Love Story

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Nathan is 6 - Balloons, Beach and Bonfire

My oldest turned 6 today and we decided to celebrate by making this a family fun day focused on all the things Nathan loves.

We started by cutting open trash bags and taping them to his door frame so that they would hold balloons behind them as long as the door was shut. As soon as he opened his door in the morning he was greeted by a waterfall of balloons...only wish I would have been able to see his face!
He had his own decorated Birthday Boy chair for meal times:

Speaking of meal times, he started the day with pancakes stacked six high with an actual 6 shaped pancake to top it off (which he polished off by the way!) and for lunch something he had seen me looking at on Pinterest and had been begging me to make for some time - Grilled Mac N Cheese Sandwiches. Yum!

After lunch we packed everyone up and made what will probably be our last lake visit of the year. It was a little chilly but lots of fun nonetheless.
After that we got some ice cream at our favorite outdoor place near the lake (no pictures, too busy scarfing it down!!) and then took a long drive so little brothers could get a cat nap in the car. At home we relaxed for awhile and then the camp out activities commenced, starting with a fire so the boys could roast hot dogs and smores.

Once Isaiah goes down for the night (he'll get to start camping next year:), Nathan and Jordan will get to camp out with daddy in the backyard where they will do all sorts of fun boy things and then probably pass out after a long, eventful day. They were nice enough to let Isaiah play in the tent some while he was still up:
And as if today weren't enough, Nathan got spoiled rotten this last weekend at his Spiderman Birthday party (including a pinata big enough to fit all 3 of my boys inside it courtesy of grandma and grandpa who picked it out in Mexico:)
Lots of great memories have been made as we celebrated this special day. Nathan, I look forward to seeing what great things this year brings and am so proud of the boy that you continue to grow into. You are smart, sensitive as well as being an amazingly kind and patient big brother (well, most of the time anyway!) and we are lucky to call you our son. Happy 6th Birthday!!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Preschool Fun - Counting and Day of the Week/Months

This year as my oldest gets ready to go off to 1st grade my 4 year old has just been itching for the chance to go to school. So I thought I would spend this year getting him ready for Kindergarten by making some fun hands on learning tools for him and his 2 year old brother to play with and learn from. Be on the lookout for more of this in the months to come!

Today I wanted to share the counting sticks, counting wheel and day of the week/month wheel I created. Let's start with the counting sticks - I got the idea from, and modified it a little to my liking. Instead of gluing beads onto the stick I decided to leave them blank so my kids could use different objects to count with. This week they are using dried beans and lining them up on the stick as they count.

Next, let's look at the super hero counting wheels my boys are sure to flip over. I found the printables for these at Little Piles Everywhere (click on the link for TONS of printables in all different themes). After printing them off, I glued the circles on to card stock to make it more sturdy and attached the stars to clothespins so that little hands could work on small motor skills while counting.

And this last wheel was quickly made by hand so it is nothing colorful or fancy but it will be a hands on way to learn the days of the week and the months. I used a disposable coaster, mod podged some card stock with the days of the week to it and wrote yesterday, today, and tomorrow on clothespins. On the back I did the same with the months. Two wheels in one!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

See It, Pin It, Do It - DIY Cleaning Products

In the last year or two I have really become more aware of the amount of store bought products that could easily be replicated at home with less cost and often less chemicals. Since then I have found it enjoyable to try out the different suggestions and see what works well and make as many swaps from store bought to homemade as possible. So I thought it would be a good idea to make this See It, Pin It, Do It post about DIY cleaning products. Let me share what I tried.

I already make my own laundry detergent so I didn't have to try that one out. You can see my post HERE if you are interested in giving it a go yourself. I honestly whip this up every couple weeks and the supplies last me quite awhile. For my family, it works great.

This last week I ran out of dryer sheets so it was the perfect opportunity to try out the reusable dryer sheets I had pinned from One Good Thing (click the name for her instructions). I loved the idea of eliminating the waste of dryer sheets and already had the white cloths and liquid fabric softener on hand so decided to give this a whirl. You can also do this with homemade liquid fabric softener (see One Good Thing's link above for those instructions as well) which I plan to try when I run out of the Downy I already have on hand. I hung them up in my laundry room to dry and they were ready by the end of the day. Have been using them ever since and absolutely love them!
The before picture of my dryer sheets
Another DIY cleaning product I have already tried out and been using for some time is a replacement for store bought Swiffer Wet Jet Cleaning Solution. You can see my post on that HERE. However I may have to replace that with the next product I share with you.

