Saturday, March 31, 2012

Easter Bunny & Flower Cupcake Decorations from Marshmallows

We spent the day making flower and bunny cupcakes, using marshmallows! it's an old trick my stepmother taught me when I was little, that seems to be cropping up all over the internet lately. I altered the concept to make BUNNY cupcakes, and even a little DAFFODIL. :D Take a look, maybe give it a try, it is an easy and cheap activity to do with the kiddos! 



Needed:

Bag of mini marshmallows

Colored decorative sugars, divided by color into little seal-able sandwich baggies

Food scissors



1. Cut each mini marshmallow in half on a diagonal. you will end up with 2  'petals' from each marshmallow.



2. Place the 'petals' into a bag of decorative sugars, and give it a little shake. The sugars will only stick to the part of the marshmallow that was cut!



3. If you let them 'rest' for a few minutes, they will puff back up.




4. Carefully place your marshmallow 'petals' onto your cupcakes! They look great with little candies in the center, or you can make a daffodil by using a whole mini marshmallow in the center. Just evenly cut the end off, and make tiny cuts lengthwise on the marshmallow, then roll in yellow sugar. 


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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

March Freebies Tally Pics (By Week)


Week 1 Highlights: 
Jewel Hookah Tobacco (for my brother in law)
Secret Clinical Strength Deodorant trial size
Prescription discount card
Full size Axe body wash


Week 2 Highlights:
2 FREE Old Navy Tank Tops
2 Bags Haribo Gummy Bears
Poise Pads 18 count
Personalized Birthday Card


Week 3 Highlights:
Via rebates, I got $46 worth of Physician's Formula Make-up FREE!
PLUS, RevitaLens free at Wal-Mart. 


Week 4 Highlights:
Old Navy Tank Top
Beech Nut Stage 4 Gummies
Full size Axe deodorant, spray and body wash
Bath & Body Works Lotion
Neosporin Essentials trial pack



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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Free (and Cheap) Ideas for Easter!

Instead of the traditional baskets - which can get damaged over time and take up space (and all that horrid plastic grass) why not give the kiddos a personalized tote bag instead? Did I mention it is FREE? Vista print.com occasionally offers special deals, like a free custom tote. You will have to pay a small shipping fee, but it is always much less than the value of the item.
Here is the tote we got for our Lil' G:
Stores flat, won't get damaged!
While you are scoring free customized goodies at vistaprint.com in preparation for Easter, why not grab a few other fun  kid gift ideas? Since we are working on responsibility in our house, I ordered a custom notepad that is a chore check list:
She likes having a little box for the check-mark
 a poster calendar that has a reward system on it (for home and school behavior),
This helps us keep track of her behavior

 and a big magnet for the fridge to display Lil' G's artwork. 

Next, I went to Target for travel size lotion bottles, 2 pack for $1. I also grabbed a few small $1 items like plastic sunglasses, pink flip flops, and sidewalk chalk.
I joined Vitacost.com, and received a $10 credit! I did have to pay shipping, however. I got peppermint and lavender Essential oils and unscented lotion for $4! I made bug repelling lotion for myself and Lil' G (we are bug magnets). She loves the smell and the way it softens her skin - unlike oily sprays. I put a travel size and larger size in her tote bag, so she can smell pretty and be bug free anywhere!

The recipe is simple, mix 20 oz. lotion with 2 Tablespoons Essential oil. I added 1 Tbsp. lavender  and 1 Tbsp. peppermint, to lessen the harshness of the peppermint. 


