Archive for January, 2011

Family Fun with Slides

Monday, January 31st, 2011

To small for slides

Last weekend the temperature warmed up to a sunny 59 degrees – perfect weather for going to the park!  With daddy’s help, Oliver had a blast on all the slides.  Evelyn got her some mommy and me time and was wide eyed staring at all the trees.

Things that roll

Oliver commandeered a ball from some other kids and hightailed it to the slide.

Helping hand

Daddy rolled it down the slide and Oliver chased after it.  He thought this was the best thing since sliced bread.  He was so excited that he would run over to me, laughing, and clapping his hands before running back to the slide.

whoa there

We hit another play gym nearby that was designed for older kids.  The platform to the big slide was probably a good 10 – 15 feet from the ground.  Oliver did not hesitate at all and nearly gave daddy a heart attack when he started going down head first.

on your belly please

Daddy rescued him and made him come down on his tummy.

whee

He LOVED it!

i made it

Our son is a little thrill seeker just like his dad.  The hubby finally has someone to ride the roller coasters with at an amusement park! :-)

again again

He barely touched down before he was off and running to climb back up the stairs again.  He must have slid down the big slide 5 or 6 times and then the smaller slide 3 or 4 times.  With all the climbing, he slept REAL good that night.

We had been busy all weekend with house cleaning and reorganizing Evelyn’s room just one more time, but I am so happy that we stopped to go to the park together.  It was nice to get fresh air, and even better for Oliver to get some exercise.  Best of all, it was fun and totally free.  Very frugal way to spend an afternoon!

Frugal Tip of the Day:  Check out the play areas at your local elementary schools in addition to the public parks.  Many of them are very well maintained, clean, and are more elaborate than what I’ve seen in the public park system.

Frugal Food: Con Queso – Meaty, Cheesy Chip Dip

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Just in time for the super bowl, a recipe for a meaty, cheesy, and hearty chip dip called – Con Queso!  This dip has been in our family for as long as I can remember.  We even ate it as a meal served over rice (it’s that good).  This was also one of the first recipes that I requested from mom and pop when I moved out on my own. 

After taking Spanish, I learned that con queso literally means “with cheese”.  This helped explain some confusion over the years as friends kept asking “What with cheese?”  Well my friends, con queso stands on its own – like Cher and Madonna, the name needs no further explanation.  Accept it, enjoy it, and eat it up!

ingredients

Ingredients:  makes approx. 6 cups of dip

8 oz ground hamburger
8 oz hot pork sausage
1/2 onion, diced
7 oz can mushrooms, diced
canned jalapenos, diced (the can shown here is 13 oz, you can use more or less depending on your heat tolerance)
16 oz Velveeta cheese, cubed
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup

freeze meat

Here’s a handy tip to start out with:  Since this recipe calls for 8 oz of both hamburger and sausage, cut your packages in half and immediately pop 1/2 of each meat in a Ziploc bag for your next dip endeavour.  You might get a little more or less of hamburger depending on the total meat weight in the package (here it was 1lb 2oz).  That’s okay.

brown meat

Toss the hamburger and sausage in a pot and brown over medium heat.  I like using a wire wisk to break down the meat into uniformly small bits.  I run a fork through the tines of the wisk to clear out any meat chunks.

diced onions

While the meat is cooking, toss in the diced onions.  I like a large dice, because I like a chunky dip.  If you want a smoother dip, dice the onions smaller.  When the meat has browned (not raw and pink) and the onions have softened, drain any grease from the pot.

mushrooms and jalapenos

Throw your diced mushrooms and jalapeno peppers into the pot.  Again, the dice size is your personal preference.  You can try fresh jalapenos if you’d like, but they don’t have time to soften in this recipe and add a sort of grassy flavor.  The canned jalapenos are also pickled, which contributes flavor to the dip.  As for how much of the jalapenos to use, that is your preference as well.  I throw in the entire 15 oz and then some, but I like it hot!  If you and your guests have problems with fire-butt, you might want to take the heat down a couple notches and only use a couple oz of peppers.

chop velveeta

Cube the Velveeta cheese, so it melts faster, and throw it in the pot.

mix it all together

Lastly – the secret ingredient – toss in the Cream of Mushroom soup and mix all ingredients together.  Whenever I make this, people keep going back for more and they can’t figure out what makes it taste so good.  It’s the soup.  It tones down the cheese and mellows out the dip.   

con queso

Frequently stir the dip over medium low heat until the cheese has melted.  Serve warm with chips.  We love this dip with Frito Lay corn chips the best. 

