Thursday, January 31, 2008

Macaroni Fun

My son loves to play with a container filled with macaroni! Isn't if funny how such simple things can make a kid so happy? If I get out the container and shake it he comes crawling over to get it in a hurry!

This is a great toy because it makes sound and helps him to learn all at once. It helps him practice his coordination (shaking) and helps him learn to associate that when he shakes the container, it makes a sound! One note about trying this activity - make sure your child can't get the lid off! You will need a secure container! Thankfully we haven't had any accidents so far!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Swimming in Paper

I just wanted to share a quick link with an idea for winter indoor swimming (in paper!) The kids should enjoy this one!

Basically the idea here is when you shred your next batch of paper documents, save the shredded paper, then fill your empty kids swimming pool or sandbox! Surprise the kids and let them go "swimming" in paper! Clever isn't it?!
- Idea from Family Fun Magazine, February 2008 Issue.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Visionary Parenting

Currently my husband and I have been listening to a series called Visionary Parenting through our church! I highly recommend this resource. You can even listen to FREE audio downloads from the website! It is really a great series.

If you desire to learn more about parenting and raising children as the Bible directs then check out Visionary Parenting. It really works for me! You can't beat free, high quality parenting advice!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Cheap Birthday Invitations

Don't you love these adorable 1st birthday invitations? If you are looking for party invitations I suggest you browse around your local thrift store before heading to Target or wherever! I found these invitations in a baggie with a bunch of other cards and a calendar at the thrift store down the street. So for under a dollar, I got my invitations, a calendar for my purse, and many other cards I can use throughout the year! Yay for thrift stores! I just love a good deal!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bible Games

About a week ago I mentioned that I would share some more Bible themed games with you! I have not forgotten, I just got sidetracked with other things! Here is one more game that originally came from Family Time Training. This game was shared in the highly recommended book, God's Grand Vision for the Home.

- Quicksand

Dad stands at the top of the stairs while kids stand at the bottom of the stairs. Dad will ask kids if they know what quicksand is. Once the concept of quicksand is explained the fun begins! Dad then tells kids that they are standing on quicksand and only have 5 minutes to figure out how to get out! The only safe place is the top of the stairs where Dad is standing. It is their goal to get to the top of the stairs but they have to follow the rules! The rules are that they can not touch the stairs and they can not touch the railing on the stairs.

The idea here is that a child will figure out to ask his Dad to come get him at the bottom of the stairs! Then Dad can explain to the children that there was only one way out of that quicksand, to ask Dad to come down the stairs to take them to safety. Next Dad can take the time to relate this to how there is only one way for any of us to be saved and go to heaven, to trust in Jesus and ask him to rescue us!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cheap Entertainment Series Continued

So far we have discussed planning for entertainment and arranging for free babysitting! To continue my Friday discussion on cheap entertainment, I am going to give you my sources for free gift cards! My husband Mark and I have built up quite a stash of gift cards. Two of our sources for free gift cards are My Points and Discover Cash Back.

My Points is a free online shopping program that credits you points for purchases you make online by clicking through their website. The fabulous part of the program is that you also get points for simply opening emails they send you or for taking surveys. Personally I do not do a lot of online shopping, but around Christmas I did buy a couple of things online. If the retailer you are planning on purchasing from happens to be affiliated with My Points, then by simply taking a couple of seconds, and going to the My Points website you will earn points for your purchase. When you accumulate enough points you can redeem them for gift cards. Since I don't do much online purchasing most of my points come through just clicking on their emails. This does not take me more than about one minute each day. My Points will clutter up your inbox though, with several offers being sent to you each day. If you are concerned with that you could always open up a free email account just for My Points. I also do not take the time to complete the surveys they send because I have more valuable things to be doing with my time! You can also earn points by referring people to My Points! So as a little plug here, if you are interested in joining just email me or leave a comment with your email and I will refer you to the program!

For those of you who are already My Points members, here is a little tip for you! SIGN YOUR HUSBAND UP! Maybe he will make some purchases once in awhile, but at the very least you will receive twice the amount of emails and twice the amount of those points! He will need to have a separate email address than you though in order to sign up. But as I mentioned before you can easily set up a free separate email address for him through gmail, hotmail, etc.

