Saturday, January 31, 2009

Super Bowl Frugal Snack -- Make Your Own Pizza

Just in time for Super Bowl Sunday! I thought it would be fun to post this easy (and very frugal) recipe. Our family enjoys making homemade pizza together so much that we hardly ever order delivery anymore. A bread machine takes all of the labor out of kneading the dough, and I have frequently seen bread machines at thrift shops or yard sales for about $10. With a baby in the house, I find the bread machine to be a huge time saver.  

To your bread machine, add the following ingredients in this order (Makes 1 large or 2 medium pizzas):

1 1/3 cups Water 80-90 degrees F
1 tsp. Salt   
2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 Cups Bread Flour
2 1/4 tsp. (or 1 packet) Yeast - active dry, instant, or bread machine

Set your bread machine to the dough setting, and start.  It will probably take about 1 hour 45 minutes to knead, rise, knead, etc. Once it is done, roll out the dough on a pizza pan or baking sheet using corn meal under the dough to prevent the dough from sticking to the pan. Roll out to desired thickness, and add toppings (pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, peppers, onions, etc.) Bake in a 450 degree oven for 6-7 minutes, checking often to make sure the bottom of the crust does not start to burn.

Does your family ever make homemade pizza? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment and share your stories with us!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Garden Planning

Even if you have never planned a garden before, now may be a terrific time to start. Our family just signed up for a garden plot through the local community center, and I think Emily will benefit from watching and caring for all our vegetables, herbs, and flowers.  If you do not have the space for a garden, your local community center may offer garden plots similar to ours and this is a terrific resource. Here are some great online resources to help you plan a successful garden this year:
  1. Companion Planting: This handy online chart shows which vegetables grow well together, and which combinations are incompatible. 
  2. Square Foot Gardening: A great technique that can be used even when you have limited space available.
  3. Container Gardening: Another option for those with limited space. Several vegetables can be successfully grown in containers.
  4. Herb Garden: A great list of herbs that can easily be grown from seeds. You can start these indoors during winter and bring them outdoors when the weather starts to warm up.
Is your family planning a garden for the first time this year? Leave a comment and share your story with us!

Photo by Sbocaj

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fun with Felt - Play Valentine Mail Set

Emily does not know it yet, but I am going to surprise her with this homemade felt play mail set for Valentine's Day! Isn't it cute? I know, I know, 25 cent postage... those were the days, right?

As a learning tool, the address labels and stamps can be moved around. She can practice placing the stamp on the top right corner to re-enforce left vs. right, and the envelopes can be "sealed" with a button - great practice for fine motor skills. She already knows the words "To", "For", "You", "I", "Love", and "Emily", so this will help her become more familiar with those words as well. I hope she enjoys playing with them as much as I enjoyed making them!

For more money-saving tips, craft, and activity ideas, become a follower of Frugal Family Fun Blog or subscribe to the feed. It's free!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

6 Tips for Handling Picky Eaters

Are your kids picky eaters? Are you preparing several dinners each night? Finding ways to handle picky eaters can be a huge help towards keeping a low food budget. Here are some tips that worked with our little picky one (who is not so picky any more!).
  1. Do not keep junk food in the house. Avoid overly salty or sugary processed snacks. If there is no junk food available, the kids cannot eat it.
  2. Keep snack-sized portions of fruits and vegetables on hand. Kids have small stomachs and need to snack frequently to accommodate growing bodies. Keep a snack tray in your refrigerator filled with pre-washed and pre-cut fruits and veggies. Store in snack-sized zip lock bags for quick snacks on the go.
  3. Try not to cater to your kids during mealtime. No child ever starved while being offered food. If the adults are eating it, the kids can too. Under very few circumstances are exceptions allowed: food allergies, spicy foods, dietary restrictions, etc.
  4. Introduce new foods several times. I have found that kids need to try the same food several times before deciding if it is good. This could be due to any number of factors, but do not give up on a healthy food the first time.
  5. Presentation is everything. For meals you can serve the same food, but make it look a little cuter. Use straws to make fruit kabobs, or cookie cutters for sandwiches. Get creative!
  6. Get the kids involved. Kids love helping out in the kitchen, and if they help prepare the meal they are much more likely to eat it!

Our pre-washed, pre-cut, self-serve snack tray filled with carrot and green pepper sticks, orange segments, apples, cheese slices, and low-fat ranch dressing.

