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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month

I see these things all over Pinterest - "A Month of Freezer Meals," "Once a Month Cooking." I always wondered what they were about, but never took the time to look into these plans. When we realized that our lack of meal planning was causing us to spend 50-75% OVER our food budget each month, however, we needed to fix something.

I started surfing Pinterest for some ideas and quickly realized two things; there are A LOT of casseroles and most of them involve meat. It might just be me, but its been my experience that casseroles are on the harder side to make healthy without compromising taste and when it comes to saving money, mixing in some vegetarian dishes is good for the body and for your wallet. So, what to do....what to do.

I spend about 4 hours one night looking up recipes that would "freeze beautifully," if you will, but fit our ideal meal planning schedule....aka, not night after night of casserole. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my fair share of chicken cheese based gooey goodness, but c'mon.

We found 25 recipes that yielded 35+ meals that we threw in the freezer and have been thoroughly enjoying trying each night. The hardest part? Remembering to take dinner out of the freezer the night before!

Here are there recipes we pulled from...

Some things that we made that didn't necessarily need recipes...
  • Marinated Grilled Chicken (put in gallon sized freezer bags, for grilling)
  • Frozen waffles and pancakes (freeze on a cookie sheet, then put in freezer bags)
  • Sweet potato fries (freeze on cookie sheet, then put in freezer bags)
  • Breakfast smoothie kits (sliced fruit frozen on a cookie sheet, then put in small bags)

When it comes to marinating chicken ahead of time or creating burgers (to freeze between sheets of freezer paper, then bagging up) the possibilities are endless. Also, since we cooked a whole chicken for the shredded chicken in the enchiladas, we froze the resulting chicken stock in a silicone muffin tray. When frozen, when popped out the perfectly portioned 1 cup stock blocks for later use.

To freeze, we used a combination of zip top freezer bags and aluminum trays with lids. For soups and marinades, we froze the bags as flat as we could so they'd store easier later on. For things like meatballs, hamburgers, sweet potato fries, etc. we froze them flat on a cookie sheet for a few hours, then put them into a bag so they wouldn't stick together. And where do we put all of this food? Let's just say, I'm glad we have a chest freezer. Best $100 I've ever spent on Craig's List. 

For a long time I thought that I didn't have time for this whole "cook for 10 hours" thing and the truth is that I still don't. That doesn't mean we can't meal plan like this though. Jeff and I spent a few hours each night for 3-4 days and made all of this food. You know what? IT WAS SO MUCH FUN! Seriously, I hate cooking, but that week was the most time we've spent together and alone in a very long time. Will we do it every month forever onward? Who knows, but to some extent, we hope to cook together like this more often. 

So what does the family think of our new recipes? Its been awesome! Like I said, the hardest part now is choosing what to eat and remembering to thaw it in time. ;-) Our favorite recipe so far, hands down, has been the Spinach Lasagna Roll Ups. SO delicious. The kids even loved it and asked for seconds. 

If you think you can't do this, I promise that you can. There is no all or nothing when it comes to making freeze ahead meals - make a few, make a ton. Just make 1-2 for the week, or spend a weekend cooking for the next 6 weeks. Its up to you!

I'm going to keep on saving recipes that I love on Pinterest, so follow along if you want to see what we're whipping up!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Fitness Friday: T25 Week One

We finally started T25!!! ::throws confetti::

I never thought this week would ever come. We actually popped in the disc, moved the coffee table, and did the darn work out. Well, five days out of ::does math:: like a zillion, BUT you have to start somewhere.

Now, I need to impress upon you exactly how out of shape I am. I am slow, fairly uncoordinated, and I sound like a bull dog on a hot day when I work out. That being said, I am actually really enjoying this work out system thus far. It is simple(ish), there is a little countdown bar for each section, and most importantly, its quick! I mean, it feels like an eternity when you're doing burpees, but 25 minutes really isn't a lot of time when you think about it. It takes me longer to take a shower and pick out my clothes in the morning.

Now. I'm going to do something that most people would think is insane. I'm going to share my measurements. Hopefully, it'll keep me motivated to keep updating and moving further and further away from those numbers.

Start (5/19/14)

Weight: 160 lbs.
Bust: 42"
Waist: 39"
Hips: 42"
Thigh: 23.5"
Arm: 13"

So......42/39/42, that's like, an hour glass figure, right? You're not getting "before" pictures of my chubby, stretch marked ass. Don't even ask.