Secondly, we use the Discover Cash Back program to redeem several gift cards each year. Please note that we pay off our bill for this credit card in FULL each and every month. If you are not confident in your ability to pay off your bill each month than please do not use this method. Also please remember that sometimes using credit cards instead of cash results in overspending. If you are confident in your ability to pay off your bill and not overspend then consider using a credit card that rewards you for your purchases! In our opinion, if you are going to spend the money (for gas, necessary purchases, etc.) you might as well get a small reward back for it!

Enjoy using those free gift cards to lower your entertainment budget this year! Check out this site for more money saving ideas!

New Uses for Bridesmaid Dresses

Recently there was an article in the Chicago Tribune that I loved! I have to share a quick summary with you because it is so clever!

Here are 27 things to do with the fabric from your old bridesmaid dresses, and yes, this article was inspired by the new movie 27 Dresses.

  1. Table runner
  2. Throw pillow/pillow cases
  3. Place mats
  4. Curtains
  5. Patchwork quilt (use several dresses!)
  6. Eye pillow
  7. Shower curtain
  8. Shadow box liner/backdrop
  9. Memo/photo board
  10. Coasters
  11. Handkerchiefs
  12. Chair slipcovers
  13. Beaded picture frame
  14. Fabric-bound portfolio/photo album/journal (look for patterns here)
  15. Curtain tiebacks
  16. Decorative throw
  17. Ottoman slipcover
  18. Duvet cover
  19. Wall art
  20. Room divider
  21. Bed canopy
  22. Fabric wallpaper boarder
  23. Kitchen apron
  24. Bar stool covers
  25. Lamp shade accents
  26. Upholstered headboard
  27. Tablecloth
I happen to have at least one bridesmaid dress hanging in my closet right now....hmmm...certainly has me thinking!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Games to Make at Home for Pre-schoolers

I stumbled on some really neat do it yourself games for pre-schoolers! I love that you can make these games out of things you probably have on hand at your house! Plus these games help your kids learn something too! Have fun!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Update on Sneaky Food

Doesn't that bowl of mashed potatoes look delicious? Ok, I admit it - I could probably eat a whole bowl of mashed potatoes by myself! So maybe they just look that good to me?! Lately I have been into sneaking vegetables into our food, so there is a secret ingredient in these potatoes! The inspiration for the sneaking food bit comes from Deceptively Delicious!

My most recent experiments have been adding cauliflower into the mashed potatoes and also in chicken salad! Yes, my husband does think I am crazy but he realized that before we got married so too bad for him! No, honestly I asked him and he thought both recipes tasted fine! They did NOT taste like cauliflower! I am going to copy some of the recipes from this cookbook down but I think the major thing I will take away from it is to feel free to experiment with veggies in new ways! If you want to try it yourself I suggest you either get the cookbook and study the recipes or be adventurous and just add a bit of pureed cauliflower to your regular recipes for mashed potatoes and chicken salad!

Pureeing and mixing veggies into your normal food is a great way to use up leftover vegetables or just add a little extra nutrition in for picky eaters! Check out this site for more kitchen tips!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Fun with the Family in Illinois

Yesterday while browsing at the library I found Around Chicago with Kids and Fun with the Family in Illinois, which both look like they could be helpful in finding some interesting things to do here in Illinois! I have enjoyed looking at the suggestions they give for towns around my house to see what I have been missing out on! If you have been wanting some new places to visit I suggest you look at your local library to see if you can get a copy of some books like these for your state!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pen Pals for Kids

I never had an official pen pal growing up as a kid but I do remember thinking it would be really exciting! Somehow opening up a letter addressed just to you is one of the most exciting things for children. In fact, opening up a handwritten letter is still a real treat for me at age 26! So let's discuss the benefits and how to go about setting up a pen pal for your child.

There are several benefits of a child having a pen pal. Having a person to write regular letters to will help your child improve their writing skills in a fun way. Even if you are not proof reading their letters, they will still improve by just practicing writing. They will learn how to express their thoughts in written form which is an important skill to learn! You will also be given the opportunity to teach your child about how the post office works, how to address envelopes properly, how to buy stamps, and much more. In the best case scenario your child may form a close friend for life!