Have a tip for handling a picky eater that I forgot to add? Leave a comment and share your ideas with us!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Preparing for Special Guests

Since we have made the decision to eat out less, we have been entertaining at home more often. Yesterday afternoon was spent preparing to get together with friends from college to celebrate Chinese New Year! We planned to get Chinese take out, eat with chopsticks, and spend some time getting caught up with one another. I was going to download some classical Chinese music from iTunes, but decided it might be worth a quick trip to the library to see what they had to offer.  Here is what we came home with:

I found several music CD's, a DVD for Emily and one for the adults, and several children's books! After we had dinner, we each made a mini lantern from empty baby food jars with tea lights placed inside. These can be lit 15 days from now for the Festival of Lanterns to signal the end of Chinese New Year. Our guests took them home as souvenirs.

We used pieces of red and black tissue paper adhered to the glass by brushing on a 50-50 mixture of white glue and water.

Does your family entertain from home more often? I would love to hear about it! Leave a comment and share your stories with us!

Free Coffee and Breakfast Menu Samples at Panera Bread

Panera Bread is offering free coffee all day Wednesday, January 28th and free samples of some of their new breakfast items like the granola parfaits and grilled breakfast sandwiches! Yummy! Click here to find a Panera Bread near you.

Create 6 FREE Valentine's Day Cards

Stories by Everyone is running a special for 6 FREE Valentine's Day Cards. You can upload a photo to personalize them -- very cute! Shipping is also free. Enter code valentine at checkout. Offer expires 2/1/2009. Not valid with any other offer.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Frugal Meal Planning 101

For many households, food can be one of the highest monthly expenses (second to rent or mortgage). Fortunately, there are several tricks to slashing your grocery bill while still maintaining a healthy diet.  Meal planning is one technique, and you may find it works well for your family. If you have never tried to reduce your food bill before, this may be a good place to start. You can begin by just planning meals for one week, and try increasing this to two weeks to help limit the number of trips you make to the grocery store.

First, draw up a chart for each day of the week Sunday-Saturday. Next, list a week's worth of breakfasts for your family. Here's an example of one week worth of breakfasts for our household:
Sunday: Banana Nut Waffles
Monday: Scrambled Eggs and Whole Wheat Toast
Tuesday: English Muffins with Peanut Butter
Wednesday: French Toast and Sausage
Thursday: Homemade Granola Cereal
Friday: Breakfast Burritos - scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, and sausage wrapped in a whole grain tortilla
Saturday: Pancakes and Low Sodium Bacon
(We usually drink orange juice, water, or hot tea)

Next, draw up the same chart, but list lunch items for one week. Here's an example from our household:
Sunday: Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup
Monday: Tuna Melt on Whole Wheat Bread, Apple, and Fat Free Yogurt
Tuesday: Mini Pizza on Whole Grain Tortilla
Wednesday: Bean Burrito with fat free refried beans, cheddar cheese, and salsa
Thursday: Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad
Friday: Loaded Baked Potato with leftover chili, cheddar cheese, and low fat sour cream
Saturday: Leftover Homemade Buffalo Chicken Pizza
(we usually drink seltzer water, juice, or hot tea)

Getting hungry yet?  Another tip -- Do not do the grocery shopping when you are hungry. The best time to go is after you have had a good meal, or at least a snack to tide you over. Why? When you are hungry, you are much more likely to pick up impulse purchases which can wreck havoc on your food budget!

Now it's time to think about dinner.  Here's a one week example from our household:
Sunday: Broiled Salmon, Brown Rice, and Green Beans
Monday: Blackened Cajon Pork Chop, Roasted Potatoes, Honey Glazed Carrots
Tuesday: London Broil, Baked Potato, and Petite Peas
Wednesday: Beef Fajitas, Spanish Rice, and Fat Free Refried Beans
Thursday: Homemade Chili with Corn Bread
Friday:  Lemon Pepper Chicken, Brown Rice, Broccoli
Saturday: Homemade Buffalo Chicken Pizza
(we usually drink water, skim milk, or hot tea)

The next step is to the list the ingredients for the week onto a shopping list, and compare your list to the items you already have in your refrigerator, pantry, or freezer. Try to only buy what you need so no food is wasted. Cross off whatever items you already have at home, and the remaining items will become your official shopping list for the week. 

