Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Road Trip Food: Homemade Cereal Bars

What would a road trip be without some kind of yummy snack? So my fun "extra" to take along with us are some homemade cereal bars.

Back in the fall my husband and I were brainstorming some healthy snack options... we both love granola bars (I've loved making our own over the last year), but I have a sweet-tooth and those don't always quite meet the craving. I like the various trail mix & cereal bars, so I decided to try making some at home since I've found great deals on boxes of cereal with coupons/sales. Basically using the Rice Crispy Treat recipe on the bag (1 bag of marshmallows melted w/ 3 tablespoons of butter, mixed with 6 cups of cereal), I've come up with all kinds of combos.

Today I made a batch using Kashi's GoLean Crunch Toasted Berry Crumble (is that a long enough name, or what?). And they taste amazing... I would add a little bit more cereal next time since they are gooier than usual, but overall it was a hit. I added sprinkles on top just to make them special for the kids.

Other cereals we've used have been Cheerios Multigrain, Cheerios Multigrain with Peanut Butter, Cinnamon Toast Crunch (regular & peanut butter), Cheerios Medley something... Basically, whatever you think sounds good. Some of the things I have added (not all these at once... just a few in a combo at a time) are:

- chocolate chips
- chopped almonds/pecans
- raisins
- dried cranberries
- dried banana chips
- cinnamon
- a few tablespoons of peanut butter mixed in with the butter/marshmallows
- chocolate drizzled on top
- nuts crushed across the bottom of the pan (before the mixture is poured, so it creates a crunchy crust)

What would be some other fun additions? Do you have a good cereal bar recipe?

Road Trip Food: Homemade "Uncrustables" (Frozen PB&J Sandwiches)

After a morning on the beach and getting hot & sandy, neither preparing nor eating lunchmeat sandwiches sounds good, so instead I'm using it as a great reason to make another batch of Homemade "Uncrustables", or for those of you without kids under the age of ten, frozen peanut butter & jelly sandwiches without crusts, that thaw and are ready to eat by lunchtime

I make these probably once a month, they make such easy toddler lunches (and to be honest, mommy/daddy late night snacks) and since we are currently living with my parents during our time of transition from Ohio to Texas, I got to use her Pampered Chef Cut-N-Seal... it worked AMAZING and I have added it to my kitchen wish list. :-) Or the Wonder sandwich cutter mentioned here. Anyway, before I just cut them into squares and crimped the edges with a fork. This was a gazillion times faster and neater... Oh, and I discovered in my last batch (seriously, trial & error teaches me so much!) that it is also really easy when I use the squirt bottle of jelly...

One more day until we're on the beach! Maybe, just maybe, "mommy" is as excited to get away as the kids...

Road Trip Meal Plan (Beach Edition)

So we're getting away for 24 hours this week to have some family time and introduce our kids to the gorgeous Texas Gulf Coast... well, it's not exactly the Caribbean, but it's sandy beaches and salty water. And since I'm a native Texan, I can't wait to introduce my kids to some local spots I visited in my childhood.

Keeping this trip on the frugal side, here's the meal plan for our five meals on the road:

Breakfast #1: Homemade "Egg McMuffins" (me and my husband, Nathan) and whole wheat banana nut mini-muffins (the kids)

Lunch #1: Homemade "Uncrustables", chips, and oranges

Supper #1: Barbecue Pulled Pork sandwiches in the crockpot (warming during afternoon quiet time in the hotel), carrots & dip, homemade cereal bars

Breakfast #2: the hotel continental breakfast

Lunch #2: lunchmeat & cheese sandwiches, chips, grapes & apples (heading home after lunch)

Supper #2: DiGiorno pizza at home so we can unpack and clean up! :-)

CVS Facebook Freebie: Coupon for FREE full-size bottle of body wash

This won't last long: Head over the CVS Minute Clinic Facebook page and sign up for a FREE full-size bottle of body wash!

Thanks, Passionate Penny Pincher!

Road Trip Food: Homemade "Egg McMuffins"

We have been in a countdown the last week for our beach trip... My anxious 3yr. old son keeps asking, "Are we going to the beach now?" And today I got to tell him "Two more nights!"

We're squeezing in a 24 hr. beach trip later this week... Trying to catch some sand time before it gets blazing hot here on the Texas Gulf Coast, and before all the schools are officially let out everywhere. We're trying to make this a super-frugal trip, so I'm planning out meals and snacks to take with us.

I really, really love stopping for breakfast at McDonald's when we take road trips. But they don't have toddler-friendly breakfast items, and we could get to the beach quicker if we don't stop. Not to mention save some money. So I'm trying these Egg McMuffin sandwiches I saw on Pinterest... I tried the ones where you bake the egg in a muffin tin, then freeze, but didn't like how they tasted when they were thawed. So I'm trying  this new recipe...