This is a great dip to make in advance.  When left in the fridge overnight, the flavors meld together and the jalapenos have time to diffuse their spiciness.  Either warm the dip back up on the stove, or pop it in the microwave. 

Speaking of microwave, I’m going to pop some in right now and have myself a snack. I’ve been eating it for 3 days now since I made the last batch and it’s been hard not to down the pot in one sitting!

Sound Off: So Much Blood From Such a Little Wound

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

I was feeding Evelyn before the family headed out to the park and I heard a THUMP, THUMP, THUMP and loud screaming from my son.  The poor kid had fallen outside on the sidewalk and busted his lip.  The thumping was my hubby flying down the stairs and back up with kid in tow. 

Geez… talk about a freak out!  There was blood everywhere and I couldn’t tell what had happened to him or where he was hurt.  Luckily, he only hit his upper lip on the pavement and recovered quickly.  A little liquid bandage and he was good to go.  We still went to the park to enjoy the weather even though it looked like he had a perpetual bloody nose.  Poor kid.

That pretty much sums up how the week went for us.  One freak out after another it seems.  I did manage to make my cheesy meat dip and am working on posting the recipe.  Evelyn isn’t cooperating with sleep and it’s been hard to carve out some internet time for myself.  We also put together her crib today.  I’m hoping to phase out the bassinet by next weekend so we can make some room in her new bedroom.  I’m a bit bummed that she has to share her space with an industrial storage rack, but what can we do in a tiny house?  I’m going to rearrange her room again, to eek out some space and will have to post some before and after pics.  I have some frugal design ideas in mind that will make the space cozy.

February is right around the corner and with it comes all the winter yard work.  We’ll be cutting back trees and shrubs, digging the spring garden, and dividing liriope.  There’s also one more large consignment sale that I’ll check out for clothing items only – no volunteering at this one – and Evelyn’s 3 month old coming out party.  It looks like we have the month booked solid!

Hope you are having a great weekend and are getting out to enjoy the nice weather if you have it!

Toddler Fun: Sink Play

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Looking for an easy way to entertain your toddler?  Give him some cups and let him play in the bathroom sink! Easy as that. It’s frugal, free, and fun.  This is a great activity for him or her to do while you get to scrubbing that tub and toilet.

Children benefit from messy water play in many ways.  Just from my observations, I notice that he is learning cause and effect – when he tips the cup, water comes out.  He’s learning sequencing – 1- turn on the water, 2- fill the cup, 3- dump the water. 

He’s developing his hand-eye coordination by pouring from one vessel to another.  He’s also learning how different objects hold different amounts of water.  He’ll play with the little cup and then go search out the monster size cup to make a bigger splash.

He’s also learning about sound.  He loves to slowly pour the water and then when the last drop “kerplops” into the sink he laughs his head off.

Things to keep in mind for water play in the sink:

1) Plug the drain!  He loves playing with the running water, but it’s not cost effective nor conservative.

2) Make sure all electrical appliances (hair dryers, curling irons, etc) have been removed.

3) Give the child a sturdy step stool to stand on.  Make sure it is on a non-slip surface.

4) Keep a towel handy for those inevitable spills.  You probably can’t see in the pics, but his shirt is soaked from the chest down.

5) Provide a variety of containers to fill and dump.

When your little engineer is finished experimenting with water, use the cleanup as a teaching moment.  Show them how to put away their containers.  Show them how to wipe up the water on the counter or floor with a towel.  Show them that their clothes are wet and walk them through changing into dry ones.  They will be learning the consequences of their actions and what to expect the next time.

Oliver loves playing in the sink and wants to move up to the kitchen sink and sprayer now.   The day he gets his hands on the sink sprayer is the day I submit my first video to America’s Funniest Home Video!

Over $750 Saved by Shopping at Consignment Sale

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

It’s taken us almost a week to clean our consignment sale finds, organize the new items, and put away the old.  We went out and bought 6 more clear Rubbermaid bins to store the things that Oliver’s either too old or too young for.  The clear bins let us see in an instant what is inside each box.  This is incredibly helpful as we recycle the items for Evelyn as she grows into them.

Oliver loved these trucks.  They are in perfect condition and look like they were never used. 

I searched for toys appropriate for a 2 year old.  The gear board is for an older child, but we couldn’t resist spinning gears for Oliver.  We picked up the cutest little tin lunchbox for him to tote his toys in when we travel or go on playdates.  He hasn’t quite figured out what the See N Say is supposed to do, but hey – it spins!  The xylophone is surprisingly in key.  We will bring it out when we have our music days along with the other instruments we’ve picked up from each sale.  The bowling set will be excellent for building his gross motor skills.  He hasn’t figured out how to roll yet, but we still have tons of fun knocking them down.

