Monday, March 30, 2015

Mommy and Me Recipes

Mom and Me Recipes

Every kid loves helping mommy bake, but it can be a challenge to find fun recipes that don't involve cutting. Here are three ideas you're sure to have fun with, and are safe for even the youngest child.

Muffin cookies are a favorite in my house. The kids think they're getting spoiled, but I know they're getting some good stuff too. Simply pick any muffin recipe you like, prepackaged or homemade. Make according to the directions, adding fresh or frozen fruits, we like blueberries. Mix together and place on a cookie sheet instead of in a muffin pan. Bake for one to two minutes less than directions. They look like cookies, but have less sugar. The kids will love the treat they helped mix!

Another fun creation is rainbow cupcakes. Again, pick your favorite cake mix, and prepare according to directions. Separate the batter into three or four small bowls. Add a few drops of food coloring to each bowl. Red, blue, green and yellow are the easiest to make. Stir together until you reach desired color. Pour each color into the cupcake molds individually. The batter is thick and won't run together. Bake according to directions. When the cupcakes come out, you will have layers of color in each one. Kids can also decorate the cupcakes, or simply enjoy their rainbow creation.

My favorite childhood recipe was dirt cake. For this, you'll need Oreos, chocolate pudding, and gummy worms. To make it look authentic, mix in a flower pot with a plastic inner. First, mix chocolate pudding according to package direction and chill. Next, take the Oreos and put them in a large plastic bag. Have the kids crush the cookies to look like dirt. It can be a fine powder, or have large chunks. Just let the kids have fun with it. Take about half of the Oreo crumbs and pack tightly in the bottom of the pot. Now, layer in some chocolate pudding. Next, place a thin layer of gummy worms on top of the pudding. Add one more layer each of Oreo crumbs and pudding, saving some Oreos for the top. Crumble the remaining Oreo Mix on top, and add a few  worms. Chill for an hour to set. Now you have a dirt cake that's safe for the kids to enjoy!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cupcake Cones And Cake Balls

Baking with your children can be both fun and creative. A fun way to satisfy your creativity and your child's sweet tooth is to bake Cupcake Cones. The recipe is simple, and you can decorate any way you like. Great for bake sales, family events, or just a rainy day at home.

What you'll need:
Aluminum foil
Ice cream cones
Cake mix
Muffin/Cupcake tray

The recipe:
Buy your favorite cake mix and prepare according to package directions. Wrap the ice cream cones in aluminum foil and fill 2/3 full with batter. Set the cones in the muffin tray. Depending on the size of your tray or balance skills, you may need to add more foil around the sides of the cones to keep them from falling over.
Bake according to package directions and let cool. Decorate as much as you like. If you want to get the "ice cream cone" look, you can use decorator's frosting with a wide tip and swirl around the top. You can also use any can of whipped frosting and swirl with a spoon. Top with sprinkles, cookie crumbs or candies.

Another fun recipe is cake balls. For this, you will need:
Cake Mix
Vanilla Frosting
Lollipop sticks
Powdered Sugar

The recipe:
Again, buy your favorite cake mix and bake according to package directions. Allow to cool for at least an hour. Once cooled, crumble the cake in a large bowl with your hands. Don't be afraid to get a little messy! Add 1/2 can of vanilla frosting to the bowl, and mix with your hands. If it seems too dry, add more frosting.
Roll the mix into 1-in balls, approximately 25. Place the balls on wax paper and insert the lollipop stick.

To make the icing:
Mix 4 Tbs. of water with 2 cups powdered sugar. Stir until smooth. You may add cocoa powder for a chocolate flavor.
Dip the balls into the icing and return to the wax paper. Add sprinkles, mini candies, or cookie crumbs if you wish. Allow to dry so the icing will harden. If transporting the balls, wrap in plastic wrap and secure with a ribbon for your very own cake lollipops!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

How To Get Organized

How To: Get Organized

Getting organized is a challenge everyone faces from day to day. Whether it be organizing your house, your closet, your office- something is always in need of a little help. I have been tackling the task of organizing my house, and it's been a long process. I've gathered some tips that may help you get organized once and for all.

Organizing The Closet

This has always been my biggest challenge. I can never find what I am looking for, and often arrive late and disheveled after a frantic search to find the right outfit. I have since re-configured my closet to better suit my needs.

