Friday, February 22, 2013

What a Doll (House)

As a pre-K teacher I am always looking for ways to improve my classroom resources, on a really tight budget. One thing I have wanted for a long time, was a doll house.  I finally figured out how to do it. A while back my father-in-law built me some awesome book shelves. That means I had extra space on one of my existing book shelves. I decided to use some left-over paint on the back of the shelf. I kept it bright and bold like the other colors in the room. I didn't add any windows or doors, Since I wanted to keep it neutral so kids could do what they wanted with the rooms.

Then came the furniture.

If you have ever tried to furnish a doll house, you know how expensive the furniture can be. It also has lots of tiny pieces that a class of 20 preschoolers would destroy in minutes. After looking at lots of magazines, websites, garage sales, thrift stores, etc. I found inspiration.

Using some scrap lumber that I had laying around. I came up with some sturdy, pint sized, furniture. They are essentially wooden blocks that I cut to size, sanded, then used a wood burning tool to add markings so the kids would know what each piece was.

Because there are no moving parts there is nothing tiny to break off. The kids don't even seem to mind that the drawers and doors don't open. Sure they sometimes stack the furniture like blocks, but I'm guessing they would probably do that anyway. It has been a week since introducing the new doll house to the kids, and there is still a line of kids waiting their turn at the station.

For dolls I picked up 5" dolls through a They have a family of 8 (grandparents-baby) for about $20 and they had a variety of ethnicities to choose from.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Awesome Grocery Deals!

Coborn's has some great sales this week. These are stock-up prices, but they'll go quick so hurry in.
3 Day sale from Sunday to Tuesday Limit 2 on each item:
$.69 Hormel Little Sizzlers
$.59 Dozen Eggs
$1.39 21-27oz Select Malt O Meal Cereal (That's a family sized box!)
$3.99 Charmin Basic Bath Tissue (12 roll)
There is a Special Coupon book that has coupons for:
$1.99 1 lb Butter
$1.33 Food Club Shredded Cheese
$1.19 Crystal Farms English Muffins (asst. variety)
$.99 Steaming Easy Frozen Vegetables
For a complete list of Coborn's deals go here.
Menards also has a sweet deal on V8 64oz container for just $1.98 plus you can also use this printable coupon for $.75 off 2. We still like to juice, and when time is short a V8 is a quick and easy replacement meal. (Surprise! I didn't want to leave town just for juice, so I price matched at the new Walmart.)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

That's Just Cheesy

When we were DINK's (Dual Income No Kids) Valentine's Day was just another good excuse to go out someplace fancy. Once we had kids that changed. We had lots of years to be "a couple". Now we get to be "a family" and that includes Valentine's Day.

How do you make a romantic day feel special for mia familia? By going old school baby! (Yes, I've been watching a lot of cake boss.) What says old school romantic more than Fondue? That's right nothin'.

When girls were little, and money was even tighter than it is now, Craig used his list to help me find 2 fondue pots. One for Cheese and one for Chocolate. Since we only do this meal 1 time a year, I haven't had many chances to perfect my recipe. The first year was OK, the second year was terrible, third time is a charm though, not. So this year I relied on the 5 star recipe from Food Network's Tyler Florence.

I rarely follow recipes, when I follow recipes exactly, My Vet can tell by how bad it usually tastes. I have an uncanny ability to choose recipes that are missing ingredients, or are just bad from the beginning. So I made sure to read all 92 of the reviews, and said a prayer.

I followed the reviewers advice, and purchased high end ingredients, imported cheese, and recommended dry white wine. I shredded the cheeses, and coated the shreds with corn starch, then gradually added it to the simmering liquid. I found that the cheese didn't melt as smoothly as I would have liked, and helped it with an immersion blender. Just as I was finishing up, My Vet walked in the door.

We all sat down to try it. It was my best effort yet, but next year I will be making something different. My kids dunked a little, but mostly ate the veggies, meat, and bread plain. I thought it tasted too salty. My Vet thought it was to vinegary (Is that even a word?)

The clear winner for the meal was the French Bread that I had picked up at the 'new' Walmart. It was the perfect mix of crusty, soft, and chewy. It reminded me of special occasions as a kid.

I'm thinking that next year I might try mixing something with Havarti, it is one of my favorite cheeses, and it melts really nice. I'll keep you posted. :-)

Frugal Chocolate Fondue

Since Valentine's Day fell on a Thursday, My Vet had to work late. Yep, we filled up our kids with chocolate after bed time.

I looked at some recipes online, and then true to form, I didn't follow them. Most called for expensive chocolates, liquors, and nuts. I just used what I had around the house. I was inspired by Rachel Ray to add hazelnuts, but I did it my way.

Chocolate Chip Fondue
1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips*
3/4 cup half and half **
2 Tablespoons Hazelnut flavored coffee syrup
Arrange cubes of sponge cake, shortbread cookies, potato chips, marshmallows, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, or any other seasonal fruit on a tray

Sorry for the bad lighting
It really WAS late.
Heat half and half and coffee syrup get really hot, but do not boil. I like to use the microwave. Stir in chocolate chips and continue to stir until melted. You can microwave in 30 second intervals if you didn't get the milk mixture hot enough initially. I found that the hazelnut syrup really enhanced the flavor of the chocolate. I will always be adding that in the future.