At every sale we look for wood puzzles or wood Melissa & Doug learning games.  A few of these items are too advanced for him and will go up in the attic, such as the alphabet puzzle, farm maze, and lacing game.  The rest are right up his alley and were even brand spanking new!  None of these items were over $3.

Bring on the books!  I also hit up the book section at every sale to keep adding to our library.  Oliver loves reading, eating, and drooling on board books.  Right now he is big into trucks, cars, and anything with wheels.  He also likes animals.  All of the books are used, some gently, others not so.  Most of the books come packaged together.  For example, we got 3 Touch and Feel books for $1, 3 Things That Go books for $2, and 5 Truck and misc books for $2.  The advanced books go up in our attic.

There’s even stuff for mommy to read!  I’m also slowly building up our flashcard and educational items box.  The kids are too young for them now, but they may be useful in the future.  The flashcards were about $1 a box.

The more expensive items were still a great deal!  We found the high chair that we wanted for Evelyn.  It straps to your kitchen chair and saves the floor space from having a standalone high chair.  Oliver has his potty, so we can start teaching him how to “go” and I finally have a real diaper bag!  It’s taken me this long to figure out what configuration I need and lo and behold, the first bag I picked up suits me to a tee!  I can finally get rid of the free hospital bag that’s starting to wear through at the bottom.

Oliver’s most loved new item is his train table.  He literally spends hours each day playing with it.  I help him put the tracks together and then we run the trains around it.

He also likes his bead wire toy.  The hubby says he’s never known a child that actually plays with these things, but our son loves sliding the beads along the wires.  And guess what?  The beads spin! :-)

That’s pretty much all we purchased at this sale.  I didn’t get pictures of the shoes, the play kitchen and play food.  We spent $250 and ended up blowing our budget by $50.  I found the prices for most of the items brand new and they totalled $1,014.87.  I did not add in the costs of all the individual books, the trucks, some toys, the shoes, or all the play food.  Buying secondhand, we saved well over $764!  I dare say that we are closer to $1,000 if I were to go back and include the other items.

Here are the take aways from this post:

1) Consignment sales are our biggest money saver.  Please check them out yourself.

2) One person’s junk is another person’s treasure.  Please don’t throw away your items.  Become a seller, earn some money and make other frugal families happy.

3) Plan, plan, plan and be organized.  I asked for help from the blogging community before we went to the sale on what to buy a 2 year old.  I did research online and asked friends who have kids.  By creating a list, we were able to maximize our savings and only buy what we wanted/needed.  If you do not, I garuntee you will get overwhelmed, start impulse shopping, and spend way more than you wanted.

For reference, here’s my price list.  Most of the items I found the exact same brand online.  For a few, I picked the closest match:

roller coaster bead maze by anatex – 69.99
bowling 24.99
mother goose 14
take and play thomas 22.99
gears 39.99
cups 5.99
xylophone 36.95
summer infant step by step potty 21.99
diaper bag 30.79
kitchen 78.99
pots and pans 24.97
baking 24.97
plates 24.97
high chair 64.99
zoo – 25.99
abc – 14.99
farm puzzles – 11.99
magnet fish – 12.99
lacing 9.99
large peg – 14.99
farm maze – 16.99
touch and feel 6.99
big truck – 5.99
can you see – 13.99
bb flash cards 5.49
eric carle flash – 15.95
play food step 2 101 piece set 39.99
play food small world 19.99
lunch box 11.99 tin
transforming train and activity table – 140.00
120 piece train set – 120.00
fisher price trike – 39.99

Soundoff: Tornado Touched Down in our Living Room

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Argh!  Evelyn is letting you know how we are feeling this weekend with the state of our house.  Our house is packed with items that we need to clean, sort, put out, and store after shopping at the consignment sale.  Combined with the mess from swapping rooms last week, the family is going nuts with the chaos.  The hubby went out and bought a dozen storage bins to get us organized.  Between that and laundry we have been up to our eyeballs today with housework.

Tomorrow we are both working at the consignment sale to pay our dues for shopping early.  My hubby is pulling the morning security shift and I get the late evening sorting shift after the sale closes.  It will be interesting to see how Evelyn will take to her bottle when I’m gone for 5 or 6 hours.  So far she’ll only drink an ounce or two at the most, and that’s in between all the screaming she does.  Oliver has come down with a cold, so we expect tomorrow to be rough.

