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Monday, July 28, 2014

2014 Summer #Vacation to #Texas - @thinkeryATX is an awesome children's museum!! #kids #parenting #motherhood

If you don't know, I'm a planner.

A researcher.

I keep a calendar!

So, it should come as no surprise that my family and I had a list of activities for us to take advantage of while we were in Austin, TX.

At the top of that list was a visit to the new children's museum, The Thinkery.


My friend Lorey takes her daughter there and raves about it, which is enough for me to want to take my kids, but, an offer to visit for FREE (donations gratefully accepted) made it a must-do. Who doesn't like to sample something before spending money on it?!?

The Thinkery hosts what they call Community Nights on Wednesdays from 5-8pm where they open their doors to anyone and everyone for a small, what-you-can-afford donation. Our party of 4 gave $20 and boy, was it worth it!

First off, there is a plethora of parking once you arrive, including a parking garage that's FREE!

Second, there is a super fun, fenced-in, delightfully shaded, clean playground that sits against a lake across the street! With bathrooms that are as fancy as anything you'd find in an upscale hotel. Also, a water fountain.





We were in-love before we ever stepped inside!

What I loved most about The Thinkery is the variety of exhibits that appealed to both my 3 year old and 8 year old. At times, we visit places that are "too old" for the 3 year old or are "boring" to my 8 year old. What a great surprise to observe both kids rush to and from the exhibits with eager eyes and joyful smiles.


 It was easy to move across the first floor from the entry way where the kids played with the train table and used the restrooms - twice - to the gears & gadgets room, where they could build, tinker, use magnets, paint on a wall, learn about and create circuits.

 

The Light room was simply amazing. The kids loved moving all the pegs around, playing with Magnatiles over a lit table, making shadow puppets and touching the color-changing wall.


The Water room was the most fun for them because music is incorporated into the exhibit. Water drips down on copper bowls, plastic domes, and drums. You can play this neat, water piano, too! Water fills up buckets that get full and tip over, splashing everyone. You can turn cranks that make the water flow at varying speeds that will turn the huge wheel. They have bibs for all the kids as well as Crocs to keep them mostly dry. Oh! And there are dryers to dry yourself off as you exit. Super cool!


Upstairs, there is a play Cafe with tons of play food and kitchen areas as well as a chicken coop! Nolan loved filling a basket with eggs, walking around to the coop, climbing into it, and dumping the eggs back into the nest.


There's also what I call a tumble room with mats and soft climbing shapes where you take your shoes off and just jump around!


There's a huge outdoor playground and little play stream you can "fish" in but we had had our fill of being hot so we skipped it. We didn't visit the cafe nor the "under 3yrs" play area (it's amazing!!!) and I'm sure I'm leaving out a ton of amazingly awesome features (including the little store we didn't visit!) but this place is huge and so fun, it's hard to cover it all. Even in two visits.

We can't wait to visit next year!

Friday, July 25, 2014

More independent, confident, and vocal about what she wears & how she looks. My daughter is growing up! #kids #parenting #motherhood

It's never been a struggle nor point of contention to update Emily's wardrobe or get her dressed in the mornings as she has never had any preference for what's in her closet.

I've always purchased all her clothes and picked out the day's outfits.

At times, she has pointed out something in a store or online and mentioned liking it, and I typically do oblige and purchase those things for her, but for the most part, she hasn't shown much interest.

Until recently.

Out of nowhere three days ago, Emily said she wanted a hair cut.

A short haircut.

With bangs!

She's never had bangs, I didn't even know for sure if her hair would lay flat as bangs but she was so firm in her desire for this hairstyle that I didn't question it. I just made the appointment and sat back watching her squeal with delight as they cut the hair away to reveal her face.

In these photos, she looks exactly like my baby sister did in her elementary school photos, it's freaky! Same little chubby face, same hair color, same facial expression. What a neat moment in time.


When she saw her hair for the first time, through a teary gasp she squeaked; "I look beautiful!!!".

And she does.


I honestly can't believe how good bangs look on her and how naturally her hair laid down her forehead. We all know, bangs aren't for everyone.

She couldn't wait to send a photo to everyone we know.

Once we got home, she began talking about how much her previous teachers wouldn't recognize her and which friends would love her hair. She has even made reference to which dresses would look prettiest with her new hair.


I just can't help but smile.

