Tuesday, May 31, 2011

12 Weeks of Summer - Week 12

As I was organizing my blog, I realized that I forgot to post the last part of my 12 Weeks of Summer series. So I looked through my computer files and found the last week of the series was meant to be a detective/spy theme.


Detective/Spy

Field Trip: Laser Tag
Try Something New: Fill a box with plaster of paris and make your own shoe print
Library: Police and I-Spy books
Crafts: Fingerprint animals
Kids Cook
Rainy Day Fun: I-Spy
Outdoor: Hide and Seek
Movie: Spy Kids
Craft Challenge:Create a spy gadget
Weekly Challenge: Give clues all week to solve a "crime" (Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar)

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Food Network Themed Birthday Party


Happy Birthday Lexi!

For Lexi's 11th birthday party we did a Food Network themed party. Here is the activities we had for this party.
Waiting for guest to arrive: Balloons, lots of them in all shapes and sizes. Its great fun at this age.

Make Pizzas
I gave each girl a square of baking (parchment) paper and had them right their names on the paper in pencil. Then I gave them partially baked pizza crust which I made myself. You can also use Pillsbury pizza dough or any other store bought pizza dough. I just partially baked mine to keep the cook time down. I gave them sauce, cheese, pepperoni, and some other toppings and let them create the pizzas how they liked.
Decorate Aprons
While I baked the pizzas, I had the girls decorate aprons. I made the aprons, but they sell pre-made aprons at any craft store. I supplied them with sharpies and small piece of cardboard for them to decorate on to over bleed through. I wanted to let them use puff paint and other paints, but I realized it wouldn't dry in time so I had them stick with markers. For the aprons I made I had just cut out the shape of an apron and put button holes at the top and sides. The girls were able to pick the ribbon they wanted and tie it through the holes.

Cupcake Decorating

I taught the girls to dig a hole out of the center of their cupcakes with an apple corer (not the slicer type). Then I gave them cool whip, chocolate and vanilla mousse, and a table full of icings and toppings to let them have fun. The girls had a lot of fun decorating cupcakes. Some girls took their time and only did a few cupcakes, while others were in production mode and tried to make as many cupcakes as possible. I made two cake boxes of cupcakes, one chocolate and one vanilla. I provided a tub of chocolate and vanilla icing. Then I made decorating icing for the girls to pipe designs onto the cupcakes. I had gotten take home boxes for the extra cupcakes, so I was able to send most of them home to share with their family.

 


Iron Chef Challenge: Ice Cream


The next activity was an Iron Chef Challenge. Before we started I had the girls clean up the cupcake decorating mess. To make this easier, I just had them clear the table and I changed out the tablecloth. The object of the game is simple, I had a secret ingredient (ice cream) which I managed to keep a secret from even Lexi. The girls had to create two teams and each team created two separate creations, but each creation they needed to make two dishes for a total of 4 dishes. The point is so they have two dishes for judging and two dishes to eat....while we judged. The winning team got the first whack at the pinata!


Pinata


According to my daughter, no party would be complete without beating the crap out of a pinata. She seems to think she is too old for the whole blindfold thing, but the pinata is still a must. We found a cupcake pinata, which was perfect. We filled it with candy and gave the girls brown paper lunch bags to beat it with.



The party was a huge success. One girl said it was the best party ever! I get that a lot. The parents seemed to be impressed when they heard what we did. Everyone left with a huge smile on their face and was rambling on and on to their parents what fun they had. To me that is the signs of a successful party.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Coupon Spreadsheet Template

My sister has gotten into the whole Extreme Couponing that seems to have swept the US because of some show they are watching. I'm not able to see the show, and here in the UK they do not offer manufacturing coupons. I do ask my sister and other friends and family to send me their expired coupons because they are good at the commissary here. So far I am able to save enough to pay for the gas to drive the two hours to the commissary, but I can't seem to figure out how to save 80% on my groceries like others have.

Although I cannot participate in this extreme couponing going on in the states, I thought I would create a way to say thank you to all those who have been sending me coupons. I worked with my sister to come up with some requirements that couponers look for in a spreadsheet.