I was thrilled when I found a Pin with a homemade citrus cleaning product. I just used the pinner's suggestion so I am going to link you back to that original pin instead of an actual blog. This can be used as an all purpose cleaner (and would be great in your Swiffer Wet Jet!). You are looking at a two week process here so you'll want to save your citrus peels now. As soon as one solution was ready, I started the next one so I would have more when the first bottle ran out. My first batch smelled mostly of vinegar but cleaned really well. I am trying more peels in my second batch to see if that helps create more of a citrus scent. Here's what the process looked like for me:
Supplies - container, 2 cups vinegar and citrus peels

Sealed container with instructions and ready date

2 weeks later...ready to mix with 2 cups water

Mixed, labeled and ready to go!
Next I tried a very simple bath tub cleaner (that was pinned from of all places!). Click the highlighted words for exact instructions but this is basically equal parts heated vinegar and Dawn dish soap. {For full disclosure, I didn't use Dawn but instead whatever brand of dishwasher soap I had on hand but I still got great results}We have two baths in our house so I sprayed them both down and let them sit while I cleaned the rest of the bathroom. I had my husband do the second tub because he is sometimes a sceptic about the effectiveness of homemade cleaners and we were both equally pleased with the results. Coincidentally, my sister also made this same cleaner within the last few weeks and raved about it as well! I would say it's a keeper.
Labeled bottle with ingredients so I don't have to look it up next time I want to make it
Finally I wanted to share with you the DIY toilet bowl cleaner I have been using for years now. I don't have pictures or a source because it's a simple tip I picked up awhile ago and have done ever since. I pour a cup of vinegar into a medium sized bowl, hold it over my toilet bowl and add 1/4 cup baking soda and mix slightly before dumping it into the toilet (vinegar and baking soda has a really fun reaction so make sure you don't use a bowl that's too small..been there done that!). I let that sit for a minute and then use the toilet brush to wipe down the inside before flushing. With 3 small kids in the house who have all at one time or another gotten into the toilet water and a cat who frequently uses it as his watering hole (I know, gross!), I like to keep chemicals out of the bowl so this is a method that I feel safe using and that is also effective.

There's the list so far. I am waiting for my Febreeze to run out so I can make my own and also have the ingredients on hand for a mattress stain remover so you may see some add ons to this in the weeks to come. Hope you find this a handy go-to list to refer to - have fun trying them out and feel free to share your favorite DIY cleaning products! If you want to see what other DIY Cleaning Products have caught my interest, make sure to follow my DIY & Cleaning board on Pinterest.

***Just wanted to mention that I get all of my squirt bottles at the Dollar Store but you could easily reuse an old cleaning bottle as well. Just make sure to thoroughly clean it out so you don't have a reaction with mixed ingredients***

Monday, August 20, 2012

How I weaned my kids off of breakfast cereal

There is nothing terribly wrong with breakfast cereal. This isn't a post to bash Kellogg's or General Mills {because you KNOW they are ready my blog, ha!} or to take some stand against those who love cereal or feed it to their kids. Instead I wanted to share some changes we have decided to make in our home and show you how we did it in case it's something you've thought about doing as well.

When I first became a stay at home mom I intended to make breakfast on a regular basis. I don't particularly love cereal myself and prefer something with more variety but quickly found that my kids did not share that same preference. So I bought cereal because it was cheap and quick and easy and mostly because the kids would actually eat it. And while we originally kept to the healthier options found in the cereal aisle, slowly the sugary brightly-colored boxes began to fill our pantry shelves. And while it is still easy and what the kids prefer, it isn't what I want them putting in their bodies. It isn't how I want them fueling themselves for the day. So I decided to make a change. One that I anticipated would not be popular at first but one that I was determined to have happen and to make as easy a transition as possible.

