Monday, March 19, 2012

Carpool/Bus Reminders for Bookbags

We live not far from where my oldest attends kindergarten. Usually I pick him up in carpool each afternoon but sometimes he rides the bus home. I always put a note in his bag for the teacher specifying how he's getting home and remind him when I drop him off in the morning. "I'm picking you up tonight" I'll say, or "Don't forget you're riding the bus home." Seems simple enough, right? Yet, twice this year I've gotten a call from the school office that he's gone to carpool instead of getting on the bus and I've had to go pick him up. Once it was because the teacher got my note mixed up with a note from another day and once my son left the classroom for the bus but ended up in carpool and the teachers running the carpool were none the wiser. Until I didn't show up, that is. Not a big deal, but stressful in the end.

So I decided to add an extra reminder for my son--a transportation clip on his bag. "B" and a yellow school bus for riding the bus home. "C" and a blue car for carpool. I keep the clips by the back door so that as we leave the house in the morning I can attach the right clip to his bag. I made both of these in under a half hour and for a few dollars. You might already have most of the supplies in your house and if your kids are older and craft savvy they could make these themselves.

Here are the supplies: two keychain clips, a length of craft cord and assorted plastic beads and vehicle/school themed buttons.
Just cut a longish length of the craft cord and knot it around the metal keychain loop (less than a dollar at Home Depot). Add the car, bus and letter buttons (purchased at Michael's Crafts) and plastic beads (I had some in my craft bin), tying a knot in between each item and ending with the car/bus. The vehicle buttons hide the last knots well. Use scissors to trim off any excess cord.

These have really helped avoid further confusion. They're durable and easy to clip on and off his bag, and can't hurt anyone if they come undone, which is why I avoided safety pins. Plus they're fun and colorful. Now, an older child might want something more sophisticated but for a kindergartener this works great

Crockpot Meatballs Featured on The Grant Life

Thanks to Kelley at The Grant Life for featuring my Crockpot Cranberry Portabella Mushroom Meatballs recipe last Friday. I've been out of town at a writers conference and am just getting back. I'll have some new recipes posted soon. Thanks Kelley!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Liebster Blog Award

Thanks to Carrie over at Creative Home for sharing the Liebster Blog award with Feeding Four. The award is intended to support bloggers with fewer than 200 followers.

Recipients must:
1.) Thank the giver and link back to his/her blog.
2.) Pass the award on to five more distinguished blogs with 200 or fewer followers.
3.) Copy and paste the above artwork and post about the award on his/her blog.

Liebster is a German term of endearment meaning "dearest." Aww. So here are my five little liebsters:

1.) Business. Blueprints. Brides. Courtney and Dana are good friends of mine who also happen to run a wedding planning business called C&D Events. They post to their blog almost daily with great tips for planning large events (even if you're not planning to get married any time soon), DIY projects, floral arrangements, crafts etc. Plus you can read all the drama behind building a wedding planning empire.

2.) My Road to Savings. I found Erika's blog on a linky party. Right away I connected with her balance of good taste, good health and good sense. I've pinned her Bacon and Pea Pasta and Honey Balsamic Chicken.

3.) A Day in the Life. Yummy recipes. Great photos of cute kids and family anecdotes and stories. What's not to love?

4.) Cakeballs, Cookies & More. The "more" includes yummy recipes for Irish Cream Glazed Doughnuts and Mudside Cupcakes In a Jar. Oh yeah.

5.) Covered in Modge Podge. I want to be Michaela when I grow up. It's that simple. Her craft projects are incredibly thoughtful and adorable. Check out this Big Brother Fort Kit. I bet she's the favorite aunt.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mudroom Makeover featured at Serenity You

Thanks to Natasha at Serenity You for featuring my Mudroom Makeover. Check out her great blog and join her linky party each Saturday. She's so close to reaching her goal of 100 entries!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Crockpot Cranberry Portabella Mushroom Meatballs over Cheesy Smashed Red Potatoes

This is a comfort food coma-in-a-crock-pot kind of meal but with way fewer calories, sodium and fat. Meatballs in a velvety mushroom-cranberry sauce with tender portabella mushrooms, served in a nest of cheesy smashed red potatoes.Yum. You've noticed that I've been creating a lot of crockpot meals lately? No, this isn't becoming a crockpot recipe blog. I'm just re-discovering ways to cut down my cooking time (like using my crock pot, my bread machine, and freezer meals) while still making healthy, inexpensive, satisfying meals for my family. And, of course, passing on my re-discoveries to all of you.