The first sheet of the spreadsheet is a summary of all the categories which tells you how many items you are buying and what your subtotal will be in each category as well as a grand total. I suggest you make a file for each grocery store you intend to shop at.


 Next I have created a sheet/tab for each category of shopping you would want, according to my sister. Now if you download the file feel free to change the category titles at the top of the page, but do not mess with the name of the sheets/tabs because it will mess up the summary page formulas.

Each category lets you input the Aisle, Product Name, Original/Sales Price, Manufacturing coupons, Store coupons, then it goes into the price per item,number of coupons and sales tax. At the top of each page there is a sales tax rate in the top left hand corner. You must fill that out in order to get the formulas to work out properly. I have three options for sales tax though: 1 - No Tax, 2 - Food Sales Tax, and 3 Non-Food Item Sales Tax. I did that because some states have sales tax on food, which is typically lower than sales tax on non-food items. The most important thing is not to delete the gray fields because they have the formulas in them. Ok there are lots of forumlas in the totals and summary pages, but I just highlighted to columns that have formulas.

Now if you want this document you have a few options. Since Blogger doesn't really host file downloads, I uploaded this into my Google Docs. From there you can either use the template and save it into your Google Docs, or you can download it and save it to your computer. Google Docs allows you to save it in multiple formats. I have included a pic of how to save the document to your computer from the Google Docs link.

Note: I have received a few comments on how the original template did not calculate the sales tax properly. I have recently updated the spreadsheet which you can find at:
 Coupon Spreadsheet v2

I have kept link to download the original here: Coupon Spreadsheet Template



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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Container Garden Success


Earlier in this spring I made a post about a Portable Container Garden which I planned to use for my garden this year. I just wanted to post and say that my garden was a success! I have sugar snap peas and lettuce that are doing amazing. I have some herbs that are doing great as well. The tomatoes and peppers do not seem to be having any problems, and my pumpkin plant seems to be making progress. 

For those who are interested in container gardening, here are some tips that I have learned over the years.

1. Be creative with your containers, do not feel obligated to buy the $50 pot unless you just really think it is pretty.
2. Place gravel or some form of small rocks at the bottom of the container. This allows the water to drain better, which prevents the roots from getting soggy.
3. Make sure you do not try to grow too much in a pot. Read the seed package to see how far apart you can grow your plants. Some plants it is ok to grow several in a small area, mostly herbs, while others like tomatoes and peppers need their space. 
4. Along the same point as #3, make sure that you know how much root space the plants will need. Obviously root vegetables will need a very deep container, like the ones in the rear containers in my garden. Herbs and lettuce typically do not need a lot of depth.
5. Arrange your containers so they get the most sunlight. This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to arrange the containers in a neat cluster. Avoid putting the larger containers in front of the smaller containers because you will create an undesired shadow.

6. Water appropriately. This is true of any type of garden you have, but container gardens are a little more sensitive because they cannot tap into the grounds water or they can trap too much moisture if over watered.
7. Container gardens require a lot of soil, which can add up if you plan to have a large garden. I always use the $1 a bag of compost. It works lovely and is a great fertile soil. I will warn you it is not the most pleasant to deal with, but it is cheap and works better than the Miracle-Gro soil I've used in the past. If you know you will have problems watering, then I do recommend the Miracle-Gro Moisture Control.

8. A good way to combat moisture issues is to cut up an old sponge into small pieces and add it throughout the soil. It will suck up the extra water if you over water, and there will be a reserve of water if you forget to water. I do this with plants I put into the ground as well.

9. Make sure you pick a container that has holes at the bottom. You can drill your own holes if you are handy, but I recommend having holes both at the bottom and on the sides. Don't drill holes up too high up, otherwise they will just get clogged with roots or dirt.
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Alpine Strawberries in Aerogarden


I love my aerogarden! I have grown many herbs in it, but I have yet to try and grow something that might seem a little more challenging. This year I decided to try and grow strawberries, but after searching for an aerogarden kit for strawberries I came up empty handed. I was pretty disappointed since my aerogarden has a strawberry setting. I ended up buying a Master Gardener set which allows you to plant your own seeds and I bought some Alpine Strawberry seeds.