I started by replacing their traditional cereal with something that would still be similar. That would still be in a bowl, require a spoon, have milk poured over it. And I got them involved. They came with me to the bulk bins at our local store and I helped me pick out nuts, seeds, granola, dried fruits. I explained why we were making the switch and why these better choices were going to help their bodies and brains work better. The next day I let them build their own cereal with some of these choices and it gave them some ownership as well as something to get excited about.
pepitas, sunflower seeds, quinoa, dried cranberries, granola, bananas, strawberries, raspberries, walnuts and almonds
Let me tell you, this worked better than I ever could have imagined. They LOVED getting to make their own creations, spent breakfast talking about their healthy choices and coming up with names for their cereal and even made the suggestion that we throw out any of the sugary cereal still in our cupboards. I truly think including them in the process and explaining the why behind these changes made all the difference. It wasn't just mean mommy taking something away. And I know that they are being armed with information that will help them to make better choices on their own one day.

The great thing about these toppings is that they are super versatile and can be traded out for whatever suits your fancy. And because we took advantage of bulk bins (allows us to buy the quantity we want and less cost since their is no packaging to pay for), we didn't break the budget buying them. We used them throughout the week to top steel cut oatmeal from the crock pot, yogurt, salads and they were delicious inside of homemade granola bars.

I also will be mixing in other breakfast items they are likely to embrace. Like oatmeal cookies...not the store bought dessert ones but the homemade healthy breakfast ones that still make them feel like they are getting cookies for breakfast which is enough to get them on board. We also made lots of muffins loaded with fruits and veggies. So far they have really loved the Carrot Quinoa muffins.

I haven't done this yet but I also have an idea for trying out some of the foods my kids have had a tougher time embracing in the past. Like eggs. My kids don't totally despise eggs but they are never thrilled when they show up at breakfast. So in the near future I am going to do something fun with this and let them experiment with different types of eggs to see if there is a version they do like. We will have an "egg week" complete with a chart on the fridge that says Would I Eat Them? along with several preparation variations and a spot for them to put a smiley face or frown face depending on what they thought after trying them. Some ideas include hard-boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, omelets, fried eggs, and egg cups. (I'll let you know how this goes over when I do it!)

I want to mention also that we didn't totally ban cereal from the cupboards. Just as much as I want them to learn to fuel their bodies properly and desire healthier food options, I also want them to learn moderation. Knowing that cereal isn't something they will forever be deprived of helps it not be such a big deal. They still have one of their favorite cereals that they can indulge in every few weeks and this past week we went to Trader Joe's and they got to sample a Puffed Wheat cereal that's only ingredients are puffed wheat and organic agave syrup. It tastes great and they actually begged me for it after trying it so we have a box of that for those busier days.
All in all this has been a pretty seamless transition {my pickiest eater has whined a few mornings about not being able to have that bright red box of cereal he loves...but for him whining at meal time is as second nature as breathing so we have come to expect it} and I am glad that we have been able to make the switch. We are overhauling some of our other habits as well so be on the look out for future posts about that. And feel free to share some of your favorite healthy breakfast menus...we are open to new, yummy things to add into our rotation!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Overnight Steel Cut Oatmeal (with an unexpected surprise!)

We are working on overhauling our looking for more on that in an upcoming post. Last night I decided to get a jump on this mornings breakfast by preparing oatmeal in the crock pot. I have done this before (see Peaches N Cream Crock Pot Oatmeal) but this was my first time using steel cut oats. Can I just do a quick plug for steel cut oats? First off, they are a better choice nutritionally as they have not been processed like old fashioned oats and therefore retain more of their nutrients (not to mention more of their flavor and texture) as well as taking longer to digest which means you stay full longer. Plus, when I bought them from the bulk bins they were the same cost per pound as old fashioned or quick cooking oats but I only had to use half the amount of uncooked oatmeal in my recipe to get the same amount of servings. GO STEEL CUT OATMEAL!!