All you need for your meatballs
Crockpot Cranberry Portabella Mushroom Meatballs
14 oz canned cranberry sauce
14 oz low-fat and low-sodium cream of mushroom soup
28 oz package frozen turkey meatballs
1/3 cup craisins
8 oz sliced mushrooms like portabella
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion

1.) In a saucepan heat the cranberry jelly until it starts to look more liquid. Add the soup and stir together.
2.) Place all of the other ingredients in a crockpot. Pour the cranberry sauce over top.
3.) Cook the meatballs on low for 5 or 6 hours until the onions are tender.

Cheesy Smashed Red Potatoes
5 medium red potatoes washed and quartered, skin still on
3 Tb light butter spread
1/2 of an 8-oz container of reduced fat sour cream
1/2 cup shredded reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese like Cabot's
salt and pepper to taste

1.) Boil the potatoes until tender. Drain.
2.) Smash the potatoes with a potato masher or fork leaving large chunks.
3.) Add spread, sour cream, cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste. Continue to mash together until combined. I like to leave big, tender lumps of potato.

Putting it all together...
Scoop out a serving of mashed potatoes and use a large spoon to press down the center into a "bowl" shape. Spoon meatballs and sauce over top. Serve with steamed corn or other veggie or salad. Enjoy!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Mini Chocolate Chunk Cups with Peanut Butter Frosting

Man, what a day. Baby is crying. Phone won't stop ringing--and it's never good news. Hormones are raging. Wait a minute, this is starting to sound like I'm channeling Adele. What's a girl to do but grab a cold glass of milk and a couple of these guys and remember all I have to be thankful for.

"Bless the Lord O my soul and all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons your iniquities;
Who heals your disease;
Who redeems your life from the pit;
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things..."
Psalm 103:1-5

Hope that encourages someone else today, and hope these Mini Chocolate Chunk Cups with Peanut Butter Frosting bring a smile to your face.

Mini Chocolate Chunk Cups with Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes 24

1 package Betty Crocker Double Chocolate Chunk cookie mix, made per directions

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup half and half
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups confectioners sugar
mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
1.) Make the cookies as per the instructions on the package. Scoop the cookie dough into 24 lined, mini-muffin cups.
2.) Bake for 10 minutes until set.
3.) While still hot press a spoon into the center of the cookie to form a shallow well. Let cool completely on wire racks.
4.) In a separate bowl combine the frosting ingredients. You can beat them with a mixer or do this by hand until the frosting is smooth. I added the confectioner sugar in batches and I believe it was about 2 cups total. Eyeball the sugar a little if you want the frosting thicker or thinner.
5.) I transferred the frosting to a cake decorating frosting bag with a Wilton's #32 tip because I knew I'd post them on this blog and they had to look pretty. But you can spoon the frosting on too if you don't feel like getting fancy. You're just going to eat them any way. :-)
6.) Frost the cooled chocolate cups and press a few mini chocolate chips on top for good measure. Store, covered, in the fridge. Not sure how long these will keep. I'm betting not long if you have a pulse.

This post entered at Serendity and Spice and these other great linky parties.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Like my entry at The Shady Porch Facebook

 The Shady Porch posted my Quick Cinnamon Sugar Twists on her Facebook page. Stop by and "like" my entry if you get a chance and take a few minutes to poke around her page and her blog. She's got some amazing recipes and fun crafts posted.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Empty Hallway to Organized, Beautiful Mudroom

Do you ever get tired of hearing the sound of your own voice? I know I do! "Pick up your bag, please." "Honey, take off your shoes." "Why are their leaves all over the kitchen floor again?!" I don't mind doing housework and keeping things tidy, but I insist that my family members do their share and I try to make sure we're all working smarter, not harder. After all, I don't want to feel like a broken record and I'd rather be having fun together than cleaning all the time or surfing through endless stacks of shoes, papers and coats. Enter my back hallway.
Talk about wasted space. Before I cleaned for this picture it was basically a collect-all for baskets of dirty laundry (the gated door leads into the laundry room and cat box) and broken-down cardboard boxes for recycling. Oh, and book bags, piles of dirty shoes and other paraphernalia. The doorway I'm standing in to take the picture leads into the garage, and the door to the right of where I'm standing leads into the kitchen. 