Make your own scents that repel! 
The essential oils that work well against mosquitoes are:
cinnamon oil
lemon eucalyptus oil
citronella oil
castor oil

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Chili Con Carne with Wine

Chili Con Carne and Cornbread
February means a lot of things in my house. Of course, there is Valentine’s Day, and my birthday too! But the most fun part is the SUPERBOWL! This year, we are going to MIL1′s house, and the family requested my “famous chili” and sweet cornbread. When they butter you up like that, how can you say no? :D  I’m making my chili con carne…which is only semi-famous. I have won 2 local chili cook offs with the recipe, but outside of our area I don’t know that it is all that famous,haha. ;) Sorry it took me so long to post this bad boy, but like I said...we have a LOT going on in February!
Ingredients:
2.5 LB. ground beef
1/2 diced green pepper
1/4 Cup dried flaked onion

If you shop sales with coupons, the ingredients are pretty cheap,too. 

1 tsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup red wine

1 14 oz can diced tomatos
1 6oz can tomato paste
2 beef bullion cubes
1 can lite kidney beans
1 can dark kidney beans
Spices:
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 1/2 tsp italian seasoning
1/2 tsp sugar

LET’S MAKE SOME CHILI CON CARNE! 


1. Saute your green pepper, onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat, until they are softened. (This part smells great!)

2.  Add the meat, and brown over medium heat until the juices run clear (cooked through).


3.  Add wine, bullion cubes, tomatoes and herbs and combine well. I like to use my big ol’ wood spoon for this part. My Grammy gave it to me. :D


4.  Add both cans of beans, liquid and all. At this point in the process I also added 1/2 cup water, and gave it a really good stir.

5.  Let simmer for around 90 minutes…or until the smell drives you crazy, and you HAVE to have some! I distracted myself by making cornbread muffins. In my opinion, chili without cornbread is like A burger without a bun. Sure…you could eat it…but it just isn’t right. ;)


This is one of my favorite one pot meals, and you can adjust the spice level to your tastes. We like it to kick you a little in the back of the throat! ;)    Well, everyone except *MF, who does not like chili in any form. Although he HAS said, of all the chili he has had to eat, he tolerates mine the best. :D  


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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Pros & Cons of Buying Bulk, and How to Make it Work For You

The lure of bulk buying

The draw to buying in bulk seems to have increased lately, as shoppers (like me) feel the pinch in their wallets. Deciding if buying in bulk is for you can be tricky...And understanding the positives and negatives are important. Avoiding traps if you DO decide to buy bulk is also essential! Let's start with making the decision to buy bulk. 



My family buys bulk for a few specific items, and only if the price per unit cost is less than what I can get with my couponing abilities - this is where keeping track helps! The key to buying bulk is to know when to buy, and when not to buy.  It’s not always the best move. But if you are smart, you can avoid the con's and reap the pro's, saving money as you go. Let's assume you have made the decision to buy bulk for some items. It was an easy decision for us, since *MH* works third shift for the Wal-Mart/Sam's Club company - they offered him the Premium membership ($100 cost) for $30, and deduct $2 per month from his paychecks to cover it. We go once every two months or so, and only after checking prices online first!



I avoided the Membership issue, but not everyone is going to have a family member discount. So, write up a list of your most-consumed items,like toilet paper, and figure out how much you spend in a month. Multiply by 12, and you have your approximate yearly cost on bulk items.
Now, check your wholesale club bulk cost, and determine how many you will use in a year. How much is it? Would you save money by buying bulk in a wholesale club, or should you continue buying with coupons and stockpiling as you go?

at .21 cents a roll, we can do better this time
The next issue is storage. It is important to not let your bulk buying and stockpiling take over your home! Plus, clutter will lead to stress, which is just not worth it. We held off on buying bulk until we moved from an apartment to a town home...I will probably upgrade my storage when we get our Forever House. But for now, we use a wire shelf organizer in our coat closet, and a deep freezer in the garage.

You also don't want things to expire before you use them! This goes hand in hand with a lack of variety...no one wants to eat the same things over and over. Except my daughter (and *DH*, who is a high functioning autistic adult and needs  repetition to calm his nerves). I buy their favorite snack foods in bulk, and individually bag them with sandwich baggies. Some brands now individually package servings for wholesale clubs now, so this is less of a problem than it used to be. Some things it will never make sense to buy, like 6 packages of hot dog buns for a family of 4. Unless we are having a big BBQ party, there just isn't a need!
*Bulk buying is GREAT for saving money for big summer parties*


You can see that buying bulk doesn't make sense for small households or individuals, in most cases. Plus, the clubs usually only allow their own coupons (if they offer any) and rarely have sales. You will also pay more money up front, for the lower per unit cost.