I'll update stats in 4 weeks (June 20th) and hopefully see some progress. I'm also participating with a Diet Bet with several friends and need to lose 4% of my body weight (about 7 lbs.) by June 15th. I can do this!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Super Why! Live

Despite not actually getting PBS, Charlie has a love for Super Why! thanks to Netflix. I mean really, its the perfect show for him and his obsession with the alphabet. As parents, there are definitely worse shows out there (Caillou, anyone?) so I guess we'll deal with it.

On Sunday, we met good friends at Sesame Place and as chance would have it, their rotating specialty show was Super Why! Live. Talk about making Charlie's day!

Now that is one happy boy. :)

The actors, spandexy. Eh, the show wasn't bad - I'll admit that. It wasn't like a regular episode and had several new songs, which was nice. Plus, nothing got stuck in my head afterwards. Score!

Other than the show, however, Sesame Place was kind of a bust. The weather was rather bipolar and couldn't decide if it was sweltering and sunny or cold and windy, meaning the water rides (about half the park) were out of the question. Almost half of the dry rides were under construction, leaving only a small number of things for the kids to ride.......meaning everyone and their Mom (literally) were in line for them. Waiting 45 minutes for anything is too long for a toddler. I remember going as a kid and loving the water rides, so maybe it would have been different if more was open.

Oh well, it was still nice to see friends and have a day out as a family!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Call for Guest Bloggers!

This summer, I would like to put together a series called, "Summer in the City" to showcase the family activities in some of the larger destination cities/areas around the country. I am only familiar with a few and I know there are some awesome bloggers out there!

It does not necessarily need to be a city you live in; it could be a city you frequent, grew up in, vacation to, or live nearby. The post can focus on any aspect(s) of the city or area as long as it includes information (and of course pictures!) about how families can have fun there.

If you're interested and have an idea for a city or have any questions, please let me know! You can email me here. Posts will go up the end of June and be shared via my Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Getting Ready for Summer

One of the perks of Jeff being a teacher is that he's off all summer long. Its a great opportunity for us to save on daycare costs since the kids drop down to 2 days a week (to hold our spot and so they can see their friends), but it means that he's home with them the other 3 days of the week for 10 weeks. That's a lot of time to fill! It was so much easier when it was just one tiny guy...

Now, I understand parents that stay home full time have mastered this whole keeping kids occupied thing, but Jeff hasn't exactly done that. His seasonal stay at home Dad status is redefined every year as the kids grow. To keep everyone busy (and happy) we're getting our selves ready with indoor and outdoor activities for them to do together without breaking the bank.

We are fortunate to have a gated patio for the kids to safely play. Along with the community garden and park nearby, this is where they'll spend most of their time. At the end of last summer, we stocked up on our favorite go to activities (bubbles and chalk) when everything went on clearance. I really love this idea for stick bubbles since they work super well, but get spilled all the time!

Charlie has been really into playing t-ball and soccer lately too, so having those things around will surely be a big hit. I'm still in the market for a pop up soccer net - hopefully Craig's List comes through for me on this one because I definitely don't want to spend $30 for one at WalMart.

We still have our Little Tikes Spiralin' Seas Waterpark which has been a big hit since we got it a few years ago and with the addition of our Step2 Fold and Play Jr. Slide and baby pool, our garden to work in, and a bunch of indoor ideas, we're set!

Here is our list of summer supplies and ideas thus far.

  • Bubbles
  • Chalk for drawing and games
  • Baby pool and water table
  • Pool toys, buckets and cups for pouring water, water balloons
  • Kid sized tools for gardening
  • Nature scavenger hunt
  • Soccer
  • T-ball
  • Bike riding
  • Catching (and releasing!) bugs
  • Fishing
  • "Camping" in the evening with the play pop tent
  • Tie dye

  • Blanket fort building supplies (flat sheets, clothes pins, etc.)
  • Play Doh, crayons, paint, and other art/craft supplies
  • Board games
  • Ball pit
  • Legos, puzzles, and tanagrams
  • Reading and making up stories
  • Movies (don't lie, this is important to have in your indoor arsenal)
  • Baking
  • Inside scavenger hunt
  • Games, making music, singing songs

Follow my "Stuck Inside Activities" and "Summer" Pinterest boards to keep an eye on the fun stuff I'm pinning and planning for the summer!

Follow Jen's board Stuck Inside Activities on Pinterest.

Follow Jen's board Summer! on Pinterest.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Toddler Sleep Torture

No, not torturing toddlers. That's just messed up. No, no being tortured BY toddlers. That's about where we are right now when it comes to sleep. Both of my kids are generally good sleepers; overall, I really shouldn't complain.....but I'm tired and I'm gonna.

