizing...And You Should Too.  A different take on keeping a clean house. (Home Your Way)

"I Have No Patience With My Little Kids." I Hear You. And Here's How I'm Managing.  You don't have to be "good" at every phase of parenting. (Honest Mom)

Simplify Dinner Prep With Connected Meal Planning.  Prep once, cook twice (or more). (Simple Bites)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Juicing, Muffins, and Tofu, Oh My! (Morning Glory Muffin Recipe Included)

If you haven't noticed a theme throughout a lot of my posting lately, we've been doing some experimenting with food.  For the past couple of years, we've been eating a 75% or so vegetarian diet.  After watching some food documentaries, most notably Forks Over Knives (go Netflix it!), along with some helpful advice from blogs like Kitchen Stewardship, we've switched that to about 90% vegetarian, and are working on other changes as well.

We got a juicer shortly after Christmas.  I was a little bit hesitant at first, because I wasn't sure A) that we were going to use it (we do juice 4-5 nights a week after dinner) and B) that we could afford it (The model we bought was $50, and I've designated $10/week of our budget to produce for juicing).

The juice is really tasty, and you can get a lot of the vitamins and nutrients from the veggies and fruits.  To get the fiber, most of which is "spit out" in the pulp, I've been using the carrot/apple mixture for muffins (recipe below), and the other veggie bits get added to our broth.  I don't save every little bit, because I haven't found other ways to use it all yet, and we can only eat/freeze so many muffins, but even using those bits helps to make the $10/week worth the money.  Plus, my veggie-hating almost-two-year-old thinks the juice is awesome, and he likes muffins, so any way I can get him some more produce is a plus!

In other food experimenting, we also tried tofu for the first time.  That was a less successful endeavor.  After pressing it, marinating it in a teriyaki sauce, and baking it, it was still fairly mushy and not that great.  Part of that was probably technique, and part was the marinade.  So we are trying again with a barbecue sauce we know we like, a longer marinating time, and a slightly longer baking time to see if we can get it dried out and a little crispier.  This has been more Jesse's project, because I have a mental block when it comes to tofu.  I'm not sure why - it's just beans, and we eat plenty of those!  But I have been trying what he comes up with and offering my suggestions.

Morning Glory Muffins
(makes 18-20 muffins)

  • Juicing pulp of 3-4 carrots and 2-3 small apples, about 2.5 cups grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup canola oil (for now)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In large bowl, mix grated fruit and veggies, eggs, oil, milk, applesauce, and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients and stir to combine.  Scoop into greased muffin tin and bake 22-25 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

We've just done carrots and apples so far, but you could also add in zucchini, squash, or other fruits, depending on what you have available (or what you put in your juice!).  This recipe was adapted from My Baking Addiction's Morning Glory Muffins.

On the agenda for the next few weeks of food experiments:
  • Coconut oil.  We bought a jar of coconut oil at the local co-op, and are going to try that in some of our baked goods instead of canola oil, which this post has me questioning.  If it works out well, I'll probably start using some of my Swagbucks money to pick that up online, where the prices seem to be a lot cheaper.
  • Brownies with black beans. I cooked up some extra beans yesterday, and I'm curious to see what the flavor and texture ends up being.  These are gluten-free, which isn't an issue in our family, but it won't be bad to have a good gluten-free recipe in my arsenal, so I hope this works out.
  • Reading through Better Than A Box and Easy.Homemade.  These are two ebooks I actually spent money on (as opposed to most of the free ones that I get), because they both are full of real food information and recipes.  I've only skimmed them so far, but I want to read through them and find some more goodies to try.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Weekly Coupon Shopping


  • Tyson Fun Nuggets: on sale for $3.50 (normally $5.64).  Used $1/1 (from emailing the company) = paid $2.50! 
  • 4 Up & Up Facial Tissues: $0.99 each.  Used four $0.50/1 Target printables = paid $0.49 each!
  • 2 M&Ms Bags: $2.87 each.  Used $1.50/2 Target printable and $1.50/2 (RP 1/27/13) = paid $2.74/2 bags!
  • Got $0.05 off for using my own bag, so I spent $7.60 after tax.