I planted the seeds according to the directions and didn't give much thought to it until about 2 or 3 weeks later when nothing was growing. I did a quick search online and found out there is an art to growing strawberries in the aerogarden. I decided to give it another week and if I didn't have anything, then I would clear it out and grow something else like tomatoes or peppers.

Thankfully I got a few sprouts by the end of that week. Now I have a bunch of strawberry plants growing quite nicely. While my strawberries are not ready to be harvested, there is plenty of strawberries growing.

I have never grown Alpine strawberries before, so I will let you know what they taste like when I harvest them.
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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mail Order Snacks



In my quest to live a healthier lifestyle, I am always on the look out for healthy snacks. I love snacks, I eat a lot of little meals all day. I have cereal for breakfast, then my second breakfast which is really just a snack. Then I have lunch, and later in the afternoon I have a snack, and sometimes I will sneak in a snack before dinner. Pretty sad huh? Especially since most easy snack foods are bad for you. I have also been baking a lot, so my snacks lately have been homemade candy bars or cup cakes.

Needless to say I was delighted when I found an email in my inbox from Groupon letting me try out a mail order snack company called Graze. You enter your food preferences and they surprise you with four different healthy snacks that come in your mail slot (or for my American friends it would fit in your mailbox). They include a booklet with the nutritional information and they claim their snacks are designed to keep your blood sugar level even throughout the day which decreases your urge to binge later.




In this week's box I received the following:

Yin & Yang Trail Mix: Almonds, dried cherries, raisins, and dark chocolate buttons (large chocolate chips)

Mango Salad: Dried mango, sweet chili peanuts, dried pomegranate seeds

Focaccia (breadstick) topped with cheddar cheese, red onions and chutney

Apple & Cinnamon Flapjacks: flapjacks are another name for granola bars

All of these items were super yummy, and I would say they are incredibly unique. It really reminds me of Target's trail mix isle, although the focaccia was a nice treat.


Since I got this on Groupon, I get four boxes, once a week for a month, for £5 which is about $8.25. For me that works out to be about the price of a box of granola bars which is my favorite snack. Now normal price is £3.50 a box or about $5.75. Of course there is no way I'd be able to justify spending that kind of money of a small snack once every other day, but I love the concept of having fresh and healthy snacks. Take a look at their food selection to get some inspiration to mix up your healthy snack routine: Graze.
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Organizing your Chores with a Reminder Service

Things have finally started to settle down for me after our move to London. I'm starting to create a daily routine with a weekly schedule of events. To help me keep up on what I'm suppose to do each day I have created a list of ideal tasks to complete each day of the week. I then created a list of things to do once a month, and allotting a day of the week to do my monthly chore because it would be more likely to get done if I didn't have to make extra time for my monthly chores.



I found a website where I could enter my to-do list and how frequently I'd like to complete each task. There are many reminder service websites, but I personal liked Remember the Milk. It was easy to create the list, edit the details, and there is a way to set the priority level of each task. Another nice feature is that it lets you divide up your tasks into categories for Personal, Study, and Work. It also allows you to keep track of completed tasks and sets up your trends, scary huh?

Now that I had the list complete I needed a way to remind myself of what to do. I do not possess the super organized personalities, so I set up the site to email me, and I also created an RSS feed which works best for me because I use Shrook to check my blogs every morning.




Hopefully this will help me keep up with my house a little better than I have in the past. If it does work I will post an update with my success. For now I will just be happy that the hubby noticed I scrubbed the bathrooms yesterday :)
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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Homemade Popsicles


My kids love ice pops. We used to all have one a day during the hot summers of Georgia. The ones we get here don't taste great and are very expensive. So I invested in popsicle molds and tried many online recipes. We have had so much success that we ended up buying more popsicle molds. 

Here are our favorite recipes and ideas:

Pudding Pops - make a package of pudding with 1 1/2 cups of whipping cream rather than milk. Mix it until it is a mousse. It takes a little practice getting the mousse into the molds, but it is worth it. Also we use this recipe for cake filling.

