Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Custom personalized artwork...LOVE IT

My super talented friend, Abby (click her name...do it, do it, do it...her blog is WAY cooler than mine) has painted one of these for each of the boys when they were babies.  I basically give her an idea and the colors and this is what she came up with:
Aren't they awesome?  Can you guess the theme.  Nope, try again.  Yes, you got it!: football players. Didn't see that one coming, did you?
Ryan will become a quarterback (he's sure bossy enough):

Seth will become a running back (he's sure squirrely enough):

Reed will become a linebacker (he's sure big enough...already):

But who cares, maybe they'll all run cross country or something, We I would be okay with that.  But we'll still have these paintings to decorate their rooms.  If you are interested in having Abby do one for you, you can contact her by commenting on her blog.  She does great work - the canvases are BIG.  20x24, but she can do any sizes you'd like.  She is an all around artist, designer...can do anything.  Thank you, Abby! for giving us something we will cherish for years and years! Even after the boys leave the house, I'll probably hang them by my bed or have them made into quilts or something....and sit there and cry and cry, remembering when they were just itty bitty babies.  And maybe when I'm an old crazy lady, I'll crochet some pretty lace things to hang around the corners.  Ahhhh, the possibilities.....

Monday, November 28, 2011

Super Easy homemade dishwasher soap

Of course I stole this off Pinterest, but it was SO easy that I wanted to post it so "all" could see....and to run the numbers on whether it is cheaper. (since I'm in such a numbers-crunching mood, it seems).

Ingredients (all found at Walmart):

2 cups Lemi Shine
2 cups Super Washing Soda
2 cups Borax
1 cup Kosher salt
White vinegar for rinsing aid

Instructions:  mix and dump.  1 Tbs per load.

Cost breakdown:
Lemi shine (used all):  3.77
Borax:  .71
Washing soda:  1.12
Salt (had on hand, but whatever):  1.00
Vinegar (had on hand) : not including because this is a rinse aid
Total cost:  $6.60
Number of loads:  112
Cost per load:  $0.059

Compare to Cascade (75 ounce package):  Cost per load:  $0.65.  BUT, this is per TBS and Cascade recommends more than this per load.

Conclusion:  So it saved a few bucks in all.  And I'm not a scientist...so I can't set whether the ingredients in the Arm & Hammer and Borax are "healthier" than those in Cascade. But I think over the long run this will be cheaper and easier, especially when you only use 1/4 to 1/3 of the boxes of washing soda and borax...you'll only need to buy the Lemi Shine every other month or so.  Makes things easy.

Bigger-Deal Conclusion:  My dishes were cleaner and shinier.  Glasses weren't grimy and "foggy", but squeaky clean and sparkly.  For this reason, I love the homemade dish soap!

Running the numbers on baby food

A big project this weekend was to make baby chow for my loves-to-eat-anything-6 month old.  For all 3 boys, I've made about 90% of their food.  Yes, we do buy some for convenience's sake, its not like we're opposed to the idea.  It is just something I like to do, I can do, and I thought was cheaper and healthier.  Here's what we did.  Yes, I said WE...this time Troy even helped and got his hands dirty.  It made a big (fun) chore into about a 3 hour project.
Step 1.  Shop - bulk is best, but you don't always need bulk.  6-7 HUGE sweet potatoes make a LOT.  And a few bunches of bananas go a loooong way, too.  But bulk apples, pears, carrots are necessary.
Step 2.  Put big boys to bed for a nap.
Step 3.  Unexpectedly, Reed awakes.  Keep him busy with a pretzel rod.
Step 4.  Start peeling and cooking.  I use all 4 burners on the stove for steaming/boiling/blanching/whatevering, and have 2-3 casserole dishes in the oven baking (apples with a splash of cinnamon cuz I'm just that nice; cranberry-apple, pears, squash, etc)
Step 5.  Get the food processor going.  I only have one and my blender wasn't working well at all, so we had a long ling waiting for the processor...but that's ok.
Step 6.  From the processor to individual bowls to cool.  Some people mix them up right away (like mixing strawberries with apples or whatever), but I like to keep them all separate until I know exactly what I end up with.
Step 7.  Put in individual containers. I filled old baby food jars and containers, then used some canning containers to put in larger amounts of the staples - carrots, beans, bananas, apples - that we use more often since these hold 7-8 ounces (about 3 feedings).  Excess went into ice cube trays to freeze.  Once frozen into cube shape, dumped into a NICE QUALITY double-zip bag.  The last thing I want to do is have all my hard work get freezer burn, so I get the best bags they have.  I didn't have enough room or ice cube trays, so this part of the freezing goes in segments.  Freeze in trays, dump in bags, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.

