Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sample? Yes, Please!

If you have been following my blog for the past couple of weeks, you may have noticed my Mailbox Monday posts where I am sharing with fellow bloggers what I have received in my mailbox for free each week.  Some of you have wondered if it is worth the trouble of signing up for samples.  Yes! Here is why:

1. Who doesn't love getting mail?  As long as I am not getting bills, I love going to my mailbox and finding a nice surprise. 

2.  Samples many times include high value coupons...sometimes even for FREE items.  For example, I received coupon for a free box of feminine products with a sample pack. 

3.  When you unexpectedly run out of toiletry items, you always have a backup.   This past week, I took a shower and washed my hair, but when I went to grab the mousse I realized that it was empty.  If you know anything about me...then you know that I MUST have something to tame my wild curly hair! Luckily, I scoured my sample box and found a couple of samples for hair gel.  Whew!  Can you imagine my hair without it?  Those of you who have known me for a LONG time...think sixth grade. 

4.  Samples make great purse size products.  I have a Thirty One mini zipper pouch filled with sample lotions in my purse at all times.  Use them once and throw the package away.  I never have lotion spilled in my purse. 

5.  My kids love the sample cereal boxes to play with! 

6. It's free...need I say more?

Now, how do I get my free samples? Here are some companies that regularly send out free samples throughout the year:
  • Walmart
  • Target
  • Vocalpoint  (my favorite!  I have gotten TONS of free products from this company...all you have to do is review the product.  Simple!)
  • All You  Features Daily Free Sample 
  • Facebook  Like the Companies that produce the products that you buy...I am always getting free samples. 
In addition, I follow money saving blogs, such as, Money Saving Mom, A Frugal Friend, My Springfield Mommy, and  Adventures of a Thrifty Mommy.  These blogs regularly update when there are great deals and samples to be had. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

My Domestic Adventures: #1 Homemade Tomato Soup

If you know anything about me, then you know that I am not a domestic diva.  In fact, many people are surprised that I am a stay-at-home mommy.  Therefore, trying to make and can tomato soup was a little out of my comfort zone...but turned out great. This is how we did it:

Step 1:  Blend, Cook & Strain the following:
  • 2 Gallons of cut-up tomatoes (we used roma tomatoes from my parents' garden)
  • 2-3 green peppers cut up (depends on how much you like the green pepper taste)
  • 2 onions cut up 
    Step 2:  Mix together the following:
    • 1 tsp. chili powder
    • 1 tsp. black pepper
    • 1 1/2 cups of sugar 
    • 1/3 cup of salt 
    • 1 cup of melted butter
    Then, mix this together with the tomato mixture from step 1 and let cook while you do step #3.

    Step 3 (thickening):  Blend together 2 cups of flour with 1 pint to1 quart of COOL tomato juice.  Start with a little and use enough to blend until smooth.  Absolutely no lumps of flour in the mixture.

    Step 4:  Mix thickening with tomato mixture and cook till thick.  If for some reason it is still lumpy, blend it again.

    Step 5:  Process for 25 minutes in boiling water in pint jars.  This should make 13-15 pints.

    When ready to eat, mix one pint of tomato soup with one pint of milk and Enjoy!

    Mailbox Monday: August 29th Edition

    Have I told you how much I love getting mail?  This is what came in my mailbox this week and was completely FREE:

    • ESPN Magazine...Hubby Loves this freebie! I don't even remember how I scored this one. 
    • Samples:  Kashi Bar came with coupon on box, but it tore when I opened the box, Quaker Oatmeal Squares, Splenda with coupon, Huggies Diaper with coupon, and Beneful Dog Food with Magazine
    • Coupons:  Kroger Booklet
    • Giveaway wins:  The Remains of War Book and Coupon for Free package of Mi-Del Cookies. 
    Start signing up for those samples & freebies and join me next with @ A Frugal Friend

    Whatcha Eatin'?

    I am really liking this whole menu planning thing!  It makes 5:00 so much easier when I know what I am making for dinner.  Hubby likes it too!  He gets to come home from work to a delicious (yes, he better say that!) meal and a happy wife.   My goal with this menu planning is to find 30-45 recipes that we enjoy, so I am not repeating meals and we don't get burnt out.   Have I mentioned that my hubby will not eat another "skillet sensation" in his lifetime?  Our first year of marriage consisted of boxed or bagged dinners because I was clueless!  Menu planning is a great way to add variety to our meals and make life easier.  

    This is what we are eatin' this week...

    Monday:  Slow Cooker BBQ Chicken Sandwiches, Veggies & Dip, Cheesy Potatoes, Watermelon

    Tuesday:  BBQ Chicken Quesadillas (using leftover BBQ chicken), Mixed Fruit

    Wednesday:  Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes, Corn, Rolls

    Thursday:  Chop Suey Casserole

    Friday:  Cheeseburgers, Baked Beans, Oven Fries

    Saturday:  Steak, Baby Red Potatoes, Green Beans

    Sunday:  Skillet Cheesy Chicken & Rice, Salad, Cottage Cheese

    What are you eatin' for dinner this week?

    Join me @ link up at Organizing Junkie

    Thursday, August 25, 2011

    Windmills Saved the Day!

    Big bro has this thing were he loves to do things for me and say, "I saved the day Mommy!"  Not sure where he got it, but it is incredibly cute.  So the other day, the windmill farm a couple of miles from our house "saved the day".

    This week has been trying.  Little bro is wanting to give up his nap, while mommy is not ready for him to do it quite yet.  I will try to put him in his crib for naptime and he will scream bloody murder until I get him back out.  He definitely still needs a nap.  If he doesn't nap, he is a bear the rest of the afternoon.