Okay, enough of my random enthusiasm for oats. Lets get on to the recipe (and the surprise). The recipe I used called for 2 cups of steel cut oats and 8 cups of water in a 5-6qt crock pot. I decided to add 1 cup of pureed beets and a grated apple for fun color and added nutrition. I wish I would have taken a picture of this because it was dark purple as I mixed it all up and put the lid on. I was excited as I woke up this morning (takes 7 yo 8 hours on low) to see what would be waiting for me when I lifted the lid and saw....oatmeal. Plain brown oatmeal. Didn't look purple at all!! I was so surprised. But I guess this is a benefit if you don't want picky eaters {or leery husbands} asking 20 questions about the color of their oatmeal. Here's what it looked like before I stirred it all up (oh, and for your own sake - make sure to spray your crock pot with cooking spray first. I ALWAYS forget this step so you can guess what I will be doing later this morning scrub, scrub, scrub).
And in the bowl (seriously, no purple at all - still shocked by that!):
And with some of our yummy toppings like walnuts, almonds, raspberries and bananas:

Surprise aside, this was a truly delicious breakfast and my belly is nice and satisfied. The kiddos liked theirs with some milk and a little brown sugar for a slightly sweeter taste. Hope you give this a whirl and enjoy it as well:) Let me know what wonderful, and possibly surprising, things you mix in.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Not-So-Perfect Mom

It was one of those days. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. There was no hectic addition to our schedule. Actually, we didn't even go anywhere today or get out of our pajamas for that matter. Nonetheless, it was one of those days that as I was tucking the boys in for bed I found myself having to apologize for being such a grumpy mom.

I hate grumpy mom days! In my head I always see myself as a mom who is patient and loving and always makes time to listen to and play with her kids, never raising my voice. In reality, while I want to be that mom, there are days where I am far from it. I have talked before about being a Crabby Mom and my Mommy Meltdown (man, starting to notice a trend here...) and here I am once again needing to get it off my chest. While I know it is so perfectly normal to have these days, I still feel guilt when I let my emotions get the better of me. I could list the excuses - it's extra hot today, I have the cold that everyone else passed around first, husband has been working extra hours - but ultimately it doesn't mean anything. We all have stressors,  we all have reasons to explain why we don't give our best. But they really don't matter.

So what does matter? I think how I chose to react once I realized the day I had created. By apologizing to my kids I took a negative and made it into the best positive I could. I showed them that we all make mistakes (even Mom...GASP!) and that the proper way to handle a mistake is to ask for forgiveness, right any wrongs, and make an effort not to make that mistake again. I also asked my sons to pray for me, demonstrating what it looks like to ask for prayer and giving specifics of what I needed prayer for. Of course being the amazing little people they are they automatically forgave me and were happy to pray with their mama. They are such awesome gifts!

While I may not be the perfect mom, I know that God can use me in my imperfection and so I try to embrace that on my not-so-good days. And then I get up tomorrow and try to do better than I did today. That's really all any of us can do. Hope you can relate to this and maybe even share what it looks like on your not so great days. One of the things I love most in times like this is getting to draw from other moms who get it and are able to not only relate but provide some wisdom. Feel free to do just that and while your at it, if you'd be so kind, maybe say a little prayer for me {and yourself if you are having one of those days} that God will help me wake up tomorrow with the proper perspective, a loving and patient heart for my children, and the desire to do better.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Handmade Spiderman Birthday Invitations

My 5 year old will be turning 6 at the end of this month so I am busily trying to keep up on the planning of his Spiderman party so that I am not going crazy with last minute prep {who am I kidding...that will still happen}. Most years I have made an effort to hand make the kids' birthday invitations. Doesn't always happen but it is something I enjoy doing and because we keep the guest list family-only still, it isn't very time intensive. This year's Spiderman theme was pretty easy to turn into an invitation. Want to see the finished product?
Okay...not totally finished because I have to add the party info to the back but you get the gist. Let me walk you through this super easy Spiderman face. I did this free hand and if you know me you know that drawing is not one of my strong point being that if I can do this, so can you!

First Step: Trace and cut out a Spiderman shaped face. Like I said before, I did this free hand while looking at a picture online but you could cheat do it the smart way and print off a picture to trace for more exact measurements.
Second Step: Add a spiderweb to the face. I did this with a black sharpie but you could easily use a puff pen for dimension or even glue and glitter for a sparkly touch.
Third Step: Create eye mask. This was done in three parts:
1) Cut out black part of mask - here is where it would pay to print off something, as you can see my free hand skills at this step were pretty poor

2) Use an X-acto knife to remove the part of the mask where the white will show through

3) Glue a white strip of paper onto the back of the black mask
Fourth (and final) Step: Glue the mask to Spiderman's face. Easy as that!