Tip -- Some ingredients can be used for more than one dish. For example, our family rarely finishes a London Broil in one dinner, so the leftover meat is used for Beef Fajitas the next evening. Similarly, we usually have some leftover pizza from dinner, so we will have this for lunch the following afternoon. You may want to try cooking a slightly larger dinner and having leftovers for lunch the next day.

Have you tried meal planning? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment and share your stories with us!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Afternoon Play Date

Mark worked late almost every night last week, so the girls and I went into "survival mode". In case you are not familiar with "survival mode", it goes something like this: 1. Do the bare minimum to get by with housework, laundry, or cooking. 2. Leave piles of dirty dishes on the countertops. 3. Do not invite ANYONE to your home when you are in "survival mode", or you are sure to lose friends. Fortunately, at the end of a very long week, I was thrilled to be invited to my friend's house for an afternoon play date! She has two daughters - one the same age as Emily, and the other is a few years older. The girls had a fabulous time. They baked cookies....

They all played with a tea set and other toys. Clara received lots of attention from my friend's oldest daughter. She read stories to Clara and kept her entertained with rattles and stuffed animals......

Emily did not want to leave, but when we arrived home, we were all pleasantly surprised.  Daddy was already waiting for us! And fortunately (for me) very understanding about my "survival mode" tactics!

There were three important things I noted this week: 1. I do all of the grocery shopping for our household just once a month, so I did not have to worry about schlepping the girls to the grocery store or if we were going to have enough food for the week.  2. By letting my standards slip a bit (okay, a LOT), it really did help ease the stress. 3. Now that Mark is home, I cannot wait until the house is back to normal housedom! I am such a product of my environment.

Does your spouse ever work late or travel for work? How do you handle it? Do you find it harder or easier to stick to a budget?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Great Thermostat Debate

The Deneen household is kept at a fairly constant 66 degrees during the winter (sometimes lower if we leave the house for a long period of time). I have noticed that hardly anyone else seems to keep their thermostat set this low. We dress the kids in layers, and we wear sweaters this time of year so 66 degrees really does not seem cold. I know several people who keep their thermostat set to 75! 

What temperature do you keep your thermostat during winter? 

Friday, January 23, 2009

Get a Deal on Disney

Disney is now offering a package to buy 4 nights, get 3 more nights with tickets free! Plus, when you travel between 3/1 - 3/9 and 3/17- 3/29, you'll also get a $200 Disney Gift Card. Click here for details.

Top 10 Cheap and Healthy Foods

Epicurious has a fabulous article on some of the best money-saving ingredients (complete with recipes). This is a great resource, and you can find the list here.

Do you use brown rice, potatoes, apples, eggs, beans, or any of the other ingredients listed in your everyday cooking? I would love to hear about it! Leave a comment and share your ideas with us!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Day We Unplugged - Part II

This is something that has been on my "To Do" list for awhile - organizing the Learning Studio. Last summer, Mark and I (mostly Mark) created this fabulous space in the house for the girls to get creative. It is full of every craft supply you could possibly imagine, plenty of books, and a good amount of natural light. Every few months, I try to make it a point to re-organize everything and I save this task for one of our "unplugged days" because inevitably while I am organizing art supplies Emily will be struck with inspiration to start a great project. 

While we have a separate room dedicated to art and learning, if you do not have the space you could easily re-create some of the most important elements in the corner of a room using a bookshelf or a toy bin organizer. By shopping at thrift stores and yard sales, this room proved to be quite affordable and provides Emily with hours and hours of creative entertainment. 

Here's the tour:

The reading nook is the perfect spot for Emily to enjoy a good book with lots of natural light and a kid-sized rocking chair. We keep some board games in here for her too. Above it hangs a bulletin board with some of her recent creations.

A kid-sized table and chair serves as Emily's workspace. She likes to keep some flowers on the table for added color.

My grandmother's sewing table makes a fantastic writing desk for Mark or me.

This is Emily's favorite part of the Learning Studio. It houses all the essentials for art projects and everything is easily within her reach. She is even careful to put away the supplies when she is finished! On the left are some Lego sets, a Magna-Doodle and some flashcards. The toy bin organizer on the right was purchased at A.C. Moore in the unfinished furniture section with a 40% off coupon. The shelves on the left were on clearance at Wal-Mart for $5.

Here is a close-up of how I organized the crayon, marker, and colored pencil bin. This really helps encourage Emily to get creative! We usually purchase craft supplies like scissors, glue, pencils, crayons, and paint at Big Lots for much less than regular craft stores. Sometimes we find yarn, stencils, pipe cleaners, and ribbon at yard sales. I try to have a good selection of construction paper and felt on-hand.  Oh yeah, and this is the room where we keep the Invention Kit too.