On the bright side, Evelyn is more vocal than ever.  Whenever she’s awake, she likes to squeal, coo, and make noise in general.  Oliver was an intense, quiet little dude in comparison. Evelyn loves, loves, loves looking at her brother.  She breaks out in a big grin whenever she sees him.  I can’t wait until she is old enough to interact with him.  I can already tell that he’s going to be her hero.

We are going to pull through this weekend somehow and I’ll be posting our consignment sale finds next week.  I want to do a little price comparison to show how much can be saved at these sales.  I also have a nice cheesy, meaty dip recipe to post in time for Super Bowl Sunday.  It’s an old family secret, so don’t tell my folks!

Hope you are having a great weekend!

Frugal Food: Crispy Upside Down Roast Chicken

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Upside down roast chicken

We love roasting a whole chicken in the oven, especially when we’ve bought the chicken for 49 cents a pound! 

This family fave is a classic recipe turned upside down – literally.  Roasting a chicken breast side down in a rack and then flipping it halfway through cooking yields crispy skin all over and juicy white meat.  The recipe is my own design.  Feel free to experiment with your own spice blend.

Ingredients:

5 – 6 lb whole chicken – rinsed and patted dry with paper towels (Crispy secret #1)
1 Tbsp kosher salt (use half this amount for table salt)
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp thyme
zest of 1/2 a lemon
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 – 2 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cooking time, 1 hr 30 min (45 min per side) for a 5-6 lb bird, 1 hr (30 min per side) for a 3-4 lb bird.

In a small bowl, mix together the spices and lemon zest.  Pre-baby, I used to add cayenne pepper to the mix for some zing.  In another bowl, whisk together the oil and lemon juice.

Most people season the outside of the chicken.  I like to season under the skin of the chicken as well.  This not only adds to the flavor of the breast and thigh meat, but it will cause the skin to crisp up nicely in the oven (Crispy secret #2).

Carefully slide your fingers under the skin over the breast.  Use your fingers to break the clear connective membrane holding the skin to the meat.

Gently lift the skin covering the entire breast and thigh area.  You can see in my photo the skin slightly split.  This is due to me being unable to take pictures with my left hand at the same time that I’m feeling a chicken up with my right.

Make sure your chicken is nice and dry (Crispy Secret #1).  If the skin is wet when you put it in the oven, it will take extra time for the water to cook out and the skin to dry before it will start to crisp.  Drizzle the lemon juice/olive oil mixture over the chicken and work it into the skin.  Make sure you do the back and get some juice under the skin and over the breast.

Spoon some spice under the skin and rub it into the breast and thigh meat.

Use the rest of the spice mixture to season the outside of the chicken.   Don’t be shy.  Rub it into all the nooks and crannies, the chicken doesn’t mind.

Crispy secret #3 – put the chicken on a rack in the roasting pan upside down.  Put it in the oven for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, pull the chicken out and admire the crispy behind.  Baby got some serious back!  

Carefully lift the chicken and flip it breast side up.  I have these large rubber heat resistant gloves from Ronco.  I’ve also used a wooden spoon in the cavity combined with tongs and also plain old (clean) potholders.  (Note: please wash the potholders before using again) 

After another 45 minutes, pull out your beautiful bird.  Yum! 

Use an instant read thermometer and make sure the thigh meat registers 180.  Transfer the chicken to a plate and tent with foil for 10 minutes.  Letting the chicken rest lets the meat cells close up to lock in the juices.  If you were to cut into the chicken right away all the juice would run out leaving you with dry meat.  Speaking of juices, you can make a gravy or pan sauce out of the drippings in the pan if you wanted.

And the final verdict?  Frugal – our chicken cost just under $3 at 49 cents per pound – and delicious – Oliver gave this 2 thumbs up –  it was frugalicious!

After you finish picking apart your bird do NOT throw away the carcass.  Stick that and the bones into a ziplock bag and throw it into the freezer for chicken soup.  I’ll be posting that recipe some other Friday.

Day One of Consignment Sale

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

We survived the sale with all pieces intact!  This is a pic of us leaving before they even open the doors for the regular volunteers who are lined up in the distance.

The hubby got there about 1 1/2 hours before they opened the doors for the super work exchangers (people volunteering 2 or more shifts).  There were probably a couple hundred people in line to get in early.  The kids and I swooped in 30 minutes prior to checkin, get our gear ready, and rev up our engines.

Our first stop was the large item area where we scored with an awesome train table for Oliver.  He is going to LOVE playing with it when we get it set up.  We paid $50 and it came with a 120 piece train set, activity paper, and 2 stools.  The train table transforms into an art/activity table.  Retail price is $140 for the table and $120 for the train set.