Next up, we are off to shop for clothes and shoes!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

7/19 thru 7/25 #mealplanning Shopping for the lowest priced store pays off BIG! #cooking #SAHM

Brand new to Meal Planning and want to get started?

Start by reading all about how I go about Meal Planning each week in order to familiarize yourself with the steps! There, you will find the eight steps to meal planning - a detailed "how to" in a Step-By-Step format as well as a link to an example from start to finish of my own weekly meal planning where I walk you through it. I perform the same steps every week so these weekly posts focus more on how I chose my menu (do we have a busy week? what's in-season and inexpensive? is it too hot to boil noodles and run the oven?) and why I purchased what I did.


This week's news:
I've really started focusing on shopping at the least expensive stores this year and have found Lucky's to be the cheapest overall. Their produce is dollars cheaper per item and per pound, which is the bulk of my purchase each week; however, I have found their poultry and fish to be sub-par and MORE expensive (go figure!) so, I still find myself swinging by Safeway or Trader Joe's on my way home each week. And that's okay! High quality at the best price is my goal. :)

The first thing I do each week is look back over the week to see if we did indeed eat everything on my meal plan (I write down each night's meal on our family calendar) and adjust my inventory, reducing it by what we ate and increasing it by anything I purchased and/or made-ahead. 99% of the time if a meal that was planned for wasn't eaten it's automatically added to the next week's plan to avoid wasting those ingredients.
We did eat everything we planned for so, here's my updated inventory list below less what we ate last week:

Inventory

5 portions ground sirloin
6 portions ground turkey
1 portions pork shoulder
3 portions stew meat
1 portion flank steak
1 portions wings & drumsticks
1 portions boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 portions pre-formed turkey patties for burgers
2 portions pre-formed chicken patties for burgers
3 portions frozen breaded chicken breast pieces
2 portions made-ahead brisket chili
2 portions made-ahead meatballs
2 portions Brats

1 portions Italian sausage
2 portions made-ahead enchiladas Verdes

I looked through my pantry, freezer and fridge for inspiration, noting ingredients I had on hand to come up with some meals off our Master Meal List.
Simultaneously, I read the weekly ads and looked through the coupons via the iPhone apps to see what was on sale that might complement and/or substitute what I came up with. I also always try to stretch ingredients on my grocery list over enough meals to use them up to prevent waste. For example, I needed limes and cilantro for my fajita marinade but would have leftover so I added guacamole as a side dish to one meal and added a meal that would use up the remaining guacamole this week to use it all up.

Here's this week's menu and why I chose these meals:

Weekly Meal Plan

Steak fajitas with chips and guacamole
Flank steak in my freezer made me crave fajitas and the steak sandwiches we make with the leftovers. I just had to purchase tortillas ($1.99), chips ($2), avocados (2@$3), cilantro ($0.33), an orange ($0.79/lb) and limes (5@$1) for the marinade and guacamole.

Chicken Alfredo french bread pizza
I saw this recipe on Six Sister's Stuff blog and David insisted we try it. I agreed because we'd have the leftover grilled chicken and I had mozzarella cheese. I had to purchase a loaf of french bread ($0.99), Roma tomatoes ($0.59/lb), green onions ($0.79) and Asiago cheese ($3).

Sloppy Joe's with oven fries
With a can of Manwich starring at me from the pantry and ground beef in the freezer, this was a no-brainer this week. I just needed to purchase burger buns ($1.99). 

Leftovers

Chicken toastadas with Spanish rice
Toastadas are a Tex-Mex staple and something I grew up on. It's like a flat taco shell that you pile high with whatever you like. Think nachos! I purchased the toastada shells ($2.19) and will use up the leftover guacamole, tomatoes and cilantro to top them. I'll make some home-made Spanish rice as a side dish.

Steak sandwiches with fresh herb spread and roasted cauliflower
Fresh arugula ($2.99), parsley ($0.50), capers, asiago, lemon juice blended together makes the most delicious spread to slather on hoagie rolls (in my freezer) and layered with tomato slices and leftover steak. YUM! I'll roast cauliflower ($1.49) to serve alongside it.

Family dinner out 

What did I purchase this week?