Now to the how-to information! If I had a child interested in a pen-pal I would personally find someone they could write to. I'm sure that there are probably several reputable sites online that could assist you in this, but I do not know of any and would use extreme caution for safety purposes. I would be much more comfortable with asking friends or family who live out of state or country if they know a child around the same age who would like a pen pal. After a few requests I'm sure a pen pal will turn up! A pen pal does not have to be a perfect stranger either. Perhaps your child has a cousin or old friend who has moved away. This could be the perfect pen pal for them! Do a little creative thinking and one will turn up. Another option is a far away Grandma or Grandpa. These letters will be cherished for years to come! One more option to consider is joining a sponsor a child program like Compassion International. These programs encourage letter writing and the child you sponsor will write you letters at set times each year.

Once you find an appropriate pen pal I suggest you talk to your child about what they would like to know about their pen pal and help them form some questions to ask in their first letter. Once the letters start being exchanged suggest a few options such as enclosing stickers, a picture, or even mailing a special package for a birthday surprise! You will probably never have to go to the mailbox again because your child will be there before you, waiting for the next letter!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Just Browsing

Thought I'd share a little inspiration with you this morning!

- Wow, I would love to have a trunk like this!

- This toy kitchen is absurdly creative!

- I adore this gift idea!

- An oldie but a goodie!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Free Babysitting

Wow do those two words really go together? Yes, I did say free babysitting! To continue my Friday series on cheap entertainment I thought I'd certainly better address how to decrease the amount of money you spend on sitters!

Here are two options for decreasing the money you spend on babysitting:

- Family or close friends
- Form a baby sitting coop

I am very fortunate to live close to my in-laws so I have so far, not had to pay for babysitting! For those of you that aren't so fortunate, let's discuss one interesting option.

Basically a babysitting coop is a group of families who agree to trade babysitting. This can be very casual or a bit more organized depending on your preferences. A casual example of this could be just a group of friends who agree to trade babysitting services on a set night as their schedules allow. A more elaborate example includes families who trade poker chips for 1/2 hr. increments of babysitting time. Each chip is worth 1/2 hr. of babysitting for 1 child. The more you babysit for other families, the more poker chips you earn, and the more free babysitting you earn! If you run out of poker chips and need some you could buy a few back from someone by babysitting or paying a small fee for each chip. Of course this could be tailored to work better for your unique group. Each coop should decide what is fair together and agree to stick to the rules set by the group.

Here is a page with more detailed information on setting up a babysitting co-op. As I said, I am fortunate that I haven't even had to THINK about paying for a babysitter as I have lots of family and friends close by. If that weren't the case though, I would definitely consider something like this!

How do you arrange for free babysitting? Has anyone out there set up their own babysitting coop?! Take a look at this great site for more money saving ideas!

Games for Teaching Bible Lessons

While reading God's Grand Vision for the Home I stumbled across a few wonderful ideas for games that were presented by Family Time Training. Over the next few days I will share some of them with you. These games each have a clear purpose in teaching your children a truth about God.

Running the Race for God

Set up a race course outside your home and have your stopwatch ready. Give each child one or two chances to run the race as fast as they can while timing them. Record the best time for each child. Now the real fun begins! Bring out a box of winter clothing and have each child put several layers on! Now have each child run the racecourse again and record the time. Naturally it will take them longer to run a racecourse wearing snow pants and boots! Take out a Bible and read Hebrews 12:1-2 to the group.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles , and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus , the author and perfecter of our faith.

Now take the time to explain to the children that the heavy winter clothes are like the sin that slows us on our course. Tell the children that God has a course for their lives and that by concentrating on Jesus, they will be able to run the race well!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cardboard Fun!

If you have a baby or small child in your house think twice before recycling that cardboard roll from your paper towels! This makes a great "new" toy! If you have older children they could take part in the fun by decorating it for the baby first!

It was hard to get a good shot of Luke playing with his new toy because he was waving (and throwing) it around too much! Of course now that Luke has gone to bed it will be recycled so the next time we have a cardboard roll it will seem new and exciting!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Banana Bread with a Twist

Today is Kitchen Tip Tuesdays over at one of my favorite cooking sites, Tammy's Recipes. Have you ever tried using orange juice in your banana bread? Let me tell you, it is a good idea! I was given this recipe for banana bread at my bridal shower and it is fabulous! If you already have a favorite banana bread recipe try substituting orange juice for the liquid for a nice change and nutritional boost.