Next stop was outdoors for the riding toys.  Oliver loved this part.  I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head.  Wheels, wheels everywhere!

I was tempted to get this little rocker for $5.  It took him a minute to figure it out, but he loved it.  Instead, I’m opting for a bouncy rocking horse on springs some day.

He liked this little trike and is able to push himself around.  For $3 it wasn’t a bad find.

We then journeyed into the big building and wow!  They had mountains of stuff piled on hundreds of tables.  Thankfully we had our lists and headed off to our sections.  Otherwise, we’d be totally overwhelmed.

At this consignment sale they had shopping carts, which was the only way we could have done it with 2 kids.  The hubby had our handtruck/rubbermaid bin contraption and I pushed the kids around.  If we had packed our double stroller in the van we wouldn’t have had any room for our goodies.

Oliver did really well for about the first hour.  Evelyn lasted about 30 minutes and then it was meltdown city.  I carried her in a sling for a bit and that didn’t work!  We headed for the nearest exit after 1 1/2 hours of shopping.  They hadn’t even let in the regular volunteers yet! 

I dropped off the kids with the hubby and jumped back into the fray to finish shopping.  I stayed for another 2 hours or so and it was madness when the regular volunteers joined in.  I’ll have to save that story for another day. 

As we clean up our stuff this weekend, I’ll post some pics and you can see if we came in under budget or not!

Consignment Sale Here We Come

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

We devised our gameplan for tomorrow, have arranged meeting times, and have blocked out sale strategy.  I think we are ready for the big consignment sale tomorrow!

Thanks to some great suggestions from my readers, I have come up with a short list of items that we will look out for:  (the items in bold are our target items, the rest are just extra ideas in case we see them)

halloween costumes for dress up and pretend play
trains, cars, firetrucks, construction vehicles and anything with a remote control
melissa & doug learning toys and puzzles
books
, flashcards, learning items
bead and wire cube
musical instruments
large outdoor play items
something Oliver can ride and push himself
small train table
pretend kitchen set
potty
compact high chair that straps onto kitchen chair
1 more baby gate
shoes for Oliver and 2T shorts for summer
twilight sea turtle
puppets
foam blocks
step stool
learn to dress toys
Montessori materials

Evelyn doesn’t have anything on the list except for the high chair.  The hubby seems to think I’m going to go nuts buying girlie stuff for her.  I told him the Barbie dolls don’t come until later… :-)

The hubby is getting off work early to stake out our place in line 2 hours before they open the doors.  I’m bringing the kids 1/2 hour before opening.  I plan to carry Evelyn in the baby sling, put Oliver in a shopping cart, and the hubby will haul our handtruck and rubbermaid bins.  We’ll go for the bolded items first and then the hubby will split with the kids leaving me behind for the little stuff.

Our goal is to find age appropriate toys for Oliver in the 2 year old range and to round out his 2T clothing stores.  At home we will be packing up all the 1 year old toys and bringing down the baby toys from the attic.  Come the next big sale in July, we will finally start selling our baby gear as Evelyn outgrows them!  Our budget is $200.

In theory, this should go off without a hitch.  In practice, someone just might get hurt tomorrow! (just kidding)  I’ll let you know how we did on Thursday.  Tomorrow, there will be no post as we will be recovering.

Toddler Activity: Preparing Strawberries for a Snack

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Yummy Strawberries

My son is 19 months old and according to the Montessori way he is old enough to help prepare his own snacks.  He already sets his own table, carries milk from the fridge, and fills his glass from a carafe, so why not let him help with the fruit?

I prewashed the strawberries first to ensure they were clean no matter what Oliver did.  I then set up a strawberry washing station on the counter.  One bowl with the “dirty” strawberries on his left, one bowl with clean water in the middle, and one bowl for the clean strawberries on his right.  I placed a towel under the 3 bowls to catch any spills and then taught him how to methodically wash the strawberries.

He loves water play and was fascinated with “washing” the strawberries.  He took them one at a time from the dirty bowl, dunked them in the water, and placed them in the clean bowl.  When he was done, I reset the station for picking off the leaves.  The whole strawberries were on his left, the discard plate in the middle, and the final bowl to his right.

He industriously picked off each and every leaf from the strawberries.  He spent a good 25 minutes at this task until he was finished.  Afterwards, he clapped his hands and was so happy with himself! :-)

Eating Strawberries

I cut up the berries and he poured himself some milk for a nice mid-morning snack.  I was able to teach him a practical life skill, he learned a new task, built up his confidence, and was thoroughly absorbed for an hour sans TV.  A win-win for all!

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