I'll let you know how they turned out when we warm them up Thursday morning! For the kids, I'm packing some of their favorite banana bread mini-muffins... I know those will be a hit!

Favorite Homemade Cleaner #2.5: "Little Helper" Cleaner

If you have a little toddler who likes to "help" you around the house, try mixing some "cleaner" for your little helper. I am trying to learn how to include my son and daughter with tasks around the house, especially because they often want to help. I would be crazy to tell them no... Within reason, of course. But simple things like wiping counters, their little plastic picnic table, toys (Levi apparently thought his race tracks needed cleaning), etc... they can help.

Buy a cheap spray bottle (look in the travel section at Target or Walmart and you can find them for $1).

Mix 1 cup of water with 1/4 cup of white vinegar in the spray bottle.

Give them a rag or paper towel and let them work alongside you. Vinegar will be perfectly harmless if it gets on skin or is taste-tested by your helper...

I'm working on looking at my kids' hearts. Daily tasks often take longer with their "help" but I'm trying to find creative ways to invest in them. Got to take it one day at a time!

Favorite Homemade Cleaner #2: Homemade 409

I have two toddlers, 18m & 3 yrs. old.

In this season of life, depending on the day, I deal with lots of germs, sniffles, sticky fingers, spilled messes, along with the normal house cleaning that goes with keeping places like the kitchen and bathroom tidy. And I have two tiny tots who love to "help" me in those tasks.

So since I'd already gotten my feet wet in the world of making my own laundry detergent, I figured I could try this 409 recipe I saw over at the Frugal Girls... I now had Borax, which meant I had all the ingredients on hand! That felt like a first! (the other ingredients are white vinegar, Dawn dish soap, and water)

And I love it. I clean my kitchen counters, tile floors, bathroom counter, the kids table, their toys, outdoor stuff... it's kind of an all-purpose mess-cleaner and germ-killer!

And if you don't have any Dawn dishsoap on hand, go buy some. Don't skip that and try using anything else. Dawn seriously kicks-butt when cleaning. Other soaps just don't work the same.

My favorite spray bottle is from the gardening section in Target. They're $1.99, and I love them because the suction straw on the inside bends all the way down to the bottom of the bottle so you can spray at an angle and not spray air when you're getting low. But any 16oz spray bottle will work.

Thanks, The Frugal Girls!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Groupon: Houston Chronicle Sunday Subscription $25 or $49

I have been searching for a fantastic deal to subscribe to the Houston Chronicle Sunday newspaper. And Groupon just released it:

- $25 for 26 week Wednesday & Sunday subscription
- $49 for 52 week Wednesday & Sunday subscription

That's a little under $1 a week, so $4 a month. Since I regularly use coupons, that will pay itself off in just a few shopping trips! And I love just having the paper come on Sunday so I don't forget to stop and buy it...

Have fun!

* This post contains my Groupon affiliate link.

Favorite Homemade Cleaner #1: Powdered Laundry Detergent

If you had told me a few years ago that I would be making my own laundry detergent, I don't know that I would have even laughed. I probably would have just said, "Really? You can make laundry detergent?"

Well, I have been making my own detergent for almost a year. I originally was introduced by some friends who were making liquid laundry detergent, and with two small toddlers keeping my hands busy 24/7, that sounded too messy & time consuming, not to mention if my daughter pulled one of her magic tricks and got into the gunk (she is amazing at getting into things she's not supposed to, and taste-testing whatever she finds).

While hanging out with some other moms last year, a friend told us about the powdered laundry detergent she's been making for years. And since we were at her house, she decided to show us what it looked like and how to make it... It was so quick and easy I decided I had to try. Here's the recipe:

- 1 cup of Borax
- 1 cup of Washing Soda by Arm & Hammer
- 1 bar of Fels-Naptha soap, grated

Directions: Mix those three things together in a small air-tight tub. Use 1 tablespoon per load of laundry. If it's a really dirty large load of laundry, I'll use 1.5 tablespoons. But you seriously don't need more than that.

I was glad that my friend showed us what those ingredients looked like because I had never bought any of those items before... So if you're like me and might wonder where in the world you will find them and what they look like, that's why I included the picture above. And just for fun, I counted approximately how many tablespoons are in one batch: About 50. So that does 50 loads of laundry...

Here's what it looks like finished...
If you want to add extra scent just for the fun of it (but it adds to the price), you can sprinkle in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of Downy Unstoppables or Purex Crystals. But the mixture smells good without it, too. I had a free full-size sample of the Downy, so I decided to throw that in to some of my batches! (that's what those little blue dots are in the mixture)

So are you wondering where I bought this stuff? I bought all three things at Walmart. I've also seen the Borax & Washing Soda at Target, Giant Eagle, and HEB. All three things would be found in the laundry care section of a store.