Do your kids have a special spot in the house for creativity? I would love to hear about it! Leave a comment and share your ideas with us!

The Day We Unplugged -- Part I

I thought it would be fun to outline what we call "unplugged day" in our household. Every so often, we try to have a full day where we do not watch any television or play video games. It amazes me how productive I can be on these days! 

This morning, I had a conversation with Mark as he was heading out the door that went something like this:

Mark: Val, I've got to get going... Have a good day, and I'll call before I leave work.
Me: Did you have breakfast already?
Mark: No, I'll just grab something... 
Me: Like what?
Mark: I don't know... a banana?
Me: (Getting out of bed to make him something.) That's not breakfast! What about lunch? Did you pack lunch?
Mark: ......No. Where are you going??
Me: To pack you some real food. Fast!

I whipped up a tasty breakfast burrito for him with scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, and diced sausage on a whole grain tortilla.  Then, I made a very quick pulled BBQ chicken sandwich  on a steak roll,  packed in a banana and apple.  I finished up with a steaming hot cup of tea (poured into a thermos), and filled a re-useable bottle with water.  All in less than 10 minutes!!! *phew*

After he left for work, I put a load of laundry in the wash and started to make myself some breakfast. The girls sleep in almost every morning, and today they did not stir until 10:30am. ThriftyCraftMama posted about this super easy sewing project for felt heart-shaped cookies a few days ago.  I started working on them, and had them all done by the time Emily finished her French toast this morning. 

When Clara woke up, I changed her cloth diaper and fed her some breakfast.  She was motoring around the kitchen in the walker for awhile, but then started to get tired.  She is enjoying her mid-morning nap now.  I put the load of clothes in the dryer, and another load in the washer.  And now it is time to do some pre-school with Emily....

Does your family set aside days to "unplug"? I would love to hear about it! Leave a comment and share your ideas with us!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

8 Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget

You may be surprised to learn that eating healthy foods can be good for your waistline and your budget! Here are some of our favorite tips for eating healthy without spending a lot of money:
  1. Drink Water -- Kick the soda habit. Not only is soda loaded with sugar and calories, it is also not friendly to your wallet. If you do not already have a Brita Filter at home, consider purchasing one and using it on a regular basis. If you must have something carbonated to drink, try flavored seltzer water with a slice of lemon or lime.  
  2. Avoid Pre-packaged Foods -- Purchasing convenience foods means you are paying for all the packaging, and marketing that goes into those products. Fresh ingredients are often better for you, and are usually much cheaper.
  3. Buy Meat in Bulk -- Sometimes super markets offer loss-leader specials on meats. If you have a large freezer, stock up. You will be purchasing meat at its lowest possible price, and avoid going to the store (so you will save money on gas too).
  4. Farmers Market -- Your local farmers market may have great deals on fresh vegetables and fruit, particularly at the end of the day. If you get a good deal on tomatoes, for instance, you could make your own sauce or salsa.
  5. Bake Your Own Bread -- Often, store bought bread can be expensive, and it usually contains high fructose corn syrup. If you do not already have a bread maker, search at thrift shops or yard sales. I frequently see nearly-new bread machines there for only a few dollars. Baking your own bread can save a lot of money, and you have the satisfaction of being able to pronounce all the ingredients.
  6. Grow Your Own -- This spring we plan to start gardening with vegetables that are easy to grow such as: green beans, tomatoes, and green bell peppers. Not only will this save money, the food you grow yourself contains more nutrients since it does not have to travel to reach your dinner table.
  7. Buy Only What You Need -- Before you visit the store, make a grocery list and stick to it. If you find yourself picking up impulse purchases, place those in the front basket of the cart. When you are ready to check out, keep just one of those items in the front basket and put the others back on the shelf.
  8. Never Waste Food -- Find creative ways to use leftovers. Soups, casseroles, and even fajitas can be made using leftovers and taste great. Don't forget about re-heating last night's dinner for today's lunch.