I spent $61.02 at Lucky's this morning. Yep, that's it and I purchased:
  • french toast bread, $1.00
  • deli ham, $6.99/lb
  • strawberries, buy 1 get 1 free, $2.50/ea
  • bananas, $0.59/lb
  • mangos, 2@$1
  • nectarines, $1.88/lb
  • seedless grapes, $1.49/lb
  • sandwich bread, $1.99

Monday, July 14, 2014

7/12 thru 7/18 #mealplanning when the kids are home and eating EVERYTHING you take advantage of in-season, cheap summer fruit! #kids #motherhood

Brand new to Meal Planning and want to get started?

Start by reading all about how I go about Meal Planning each week in order to familiarize yourself with the steps! There, you will find the eight steps to meal planning - a detailed "how to" in a Step-By-Step format as well as a link to an example from start to finish of my own weekly meal planning where I walk you through it. I perform the same steps every week so these weekly posts focus more on how I chose my menu (do we have a busy week? what's in-season and inexpensive? is it too hot to boil noodles and run the oven?) and why I purchased what I did.


This week's news:

We are all getting back on the healthy eating bandwagon, focusing on whole, raw foods which lead me to dig through the pantry to see what was in there that needed to be thrown out or replaced. Know what I found? The Hershey's chocolate syrup I let the kids mix into their milk has high fructose corn syrup as the number one ingredient. Yikes! :( I really want to find an alternative, any ideas?!?

The first thing I do each week is look back over the week to see if we did indeed eat everything on my meal plan (I write down each night's meal on our family calendar) and adjust my inventory, reducing it by what we ate and increasing it by anything I purchased and/or made-ahead. 99% of the time if a meal that was planned for wasn't eaten it's automatically added to the next week's plan to avoid wasting those ingredients.
We did eat everything we planned for so, here's my updated inventory list below less what we ate last week:

Inventory

6 portions ground sirloin
8 portions ground turkey
1 portions pork shoulder
3 portions stew meat
1 portion flank steak
1 portions wings & drumsticks
2 portions boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 portions pre-formed turkey patties for burgers
2 portions pre-formed chicken patties for burgers
3 portions frozen breaded chicken breast pieces
2 portions made-ahead brisket chili
2 portions made-ahead meatballs
3 portions Brats

1 portions Italian sausage
2 portions made-ahead enchiladas Verdes

I looked through my pantry, freezer and fridge for inspiration, noting ingredients I had on hand to come up with some meals off our Master Meal List.
Simultaneously, I read the weekly ads and looked through the coupons via the iPhone apps to see what was on sale that might complement and/or substitute what I came up with. I always try to stretch ingredients on my grocery list over enough meals to use them up to prevent waste. As I go through each store's ad it becomes obvious quite quickly, which store is offering the lowest price on the majority of what is on my list and that is where I'll do my shopping. We have a Lucky's 3 miles away and a Trader Joe's and a Safeway that share a parking lot just down the road. This week, Safeway was offering the lowest prices so, I went there!



Here's this week's menu and why I chose these meals:

Weekly Meal Plan

Spinach-stuffed shells with garlic bread
While digging through the pantry/freezer/fridge, I spotted jumbo shells, jarred organic marinara sauce, and block parmigiano-reggiano cheese. 32oz shredded mozzarella was on sale ($5) and frozen chopped spinach was $0.89 so, I chose this meal. I needed to purchase an onion ($0.69/lb), french bread ($1.99) and garlic spread ($1.29) to complete this meal. 

Peach-BBQ glazed grilled chicken with smoked corn cakes
With apricot preserves and our favorite Stubb's BBQ sauce in the fridge, this meal was an easy one. David always grills up 6-8 chicken breasts over the weekend for us to eat for lunch throughout the week (he hates deli meat sandwiches - I don't blame him!) and in other meals so, I just set a few aside that I'll slather this glaze on for dinner one night. Oh, corn cakes. This is Giada de Laurentis' recipe and it's to die for. We smoke our corn (4@$1) before stripping the kernels off and combining them with sour cream, bread crumbs, green onions ($0.33), and shredded fontina cheese ($5.99/lb) and forming little cakes that I fry up in a skillet. Delicious! I made double the recipe to freeze for another meal.

Brats with oven fries
I always try to choose at least one meal the add to our weekly menu that costs us nothing, meaning I found all the ingredients in the house. This would be one of those meals!