The other question I'm asked about is the cost... I'm going to say it costs maybe $.03-$.04 a load w/o the Downy? It really depends on how much you spend on the ingredients. I am still on the same boxes of Borax and washing soda that I bought last summer.

If you've made homemade laundry detergent before, what ingredients do you use?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Gone with the old, learning the new...

Since I've made the big move from Ohio down to Texas, my shopping is changing a bit... I will locally be shopping and finding the deals at the following stores:

- Target
- H-E-B (grocery store)
- Kroger (grocery store)
- CVS (drug store)

Unfortunately, I no longer will get to shop at the following stores because they aren't in the area...

- Giant Eagle (grocery store)
- Aldi (grocery store)
- Rite Aid (drug store)

So we'll see how the sales & deals pair with coupons at these new places! I definitely already miss the doubling coupon policy at Giant Eagle (Neither the local Kroger or HEB double any coupons) and the fantastic produce prices at Aldi... However, I'm already loving CVS more than Rite Aid because the ECB last for a month intead of the two week time period at Rite Aid... Gives me a chance to wait for the best deals!

Ohio to Texas... Different place, same me...

This blog has been quiet for over a year now... a few random book reviews, a few sale deals, but I haven't been able to focus on blogging in the midst of other life things going on. Hopefully in the coming weeks, that will slowly change. My heart really wants to be back in the blogging saddle. Since I practically fell of the face of the blogging world, let me put myself back on the map...

I am a stay-at-home momma with two toddlers: Levi is 3 and Ellie is 18m. I was born and raised in Texas, and broke southern tradition by marrying a "yankee" from Ohio (and if you're wondering how in the world we met, yep, we met at college in Chicago...). We've been happily married for five years and have had quite a few adventures. So incredibly thankful to get to walk life with a man who challenges me, laughs with me (and sometimes at me in my crazy moments), loves me (even in my crazy times), encourages me, and just in general blesses my life. I look forward to many more years to come!

We are in a time of job transition right now and have moved from Ohio down to Texas to be nearer to my family. We're currently living with family while we get established here. I'm learning a "new" area of stores, and I really want to start blogging again while so many of the basics of couponing are surfacing again in my mind. "Social media" like blogs & Facebook offer us the opportunity to learn new things from one another. So much of what I have learned about living life well and managing my money has been from watching others in my life, talking with people who I admire how they live, and following a few favorite bloggers. I think almost every time I use coupons at a store, I end up in a conversation with the cashier or another person in life about how coupons have changed my family's budget & lifestyle.

So I am a "couponer". And I love talking to others about it... Here are a few of my other favorite things:

- Spending time outside in sunshine. Whether it's the woods, lake, river, beach, park... 
- Love camping in a tent with family and/or friends.
- Crocheting
- Sewing
- Drinking coffee w/ creamer
- Hanging out with family
- Visiting places with cool history
- Wearing beachy colors like turquoise, coral, royal blue, lime green, white...
- Wearing flip-flops and having bright pink toenail polish
- Listening to swing/big band music from the 40's & Michael Buble
- Teaching/Speaking to groups of women & teenage girls at church about how God has created us each unique, beautiful, and valuable
- Saying "no" to some things I could spend money on, so I can say "yes" to things we love!

Things I'm not wild about:
- Folding laundry
- Doing dishes
- Staying only at home (I'm not a "home-body"---love having a peaceful, warm home, but enjoy getting out and about!)
- Scrapbooking & cardmaking (I have to stick with sewing & crocheting... Working with paper stresses me out so much I finally had to give up--I will leave it to my really gifted friends!)
- Cooking gourmet meals... I like simple recipes that I can double to freeze an extra meal for later!
- Shopping for clothes (I like cute clothes, but the process of finding cute clothes that fit me in my price range just about makes me hyper-ventilate)

So that's a little bit about me... What are things you love to do besides using coupons to save money?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Book Review: "Rules of Murder"

Coming out on August 1, 2013 is a new mystery novel "Rules of Murder" (A Drew Farthering Mystery)
 by Julianna Deering. Here is a taste of the story from the Amazon book description: 

"Downton Abbey Meets Agatha Christie in This Sparkling Mystery

Drew Farthering loves a good mystery, although he generally expects to find it in the pages of a novel, not on the grounds of his country estate. When a weekend party at Farthering Place is ruined by murder and the police seem flummoxed, Drew decides to look into the crime himself. With the help of his best friend, Nick Dennison, an avid mystery reader, and Madeline Parker, a beautiful and whip-smart American debutante staying as a guest, the three try to solve the mystery as a lark, using the methods from their favorite novels.