Do you have a great tip for healthy eating on a budget, or does your family plan to start a garden for the first time this year?  I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment and share you ideas with us!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Weave a Placemat

This craft is so frugal, and keeps kids busy for a good while. Younger kids might need a little bit of help, but the older ones will have no trouble. Use these as a great opportunity to teach patterning!  To make your own woven placemats, you will need:
  1. Two sheets of contrasting construction paper
  2. Scissors
  3. Clear Contact Paper (optional)

Fold one sheet of construction paper in half and cut from the folded edge to leave about a 1 inch margin on the other side. Repeat cuts about 1 inch apart. Unfold and cut the other contrasting color of construction paper into 1 inch strips to be woven.  Trim excess strips with scissors. Use clear contact paper to laminate or a small dab of glue at the end of each strip to keep the pattern in place. 

If your kids make these, I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment and share your story with us!

20% off Online Solar Course

Are you considering installing solar panels to your home? You might want to enroll for an extensive 4 hour online course offered by Eco Achievers. Enter coupon code RENEW at checkout and you will save 20% off the $59 enrollment fee. Offer expires 02/16/2009. Click here for more details.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Top 5 Fun Freebies for Inauguration Day

Tomorrow is Inauguration Day, and there are some fun freebies to be had! Here are some you won't want to miss:
  1. Download America's Song -- A free .mp3 download courtesy of Oprah. This song is sure to get you into a patriotic mood!
  2. Krispy Kreme Donut -- Visit your local Krispy Kreme for a free donut of your choice. Click here for more information.
  3. Starbuck's Coffee -- This is my favorite giveaway.  Starbucks has joined up with HandsOn Network to promote volunteerism. Go to your local Starbucks and pledge just 5 hours of volunteer community service. Show your pledge card and you will get a free tall coffee! Afterwards, log on to to find local volunteer opportunities, track your hours pledged and receive updates on the campaign. For more information, click here.
  4. TGI Friday's -- Don't have a party to go to, but still want to get out for some fun? Head over to TGI Fridays for their World's Largest Inauguration Party. Join their Give Me More Striped club (for free), and you can enjoy free red and white Friday's chips with salsa and chipotle ranch dip, half-priced appetizers, and a commemorative Friday's button. Party starts at 9pm! Click here for more information.
  5. Free Memorabilia -- Looking to collect a small piece of history? Click here for a free "Yes We Did" commemorative sticker from or click here for a free copy of the inauguration cover from The New Yorker.

Know a great freebie for Inauguration Day that I didn't mention? Leave a comment and share your tip with us!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Frugal Way to Occupy Kids During Football

Trying to watch the football game on TV and looking for a frugal way to keep the kids entertained?  I thought this would be a fun topic, since the Super Bowl is coming up! Thanks to ThriftyCraftMama for posting about this fabulous frugal activity that will keep kids occupied all through the game.  (Worked well for Emily, anyway!) 

It turned out to be a great activity for the whole family. Prior to the game, I made up the cards and felt board, while Mark diligently cut out all of the shapes from felt. Have I mentioned how awesome my husband is? You can find free printables for this activity here

I glued the print-out snowflakes onto cereal boxes, cut them out and used clear contact paper to laminate them. An empty egg carton worked well to keep the shapes sorted so Emily could quickly find whichever one she needed.

Emily builds her snowflake from the cut out felt shapes.

Here is what Clara was up to... She is starting to crawl!

How do you keep the kids occupied during football?  I would love to hear about it! Leave a comment and share your ideas with us!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Thrift Store Finds -- Woo Hoo!

I have been on the look-out for next year's holiday dresses for the girls, and at the thrift store today I found these gorgeous dresses (in next year's sizes)!  Aren't they beautiful? Emily's cost just $4.99!  Clara's was $3.99, but they had a sale for 50% off all blue tagged merchandize, making this cute dress just $1.99!! I have found that this is the best time of the year for thrift store finds, since there are tons of un-wanted Christmas gifts (which could turn out to be your treasures).

Did you find something fabulous at a thrift store recently?  I would love to hear about it! Leave us a comment and share your story with us!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Raising baby green -- on a budget

Clara at 7 months old.

