Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nate and our Frigidaire Refrigerator

In June, we received a beautiful, stainless steel, Frigidaire refrigerator and I was officially a Frigidaire Test Drive Mom!  It's been great fun this summer sharing my thoughts and information about our refrigerator with my readers. I've showed you pictures of the fridge -- but today I bring you a video!  My sweet son, Nate, helped me out with the video and I think he did a great job sharing our favorite feature (the ice and water in the door!)

Don't you wish he could come over and clean the front of your refrigerator?

Pledge Your Time with Frigidaire

I've been thrilled to be a Test Drive Mom for Frigidaire these past few months (watch the blog for a video soon of my new fridge!), and I'm excited to announce that Frigidaire teamed up with Jennifer Garner for the Save the Children campaign.  Visit the site, pledge to make time for a child, and enter for a chance to win a new double wall oven.

For every pledge made, Frigidaire will donate $1 towards the $250,000 they have pledge to Save The Children.  I made my pledge today -- how about you?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Money Saving Monday #26 - Free Events

Outings as a family of five can be tough on a budget.  I try to keep costs under control by watching for free event.  This past Saturday, the Smithsonian magazine sponsored free museum admission for museums around the country.  This is a great way to visit a museum, but there's a chance that it might be extra-crowded since it is a free event.

Our county started a program last spring where library-card holders could receive a 4-person pass for a local museum. During the summer, those passes were hard to come by, but now that school is back in session, I've been able to grab two in the last couple months.

We headed over to the Heard Museum a few months ago, and the Arizona Science Center yesterday.  The number of passes is limited, and each one is good for just 7 days, so you have to plan carefully once you borrow a pass. I love this program, though, and will definitely continue to use it.  I hope that they extend the program beyond April!

Another thing to look for are free museums, or free places to visit. We had lived here for a few years before we discovered the Riparian Preserve.  During the cooler months, it's a great place to visit, spot local wildlife, and enjoy a wonderful walk.

We also enjoy geocaching -- which does require a GPS -- but once you have a GPS the cost is just gasoline for your car and maybe a few small trinkets.  My kids love the search for each cache, and it's a great way to be outdoors!

Getting out of the house doesn't have to mean spending lots of cash.  What resources do you use your area to save money while still visiting new places?

Lower Price on the Wii

Did you hear that Nintendo finally lowered the price on the Wii game system? We have so much fun with our Wii! We've had ours a few years now, and our entire family has had a great time playing a variety of games.

Right now, the boys love playing Mario Super Sluggers. I think it's partly because they've been playing fall baseball, and partly because it's a fun game that has them up, moving and breaking a sweat!

We know I was a EA Sports Active drop out, but I still think it's a good program and will probably get back to it someday. The fact I didn't stick with it has nothing to do with the quality of the game!

Oh! And Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party 2 with Dance Mat is a complete riot -- and I'm so glad that nobody other than my family watches my clumsy moves! That game is so much fun!

If you have been interested in a Wii but held back because of the price, these new savings may be the ticket to an amazingly fun Christmas present!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tell Me Thursday - Family

Yesterday's Wordless Wednesday photo was of my sweet oldest child and my sweet youngest sibling. It was taken 2 years ago when we visited Wisconsin.  We took a trip to Wisconsin Dells while there, and my boys (sons, husband and brother) enjoyed a great time on the go-kart track.

We don't get to see my brother often enough, as he lives in Wisconsin, but he's always in our thoughts!

Did you play Wordless Wednesday? Be sure to tell your story through Tell Me Thursday!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Family

Wordless Wednesday is always followed up by Tell Me Thursday!  Come back tomorrow for the story behind this picture.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Emily's Potato Corn Cheddar Chowder

I realized I haven't posted any recipes in a long time! Lori, over at Book Lady Online, is looking for some new soup recipes, and I thought about this Potato Corn Chowder that my family likes. I first found the recipe on another blog (I thinks she has a friends-only blog these days), so I call it Emily's Potato Corn Chowder, since it is her recipe!

oil, butter or water for sauteing
1 large onion
red, yellow, and green peppers, chopped (frozen is fine)
1 cube bullion or canned soup stock (optional - use veggie stock to make it a vegetarian meal)
4 to 8 good size potatoes, diced
1 can (or small bag frozen) corn
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk (fat-free, soy, whatever)
1 8 oz package of cubed or shredded cheese
salt and pepper to taste
extra milk if you like a thinner chowder

In large soup pot, saute peppers and onions until soft in water or oil. Place potatoes in pot and cover with water one inch higher than potatoes. Add bullion if desired and boil potatoes for about 15 minutes (less for smaller pieces), until potatoes are soft enough to chew but not dissolving, and turn heat down low.

While potatoes are cooking, melt butter/margarine in separate small sauce pan and stir in flour, stirring constantly until mixture is smooth. Add milk and stir until mixture thickens (you're making a white sauce at this point.) Add cheese and stir until melted. Add undrained corn to soup pot (and a bit of water if using frozen corn), and heat through. Add cheese sauce to soup pot and stir thoroughly, adding milk if necessary to achieve desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with oyster crackers.