You should view your stockpile/bulk purchases as an investment, of sorts. Let's use laundry detergent as an example. I can get a name brand 50 oz bottle for $8.99. If I buy 6 bottles, I pay $5.00 per bottle. I have to pay $30 for my laundry soap today, but I don't have to pay a higher price per bottle later on, if I run out unexpectedly and the item is not on sale.


That is a savings of 44% PER BOTTLE. That sounds great until you realize you are essentially investing your money in detergent, and your money could do you more good invested in something else. Plus, as you use up your detergent, your investment return shrinks as the amount of soap shrinks. What would a 44% return get you in stocks, or even a low cost Certificate of Deposit? Not likely you will find something like a CD with that return, but the point remains the same.

Could your money be better invested? 
Make the decision that is right for your budget, your home and your family.


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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Type Case Printer Drawer Jewelry Display


I recently found a stack of these vintage bad boys in a house that we are working at, and put one of them to use in my little shop. Small hooks hold the heavier earrings.  I added a picture hanger on the back to hang it on the wall, but it also looks fantastic propped up on a table. I needed very badly to do some spring cleaning in my shop, and I had no idea what to do to display the random bits of things...until I saw these drawers.



Printer drawers are a neat decorating idea with many applications! 




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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How Do You Plan for a Shopping Trip? (Get the Most Bang for Your Buck!)

How do you plan for a shopping trip?
I like to plan a menu, and then make a list. Then I check my coupon stash and match up my coupons to the items I need, and off I go to the store! This handy dandy littleGrocery Checklist is helpful. I go down the list with my daughter, who checks how much we have/if we need more of an item. She feels good for getting to help, and I always have my little pantry stocked with the essentials.


I match my grocery list to my Wal-Mart ad (where we do most of our coupon shopping) and compare to our stock up stores ads (Aldi and Sam’s). Usually the best deal is at Wal-Mart, but we buy certain items at the other locations in bulk because the every day price is cheaper if you buy large quantities. It only makes sense for some items, especially since space is at a premium in our house.  I use one sheet for each store,printed on old school papers (recycling!).  Then I grab my coupons, and head to the store!

Do you use reusable bags?
I try to, as often as I can. Sometimes I forget to grab them. I got a neat set of Grocery Cart Helper Bags, which attach to the sides of your cart and are great for places like Aldi or Sams, where you HAVE to bag your own…I attach both to the carts and organize my purchases into the bags. They clip closed, and it means less trips to the car when bringing the food in!
Big cart bags for big trips!
I have four smaller bags I like to use for quick Wal-Mart trips, when I can remember to bring them….I bag my groceries the way I was taught back in my teenage days, when I worked in a grocery store. On either side I place a box, like cereal or a similarly sized item, and then fill the cavity in the middle with a layer of cans, then smaller boxed items, and any fragile items or bread on top. I try to spread heavy items like cans evenly through the bags, to keep them from being heavy. I also have a large Aldi insulated bag, for cold and frozen items.
Smaller bags for smaller trips!
Do you look up coupon/sale match ups online? 
I have a few places I like to look for match ups. My favorite blog is I Heart The Mart, since I go to Wal-Mart most often. It doesn’t hurt that I get a teensy discount, because *MH works nights there. :) If I combine the sales, coupons and my discount I can save a pretty penny on our food. BUT on deal items, I certainly do a sale ad check, and compare my favorite stores for prices. Then I can go out and maybe get something free, or nearly free! 