In most cases, being frugal is also good for the environment and vice versa.  However, raising baby green can sometimes be challenging for your budget since what is best for the environment may not always be the most frugal choice. Organic baby food, for instance, usually costs considerably more than regular baby food.  If you are planning to raise baby green, here are some tips to keep costs down.
  1. Make Your Own Organic Baby Food -- Check with your pediatrician about making your own organic baby food. Organic carrots and sweet potatoes are some of the cheapest vegetables, and both last a very long time so stock up on these. Add a small amount of water and blend well in a food processor. Freeze in ice cube trays, and defrost as needed.
  2. Apple Sauce -- Instead of buying several jars of organic apple baby food, try one large jar of organic apple sauce (with no sugar added).  
  3. Cloth Diapers -- We have had great success with bumGenius cloth diapers. These adjust to fit your baby and will last from the infant stage all the way until potty-training. Try one or two cloth diapers to see how they work for your baby before purchasing a bunch of them. Over time, the cost savings of using cloth diapers is significant, and you will keep diapers out of the landfill (where they frequently take 100 years to decompose!).
  4. Make Your Own Baby Wipes -- Since we use cloth diapers, it made sense to use cloth wipes too.  We use baby wash clothes as baby wipes, and I keep a spray bottle of watered down solution of baby wash on the diaper changing table.  Spray the wash cloth and you are good to go!
  5. Save on Skin Care -- Before using tons of lotion or baby powder, check with your pediatrician.  Many times infants only need plain water or very little baby wash, so you can use it very sparingly.  
  6. Learn to Knit -- This is my personal favorite. Learning to knit is a great hobby for stress relief, and can help save money. Organic cotton baby sweaters can be very expensive, but you can knit your own for a lot less!
  7. Prioritize Organics -- If you cannot afford to buy all organic baby food, try focusing on the foods that are typically grown with the most pesticides and only buying these foods organic instead.  These include: apples, strawberries, raspberries, potatoes, peaches, pears, and cherries. 
  8. Swap Clothing and Linens with a Friend -- Kids out-grow clothing at such a rapid rate.  Let friends know you are looking to swap children's clothes. Check craigslist or your local freecycle to help keep clothing out of the landfill.
  9. Save on Paint -- Thinking of painting the nursery?  Shop and compare prices for no or low VOC paint.  To save money, be sure to measure the square footage of your project accurately so you do not buy more paint than you will really need. You may want to check the returned paint section -- you may find the perfect shade for 1/2 the price!

Clara models some baby booties I knitted for her.

Do you have a money-saving tip for raising baby green?  I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment and share your ideas with us!

And the winner is....

The winner of the $10 iTunes Gift Card Giveaway (chosen by is Maria from Iowa!  Congratulations, Maria!  

Here was her comment:
I'd love to do some itunes shopping - thanks for the giveaway!
Thanks to everyone for playing, and I will be sure to do another fun giveaway soon. 

Also, if you have not already subscribed to Frugal Family Fun Blog's feed via email yet, you might want to do that now. I am working on something special for email subscribers only, and you don't want to miss this!

The Invention Kit

Several of the crafts Emily and I create are products of the Invention Kit.  We love recycling materials and finding new uses for things, so we set aside a separate box with things that might be useful for future projects.  

Here are some of the things we keep in the Invention Kit:
  1. Egg Cartons -- Great for holding paints, and we have several ideas for future craft projects using these.
  2. Plastic Bottles -- We have made bird feeders from these.
  3. Empty Cereal Boxes -- We never buy cardboard.  Instead, we use up cereal boxes. Click here and here for some inspiration.
  4. Paper Towel and Toilet Paper Rolls --  Click here for instructions to make your own bird watching kit using paper rolls.  This was one of Emily's favorite projects!
  5. Frozen Juice Concentrate Lids -- We recently made a matching game with these.  They can also be made into magnets, or other ornaments.
  6. Empty Margarine Containers --  We use these for holding water during painting projects.
  7. Paper Bags --  I will cut these up and Emily loves to draw and paint on the non-printed side for free craft paper.
  8. Junk Mail/Catalogs --  See Emily's recent collage project using flower catalogs. We have also used a hole puncher on different colored junk mail and made terrific confetti with it.  
Does your family keep an Invention Kit?  I would love to hear about it!  Leave us a comment and share your ideas with us!

Giveaway Reminder

Just a reminder, the $10 iTunes Gift Card Giveaway ends at 6pm EST today, so be sure to get your entry in!  Click here for details on how to enter...  Good luck!!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Top 5 Things to Buy Used

Photo by DIY City Mag

I am a huge fan of shopping at thrift stores, consignment shops, and yard sales for used items.  Not only is this a great money-saving strategy, it is also better for the environment.  Buying used requires less resources to produce, and helps keep waste out of landfills.  