Feeds 4 - 5

Money Saving Monday #25 - Dual Uses

I never seem to use as much conditioner as I do shampoo, and I like to change shampoos every time we need a new bottle. While I could continue to use the conditioner with a new shampoo bottle, then they'd never match up and the scents would be off. (I thought I was crazy that this bugged me, until I read in Oprah recently about how it doesn't matter if you choose shampoo & conditioner from different lines, but if you do you might have a scent clash.)

In order to use up conditioner, I use it to shave my legs! Conditioner is a great substitute for shaving cream, and the entire bottle gets used up, no matter what I'm using on my head!  This tip goes right along with my tip from long ago about shaving daily.  I still do that, and it definitely still makes my life easier!

What products perform double duty for you? 

Review: Baby Einstein World Animal Adventure

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm a fan of the Baby Einstein digital board books (dvds).  I was happy ours would see more use when Lydia was born, and have been thrilled at the chance to review new ones as they've come out.  Mom Central and Baby Einstein sent me a copy of their latest dvd that's due out September 29, 2009.

When I opened the package and pulled out Baby Einstein: World Animal Adventure, Lydia immediately recognized the monkey on the cover and wanted to watch it.  We had to eat lunch first, but as soon as lunch was over, she had the wrapping off our new dvd!

This dvd (or digital board book) follows the same format as the ones before, but it's a great formula.  There are kids, there are puppets, there are moving toys -- and the best addition since Disney purchased the brand is the amazing videography.  This dvd is full of wild animals from all over the world. 

Lydia surprised me by recognizing a couple that I didn't realize she knew (like the kangaroo!) She loved guessing what animal would come next, and laughed at the puppet shows.  I wish they would have included the text for each animal, instead of only choosing a few animals to include text on the screen.  I also wish they would let the images linger just a bit longer -- as Lydia wanted to talk about the animals and got a bit frustrated when the tiger was gone and replaced by a fox.

I do like the fact that there is no plot to these dvds.  It's perfect for a toddler / preschooler as there is plenty to talk about and no worries about missing part of the plot.  The music is typical to the series, and not unpleasant to listen to.

After the first viewing, Lydia watched it again and went to find 2 of her Baby Einstein board books to look at while it played in the background.  She is very interested in animals at the moment -- especially wild ones so this came at a great time for her. I know she will enjoy it for quite a while yet! 

“I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Baby Einstein and received a World Animal Adventure DVD to facilitate my candid review.”

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Review: Internet & Families

When I saw that Catholic Parent Know How: Internet & Families was available for review from The Catholic Company, I wanted the chance to read it and see what information was being shared.  Kids and the Internet is a popular topic, and parents seem to be on every side of it -- those that refuse to let their children spend time at all on the Internet, those who let their children have free reign, and those who limit and monitor the use of the Internet by their children.  As an instructor who offers classes in Internet use, including social media and blogging, I receive many questions about what my thoughts are.  (My personal thoughts?  Kids should be allowed to use the Internet, under supervision by parents.  As they get older, they have more freedoms, but still use only with supervision.)

Many Catholic families I know struggle with how to approach their children and the wide myriad of social media available today.  Our local Catholic newspaper had an article in it by someone who compared social media to pornography!  Based on this, I was very interested to see what Our Sunday Visitor would have to say about Kids & the Internet.

This is another 8 page pamphlet, which states on the cover that it provides "Practical Pointers, Scriptures & More"  The pamphlet also included a page about the use of cell phones and children. Throughout the pamphlet, the advice was that parents should be aware and active of what is out there.  The pamphlet encouraged open communication  and provided tips about Internet safety.

I was happy to see that it never stated that the Internet should be avoided, and it talked about the many good things and positive interactions that can come from the Internet. That must be tempered with caution and prudence -- and while I would never encourage a parent to allow their teen unlimited and unmonitored access -- I do believe that they should be provided with the opportunity to explore and learn about the variety of information out there while still at home, under the added protection of their parents.

Personally, one of the first podcasts I ever listened to and downloaded to my iPod was that of Father Roderick, a wonderful priest from the Netherlands who embraces technology every step of the way (and is quite a gamer & sci-fi freak as well!)  In fact, he started SQPN, which is an entire company dedicated to Catholics in new media.  I've learned so much about our Catholic faith from him, and without the Internet I never would have known he existed!  I also have an app on my iPhone which helps me say the rosary!

I was also glad to read encouragement for parents to be involved in social media and new technology, so they can know what their teens are talking about.  In a number of social media classes I've taught, I have parents of teens who don't have a Facebook account, but their kids do.  I always tell them to go home and sign up and immediately "friend" their child.

Not much can be covered in 8 pages, but I felt it was a good introductory pamphlet to some of the new technologies that are available between cell phones and the Internet. I especially liked the prayer that graced the back cover:

Prayer to St. Isidore

Dear St. Isidore of Seville,
Guide us in our use of the Internet,
You were a poor student,
You gave this problem over to God
and became one of the most learned men of your time,
writing dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a history of the world.
O Servant of God, we are poor students:
while we celebrate the wealth of information we can find online,
keep us wary of the dangers that exist there, too.
Pray for us that we might seek wisdom, protectino,
and right judgment at the feet of Christ our Savio,
O Patron Saint of the Internet, pray for us!