Some other suggestions for this -
**This would make a great lunch box note for your little guy (or gal!) who loves Spiderman. Just write your note on the back and slip it into your kiddo's lunch box on a special day.
**Make this large sized out of poster board and play "Pin the mask on Spiderman" at your party.
**Use these as accents on your party banner.
Lots of possibilities!

I will be sharing more of my party prep as I go but in the meantime you can follow my Spiderman Party board on Pinterest to see where I am getting my inspiration.

Friday, August 3, 2012

See It, Pin It, Do It - Make Ahead Mixes

For some time now I have given up on buying prepackaged mixes and have just made my own from scratch. Okay, once in awhile I give in if there is a sale/coupon match-up I absolutely can't pass up. But for the most part I have taken to making my own because it truly is more cost-effective and also allows me to control what goes into my family's food. No preservatives here! Now I realize for a lot of people the convenience of the box can be the most appealing part of store bought products and is hard to pass up so I thought I would try some make-ahead mixes I have seen on Pinterest that would combine the convenience of having it all together with the benefit of making it yourself. Win win!

Now I did this on a whim with all items I already had on hand. You could obviously do a lot more with some planning ahead but here is a very basic make-ahead list to get you started. In a little over an hour I was able to make up all of these:
Pictured above are 4 brownie mixes, 2 oatmeal cookie mixes, 2 sugar cookie mixes, 2 pancake mixes and 2 muffin mixes. All of them with instructions for add ins and baking written right on the bag. Easy for those mornings I am in a rush but want to whip up something heartier for breakfast or those afternoons when my husband is feeling snacky and wants to prepare himself some brownies or cookies. Want to copy what I have done? Here is where I found all of my mixes (just click on each to go to find their instructions):

Fake Betty Crocker Brownie Mix from Fake-It Frugal

Fake Betty Crocker Cookie Mix from Fake-It Frugal (will find above pictured sugar and oatmeal cookie mix as well as chocolate chip and gingerbread cookie mix instructions)

Pancake Mix from good (CHEAP) eats

Muffin Mix from good (CHEAP) eats

I didn't get around to making this today, but I am also going to make up this huge batch of Cornbread Mix from Country Mama Cooks:

~picture belongs to Country Momma Cooks~
Let me share with you one final mix that isn't pictured but that I use on a regular basis and love, love, love. This is a recipe for homemade taco seasoning that will make you turn your back on that prepackaged version you would normally buy at the store. Trust me, this has great flavor and if you hit a spice sale, it will be cheap to make at home. I use this on everything from taco meat, to Mexican Meatloaf, to homemade burgers, and a zillion other things.

Homemade Taco Seasoning from $5 Dinners

Happy Mixing!!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Frugal Family Night

We love family nights in this house. With 3 kids 5 and under we are limited to what we can do but we still like to take special opportunities to just bond with our kids over something fun that we can all enjoy. Most often family nights involve board games or movies, picnic dinner or take out, and sometimes staying up a little later then usual. It doesn't always involve spending money but it is nice to include special treats from time to time. This can add up if done regularly so I always try to keep my eye out for deals that revolve around what we like to do.

Today I spotted a great deal on pizza (we love to indulge about once a month and sprawl out in front of a movie together:) at Papa John's - now through August 12th you can use promo code SUMMER50 to receive 50% off anything at regular menu price. That goes towards your entire order! Whether you want one pizza or 10, bread sticks or pop, you can get it all at half price as long as it isn't already on special. Pretty great deal!

We have a decent kid's movie selection and also a Netflix account so that is where most of our movies pull from. But there is always Redbox (lots of promo codes can be found online) and sometimes we hit the $5 bin at Walmart to stock up on some different movies. We did that this week and so tonight's feature is Flushed Away.

Speaking of Redbox, make sure you go under your account and sign-up to receive email and/or text alerts for deals. Each month you will receive a code for a free rental and occasionally you will receive extra deals. If you haven't reserved online before, you get a free rental after your first reservation. Today we go a promo code to try out Madagascar 3 the video game for free. Our kids are young enough that they don't ever get to play the video game systems alone and it is just something we do as a family at this point so whenever we get a chance, the kids see it as quite a treat. I am sure this game will be lots of fun for us all (thanks Redbox)!

 That is tonight's Frugal Family Night plans. What does your family like to do together? What ways do you cut cost when entertaining your brood? Love to hear your thoughts!
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