1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup shortening
2 eggs
1/2 cup orange juice
3 bananas
1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Mix dry ingredients. Combine with others. Add mashed banana. Bake at 325 - 1 hour in 2 greased loaf pans. Enjoy!

Party Games for Kids!

For elementary age kids here is a good list of games to choose from provided by the University of Illinois Extension. These would be great for parties or just to add a little excitement to the day!

Monday, January 14, 2008

God's Grand Vision for the Home

My Mother-in-law just gave me a great book, God's Grand Vision for the Home, that was written by one of the pastors at my church, Dr. Rob Rienow. Thanks Mom! This book didn't take long to read, but was very worthwhile reading. It is a practical look at how to put the focus on God in your home. The book discusses why God has given us the gift of children, gives you simple steps to take, and provides plenty of creative ideas for implementing.

One of the central ideas in this book is the concept of God-filled moments at home. Rob gives four scripture supported (Deuteronomy 6:7) moments to strive for.

- When you sit at home (Family Worship)

- When you walk along the road (In-between times like driving)

- When you lie down (Blessings and prayers before bed)

- When you get up (Blessings, prayer, reading the Bible at the beginning of the day)

Wow, I was challenged to begin striving for more of these moments in our home! I encourage you not to be overwhelmed by this but to start small and make one commitment in this direction! Personally I am going to work on my resolution of reading the Bible to Luke each morning! When that turns into habit I will pick one more small step to begin!

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Series on Cheap Entertainment!

Cheap entertainment is certainly a must for us this year, so I am introducing a series to cover just how to accomplish that and to share a few fun ideas! My husband and I have discussed our budget for the year and are planning to stick to it! We want to stick to the budget for a number of reasons, but the number one reason is so that we can afford for me to be able to stay at home with Luke as we think that is very important. So please check back in on upcoming Fridays for the continuation of this series if you are interested.

Today I would like to begin with planning for entertainment. Generally spur of the moment trips out for entertainment seem to cost us more money. If we stop and think about the upcoming month and how much money we have to spend we will be more likely to stick to the budget. So here are a few simple steps to begin with.

- How much money is in your budget for entertainment. Can you really afford dinner out this week? How about that movie? Set an entertainment budget and do your best to stick to it!

- Is there something free or inexpensive that you and your family might enjoy doing? Take a moment to think of some ideas and jot them down so you will have ideas when you are bored and are tempted to spend money on entertainment! Feel free to share them with me if you come up with some ideas.

An added bonus of planning for entertainment is that you begin to get excited about the upcoming event! Check back next Friday for a few ideas on how to arrange free babysitting for the kids so Mom and Dad can go out for a little break by themselves! Look for more tips on saving money here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Play Date Ideas

If you have kids old enough to enjoy a play date you might like to look at this website. It has some creative ideas for unique play dates!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Another Reason to Eat More Salad

When your husband notices that your Ranch salad dressing expired well over a year ago, you realize that perhaps you should be eating salad a little bit more often! Either that or check the dates, so you aren't accidentally inflicting food poisoning on your husband.

Then when your husband points out that the bottle you open from the cabinet is also expired , you can again realize that you should really make a salad more often! I would like to say that this happened to someone I know, but I bet you, my intelligent readers, probably know the truth of the matter.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Ideas for Cheap Entertainment?

Hello and Welcome Works-For-Me-Wednesday Readers!
Over the next several weeks I am planning a series on cheap entertainment! I will post ideas and tips every Friday for a few weeks if you would like to check back in for more ideas.

When I mean cheap I mean I would love your suggestions on FREE entertainment ideas or even entertainment for a few people on $5-10! Any and all suggestions, no matter how simple, are welcome!

A Review of Deceptively Delicious

I recently discovered a new cookbook, Deceptively Delicious. I just tried out a recipe for lunch today - Sweet Potato Pancakes! They were actually deceptively delicious, as the title claims. I had my doubts, but they did taste great.

When I first heard about this cookbook, I thought wow that sounds great, maybe I can get Luke to eat more vegetables. An added bonus, that I didn't think about, was that I can get my husband to eat more vegetables too! Nobody at my house, except for myself that is, really likes sweet potatoes. In fact Luke spits them out usually, and I'm guessing my husband would too! Anyway though, everyone ate lots of these pancakes without any complaints.