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. In exchange for my honest review, I received a copy of this pamphlet. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Catholic Parent - Internet & Families-Pkg of 10.

Student Insurance

One of the hardest things about looking for new employment is the worry about health insurance.  I probably shouldn't admit this, but one of the reasons I have hesitated in the past about testing my blood sugar is because I worry that I will be diagnosed with Type II diabetes and it will become a pre-existing condition.  (I had gestational diabetes with my last pregnancy, and Type II runs in the family.  Thankfully, I am still diabetes-free.) I find it interesting (not really interesting -- more like frightening) that most insurance companies exclude pre-existing conditions if you haven't had insurance for 60 days, and most companies require a 90 day waiting period before providing health insurance.

My oldest has asthma, and that has also played into our considerations when my husband has found himself looking for a new job. I have done a bit of insurance shopping, and am always amazed at the high cost of insurance, and saddened by how much more it costs and how much less it offers these days.  When my husband and I owned our company a little over a decade ago, we had excellent insurance as a small business and the cost wasn't exorbitant.

When my husband is job-hunting, one of the things I have looked into is insurance just for the kids, so we don't lose coverage for them. Mom Select contacted me and asked if I would write about United Healthcare's student option (full disclosure: I was compensated for this post, but it is written solely by me, about my experience.)

Their K12 Student Insurance option was one that I had looked into at the beginning of the school year.  Even though my children are home schooled, they do attend a homeschool enrichment program one day/week through the public school system, so they are considered students in the public school system. It is an illness and accident insurance program (vs. an accident only plan) and offers major medical insurance for $588 / year per student. Parents can enroll anytime during the school year, and pay either $98 every 2 months, or the full cost for 12 months.  It covers children from the age of 5 to 18, which means I couldn't get coverage for Lydia under this plan.

All of the plan details can be found at their website: K12 Student Insurance.  If your children are not insured, this is a viable plan to ensure that any large medical expenses would be covered -- because we all know that kids will be kids and trips to the hospital are bound to happen.

My experience with United Health Care in the past has been excellent, and they offered the best health insurance plan we've had since moving to Arizona.  (And, it feels like we've had them all in the last 10 yerars!)

Since I would prefer to have coverage for my entire family, I would seek out a family plan that would cover all 3 of my children as well as my husband and myself.  It wouldn't be cost-efficient for me to have a family plan for 3 of us, and then separate plans for Colin & Nate, but if all 3 of my kids were school-age, I would seriously consider it to avoid gaps in their insurance coverage.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tell Me Thursday - Siblings

This sweet picture is from last March, but it's one of my favorites.  My three love to spend time together, and they all look out for each other.  It's something that we try to foster as parents, but I know that siblings don't always get along.  My children prefer to spend time with each other over time away from each other -- and I hope as they grow they continue to stay close.

Did you play Wordless Wednesday?  Then head on over to Tell Me Thursday and tell your story!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wendy's High School Heisman Program & Giveaway!

I think I've mentioned before that my favorite fast food treat is a Wendy's Frosty. I have always liked the causes that Wendy's as a company has supported as well, so I was happy when Mom Central and Wendy's asked if I would blog about the Wendy's High School Heisman Program.

Since 1994, the WHSH program has recognized "the nation’s most esteemed high school senior men and women for excellence in academics, athletics, and community/school leadership."  (From their website)

If you know of a high school senior who works hard at academics (has at least a B average), plays one of 27 nationally accredited sports and is active in their community, please encourage them to apply for this program!  Applications are due by October 1, 2009 at 5PM (CST).

Wendy's gift cards ranging from $5 to $50 will be sent to the first 41,100 applicants, and every applicant will be able to download a certificate.  The field is narrowed down little by little, until the finalists visit New York City & ESPN2 in December. For information about every level of awards, please visit the official WHSH website.

To help spread the word even further, Mom Central and Wendy's sent me a $20 Wendy's gift card to give away to one of my readers!  You can earn one entry for completing each of the following (so 4 possible entries - each with a separate comment)
  • Leave a comment telling me what sport you played in high school, or what sport your kids play, and if you know of a high school senior who will be applying.
  • Follow me on Twitter (AZMelly) & tweet a link to this blog post.
  • Write about this entry on your blog and link back to this post.
  • Share a link to this post on your Facebook Wall.
I'll leave comments open until October 1, 2009 and choose a winner on October 2, 2009 via random.org.  I will email the winner on October 2 and they will have 48 hours to send me their mailing address.

"I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Wendy’s and received a gift certificate to giveaway and to thank me for taking the time to participate."

Beautiful Rosaries, and a Good Cause

Ruth, a Catholic homeschooling mom I know online, has a business making rosaries.  During the months of September and October, proceeds from the sale of her rosaries is going to the Bryce Mitchell Memorial Fund.  Bryce is the son of another Catholic homeschooling mom, and his sweet life was cut short after only a few months.