The past few nights, between Ginny teething and Charlie...uh, I have absolutely no idea, its been rough getting some sleep. Last night was the worst yet - between the two of them, I think we were up from around 2AM until near 5AM, all after going to bed around 11PM. ::yawn::

First, Charlie woke up screaming for me, then Ginny woke up wailing. We got them both back down, but not long after, they were both up again crying. Charlie had no idea why he was up and was making every excuse in the world. Ginny just cried and kept pointing to our room, wanting to get in bed with us. Nuh uh girl - that is invite only, not nightly!

Diaper? Potty? Drink? TELL US. I feel like we needed one of these...

Thank you once again, Honest Toddler, for totally nailing it.

Eventually, Charlie went back to sleep, but Ginny was her persistent self and hung in there until almost 5AM. Another dose of Advil and giving in and giving her a bottle and she was out like a light.  ::sigh:: At least we gave in with the bottle and not putting her in our bed. I don't have a problem co-sleeping if they're sick or something is going on, but not at times like this. That's when habits form and she is NOT a calm sleeper. When she's in bed with us, someone's getting punched in the face by tiny fists.

Fast forward to tonight. We just finished dinner and now have two self destructing toddlers who have refused dinner and have spent the evening crying and picking on each other (and the poor dog).

Tonight, I vote early bed time...for everyone.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Fitness Friday: Half Marathon

No, I haven't actually run it, but I'm signed up for it! That counts for something, right?! Its not until mid-October, but I'm excited to have a goal on the calendar. With the weather getting nicer (and work slowing down slightly), I'm hoping to get back to running and start actually training for the half sometime in July. Never in a million years did I think I'd be attempting a half marathon, but what the heck, right?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Hand Painted Canvas Tutorial

I was asked to put my crafty skills to work and make a canvas print for a friend's wedding this coming weekend. They aren't putting together a seating chart for their guests and wanted a sign to indicate such. After a little Pinteresting, we found a cutesy poem to put on the canvas.

"Come as you are, 
stay as long as you can, 
we're all family, 
so no seating plan."

Awesome! the heck do I get it on the canvas? In the past, I've used a projector to trace and paint large things like Ginny's tree mural, but for lettering that would have been a nightmare. Then I remembered something I used to do when I was younger to "draw" pictures. If you trace the back of an image, then put it face down on a surface and rub the top with a pencil, a light outline transfers. You're essentially making your own carbon paper. 


Acrylic paints
Nice brushes of various sizes (I got mine at Michael's)
Tape and a sunny window for tracing
Book to support your canvas from underneath

First, I created a version of the canvas in Photoshop. When creating your design, be cognizant of the fonts you're using and whether they will be difficult to hand paint. The canvas I am working with is 20" x 24" so I had a little leeway with thinner fonts. Next, I printed it out full size and taped it back together (it printed on multiple sheets). 

I then cut out the individual phrase lines to make them easier to work with. Taping them to a window, I traced the lettering through the back of the page with a pencil, being careful to not smear the lead as I went. You need that lead to transfer!

Once all of the phrases were traced, I placed the first one at the top, right side up, and scribbled across the lettering with a pencil. I put a book under the canvas just thick enough to support the surface as I rubbed on it. Don't mind my sweet Phineas and Ferb pencil. 

After transferring the first two lines, this is what it looked like. I recommend only transferring and painting a little bit at a time. As you can see on the right, I painted across the two lines, not one line followed by the other. The more your hand rubs against the pencil on the canvas, the more blurred and messy it will get. 

I also recommend washing your hands after transferring, before you start painting so this...... doesn't get on your beautiful canvas as you're painting. Ask me how I know this. 

After the first two lines, I put on the larger chunk of text and the banner. It was a LOT of pencil to avoid smearing and in hindsight, I wish I broke it up a little more. 

While its not 100% done, I LOVE how its turned out so far. I still need to add the "W" initial and wedding date to the bottom area. I love painting; its so relaxing. I worked on it after the kids went to bed to avoid any unnecessary "helpers," so it was a nice project to focus on. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mom.

Happy birthday, Mom. You would have been 57 years old this year and we would have celebrated with chocolate cake and playing basketball on the driveway or riding bikes to the park.

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about all of the things I'd celebrate with you; things that seemed so inconsequential before you were gone. Things that, now, I'd give anything to show you and celebrate with you.