Soon, financial irregularities at Drew's stepfather's company come to light and it's clear that all who remain at Farthering Place could be in danger. Trying hard to remain one step ahead of the killer--and trying harder to impress Madeline--Drew must decide how far to take this game."

"Rules of Murder" (A Drew Farthering Mystery) takes places in England in the 1920's. This book captures the eleganance and frivolity of the British nobility. While it comes from a modern author, within a few chapters I felt like I was getting to read another Agatha Christie mystery novel with the Christian faith gently woven in... not in a religious or heavy way, just part of one of the main characters lives. I honestly don't know that I've read anything modern that could compare with the British classic mysteries of Agatha Christie's time, so this one was such a fun delight, and I look forward to the next book by Julianna Deering! Especially if she continues on with the curiosity and sleuthing of Drew Farthering and his friends. 

Mark your calendars for August 1, 2013. Maybe put in a pre-order request at your library... this book will be well worth it. Some books were fun evening reads (yes, I do read a ton... so thankful for a Kindle so my bookshelves no longer suffer from being so cluttered!), and others are worth brewing a good cup of coffee or tea and sitting to savor the story. This book was filled with twists, turns, and conversations that made me slow down to just enjoy a well-written book.

If I had to rate this book on a scale of one to five, I would give it six stars. It was just that good.

* I received a copy of this book for free from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are strictly my own and nothing in this review was required or endorsed by Bethany House. This review may contain my affiliate links.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Review: "Trouble in Store" by Carol Cox

After reading "Love in Disguise", I wanted to read the next book by Carol Cox, "Trouble in Store" (Will be released June 1, 2013). So I was excited to get to read a copy before the release... And I enjoyed it quite a bit... In both of these books, Carol Cox has written historical romance fiction with new twists that somehow manage to follow, yet not follow, predictable plot lines.

In "Trouble in Store", Melanie is a young woman dismissed from her job, without any family to fall back on, so travels West to follow a standing offer of a home and job at a mercantile from her deceased cousin's partner... When she arrives, she discovers that he has also passed away, leaving his nephew with the store. With both Melanie and this man (Caleb) claim they have ownership of the store, sparks fly. In the midst of their daily battles, a man shows up dead on the porch of the store, so chaos and suspicion flies around the vigilante-prone town.

This was a fun, light read... Not shallow, but not in depth either. If you're looking for just a weekend read that doesn't trap you in the story, I'd recommend Love in Disguise first, then this book. I know it's kinda odd to say that, but I enjoyed Love in Disguise more. This book was good, just not a favorite, and reading time is valuable!

* I received a copy of this book for free from Bethany House publishers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Book Review: "Jennifer" by Dee Henderson

I have enjoyed the various books by Dee Henderson over the last decade, especially the O'Malley series, and her newest book Jennifer: An O'Malley Love Story
reminded me why: She artistically writes relational romances, not physical romances. If the couples in her books were real, they would be walking life together month by month, year by year, through the romantic highs as well as the heart-breaking sorrows and trials to come... not moving on to the next attractive person once the passion fizzles out.

I am an avid reader of Christian fiction (romance, advernture, mystery, sci-fi), and finding a good book to savor isn't easy to come by. "Jennifer" was one I will probably pick up again to slowly read through with a good cup of coffee. The main character, Jennifer O'Malley, is a doctor working with children battling cancer. This book introduces you to the heart behind an emotional career (the hope & joys, as well as the sadness & grief, of battling cancer) she loves, and the pleasure of watching a friendship develop between her and a fellow doctor. 

In the midst of this new relationship developing, Jennifer receives some personally devastating news. The O'Malleys are not a typical set of siblings... they all met in an orphanage as teens and banded together, then legally changed their last name to become a family that is tighter than most blood-related families. The new doctor that she meets, Tom, not only shares his medical passion for life, but also starts introducing her to Jesus, who loves her unconditionally regardless of her past and wants to walk with her in her future. But she's never wanted anything to do with God.

It's more of a novelette, a prequel to the previously published series The O'Malley Series by Dee HendersonJennifer is the youngest of the siblings, and her story is woven throughout the entire O'Malley series. This lays the groundwork for her story. And if you've previously read the O'Malley series years ago, you might find yourself reading them all over again... I'm just finished The O'Malley Series #3: The Truth Seeker. :-)

This is the type literature that our culture needs... To get a glimpse into a relationship that is built on friendship that deepens into love. To see two people seek out each other's hearts, build trust & respect with one another, and establish a foundation for a relationship that stands together no matter what comes. I definitely recommend this book to any other ladies look for a solid, quality romance to read. It's different from the other O'Malley books in that is has a lot less mystery/action because it's really just Jennifer's story.

Thank-you, Dee Henderson, for blessing your culture with quality books like this one! I now want to re-read the O'Malley series...

* I received a copy of this book for free from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are strictly my own.