I ordered this rosary from Ruth and it arrived today.  The picture does not show you how smooth the stones are, or the heft of this rosary.  I like the way it feels in my hands very much -- and I'm so picky about the rosaries I like to use that I was a bit worried about ordering online. I had nothing to worry about!

I especially liked the fittings that surround the Our Father beads, as I often say the rosary in the dark and need to feel the change from the Hail Mary beads to the Our Father beads.

If you're in the market for a new rosary, please head over and look at the beautiful rosaries she has created.  I know you will be pleased!

As an aside, the rosary is placed upon a prayer shawl that a very sweet woman made for me years ago. It was a precious gift to receive from someone I met only online, and I cherish it.

Wordless Wednesday - Siblings

Play along at Wordless Wednesday, and come back tomorrow for Tell Me Thursday!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Update in Bullets

  • We're getting into a groove with homeschooling. The change in curriculum threw us all for a loop, but we're settling in and finding our way.  Nate is doing extremely well with the online portion -- in no small part because 98% of it is read aloud to him. The writing portion is more of a struggle.  Colin is working hard, but there are many multiple choice tests and he's not a very good test taker apparently.  I'm not really surprised, as I've always taught to knowledge in the past -- and not to a test format -- so it's new territory for him.  We've talked about test taking strategies and he's improving.  He's retaining the knowledge, he just struggled with the multiple choice format. 
  • Last week, we took a day off and spent it at a local resort.  They have multiple pools and a waterslide and were offering day rates.  We had the pools pretty much to ourselves, since it was a Thursday during the school year and the weather couldn't have been nicer. The special included a suite and a private poolside cabana, so it was no problem getting Lydia her afternoon nap.  It was nice to spend the day, but then come home and sleep in our own beds. 
  • I can't believe we only have 2 weeks left of baseball!  The season went by quickly (as it always does) and I am still impressed at the level of play both boys displayed this year.  Part of it is age, part of it is experience, and a big chunk of gratitude goes to the coaches this year for helping them improve dramatically.  This is the first year Colin has enjoyed it in the last few years -- and he is really excited about playing.  I never thought I'd sign him up for Little League, but it looks like spring ball is in our future.
  • Lydia recently convinced her aunt to buy her the chair pictured above.  She saw it at Ross and declared it her "perfect, purple chair that is in my house." And, so, now it is in our house.
  • Religious education classes started yesterday.  Nate will make his First Communion in the spring, and I'm not exactly sure what Colin is learning this year in class.  We always supplement at home with lessons, so I look at it more as a community-building activity and social outlet.
  • Bo went away last weekend to help a friend install air conditioning.  He took the boys with him, and I confess that Lydia and I had a lovely weekend on our own.  Bo is going away again this weekend, but between baseball and religious ed, the boys will have to stay home this time.  I really enjoyed the quiet of just the two of us and will encourage more weekends away in the future.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tell Me Thursday - Graphic Recorder

I have actually taught classes about taking minutes, and have talked about graphic reporters, but have never had the fun of watching one at work!  When I was in Minneapolis last week for General Mills' Table Talk, they brought in an extremely talented woman, Julie Primozich, to take notes of our meeting. She listened carefully, then created art from the things she heard everyone say. The picture on my post yesterday was her in action -- here's a shot of one of her finished works of the day:

Watching her work made me think about the different careers available. Julie captured our whirlwind day in a creative, but thorough way, and seemed to have a great time while doing it! While I work as a freelance writer and software instructor, she's traveling all over the country recording minutes for corporations and organizations. (Which isn't actually her full-time job -- she runs a creative talent agency that helps match up creative people with marketing people.) One mom I met on this trip is a researcher for a major university, while another is a classically trained opera singer! 
The moms on this trip all had blogging in common, but it was in no way the only way that we shared our talents. Some worked in social media for companies, some were homeschoolers, some were moms with a passion for saving money and sharing their knowledge. It was gratifying to see all the ways these women incorporated motherhood into their lives, and how while it definitely defines them to a point -- it is not the only definition. It goes back to my recent post about the seasons of life, in that life constantly changes and evolves and it's best to be an active participant in those changes.
While at General Mills, we also had the good fortune of meeting Suzy Goodsell, the archives manager for General Mills.  She is in charge of the history of the company -- including the largest cookbook archive! I found it fascinating to learn how they are carefully preserving the histories of all the companies that have been rolled into General Mills and are sharing that information with consumers.  So, even though Pillsbury was a competitor for many years, now that they are joined with General Mills, their long history is being preserved.

We also met Jackie, the Consumer Insights Manager, whose career has been full of learning what consumers really do in their homes --- to the point where in the past she interviewed them in their home, going about their daily lives to truly learn how they shopped and prepared meals.  Today, she is still learning about consumers and how they use products.  And, she recently started blogging herself!

There are so many interesting opportunities out there, if you only take the time to look, listen and learn. During my brief stay at General Mills, I really thought about all the different career possibilities that exist right now -- and I wonder what will be available as my kids grow!