This is the entryway that most of our guests and our family use to enter (even though we have a perfectly beautiful foyer, we're pretty informal). So the first impression on entering our home was of dirty cat box smells, piles of recycling and dirty laundry. Oh and dirty floors because a certain hubby insisted his shoes were cold if he left them out in the garage. It was driving me crazy and no matter how often I cleaned or how frequently I nagged this hallway always returned to the same messy state. And the mess usually spilled over into my kitchen.

So over Christmas break this year my hubby and I agreed on an action plan that we could all follow through on and put it into place. Because training the kids is the easy party. Getting your spouse on board takes some negotiating.
My hubby built the custom bench and hook boards using scrap wood from other woodworking projects. I created the no-sew bench cushion using a staple gun, a leftover sheet of plywood, 3" foam, batting and outdoor, washable material from Jo-Ann's. Check out this great tutorial from Honey We're Home. The rag runner is from The canvas pictures of our family I've collected over time as has their free 8x10 photo canvas sales.
And this silver tub holds our library books. Finally, everyone knows where they go and where to find them! Each family member has a plastic bin labeled with their initial to hold shoes. I love that these are plastic and not fabric as their shoes are always muddy and we can just hose the buckets out. I also loved the price (just $5 each at Target!) and the bright colors.
This is the boys' spot across from the bench for hanging their coats and bags. The hooks are right at their eye level and they have plenty of space. Originally I was going to glue down the letters for their names but they have so much fun playing with them I just left them as they are. Plus the two-year-old is learning how to spell his name.

For guests, we're going to add a second, higher row of hooks on the kids' wall. I'm also going to install these boot trays below the shoe bench to store guests' shoes when needed. We can slide them back under the bench out of sight when they're not in use. So far I've tried two different stores and they've been out of boot trays. I've heard from a friend that she got hers at the Container Store for under $10 each.

Here are some closeups of the bench in case you're interested in making something similar.
I love how it looks and feels like furniture, versus a built-in.
 And the final touch...a little felt basket for slippers ($11 clearance at Target). Shoes off; slippers on. Aaah. Now you're home.
 One last look. Notice the Wallflower plug-in on the left. Replaces the cat and sneakers smell with eucalyptus mint. :-) For the future we'll also be adding blinds to the window to help with heating and cooling. This might just be my favorite room of the house now. Here's a "before" and "after."
Follow up post: controlling the paperwork chaos. Organizing letters, bills, mail, etc at the door.

Thanks to Natasha at Serenity You for featuring this post!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Crockpot Italian Chicken (and leftover ideas)

I love easy. I love healthy. I also love anything using Italian dressing because my boys will gobble it up. Make your own dressing for this recipe with either the dried Good Seasonings packets from the salad dressing aisle of any store or the Penzey’s Italian dressing mix. That way you can reduce the amount and control the type of oil you use. A prepared light dressing might work too. Just make sure it’s not too sweet since they usually add sugar to enhance the flavor.

Serve Crockpot Italian chicken hot over a bed of brown rice (your freezer rice perhaps?) and with a few veggie sides for a complete meal. Leftovers freeze and reheat well. Just add a little more Italian dressing if the chicken gets too dry. You can also use the leftovers to make a Ranch Chicken Flatbread. Spoon the meat onto warmed flatbreads and top with chopped fresh tomatoes (or prepared tomato bruschetta from the store), lettuce and ranch dressing.

Crockpot Italian Chicken
6 boneless chicken breasts
1 standard-sized bottle of Italian dressing (see note above)

1.) Place the chicken in the bottom of a medium crockpot. Pour the dressing on top.
2.) Cook the chicken on low for around 5 hours.
3.) Turn the crockpot off when the chicken starts to fall apart and let the meat absorb the leftover juices.
4.) Serve over brown rice and with a veggie. Even my boys love this stuff.