Tip #1 - Assess your space. Do you share a closet or are you blessed with a walk-in all your own? Do you have shoes laying all over the floor with no home, or hundreds of empty hangers with clothes scattered around the room? Once you know what the problem is you are better equipped to fix it. If you have an undying love of shoes, invest in a sturdy shoe rack large enough to hold your current stash, with room to grow for your next great find. If you have thousands of t-shirts and only three nice blouses, a hanging organizer may better suit your needs. If you keep all accessories, such as belts, scarves, handbags and jewelry in your closet, consider building a shelf for the handbags, and hanging hooks for belts and scarves. Once you have a basic plan laid out, you can pay more attention to details. Do you want your clothes sorted by season, or perhaps colors? Do you plan in entire outfits or separate pant from tops? If you like to plan in terms of outfits, a few pant hangers will do wonders for your morning routine. Pair the top and pants together, and just grab-and-go in the morning. If you have a varying work schedule, you may want to plan according to the day. You can find closet rod organizers at any mass retailer. See how to make your own simple closet dividers.

easy diy closet dividers adultIf Friday is "Jeans Day" at work, put your favorite pair behind the Friday tag. If you know you have an interview on Tuesday, place your suit behind the Tuesday tag. Whatever system you choose, make sure it works for you. If you know you won't sort through colors when putting laundry away, a color-coded closet won't stay neat for long. If you like to options, chances are a weekly plan of outfits will fall through. See how we organize outfits for the week here.

Tip # 2- Take it all out! Once you've decided on a system and bought the necessary supplies, take everything out of the closet. Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.
Take this opportunity to go through your clothes. If you haven't worn it in a year, get rid of it. I make 3 piles, with three labeled bins. Charity, Trash, Keep. If it's in decent shape, but you just don't love it, put it in the charity bin. There's no need to keep things you won't wear, it's only taking up space. That holey pair of underwear, on the other hand, can go straight into the trash. Only put back in your closet what you know you will wear. If it doesn't fit, and hasn't for a while, toss it.
You don't need a daily reminder of any weight lost or gained. The only things that should be in your closet are clothes you fit and love. Donate everything else (except for those underwear!)

Tip #3- Have your organization system installed before you put anything away. Don't hang up all the clothes then attempt to rearrange the outfits. It will only stress you out and cause more work. Once your system, whether it be daily outfits, types of clothing, or business/casual wear is in place- you're ready to put it all back.

Tip #4- Re-assess. Once everything is put away, take another long look at your closet. Is everything easy to reach? Do you like the organization system and can keep it up? Be proud of your work. You have just tackled the black hole of bedrooms, and streamlined your morning routine.

Organizing the Kids' Rooms

This was a daily issue at my house. It took three times as long to get the kids ready. Digging through drawers to find clothes that fit, rummaging through the toy box for a lost shoe, and, my personal favorite, tearing a room apart to find the lost sippy cup or teddy bear. I needed the space to be workable. My kids needed to be able to find their socks and shoes, have a place for all the toys, and for me not to stub my toe every night at bedtime. Here's how we handle shoes.
The task seemed daunting, and as much as I wanted it done, I continued putting it off. Where should I start? How can I make the most of my space? I made countless drawings of room layouts, toy box placement, and clothing arrangement. I finally devised a plan, and got it all done in a few short hours. The first step was to once again, remove everything. I pulled all the furniture, toys, and clothes out of the room. I needed to start from scratch. The dressers were the easy part. I went to the dollar store and picked up several clear plastic bins.
I designated two drawers to hold all the socks, shoes, underwear, burp rags, bibs and hats. Each bin was labeled and placed in the drawer. I began sorting the mountain of clothes. I had a different bin for each child's socks, all bibs and hats were in one bin, and my burp cloths were neatly folded and easily accessible. It was a dream come true. No more searching for matching socks in the right size. That would cut 10 minutes from day right there!
Then came the toys. I went through all the toy boxes, throwing away anything broken and donating anything the kids didn't play with anymore. You'd be surprised how many toys kids have! All the cheap kids meal toys-gone. Those stuffed animals from three years ago? Gone. I reduced it from 3 toy boxes to 1. This alone would cut clean up time in half. Then it was time for the rest of the clothes. If it didn't fit it went in the donation bin. I had a drawer for pajamas, a drawer for pants/shorts, a drawer for shirts/dresses, and the bottom drawer was things that were still too big but would fit soon. This made my life a lot easier. On to the furniture. All bedding was washed and carefully re-assembled into the masterpiece pictured on the original packaging. I knew it wouldn't stay that way long, but it looked so much better.All furniture was wiped down with disinfecting wipes. I has a small set of plastic drawers on top of the dressers. This held lotions, diaper creams, thermometers, hair bows, and band-aids for easy access. No more hunting down a matching bow or scrambling for a band-aid with a screaming child. My life was getting better by the second. A few decorative pictures and strategically placed stuffed animal and voila! A new clean room for the kids.
You can see our updated toy storage here. 