Did you play Wordless Wednesday?  Then head on over to Tell Me Thursday and tell your story!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Graphic Recorder

Play along at Wordless Wednesday.  Thanks to Tell Me Thursday, you can come back tomorrow and learn the story behind this picture!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Green Giant Vegetables & What I Learned

It may seem odd, but I think my favorite session during my recent visit to General Mills for Table Talk was the session by Green Giant.  Two people talked to us from the Green Giant division -- Steve works with frozen food and Alex works with canned food.

I pulled these cans out of my pantry to show that we really do eat Green Giant vegetables!  I didn't pull out the ones from the freezer, but there are a few bags there as well.   Lydia and I shared a Healthy Steamer bag of rice & vegetables last night for dinner when the boys were gone. She gobbled it up - even the red peppers!

Steve, from frozen food, made us all laugh when he shared that he had a kid's palette, and really didn't even like vegetables until he started working in this division!

I was amazed (and pleased!) to learn that they use holistic pest management, and have even gotten to the point where they use NO pest control on their peas! I had just assumed that any large company would use chemical pest control and the only way to avoid it would be to grow my own vegetables, or buy only locally grown produce from farmers I knew. 

Since the original company's founding in 1903, they have always been interested in sustainability and holistic approaches to farming and harvesting. The Green Giant mission is: Valley Freshness & Valley Stewardship, integrated seamlessly.  Their core values are: value, nutrition and taste -- and I feel they are doing a great job incorporating those values in their products.

I was thoroughly impressed with the attention and science that goes into seeds, germinating and planting. The company is committed to sustainability practices in Minnesota, and everywhere they harvest plants.

I also learned that their 15.1 oz cans and their 11 oz cans of niblet corn have EXACTLY THE SAME AMOUNT OF CORN! The difference is that the smaller can is vacuum packed and has 75% less water. The cans are smaller, which require less material, and less shipping costs.  Plus, the corn is a bit crisper because it hasn't been sitting in water.

Did you know that fresh green beans lose 50% of their Vitamin C within a week?  When green beans are harvested at Green Giant farms, they are processed within 8 hours, which locks in all the vitamins! You'll see some commercials in the next few weeks about that fact, but I thought I'd share it here.  I always knew that frozen and canned foods had higher nutritional values in the winter, but I didn't realize how quickly the nutrients drained out of vegetables.

We were able to sample some of the new blends, and all were delicious. They have a peas & corn with butter basil sauce coming out soon, and also added some new Immunity blends. We tried one with cranberries that was yummy.

The one thing I wish is that they had more frozen choices in larger bags. Most of the bags are 2-3 servings, which means I need to purchase 2-3 bags to feed my family.  One of the responses I heard about that was the smaller bags allowed families to offer different vegetables, but at our table, I like to encourage everyone to share the same food.  I don't want to get into the habit of making special or separate meals. 

I do think their single serve options are wonderful for those who live alone (like my sister) and as a snack for kids (and even adults!)  In fact, they recently partnered with Weight Watchers and the single servings will soon show that they are either 0 or 1 point on the Weight Watchers system.

One thing that shined through, no matter who was giving the presentation, was that everyone believed in the mission and goals of General Mills and truly appeared to love their jobs. If I wasn't so committed to Arizona summers, I may consider moving and trying to work there! 

Giveaway Link

Joann, of 10 Kids and a Dog, is running a fun giveaway on her site right now for a Kimochi Feelings toy. They look so cute, and her 3yo has been having fun playing with theirs.

If you don't already read over there, you should!  Joann blogs about all the wonderful things she does in her home, and I'm always inspired (and a bit in awe) of her amazing Tot School for her youngest kids.  And she has the cutest header right now at the top of her blog!  You must go take a look ;)

Money Saving Monday #24 - Grocery Store Savings

You can't get away from spending money on food, and it can be time-consuming to plan purchases to save the maximum amount of money. I haven't been as diligent as I should be about groceries -- I used to keep a price book; shop only sales; use coupons religiously. I have gotten sloppy, and our grocery budget reflects it!

I decided to get our food budget back under control this fall, and started with my shopping trip last night.

I couldn't get a better picture, but this is a shot of my receipt from last night's grocery run. I saved $135.65 between coupons and store specials, and spent $193.06.  I purchased 103 items, so it averaged out to about $2/item. I bought only things that we would regularly purchase, and everything that we'll use.  I was fortunate that I had a few coupons for free items, which helped bump that figure up.

I had a coupon for free bacon - which was worth $4.69 and a free Oscar Mayer Lunchable - which was worth $3.50.

It also helped that the store was offering quadruple coupons this weekend (up to $1) and also accepted competitor's coupons.  I had a bunch of coupons that were about to expire, so I used them and enjoyed the savings.

One thing that I noticed is that stores are definitely starting to limit the brands they offer. I had coupons for Musselman's applesauce, but the store I visited only stocked Mott's and the store brand. That happened with a frozen treat as well -- they only stocked the Dreyer's brand of whole fruit bars.

The thing that helped the most was that my sister came shopping with me.  She usually does, and it helps because she helps keep Lydia entertained while we shop. If I hadn't her help, there's no way I could have successfully used coupons last night.

I feel like I know many of the money-savings tactics for groceries, but the time factor required has overwhelmed me recently. I need at least an hour each week just to plan grocery trips -- reviewing ads, planning meals, reviewing coupons.  And then it's always at least 90 minutes in the store.