Do you rebate?  
I rebate within the parameters of each deal. If it says you need to be dissatisfied, and I am satisfied, I do not usually send out the rebate. It just feels dishonest to me.  But couponing in combination with rebates, if following the rules and ethics, can be a smart way to save!  Today I found a coupon for a local store (good for that location only, for one day only, from 3pm to 7pm only) for a dinner deal for Marie Callender’s new lasagna, 2 liter bottle of Coke (any coke product) and bag of Fresh Express salad – all for only $5! The lasagna alone costs $6.39 (on sale for $5) so it was like getting a bagged salad and bottle of Sprite for free.  THEN…I filled out my Marie Callender rebate, good up to $8. My final cost on dinner tonight was $0.00! I don’t often find deals THAT good, but today we ate dinner for free.

Tasty but small...
Stay tuned for more about menu planning…there are a few different systems you can use, depending on your family’s needs.  It will save you time, money and maybe even lead to healthier eating habits with time.  One quick tip : don’t introduce an entire meal of new foods to your family all at once. Instead, introduce a single new dish in a meal that is full of familiar dishes.  The new item will be associated with old favorites, and perhaps more likely to be accepted. You know your family’s likes and dislikes better than anyone else…don’t try to make liver and onions an acceptable dish if you know it won’t go over well. It is a frustrating waste of time, effort and money!

Happy shopping! :)

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Rich Man's Shepherd's Pie

Bubbly cheese makes everything delicious. True story. 

In celebration of Pi day, and impending St.Patrick's Day, I whipped up a more fancy version of an old family favorite. My family always called it shepherd's pie, but my very Irish husband's family calls it cottage pie. Either way, this version is made with upgrades! My family loves it, especially the kids. I like to serve it with some fresh broccoli or a salad, and rolls. 

Use coupons to make this cheap!
Ingredients:
all purpose flour, 8 Tablespoons
1 lb Stew Beef
2 Tbsp butter or oil
1/2 cup Beef broth
6 oz tomato paste
salt and pepper
2 bay leaves
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp rubbed sage (optional)
1 Tbsp worchestershire sauce
au gratin potatos in a box
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
button mushrooms, canned or fresh (optional), sliced

Use a nice sharp knife and chop your onion, garlic and carrots. Thinly slice your mushrooms, if you chose to add them. 
oh wow it smells soooo gooood!
1. Melt 2 Tbsp (1/4 stick) butter into your frying pan. Sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat for about 8-10 minutes, or until soft.  Add chopped carrots.
Floured beef, in the skillet ready to brown.
2. While your vegetables sauté, coat your stew beef lightly in flour. Add a few chunks at a time, give a light shake, remove from bag. Add the beef to the pan, and brown until no longer pink. Salt and pepper to your taste. 
Not much gravy, just how I like it for the pie.
3. Add the worchestershire sauce, beef broth tomato paste and herbs. Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat for around 10 minutes or until the gravy as cooked in to the beef as much as you like. Some people like it a little more moist, but I like it a little more dry. Add in the peas and simmer until they are heated through. 


4. While that simmers, prepare your au gratin potatos according to the stovetop directions, and heat your oven to 400 degress F.

Carrots supposedly help you see in the dark. Or so my dad always told me. I am suspicious of this...

5. Add the stew like mixture to a baking dish. Make sure to remove the bay leaves and throw them away.

6. Layer the au gratin potatoes over the beef mixture, and pour any cheese sauce in the pan over the top.

Sprinkle extra cheese on top if you want. No one is looking, go ahead. I won't tell.  
Golden brown!
7. Cook at 400 degrees F. for 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the pie is bubbly.

Serves approx. 6 people.  Or 4 very big eaters, or perhaps 8 reasonable eaters who also like salad. 
It tastes like a grown up version of my childhood favorite! 
This recipe is great for making ahead and freezing, will last up to 2 months in the freezer. If freezing, do not add the potatoes until ready to serve. Potatoes can get grainy in the freezer. For once a month cooking, just make a big batch of stew and before you add the potatoes, set some aside in a freezer safe baking dish, cool and freeze!


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