Orka A47221 Ice Pop Molds, White Base
Regular Popsicle - Make a package of Jello according to the directions, but also add a cup of sugar which helps prevent the formation of ice crystals so it is easier to eat. The flavor of these popsicles is very mild, so if you want more flavor then just add a package of the same flavor of Kool-Aid.

Fruit Pops - I get my kids to eat a serving of fruits with these popsicles. You need to find a good flavor of fruit smoothie, not juice, and buy some none sweetened unflavored apple sauce. Measure out how much your popsicle molds can hold. Then just mix half smoothie with half apple sauce. The apple sauce helps prevent ice crystals as well and helps the popsicle from getting hard as a brick.

Norpro 431 4-Piece Silicone Ice Pop Maker SetThese are the two molds we have, the swirly ones are usually what we put the pudding pops and regular popsicles in, but the tubes we use for the fruit pops because my kids like those Fruit Chillers. These are both silicone molds which I like because it is easy to get the popsicle out of and it is super easy to clean, i.e. you can toss them in the dishwasher when you are done.  tube molds are also great for making your own Pedialyte pops. The twirly pops are nice too because the stand breaks down for easier storage and the handles have a small cup which prevents messes with the little one. If you want to make the "No Melting" popsicles, you simply add a package of unflavored gelatin to the mix.


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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

50 Dinner Ideas

After trying to create a monthly menu plan for awhile now, I had almost given up. It never fails that everyone is unhappy with what I planned. I decided to make a list of dinner ideas, with a list of breads and a list of sides. Then I made everyone ELSE fill out my menu with the concept that they will fill in one meat dish, a veggie side, and a carb dish for each night of the week. Now Saturday is our family pizza night, but they picked, mixed, and matched the meals they wanted. I filled in the blanks of course, but now if they complain they don't like dinner all I have to say is that they need to put more input into next month's calendar. By giving them a list of 50 meals to choice from, the combinations are endless.

  1. Fruit Stuffed Pork Roast
  2. Pecan Crusted Pork Chops
  3. Marinated Steaks
  4. Chicken Enchiladas
  5. Coconut Chicken
  6. Sweet & Sour Chicken
  7. Rotis
  8. Coconut Lime Shrimp
  9. Beef Roast – garlic, thyme, rosemary, soy sauce, and mustard seeds
  10. Asian Pork Roast – soy and hosin sauce
  11. Lasagna
  12. Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo
  13. Fajitas – chicken or beef
  14. Hamburgers
  15. Pork Strips wrapped in Bacon
  16. Chicken in Mushroom Garlic Sauce
  17. Seasoned Chicken – onions, garlic, herbs de provence, and parsley
  18. Lemon Chicken
  19. Pretzel Crusted Chicken
  20. Shredded BBQ Chicken
  21. Pork Roast in Bourbon Sauce
  22. Pork Roast in Root Beer Sauce
  23. Smokey Pork Roast – smokey seasoning, apricots, and mustard
  24. Beef Carbonara
  25. Stroganoff
  26. Mango Glazed Pork Chops
  27. Breakfast for Dinner
  28. Meatloaf
  29. Pizza
  30. Chicken Bacon Calzones
  31. Baked Spaghetti
  32. Mongolian Grill - kind of like stir fry
  33. Honey Whiskey Glazed Steak
  34. Beef Tips in Wine
  35. Parmesan Crusted Chicken
  36. Taco Night
  37. Sloppy Joes
  38. Chicken Fried Steaks
  39. Oriental Crispy Chicken
  40. Pork Rubbed Chops
  41. Paninis
  42. Ciabatta Bread - Ciabatta (or Italian) bread cut in half with alfredo sauce, chicken, and cheese
  43. Pork Chops with Sliced Ham in a White Cream Sauce
  44. Coke and Lime Pork Roast
  45. Bruschetta
  46. Quiche
  47. Beef with Fried Rice
  48. Fondue Night
  49. Honey Glazed Salmon
  50. Breaded Pork Chops
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