The idea behind this cookbook is to hide vegetables and fruits in foods that kids generally like! The author, Jessica Seinfeld (yes, she is married to Jerry Seinfeld) is not advocating giving up on getting your kids to eat plain veggies. She just likes to put in some extra to guarantee that they are getting enough vitamins and nutrients, in case they don't eat the broccoli you serve with dinner. I recommend this as a great cookbook to try. If you would like a preview of a few of the recipes, Oprah has some on her website. I checked my copy out at the library, though I think this may be a cookbook I would like to purchase in the future!

Actually for the potato pancakes I didn't really follow the "set" recipe. What I did was used my normal pancake recipe from The Joy of Cooking and then I added in 1/2 cup sweet potato puree plus 1/4 cup infant rice cereal for some extra iron. For more kitchen tips check out this good cooking site!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Tupperware Toys

We have received lots of great baby and toddler toys for our son Luke, but one of the cheapest and best toys he likes to play with is random Tupperware! Here is a great post filled with lots of different ideas for how to encourage creative play with Tupperware!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Fun Website

Here is a fun website by Disney that you may enjoy! I really like that you can search for activities based on your child's age and even by their interests. This looks like it could be a great resource for the future!

Unplanned Potluck

Tonight I am heading to a purposely unplanned potluck! Our small group from Church decided it would be fun to have a dinner but leave it completely unplanned. We will see what we come up with for dinner! I am bringing a delicious, yet easy appetizer!

Here is my Aunt Kathy's recipe for Tortilla Roll-Ups:

2-8oz. pkgs. cream cheese (soften for easier mixing)
1 - 4 oz. can green chillies, drained and chopped
2 - 4 oz. cans jalapeno peppers, drained and chopped
1 doz. flour tortillas

Mix cream cheese, green chilies and jalapeno peppers together. Spread mixture over flour tortillas. Roll up and slice into 1" pieces (use a bread knife for easy slicing.) This mixture is easily halved for a smaller crowd and I just guess on the amount of jalapenos as I have a large jar instead of buying small cans as the recipe calls for.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Extras for Movie Night

To make an inexpensive home movie night a little bit more special, there are a few easy things you can do!

  • Gather some movie theater type popcorn holders! They make plastic versions that are washable and reusable. I found mine using Freecylce.
  • Make homemade popcorn instead of is just so much better and it's cheap.
  • Consider making a theater if you have the space - ours is located in our grandparents' basement. We have an old projector our church didn't need anymore and stadium seating built from old couches. Use your imagination and see what you can come up with! To give our theater a little extra excitement we have hung movie posters along the basement walls. Some of these were bought for gifts, others were obtained for free from someone who works at a theater!
Consider these fun ideas for your next frugal Friday movie night!

Snow Days!

Need a few ideas for a snow day?! Here you go!
  • Make a snowman
  • Make snow angels
  • Play Frisbee
  • Build a fort
  • Have a snowball fight
  • Shovel the sidewalk or driveway
  • Spell out words in the snow
  • Go sledding
  • Go cross country skiing
  • Log roll down snow covered hills
  • Catch a snowflake on your tongue
  • Play with your dog in the snow
  • Make an igloo
  • Build a snow castle
  • Decorate the snow (spray bottles filled with water and food coloring!)
  • Look for animal tracks
  • Take pictures of nature covered in snow
  • Have a race in the snow
  • Build an ice sculpture (freeze milk jugs or other containers full of water colored with food coloring!)
  • Have a scavenger hunt in the snow
Have fun playing in the snow!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Using those gift cards!

As we start off the new year I encourage you to take a look at your stash of gift cards! Is it just me or does anybody else hoard these gifts and then forget to use them?! This year my husband and I made a plan to use the gift cards we accumulated over Christmas and through cash-back programs.

Here's what worked for us:
Writing out each month and allotting one fun gift card per month. This should keep us entertained through the end of the summer! We will keep this list with the envelope that we store all of these gift cards in so we can refer to it for our next fun outing!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

New Years Resolutions:
  • Prepare healthier yet inexpensive foods for my family
  • Stick to my budget for groceries, entertainment, clothing, and more!
  • Keep the house organized and follow my cleaning schedule
  • Continue to work on ways of bringing in extra income
  • Read the Bible to Luke during our breakfast time
Related to sticking to a budget you can be expecting some posts in the near future on having fun on a budget in 2008!