To eat:  The individual baby food containers are frozen, then I get out a few days supply at once to thaw in the fridge. They can be warmed up, then the jars are reused by putting in the frozen cubes.  The cubes are 1 ounce, but I overfill them before freezing, so they are almost 1.5 ounces.  2 cubes fit in a small container and 3 fit in a larger container.

So here is the fun part.  I spent $41 on groceries.  Plus to be fair, add in the cost of the bags $6 (but I won't use them all).  The baby food that we would buy (on sale) is $.50 per serving.  I imagine that you can find cheaper baby food, but we like a certain kind and this is the rock bottom bulk price.  Here's what my $41 got us:
268 servings.
So, if I would have purchased 268 servings at the sales price I would spend $134.00, or $0.50 per serving.  I spent only $47, at a whopping $0.17 per serving.  Saving me....grabbing the calculator.....$87.  Doesn't that sound great?  I know it's not hundreds and thousands of dollars, but consider this:  I've done this for 3 kids, and the savings multiply since this is *only* approximately 2.5 months of food.  So I'm estimating that I've saved (or will save by the time Reed moves to solid people food)......

 2.4(there are 2.4 two-and-a-half month-periods in a 6 month period of eating baby food) x $87 savings x 3 kids =
Boom!  Throw in the intangible happy feelings of knowing what you're feeding your baby, the bonding time with your husband in the kitchen...and it really is a priceless activity.  The other part I'll mention is that my food processor was FREE.  Yep, I got it from Troy's Aunt Karen.  If I recall, she got it for her wedding and never used it.  Bonus.  I bet there are lots of unused and unloved food processors out there.  Just go ask around.  Mine isn't huge....having a big one would be a nice Christmas present (hint hint)

And for those of you that are curious about what all I made, the list is below.  This is just the main ingredients.  We did a LOT of mixing based on Troy's taste-testing ideas.  For example, strawberry + apple; blueberry + pear, peas + carrots, and other combos.
  1. Sweet potato
  2. Carrots
  3. Mixed veggies - carrots, peas, something I'm forgetting
  4. Mixed veggies - carrots, corn, peas
  5. Spaghetti squash
  6. Peas
  7. Green beans
  8. Peaches
  9. Fruit blend - frozen fruit package.  Only fruit listed as ingredient (was the most expensive thing I purchased)
  10. Bananas
  11. Yellow squash (summer squash)
  12. Pears
  13. Apples
  14. Blueberries
  15. Cranberries
  16. Strawberries
Our kids never liked avocado or kiwi, so didn't buy those this time.  Note: white potatoes - tried it; they don't freeze well at all. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thankful for great teachers!

Some thanksgiving crafting! Our boys attend an absolutely wonderful preschool.  We are SO happy with our choice to enroll them in their school. So we made some crafts to say "thank you".  Of course, I did 99.8% of the work, but the boys did pick out the paper and decided which teacher should get which clipboard.  This was a really cheap, fun and easy project to do.

1.  Bought cheap plain clipboards.
2.  Cut out scrapbook paper (already on hand) and adhered (with spray adhesive) to the clipboard.
3.  Modge-podged (yes, thats a verb) over the entire top and sides.
4.  Printed out some funky letters on scratch paper, then used them as a pattern and cut out the same letters on coordinating scrapbook paper.
5.  Adhered the letter to the clipboard and modge-podged over the letter. 
6.  Added a note pad on top, with a letter of thanks, singed by the boys. 

Close-up of the letter for Miss Wendy :) Isn't it cute?
Now, wouldn't you want to carry around this clipboard all day?!?
Keep this fun and thrifty craft in mind when you need something quick and inexpensive for someone you're thankful for! AND, wouldn't they be so cute hung on the wall by a desk or organization-station?