How do YOU find the time to save money at the grocery store?  I know the mechanics of saving money (coupons, where to find more coupons, sales, price books, price matching, loss leaders, etc.) Even though I know that, I'm not putting the things I know into practice right now. I'm curious about your strategies and would love to hear from you!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Seasons of Life

I often hear about the "seasons of life" when mothers are making sacrifices for their families and they're offered encouragement by saying that it's just their season at the moment. I've realized in the last couple weeks that I'm headed into a new season, and I confess that I'm a bit excited by it.

For the last decade or so, I've been primary caretaker of my family and children. It's a role that I enjoyed (most of the time) and accepted and reveled in (at times.)  The last year has been one of changes, and I think I'm only recently realizing how big they've been.

In the past few years, Bo has had opportunities to travel and while I've always encouraged and supported him - I admit that part of me wondered if it would ever be my turn again. The last month has shown me that my turn is coming and we'll all have to shift a bit in our ways to accept it.

In the last year, I've started and expanded a freelance writing career, pushed my blog to bigger & better, returned to training on a part-time basis, put my children with a sitter when necessary, gone away overnight with my hubby, taken an online class to improve my writing skills, taken a short vacation with my sister, traveled to General Mills to learn more and share my viewpoint . . . all of which has been made easier by a supportive husband and a good circle of friends.

I fumbled through a good portion of the last year, reaching out and doing new things as a necessity in the economic downturn. I want to be more aware in the next twelve months -- be more specific in my goals and straightforward in my intentions.  I don't see myself returning to a stay-at-home mom again; but instead I see myself continuing to grow in career choices and developing a part of my life that has been dormant for a while.

It's not easy, and I still have huge gobs of mommy guilt some days when I drop the kids off at childcare, or turn on the TV at home because I have a deadline to meet.  I'm also tired, and frazzled, some days as I try to juggle all the different roles. I'm going to keep asking for help. I'm going to keep striving for more. I'm going to keep reaching beyond the status quo to see what is possible!

I don't have all the answers. I can only do the best that I can for my family -- as we are at any given moment. Right now -- that means I have to go dance with my 2yo's Barbies!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Review: "Why Do We Have To Go To Mass?"

It seemed appropriate that I review this pamphlet on a weekend, because that's when you'll usually hear this question if you're Catholic.  The Catholic Company sent me a copy of "Catholic Parent Know-How, Why Do We Have to Go To Mass" for my honest review.

This is an 8 page pamphlet that contains many short articles explaining more about the Catholic faith and our reasons for attending Sunday mass.  I choked a bit when I read in the introduction about answering "Because that's what this family does!" or "Because that's what the Church says we have to do!"  I choked a bit because I have answered that way in the past when asked about attending Mass.  This pamphlet provides information, answers and guidance so that the question can be answered in ways to "encourage and inspire."

I especially liked the 2 page spread entitled "Ten Good Reasons to Go To Mass," as it provided simple, but thorough, reasons we choose to attend weekly Mass.  Number 9 jumped out at me because it was "We need ritual in our lives."  One of the things I tell my boys is that the ritual of Mass has always been very comforting to me - especially knowing that the Mass is performed the same way across the world, down to the exact same readings being read to everyone attending Catholic Mass.

I also appreciated the short blurb about taking infants and toddlers to Mass.  Right now, Lydia is a handful during Mass and we have struggled attending as a family. My husband and I have discussed splitting Mass times so that everyone except Lydia attends until she gets a bit older, but some friends have discouraged that approach. This article encouraged me as it mentioned that it is imperative that adults and children of the age of reason (7 years old) attend, but it is not imperative that younger children attend. Even if we attend once or twice a month as an entire family and split the family on the other weeks, I think it will be easier on all.

I would recommend having this simple pamphlet in your home as part of religious instruction, and just available for those times when attending Mass seems a burden. It only costs $1.95, but I think it's worth much more!

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Catholic Parent - Why Do We Have to Go to Mass-10.

Disney on Ice Discount Tickets!

In April, we attended the Disney on Ice show as it came through Phoenix and had a fantastic time. I was amazed at the athleticism of the performers, and was happy to find it entertaining for all ages.  We had never attended a Disney on Ice show before, but we will definitely watch for future shows.

These shows are not inexpensive, however!  I was grateful this year that Feld Entertainment and Mom Central sent us to the show in exchange for blogging about it.  If you live in an area where the show hasn't arrived yet, I'm excited to share these special discount codes from Mom Central.

Look for the box marked "MC Promotion" when purchasing tickets:

  • *Offer #1: Get 4 tickets for just $44 by entering the code "MOM" at select ticketing channels. Offer good on all weekday performances, which includes all weekday evening and Friday matinee performances; minimum purchase of 4 tickets required; additional tickets above 4 can be purchased at $11 each.
  • *Offer #2: All weekend performance tickets will be $4 off the original price
  • Offer #3: Get the best Front Row and VIP seats available – We have reserved seats in the Front Row and VIP sections just for you! No discounts available on these seats. Use the code MOM.
*Not valid on Front Row or VIP seats or combinable with other offers including opening night offers. Other fees may apply.