Leftovers

Crispy tacos with chips and guacamole
In an attempt to get more whole, raw foods and healthy fats into our diet, I knew I'd be whipping up some guacamole. Lucky me avocados were $1/ea! I'll use up some of the remaining red onion, leftover lime juice from our 4th of July party, and some cilantro I purchased for $0.33. I have chips in the pantry as well as corn taco shells and remaining organic Romaine lettuce and tomato from last week.

BBQ chicken pizza
A quick easy meal for me is this pizza because it uses bacon, which we always have leftover from breakfast, chicken, which we always have, and fresh dough that I can make myself but chose to buy this week for $1 because my time this week was definitely worth $1! :) I'll use up the remaining red onion and green onions and cilantro on our pizza. I'll use some of the mozzarella I purchased today plus the cheddar I have on hand. This is probably David's favorite meal ever!

Pad Thai
We haven't had this meal in a long time and all the ingredients I purchased today or have on-hand will complete this meal, which is fantastic for our budget! I have the noodles on hand as well as all the sauce ingredients. I'll use up the last of the green onion and cilantro. This meal will use up the other half of the ground turkey that I will brown for the tacos. I just had to purchase roasted, salted peanuts ($2.99).

What did I purchase this week?

We average about $150 per week, but I spent $120.89 this week. 

In addition to what I mentioned above, I purchased:
  • Yoplait 8pk, $3.99 plus $1 off coupon
  • Nutri-grain Eggo frozen waffles, $4.99 - for when we don't have time to make a breakfast from scratch
  • Totino's frozen pizzas, $1.00 each - Emily's favorite dinner
  • Cheerios protein cereal, FREE
  • Life cereal, 2@$5
  • Mesquite turkey and ham deli meat, $4.99/lb - the kids like deli meat plain
  • Ricotta cheese, $2.99 - for the stuffed shells
  • English muffins, $2
  • Triscuit sweet potato and brown rice cracks, $1.99
  • Breakfast sausage, $2.99 - I love breakfast burritos!
  • Canned mandarin oranges, $0.74
  • Bing cherries, $1.99/lb
  • Watermelon, $5.99
  • Yellow peaches, $1.88/lb
  • Organic strawberries, 2@$5
  • Organic fuji apples, $2.49/lb
  • Red plums, $1.99/lb
  • Sandwich bread, $1.99 - the kids love grilled cheese and PBJ sandwiches

2014 Summer #Vacation to #Texas - FREE Nature Nights at @WildflowerCtr are amazing for #kids #parenting #austin

One of the places we always visit during our summer vacations to Texas is The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center down in South Austin.

This year's trip we got a big surprise: they had FREE Nature Nights specifically designed for kids every Thursday in June from 5-8pm. Each Thursday had a theme, crafts, professionals to give speeches and answer questions, gifts, and lots of fun activities.

We attended the week that was dedicated to Dinosaur Fossils and we couldn't have imagined a better experience!

HEB always sponsors these events so we weren't surprised to see the HEBuddy there, handing out goodies bags (re-usable bags with an orange and bottle of water inside) and interacting with the kids; however we were surprised at how excited the kids were to see him, shake his hand, and take photos with him. Nolan was facinated, waving at him, hugging him, talking to him and being quite the hog of HEBuddy's attention. :)


You could walk around the grounds, doing all the activities at your own pace, or follow the itinerary that included a presentation and fossil hunt!


We were so hot, we chose to go inside the store first to "ooh" and "aah" over all the amazing books and treasurers all about the beautiful native Texas flowers and birds.


Then, we headed into the auditorium so Emily could make a fossil herself of a seashell! She rolled out some clay, selected a shell that she pressed into the clay, and then filled it with plaster before putting inside a bowl to set for a few hours.


Nolan loved all the fossil exhibits especially those about all the dinosaurs that were native to Texas.


We went into the theater for 15 minutes to listen to a presentation about a local fossil enthusiast group and learn about all the discoveries of fossils made here in Texas before we headed out to the garden, the most beautiful and interesting part of the center.


Every native Texas plant and flower you could imagine perfectly labeled and landscaped and laidout for you to leisurely stroll through and enjoy.

Emily's favorite part was the butterfly garden.


It's a very popular event so be sure you arrive early to get a parking spot, about 4:30pm and wear a hat and bug repellent as the mosquitos are fierce at dusk.

Also! They have the nicest bathrooms and ice cold filtered water as well as a little cafe where you can purchase something to eat or bring a picnic of your own. Lots of wide-open space to discover and run around the staff couldn't be nicer!