Organizing The Bathroom

 This is where things got tricky. I had to make sure everything was withing my reach, but all cleaning supplies and medicines were safely tucked away. I went back to the dollar store for more bins. This time I opted for mesh and plastic bins with holes. I needed a way to store the bath products and a bin that could still get air, to avoid mold. I got bright colors to match the decor. The first bin held all 600 bottles (or so it seemed) of bubble bath, foam soap, shampoo and shaving creams. The second bin was for bath toys and sponges. We seem to have a growing collection of these. Having them all in one place made bath time easier. The kids could each pick out a toy, or I could dump the entire contents in the tub. After the bath, they would help put them back in the bin and make clean up easier.
Next up was the cabinet space. In our bathroom, we had only a small medicine cabinet behind the mirror. Simply not enough space for a family of five. We got a tall, thin set of Rubbermaid drawers to go next to the sink. Again, safety was the top priority. All razors, medications and other sharp objects went in the highest drawer. In the middle went the hairdryer and other appliances. The bottom drawers were make-up (not what I want the kids playing with, but at least it wouldn't hurt them) and extra soaps, toothpaste/toothbrushes, and hair brushes. On the top "shelf" we had a cup that held everyone's toothbrush and the bottle of toothpaste. We like to have these sitting out as a constant reminder for good oral hygiene. All surfaces were wiped with disinfecting wipes and a few candles made it an inviting space. Everything had a place, and we all knew where to find it. This made mornings and bedtimes slightly easier. As long as you have 5 people and 1 sink, things are always going to be a little crazy.
Our bathroom closet in our new house

It make take a day of work, but organizing your house is well worth it. Think about how much time you waste now looking for things and scrambling to get it all together in the morning. Once you've learned the basic steps, you can apply them to any space. Assess the needs of the space, devise a plan and organization system, pull it all out, then only put back what is needed. You can have your home cleaned up and working like it should in no time!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Groceries On A Budget

Groceries on a Budget

In today's economy, we often struggle to stretch our dollar even further. One of the biggest parts of every household budget is the grocery bill. You don't have to live off Ramen noodles and water to save money on food. You just need to make a plan and stick to it.

Before you ever step foot in the store, make a weekly plan. Decide what meals you will make and list all ingredients needed. Be sure to check your pantry for items you already have, so you don't buy things you don't need. Once you have a plan in place, set a budget and stick to it. This gets easier every week. I make a detailed list of everything we need, and the price for each item. If you don't know the exact price of every item, that's okay. You will learn a lot on your first trip, so be sure to bring a pen & paper, and a calculator. Write down the price of items your family buys regularly, like milk and eggs. This will help with your weekly budget.

Once you have your list, with prices, pick the right time to go to the store. Saturdays are usually over crowded, and you may feel rushed and tempted to break the budget. Sunday nights are usually “stocking nights” so many items will be out of stock while the attempt to re-stock everything. A weekday, if possible, is best. Leaving the kids at home will also help. It's hard enough to shop with kids distracting you, but it's even harder when comparison shopping.

You're off to the store, list in hand. Know what you need, get it and get out. Don't check the clearance aisle or wander about the store. You don't need temptation. Be sure to take your time looking for things. Stores know you're in a hurry when shopping, and often put the most expensive things at eye level. Check the top and bottom shelves for the best bargains. Don't just buy cookies because they are on sale. However, if something is on sale that is on your list regularly, you can stock up-within reason. Don't buy three gallons of ice cream if you know it will go bad before you use it. Canned vegetables, noodles, and other dry goods don't expire as quickly. If you know you make spaghetti every Thursday, and noodles are on sale, buy a few. This will cut some from next week's budget. Just don't go overboard.

Don't forget about that calculator! Price compare items you buy often. If it will save money to buy larger quantities, then buy more. Make sure you're getting a good deal. The smaller pack may be ten cents less, but if you get double the food in a larger pack, that's a better deal. Taking time to price compare and really think about what you need can save you lots of money. After a few weeks, you will know the best deals, what items you need, and you can spend half the time and still save money.

Think of it like this: you can spend $50 on a dinner out, or you can spend $10 for lasagna and salad at home.
You can save lots of money by eating in more and planning meals ahead. Convenience foods, such as prepackaged snacks and frozen dinners, may be easier but cost a lot more. You can buy a 5 pound log of ground beef and separate it at home into individual portions. By freezing items you buy in larger quantities you can save money and time. Instead of buying prepackaged snacks, buy a large box of crackers or other snack foods, and separate into plastic bags. The same works with pre-cut fruits and vegetable. They may be easier, but five minutes of cutting at home can save you big money. Convenience often costs more.

It is possible to live on a budget and still get everything you need. Money saved on groceries can be used to pay off debts, buy something nice, or put toward a family vacation. The savings add up. Just remember to be prepared. Plan your meals, make a list, and stick to your budget. You'll be surprised at how much you can save.