The above offers are good in the following cities:
  • St. Louis: September 3-6, 2009
  • Chicago: September 8-13, 2009
  • Sunrise: September 17-20, 2009
  • Dayton/Cincinnati: September 17-27, 2009
  • Miami: September 23-27, 2009
  • Auburn Hills: September 30 – October 4, 2009
  • Charlotte: October 8-11, 2009
  • Philadelphia: October 14-18, 2009
  • Atlanta: October 14-18, 2009
  • Oakland/San Jose: October 14-25, 2009
  • Fairfax: October 21-25, 2009
  • Sacramento: October 28 – November 1, 2009
  • Baltimore: October 28 – November 1, 2009
  • Uniondale: November 10-15, 2009
  • Houston: November 11-15, 2009
  • NYC: November 17-22, 2009
  • East Rutherford: November 24-29, 2009
  • Denver/Broomfield: December 3-13, 2009 *available for purchase on 9/12/09
  • St. Paul: December 9-13, 2009
  • Los Angeles: December 17-20, 2009
  • Toronto: December 18-27, 2009
  • Anaheim: December 22-27, 2009
  • Philadelphia: December 23 – January 3, 2010 *available for purchase on 10/12/09
  • Boston: December 26-29, 2009 *available for purchase on 9/3/09
  • Ontario: December 30 – January 3, 2010
  • Cleveland: January 8 -18, 2009 *available for presale on 10/2/09
“I wrote this review while participating in a blog campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Feld Entertainment. Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.”

Review: Atkins Products

While I haven't followed the Atkins diet specifically, I know that eating more protein and less carbs makes me feel better - especially when I was dealing with gestational diabetes. In an effort to eat healthier, we've been taking a look at all our eating habits and trying to incorporate better choices into our meals.  When Mom Central asked if I'd like to try some Atkins products, I was willing to give them a shot. They sent me a box of penne pasta and a bag of baking mix to use in our kitchen.

We tried the penne pasta first.  It cooked up the same as traditional pasta, and I didn't notice any difference in the taste.  You can see our dinner from the other night -- steak, chicken (we didn't have quite enough of either meat for the 5 of us, so cooked both), watermelon and the penne pasta sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and Italian dressing.  I notice from the website that this is something they recommend for the final phase of their program, as I imagine the carbs are too high for the earlier phases.  I admit that I was worried it would be gummy or odd, but everyone in the family ate it without complaint.

Each serving contains 140 calories and 37g of carbohydrate, and 18g of fiber.  That compares to 210 calories, 42g of carbohydrate and 2g of fiber in a competitor's penne pasta.

A couple days later I made pancakes with the baking mix.  Once again, there was no noticeable difference in the taste or texture of the pancakes.  Again, these were higher in fiber than competitor's products. 

If you were following the Atkins diet, these products would fit easily into your plan.  They are also a great alternative for those trying to watch their carb intake and increase their fiber intake. There were no strange ingredients in either product, which I appreciated.

Atkins is currently running a recipe contest! Develop a new recipe using one of these two new products during the month of September, and have a chance at winning some fabulous prizes -- including an assortment of Atkins products! There are a variety of different categories, so try out your recipe-developing skills and submit a recipe!

*I wrote this review while participating in a blog campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Atkins.  Mom Central sent me products to review and a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.*

Friday, September 04, 2009

Ringling Bros. Ticket Discount Codes

In late June, we had the pleasure of attending the Ringling Bros. Circus when it came through Phoenix.  Thanks to Feld Entertainment and Mom Central, my entire family was able to attend the show, and Lydia still talks about the tigers she saw in the dark. It was the first time any of my kids attended the circus, and they all thoroughly enjoyed it.

The circus is still touring, and I'd like to share some special discount codes from Mom Central you can use if it's still headed to your area.

At Ticketmaster, look for the box marked "MC Promotion" when purchasing tickets, and enjoy one of these exciting offers:

  • *Offer #1: Get 4 tickets for just $44 by entering the code "MOM" at select ticketing channels. Offer good on all weekday performances, which includes all weekday evening and Friday matinee performances; minimum purchase of 4 tickets required; additional tickets above 4 can be purchased at $11 each.
  • *Offer #2: All weekend performance tickets will be $4 off the original price.
  • Offer #3: Get the best Circus Celebrity, Front Row and VIP seats available – We have  reserved seats in these sections just for you! Enter the code MOM. No discounts available on these sections.
* Not valid on Circus CelebritySM, Front Row or VIP seats and may not be combined with other offers including special Opening Night pricing.  Other fees may apply.

The above offers are good in the following cities:
  • Denver: September 30 – October 11, 2009
  • Boston: October 14-18, 2009
  • St. Louis: October 15-18, 2009
  • Cleveland: October 21-26, 2009
  • Rosemont/Chicago: November 5 – 29, 2009 *available for purchase on Sept. 8. 2009
  • Auburn Hills: November 18-22, 2009
  • Charlotte: January 27-31, 2010 *available for purchase on Sept. 12, 2009
  • Atlanta: February 12-21, 2010 *available for purchase on Sept. 12, 2009
  • Cincinnati: March 10-14, 2010 *available for purchase on Sept. 21, 2009
  • Dayton: April 29 – May 2, 2010 *available for purchase on Sept. 21, 2009
“I wrote this review while participating in a blog campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Feld Entertainment. Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.”