You will want to serve this right away.

*the bitterness of the semi-sweet is perfect for this dish. I used store brand and it was really good. I've also tried various brands of milk chocolate, and have not been happy with the results. Stick to semi-sweet or dark.
**I had some half on half on hand, typically recipes call for heavy cream so you could use that instead.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Me the Lunatic

Yep 2 kids and 3 boxes. (for School & Preschool)
As a kid time was marked by how long until the next holiday or birthday. Then I started school and it was 3 day weekends, snow days, spring break, summer etc. Sometime after college I noticed that I no longer noticed back to school or start of summer. It all blended together with a periodic recognition of the date. Yes, I am referring to dates like New Years 2000 when the world's computers were supposed to crash. Ouch, did I just admit how old I am?

Now I'm a mom and time seems to be marked by throwing out candy. What? That's crazy talk! Who are you? My inner child is screaming. My kids are so much better than I was when it comes to candy. I don't think my kids have ever gotten sick from eating too much candy. I sadly admit that it has happened to me so many times I learned moderation the hard way. OK, OK I like to tell myself I have learned moderation.

My calendar/ candy jar.

At Valentine's day I empty the candy jar of candy canes and other Christmas candy; Easter is when I dump the old Valentine's Candy; summer parades mean the end of the Old Easter Candy. The only exception is that the Halloween Candy makes it until the gingerbread house is made. This was not an easy conclusion. I waged a mighty battle at first, but looking in the mirror always ends the war.

Unfortunately, a new battle always starts fresh and I head in with a smile on my face. We spent today laughing and making Valentine's to share our sugar addiction, and then made cute smiling boxes to welcome more into our home.

Lunacy is doing the same action, expecting a different result.

So next year I challenge me and you, to create sugar free Valentine's that the kids will love. Are you in?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Big News for a Small Town

My Vet standing on the site of the future home of Walmart
I live in a nice little town of about 5,000 people. With lots of small town charm. Around once a week or so, I travel out of town, to get what I needed, but couldn't find here. It was all good. It kept me from impulse buying, and many times I would try the thrift store on the off chance I could find a needed item there. It's been great for the budget.

Then on Friday, the business landscape changed. Walmart opened it's doors. It has been "coming" for about 5 years now. All of the pro/con Walmart arguments have taken place. Like it or not, it is here. It's been funny to read the Facebook comments, I'm a little surprised about the euphoria some are feeling. I've even read people wanting to showing up on the 'people of walmart' website. Huh? Really? Please help us Lord!

Anywho.. On Saturday morning I decided to get up early and beat the overly, excited crowds to do some couponing.

Because of the available land, it is smaller in size than most Walmarts, so selection is more limited. I found that many of the items I was looking for, weren't carried. (In Extreme Couponing, variety of brands and size are important) If I only wanted an item, and didn't care about the brand/size I could have done better. I found a few things, but mostly struck out on the couponing.

Watch for a project with this fabric.
What I did find though, was a huge arts and craft section. Loads of art paint (bring on that Christmas project), and some fabric that I just have to find a use for.

Honestly, I was glad to not find everything I wanted. I hope that bodes well for the other businesses in town. After going to Walmart, I shopped in 4 other stores in town. All of them had other customers. I even saw 10 people in a store that I have never seen another customer in at the same time!

I have lived here for 9 years with My Vet, and we have worked with many organizations to improve the business climate of our community. We have seen rebirth in the industrial park, and now retail has changed. I look forward to seeing new faces around town!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Thrift Store Challenge

Ready to "Pop some tags"
Have you ever heard of the group Macklemore? Me neither. (That is until John and Sherry over at Young House Love, introduced them to me.)

They are not exactly the kind of music I usually listen too, but you all know how I love a challenge. So thanks to John and Sherry I listened to a "cleaned up" version of the song, put "$20 in my pocket", grabbed my kids and a camera.

Thanks to the kids I found
something to buy
We have several Thrift stores in town. I can't say that I have been extremely lucky in my finds at any of them. Since they are close I check them out when I can, and I sometimes find something. If you know of a good one near by, tell me! (My mom obviously has a good one, but that is a bit too far to drive very often.)

For this challenge I went to 2 stores before finding something to buy. A cute little purple dress and a power cord for a Leapster2 I had picked up off Craigslist. Total Spent :$3.00 My best frugal tip is that no matter how cheap, don't buy it if you wouldn't want it at full price.

Some of my scavenger hunt finds were:

Borrowing my "Grandpa's style", and "Aah he got the velcroes"! 
They didn't "have a broken keyboard", but this non-working trapset counts right?
"Dooky Brown Leather Jacket that I found"
look at that rockin suede detail.

No "knee boards" during a MN winter. But these should totally count.