I wasn't planning on doing this deal, until I realized Matthew had only 2 disposable diapers left (which we use for night time and when we're out and about).  Oops!
  • 3 CVS Diaper Jumbo Packs: $7.50 each, get $5ECBs when you spend $20.
  • Used $3.80 in ECBs and gift cards = paid $18.70, got $5ECBs

Since I've started drinking coffee again (decaf mostly), I've missed my creamer.  I finally signed up for HyVee's Fuel Rewards program, and this got me 3 cents off per gallon.
  • International Delight Creamer: $3.28.  Used free coupon from emailing the company = free.

Other Coupon Savings
  • Caribou Coffee: Saved $0.38 for using my own mug (still haven't figured out why this fluctuates, since I always order the same thing) and $0.10 for getting the trivia question right. I also saved $1.00 from a survey and $0.10 for getting the trivia question right during a second Caribou visit this week.
  • Michael's: Saved $1.60 using a 40% off one item coupon while picking up some supplies for busy bags.  I'm part of a busy bag exchange next week, and I'm really excited about it!
  • Target (again): Did this deal for YoCrunch Yogurt multi-packs.  Saved $2.50 on 2 packs.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Menu Plan Monday

Last week's Stuffed Mushrooms, which I thought were delicious and filling.  I found out Jesse doesn't like "large quantities of mushrooms", which for some reason I didn't know before.  The kids weren't really fans of these, which seems to be the case with most recipes I really like...

  • Leftover Morning Glory Muffins from the freezer
  • Oatmeal with Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chips
  • Cereal

  • Quesadillas
  • PB&J/Soups
  • Muffin Tins
  • Lunch Out for me and the kids while Jesse is traveling

Monday: Leftover Pasta with White Bean Alfredo Sauce
Tuesday: Scrambled Eggs, Veggies, Toast
Wednesday: Baked Sweet Potatoes with Toppings TBD
Thursday: Homemade Macaroni & Cheese
Friday: Black Bean Burgers, Homemade Fries
Saturday: Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
Sunday: Veggie Stir Fry


Sunday, February 3, 2013

What I'm Reading...

3 Ways I'm Getting Past A Mom Funk.  Sometimes I feel like this blogger is talking right to me.  (The Happiest Mom)

Minimalist Mom Vows To Spend Nothing On Her Kid In 2013.  (By "nothing", they mean nothing new/kid-specific, but secondhand is okay).  Interesting idea.  (Today via The Minimalist Mom)

Make Homemade Yogurt.  For some reason, this really intimidates me.  (Kitchen Stewardship)

Our Digital Photo Albums + How I Manage Photos.  I save our photos to an external hard drive organized by year and month, and I've just started working on printing out photo books for each year for our family, similar to this post. (Simple Organized Living)

How To Boil A Husband.  A post about taking baby steps to shift to a more real-food-based diet.  Which is what we've been doing.  (Kitchen Stewardship)

Eco-Benefits Of Staying Home When The Temperatures Drop.  I mostly agree, although sometimes I just get stir crazy. (Green Your Way)

Fresh Start Day 22: Don't Give Up.  One of the food blogs I follow did a 22-day food challenge.  All of the posts are listed and summarized here.  This is a good place to start for switching over to eating better foods. (Don't Waste The Crumbs)

Making Positive Changes In Two Different Ways.  I never thought about it like this, but it definitely makes sense. (Northern Cheapskate)

Friday, February 1, 2013

February Goals

  • Do a fun food treat and/or special activity for Valentine's Day
  • Make Jonah some Lego busy bag patterns, as well as a few more busy bags for when Matthew is napping.
  • Read a personal devotion every day. 
  • Add a photo to my Menu Plan posts each week. 
  • Learn more about my ads, and look into affiliate links for coupons and Amazon.
  • Continue to do at least one "content" post per week besides my day-specific ones.
  • Find a good granola bar recipe.
  • Research alternatives to canola oil.
  • Try at least 4 new recipes this month.  I have boards and boards on Pinterest, as well as some torn out of magazines.  We really should try some.