Listen to Me!

I talked with the lovely Chele over at Moms Love Shopping earlier this week and was able to give the scoop about how my Frigidaire refrigerator is working out, as well as my fabulous trip to General Mills and the Betty Crocker kitchen!

You can search for Moms Love Shopping podcasts on iTunes, or download the podcast right there

It's always fun to talk with Chele and you'll find out some exciting news of her own that she shared! 

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Vacationing in Arizona

In this economy, you read more and more about people staying close to home for their vacations -- calling them stay-cations or sometimes state-cations (staying in their own state.) While the economy has definitely limited our vacation possibilities, we are lucky to live in Arizona where there are tons of interesting places within a few hours to visit.

Just last week, my husband and I discussed our wishes to get away for a weekend as a family. We're expecting our temperatures to start cooling off soon (well, next month), and decided to plan a short vacation to Tucson. It's only about 90 minutes away, but by staying the night we can visit more places and it'll feel more like a vacation. We'll visit the Morenci Copper Mine, the Pima Air & Space Museum and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Bo & I visited the first 2 places a little over 9 years ago (pre-kids) during a weekend in Tucson. I have wanted to visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for many years, but just haven't made it there yet. I think the kids will enjoy all 3 places!

Holiday Inn is encouraging families to consider staying with them during their state-cations. With over 2,500 locations, you're bound to find one near you. A quick search at their site showed me that there are 9 locations in the Tucson area! They've redecorated and remodeled many locations, so you're bound to find yourself surprised you're in a Holiday Inn!

Do you have a stay-cation planned as the summer winds down? Where will you go?

“I wrote this review while participating in a blog campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Holiday Inn. Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.”

Tell Me Thursday - General Mills Table Talk Trip

While I liked Kraig's guess yesterday that this was a new kitchen Bo built for me, this amazing kitchen is actually Betty Crocker's kitchen at the General Mills company in Minneapolis. I was one of a group of lucky bloggers who were invited to General Mills' Table Talk event to find out more about General Mills, learn some ideas and tips for making dinners easy and fun, and share our thoughts. It was a fabulous trip and I learned so many things!

Not only was I able to see the Betty Crocker kitchen, where they cook and test new recipes, I was able to cook in the Betty Crocker kitchen! My group made Oven-Fried Chicken Tenders and they were scrumptious and easy!

The shot of the kitchen above is only a portion of the kitchen. There are many more stations -- all equipped with sink, stove, rangetop, microwave and individual refrigerators. The huge windows allow in a ton of natural light, which makes the kitchens bright and cheery.

Did you know they have one person on staff who ONLY does grocery shopping? Every day she heads out to regular grocery stores to purchase groceries for all the recipes they prepare. This way, they make sure that the ingredients they choose are easily available to the average cook. I wonder if that employee dreads her own grocery shopping trips?

Here's a shot of Toni & Nicole breading the tenders: (Amanda was also in my cooking group, but I didn't get a shot of her)

And here's a shot of the tenders after we sampled them:

If you want to make them yourself -- here's the recipe straight from Betty Crocker's kitchen!

Oven-Fried Chicken Tenders

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Start to Finish: 30 minutes

1/4 cup Gold Medal all-purpose flour
1 egg
1 T water
1 cup Progresso Panko crispy bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmsan cheese
1 package (about 1 1/4 lb) chicken breast tenders
2 T butter, melted
Favorite dipping sauce (we tried bbq sauce, honey, and a really yummy peanut sauce)

  1. Heat oven to 425 F. Line cookie sheet with foil, spray with cooking spray.
  2. In shallow dish (we used pie plates), place flour. In another shallow dish, beat egg and water. In third shallow dish, mix bread crumbs and cheese. Coat chicken with flour; dipe into egg mixture, then coat with bread crumb mixture. Place on cookie sheet. Drizzle with melted butter. (We drizzled half the chicken with butter to see if it was necessary. I understand they included the butter to help brown the bread crumbs, but we didn't notice much difference. I will leave this step out to save the calories and the time to melt / drizzle.)
  3. Bake 15 - 20 minutes, turning once, until chicken is no longer pink in center and coating is golden brown. Serve with dipping sauce.
4 servings

1 serving: Calories 330, Fat 18g, Protein 18g
Exchanges: 1 1/2 starch, 2 lean meat, 2 fat
Carbohydrate Choices: 1.5

Even though I was only at General Mills for a few hours, I learned so much that I have a bunch of posts planned for the next couple weeks. I also did an interview about my experience for the Moms Love Shopping podcast that should go live tomorrow. Come back over the next couple weeks and read more about my experiences!

Did you play Wordless Wednesday yesterday? If so, don't forget to tell your story today & link to Tell Me Thursday!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - MN Trip

Play along at Wordless Wednesday, then head over to Tell Me Thursday tomorrow to share the story behind the picture!
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