AND, I know you can buy cute clipboards, probably way cuter than this....but they aren't personalized, and I'm pretty sure they won't have my boys fingerprints in the modge podge :)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Freezer is stocked now :)

Every year after football season I take a deep breath.  A really deeeeeep, loooooong one....like a week long deep breath.  Its such a relief to have Troy home before 9 PM for a change (and home on Saturday and Sunday), that I just get so completely excited about having help that I actually stall out and get way behind.  It never makes sense - I can keep things going, clean, cooked, etc when I'm on my own, but he comes home and after our "Thanksgiving" feast (first day of no football celebration), I go into coast-mode and don't cook, clean, do anything for a few days.  End result - WAY behind.  It doesn't take too long for this family to fall behind!  So, I made some headway a few days ago with some freezer cooking.  This batch was a very meaty one, snacks and meat main dishes. With sides of veggies and fruits to be added in.  Here's what I did this time.
First, I brainstorm what I want to make.  Usually I make plan this based on what I find on sale.  I got a good deal on ground turkey and beef and I had some sausages in the freezer already, so I knew this was going to be a meaty one.
I made a chart like this:

It lists the main ingredients on the top and the meals/snacks on the side.  It ain't pretty, but it helps me organize how many of each thing I need, how many pounds of meat, etc.  Then off to the left (not included in this one), I list the "other" ingredients I need.  This process just helps me have a use for everything I buy.

I'll not include all the instructions for everything I made.  Just a few things:

  • A few days before cooking, I made a quadruple batch of the Pioneer Woman's bread dough.  I put it in the fridge, covered.  (Pioneer Woman recommends letting it sit for at least 24 hours).
  • I cooked all the meat at the same time.  Ground beef in the crockpot - you CAN dump it in the crockpot frozen in the morning, and by midafternoon, it's perfect.  Chicken - some was baked, some was cooked on the stove in stock, some was cooked in crockpot.  Sausages - stovetop.  Did it all at the same time and let it all cool.
  • I then just set up an assembly line and used my chart to determine what all the main meats were for.  It got very confusing since I was using beef in several recipes, chicken in several, etc.  
  • For most items, I cook them halfway, allow to cool, then freeze.  And usually, you'll have to cook it according to the full time instructions, since you're cooking from frozen.
So out of this batch, I made:
  • Shredded chicken - fajitas
  • Buffalo chicken wraps
  • Cubed chicken (for salad, soup, casserole, whatever)
  • Sausage wontons (a good way to use up leftover sausage).  Glad I took the time to freeze this, since Troy ate them all the next day :)
  • Ham and cheese (with broccoli, gag) stromboli
  • Turkey and cheese stromboli
  • Calzones - several different kinds, I just put in whatever I had - beef, sausage, cheese, tomatoes, peppers, ricotta, seasoning, sauces, etc.
  • Turkey meatballs
  • Sausage/beef meatballs
  • 2 pounds of taco meat
  • Bacon rollups
  • Grinder meat
  • Twice baked potatoes
The best thing about this list is that it is all things that Troy likes and can throw in the oven, throw together some sides and make a meal, or just warm something up for a snack.  If you want any of the specific recipes or instructions, let  me know...I'll be happy to send them to you.  Get inspired! Make a chart...it feels SO good!  And stock your fridge...then take an evening off - go shopping, go get a coffee and do nothing, whatever, and leave your happy hubby home with food. I just might do this!  

Good CLEAN fun, for FREE!

 Early this morning, before we left for the day's adventures, we took about 5 minutes to prepare a "surprise" for bath time tonight.  We filled an ice cube tray with water, and the boys took turns squeezing drops of food coloring into the different cubes.  They know their colors (and if Seth hasn't already told you 4,569 times, his favorite color is GREEN!), but are still practicing mixing colors....red and blue makes PURPLE!  Wow!  Pretty amazing stuff to a 3 and 4 year old :)  So, they made some plain, some mixed...we said some magic words and popped it in the freezer.
Tonight at bath time, we pulled out our colorful ice....learned what happens when you freeze a liquid!....and then the fun began.  We dropped a few into the bath and the boys had a BLAST trying to catch them, watching them melt, seeing all the colors spread and combine in the water, what FUN!  You've GOT to try it.  I *might* have some green under my fingernails tomorrow, but it was totally worth it!  An hour of fun for FREE and we learned quite a bit along the way.  Winner!

He caught one!

We ended up with a green bath.  Seth was THRILLED!

We were only going to do a few...but it was too fun!  Did all of them :)