Go visit them today!
http://www.wildflower.org

Once again, I didn't receive anything for this post. I share my family's experiences with you for FREE because it's just something I love to do and hope you enjoy the LBJWC as much as we do!

Friday, July 11, 2014

2014 Summer #vacation to Texas - A trip to the @AustinAquarium was a real highlight! #kids #parenting

Friends of ours living in Austin told us the new Austin Aquarium was a must-visit so, we planned a trip during our first week of vacation.


They offer discounts on tickets purchased in-advance online and we appreciated how quickly that made check-in once we arrived.

The aquarium is in a huge warehouse which was a former furniture store and is laid out really well! The walls are painted navy and it's dimly lit so the exhibits really stand out. All the tanks were spotless, the fish were exquisite, and there was plenty of room to move around and see the fish from all angles. Each display had LCD information screens to tell you about the fish, too!



There were several touch pools, the shark and ray pool being the kids' favorite! The sharks had just laid egg sacks, which were removed to prevent them from being eaten and set in their own aquarium. See the second photo below!



Most surprising was the fact that there are also reptiles, amphibians and birds on display!



There were three opportunities to interact with the animals:

A table where you could hold and pet a bearded dragon, leopard gecko, and corn snake;


A huge tank of Koi fish that you could feed for $2; and


A huge bird cage where you could walk in and explore (and feed for $3) birds.


The kids absolutely loved it and it truly was a highlight of our trip!

In no way was I compensated for this post. This post is simply to share something wonderful my family experienced that I think yours would enjoy as well.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

2014 Summer #Vacation to #Texas - swimming, Tex-Mex, and fun family nights! #kids #parenting #travel

We travel to Austin, TX every summer to visit family and friends, it's a trip the kids really look forward to because we stay with their Gram (my mom) for a few weeks.

She's their favorite.

She's my favorite.


This year is the second year in a row David has been under a deadline at work and he's had to stay home to work. It's a bummer for him to miss out but I do cherish all the extra quality time I get with my mom when the kids are napping or asleep at night.

We spent nearly three weeks in Texas this summer and felt extremely lucky to be there during a "cool front". It was 88-92 degrees every day we were there, mostly overcast and windy. The kids even experienced a good ole Texas thunderstorm!


We shared a lot of great Tex-Mex meals (drool!) around town and even more stories that had us all laughing so hard we were crying. My favorite emotion is laughter through tears.


But, their favorite thing to do every year is swim.  Every day!

It's hot in Texas and there are pools and splash pads and water fountains that you can play in everywhere, lucky for us.


Emily took another round of swim lessons at Emler Swim School and really nailed it.


She's a great swimmer though you wouldn't assume that from the foaties she's sporting in the first photo above. ;) She loves the buoyancy, can you blame her? Gram had inner tubes waiting for them when we arrived and they loved them, especially Nolan. The tube gave him so much independence - he was jumping off the side, twirling in the water, kicking, and splashing and chasing Emily from end to end.

We had several planned activities again this year including:
Click each link below for a separate post about each one!

A trip to the Austin Aquarium

Nature Nights at The Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center
Community Nights at The Thinkery Children's Museum
BBQ at PawPaw Joe's house in Smithville
Meeting the great-grandparents
Lazy mornings at The Hoppin House
Lakeway Pool Adventures

Flying with both kids was a breeze this year.

We flew Jet Blue, everyone had their own seat, I checked two suitcases and carried on a cooler with snacks as well as a backpack full of supplies and fun. No stroller, no car seat, just us!

They are both really into electronic handheld games (what kid isn't?), which I stowed away in my backpack for a week before the trip, and were happy to see them on the plane. Emily is 100% self-sufficient so she was able to entertain herself, feed herself, get up and use the toilet and even help pass food and toys between us. She packed her own backpack and I barely heard a peep from her the entire four hour flight. Because of the timing of our departing flight (3:45pm) and the time he woke that day (9am), he didn't get his daily nap so, it was no surprise to me that right after take off he slumped over in my lap and slept for an hour.


We watched "Frozen" on the portable DVD player, we enjoyed a snack, we got up and went to the bathroom, they played with their own televisions and they played with the toys I packed. I enjoyed the free in-fight wifi and before I knew it, we were landing.

Our vacation always goes by way too fast - we are already planning our trip for next year!