Here is my top 5 list of things to buy used:
  1. Books --  I never buy new books anymore.  Instead, I frequently borrow books from the library for free, or search for used books.  See my related post: Alternatives to buying new books for more information.
  2. Wooden Furniture --  Huge savings here!  Check the condition and if the furniture seems sturdy, you may be able to refinish the surface and have a "like new" piece to add to your home.
  3. Lighting and Home Decor --  Lamps, light fixtures, and other home decor items usually go for about 10% of the original purchase price.  With lighting, be sure it is UL certified.
  4. Children's Clothing --  Kids outgrow their clothes at such a rapid rate.  Instead of stressing over whether or not that stain is going to come out of little Johnny's new outfit, try finding quality used kids clothes and save yourself a ton of money. If the price is right, I have been known to stockpile clothes for the girls for years to come.
  5. Glassware/Bakeware -- You can find significant savings in used glassware or bakeware.  If you see an item you like, be sure to purchase it right away.  Items in thrift stores tend to move very quickly!
Have a favorite thing you like to buy used?  Leave us a comment and share your ideas with us!

Fun with Juice Lids -- Size Matching Game

Emily had fun playing this matching game this afternoon.  To make your own size matching game, you will need:

several lids from frozen juice concentrate
white paper
double sided tape or glue dots
stickers of similar objects in different sizes

Trace the juice lids on the white paper and cut out to attach using double sided tape or glue dots.  Add stickers, and you are done!

Preschoolers can sort by matching objects, by matching sizes, or even by matching colors.

Printable Coupons for Organics

Here is a great list of online printable coupons for organic items:
  1. Organic Valley -- Save on milk, cheese, soymilk, and butter.  Each coupon can be printed twice.  Also, click here for a printable coupon for $2 off the purchase of any 2 Organic Valley products.
  2. Mambo Sprouts -- Many coupons here for green cleaning products, organic peanut butter, organic chocolate chips, and more!
  3. Horizon Organic -- Sign up on their website for free printable coupons for organic milk and butter.
  4. Earth's Best Organic -- Register to print a coupon good for $1 off 10 jars of organic baby food (You may print the coupon up to three times), and $1 off any two Sesame Street Earth's Best Organic products (You may print once).
  5. Stonyfield Farm -- Register for several coupons for organic milk, ice cream, and yogurt.
  6. Brown Cow Farm -- Register for several printable coupons for yummy organic yogurt.
  7. Earthbound Farm -- Quiz your knowledge on organic farming and you will receive a coupon (via snail mail) for Earthbound Farm's organic products.  They will usually include a newsletter which also contains coupons!
Know of a good printable coupon for organics that I forgot to add?  Leave a comment and share it with us!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Enjoying a few good books

Clara enjoys some quality story time.

This morning we lounged around in our pajamas for far too long, but we were busy enjoying some good books.  Emily came downstairs and wanted to snuggle with Clara on the couch.  She enjoys reading to her little sister, and Clara thought the pictures in this Snow White story book were so exciting!  I love watching how they interact, and I ran for the camera to capture it.  

Lounging in our pj's.

Clara and Emily hold hands.

The girls snuggle on the sofa.

Here's what we read this morning, many of which came from Mark's childhood library:

Where? by Jane Belk Moncure
Snow White

Winter is a great time for staying indoors with a good book (or two, or three!)  Which books are you enjoying?  Leave us a comment and share your ideas with us!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fun with Scissors

Emily cutting white paper.

Much of today was spent with me running around like a chicken with its head cut off in a vain attempt to clean and de-clutter the house. Did I say house? I meant kitchen. Yes, from 9am until 3pm I scrubbed and tidied up the kitchen from top to bottom. Now if I could only get to the rest of the house. Mother-of-the-Year Award....... it was so close!

The truth is the cleaning has been placed on the low-priority list because I would much rather spend my time with Emily creating, teaching, learning, etc.  I simply could not tolerate the mess any longer.  Emily followed me around asking, "Mommy, can we play now?  Is it time to paint?  Are you done cleaning?".

While I was freaking out about the spots in the sink -- WHICH DID NOT COME OFF AFTER SCRUBBING WITH EVERY TOXIC CHEMICAL KNOWN TO MAN.... Emily must have been incredibly bored, but she quickly found a way to entertain herself with a pair of scissors, some glue, and a flower catalog.  Clearly, she inherited this skill from Mark.  I have watched him make dolls from NAPKINS.  I am not kidding.

Here is what she came up with:

Finally, it was time to call it a day.  I made some tea, put my feet up, and thanked the gods for blessing us with such laid-back children.
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