New Penzeys Coupon Code--$5 off $10 order!

The Spring 2012 Penzeys catalog came just in time. I'm all out of Italian dressing mix! I thought I'd share the order code for the newest Penzeys Spices coupon. See here if you're not familiar with Penzeys. You can use this code to order online if you don't get the catalog or have a store in your area

$5 off a $10 order: #00002C. Coupon good until May 28, 2012.

Let me know if you use the coupon and what you get with a comment below. Happy shopping!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Quick Cinnamon Sugar Twists from Pre-made Pizza Dough

I was cruising past the deli section of my local grocery store and noticed that the pizza dough was on sale. Ninety-nine-cents? I thought. I can work with that. So, for less than the price of a candy bar, here are a dozen-and-a-half hot and chewy Cinnamon Twists. Quick, easy and yummy even at full price. (For a savory version, dip in butter and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and Italian herbs.)
Pizza Dough Cinnamon Twists

1 lb. of pizza dough
flour for dusting
3 Tbs butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tb cinnamon

1.) Dust your surface with some flour. I used whole wheat. I know, kind of besides the point, right? Anyway, roll the dough out into a semi-rectangle like so.
 2.) Cut the dough into 9 strips and then cut those in half for a total of 18.
3.) Alternately dip the strips of dough into the melted butter and then roll into the sugar mix.And don't forget to smile.
 4.) Twist the strips and lay out on parchment-lined sheets.
 5.) Bake in 375' oven for 18 minutes. Serve hot. But really they're good cold too.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Crockpot Rosemary Steak Sandwiches

Hello readers. It's been a while, but I haven't forgotten you. Between my kindergartener's very long trackout (winter break lasted almost 5 weeks) and a bout of stomach flu this week I'd all but given up on blogging. But don't feel too badly for me, we also squeezed in a long Christmas week off and a Jamaican vacation. Sigh...still thinking about it.
Did I mention that our resort package came with a nanny? See, I told you not to feel too bad for me.
We may be home but I find myself reluctant to go back to washing dishes, cooking, all that mess. It's the funniest thing though--everyone's still hungry. So I'm embracing my crockpot this month. I love being able to toss a few ingredients in the crockpot in the morning and have dinner done with very little fuss that afternoon. And fewer dishes to wash. Plus this time of year is perfect for crockpot meals, which, compared to how we normally eat, tend to be a little heavy on the meat and sauce.

So Crockpot Rosemary Steak Sandwiches are a mix between two of my favorites--Philly Cheesesteaks and au juice beef sandwiches. Tender, juicy meat cooked all day on a low temp with plenty of onions and fresh rosemary, layered on a baguette and smothered in Provolone and spicy, crisp banana peppers. If you’re feeding little ones you can omit the peppers and serve the bread and meat separate with a veggie. The meat and sauce also freeze and reheat great for later.

Crockpot Rosemary Steak Sandwiches

2 lb beef (I’ve used skirt steak and top round)
1 yellow onion, sliced in strips
1/2 cup A-1 steak sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tb fresh rosemary, chopped, or 1 Tb dried
1 French baguette, lightly toasted
Provolone cheese
1/2 cup Banana peppers, drained

1.) Cut the steaks into four large sections and place the steak, onions and steak sauce in the crockpot. Turn on low heat and cook for 5-6 hours or 3-4 hours on high.
2.) Remove the meat from the crockpot and cut into thin strips. Put back in the crockpot with the rosemary and add the soy sauce. (You can also do this at the very end if you aren't home during the day. Just let the meat cook in the soy sauce and rosemary a bit first.) Continue to cook meat for another 2-3 hours. The meat is ready when it’s tender.
3.) Slice the toasted baguette open and cut into four large sections.
4.) Place the Provolone on the bread and spoon the meat over top. Add the banana peppers to taste and ladle the remaining sauce from the crockpot over the sandwiches. You can also serve the sauce au juice style in a side dish to dip the sandwiches.
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