    Monday afternoon was a difficult afternoon, and I felt we needed to get out of the house or we all were going to go crazy.  Big brother has a unique obsession with windmills, so I decided that we would go for a drive to see the monstrous objects up close.  I piled the kids in the car and we were on our way.  As we were driving, I explained to Aaron that we were going to go see the windmills...and I heard quietly from the back seat..."I love you Mommy" for the 1st time!  No matter how impatient I am with this beautiful child he still loves me!  The windmills not only saved my sanity, but they saved my day!  Thank you God for the small stuff! 

    Thankful Thursday

    As a mother of a two year old who is defining the term "terrible twos", I am realizing that I need to take time to count my blessings.  I would encourage you to take time once a week and reflect on the great things in your life, because no matter what is going wrong, there is always something to be thankful for.

    Today I am Thankful

    ...that I am able to stay home with my children while all my teacher friends go back to work. 

    ...that I have best friends that I can call when I am stressed out and need a laugh and they are always there.

    ...for a mother who lives five minutes away.

    ...for new wireless internet.  Now I can hook up my wireless printer to print coupons from the couch.  Woo hoo!

    ...for caffeine and chocolate. 

    ...for two active boys.  No matter how much trouble they get into, they always find a way to make me smile.

    ...for an awesome baby!  She sleeps, she eats, she poops,  and she smiles & coos at mommy.  She is perfect! 

    ...for my in-laws who are always willing to drop everything to watch the kids when we need them. 

    Wednesday, August 24, 2011

    Free Subscription to American Baby and Baby Talk Magazine

    If you are expecting or have a newborn, this is a great freebie!  You will NEVER get a bill...I promise!  Sign up for your free subscription here

    A Family Favorite: Cheeseburger Soup

    ***I am linking this up at Lynn's Kitchen Adventures.  Join me and share your favorite recipe!*** 


    Here is how you make it:

    First,  brown and drain 1/2 lb. of ground chuck (I always do a lb. and save the other 1/2 for a taco salad the next day for lunch or double the recipe and freeze half.  Set Aside.

    Next,  Saute the following ingredients:
    • 3/4 c.  chopped onion
    • 3/4 c.  shredded carrots
    • 3/4 c.  diced celery
    • 1 tsp.  basil 
    • 1 tsp.  parsley flakes 
    • 1 T.    butter 

    Then,  combine the vegetables and meat with:
    • 3 c. chicken broth
    • 4 c. peeled and diced potatoes
    Cover and simmer 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are done.

    Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of butter and add the following ingredients: 
    • 1/ 4 c.  flour
    • 1 1/2 c. milk 
    • 3/4 tsp. salt 
    • 1/2 tsp. pepper
    Stir until smooth and thickened, then add to soup mixture.  

    Next add 2 cups of Velveeta cheese, cubed .  Finally when cheese has melted, add 1/4 cup of sour cream.  This recipe makes 1/2 gallon.

     ***This looks a bit disgusting....but I just was in a hurry and threw the cheese in there without "cubing" it.

    You should end up with delicious (probably not-so-healthy) Cheeseburger Soup.  I serve it with French Bread or Rolls...Yummy!

    Note:  This is from the Koch Family of my all time favorite cookbooks!  I am more willing to try recipes when I know the people who created them.  :-)

    Monday, August 22, 2011

    A Surprise Visitor

    My boys are great sleepers and tend to sleep until 8:30 or 9 in the morning.  Therefore, it is very difficult to get up and going before ten.  This morning was no different.  They boys got up around 9.  They played around for a little bit with the crayons and coloring books, and then we had breakfast as usual.

    By this time, our sweet baby girl woke up from her morning nap and was ready to eat.  I am breastfeeding, so when she eats, the boys have total reign.  So as usual they start destroying the house. The tractors, fences, and animals are all over the floor.  My magazines that I had in a neat pile before the boys woke up are scattered everywhere. 

    Then, Big brother decides he is ready to get dressed and goes up to his room to pick out his outfit.  Today, he decides that it is a good idea to wear jeans that are lined with flannel.  When he gets to the family room, I explain to him that he will not be able to go outside unless he changes his clothes.  So he drops his pants and starts running around the living room in his underwear.  Little brother, wanting to be like his big brother, pulls his shorts off and then his diaper and is running around naked.  Meanwhile, I am trying to feed the baby.  I am looking lovely myself in my oversized sweatpants and stained "wife beater" tank top (you know...the kind of outfit you don't even want your husband to see).

    Then it happens, the door bell rings.  Sammy, our dog, starts barking like usual.  Thinking that it is only the UPS man who usually drops the package and leaves, I yell at him to stop.  Then, Andrew lifts the blinds and yells, "It's my teacher!".  Now, I have no choice but to answer the door.  Yep, here I am dressed like a bum, one son in underwear, one son naked, a screaming baby, and a filthy dirty house.  Thank goodness his "teacher" (his Sunday school teacher from last year) is also my cousin.  Nevertheless, I was mortified! 

    Lesson learned:  Always be ready for a surprise visitor!  I spent the rest of the day cleaning.  :-)

    Want a sneak peak of the mess?  Check it out...

     This is only a little glimpse of the house...I would be CRAZY to show you the rest! 

    Today's Breakfast...Blue Crayon.

    Seriously...Little Bro has an eating disorder.  He will eat ANYTHING!  Crayons, dirt, name it, he's tried it.  This morning he decided instead of coloring with the blue crayon, he wanted to eat it.  I spoke with his doctor at his two month check up and she said that he would grow out of it...anyone else have this problem? 

    Mailbox Monday: August 22nd Edition

    I love getting things for free!  However, after taking the picture for this week's freebies, I realized that this may be the reason for the extra clutter in my household.   I got 7 magazines this week!  Two are technically for my hubby, but still 5 for me to read.  With three children, ages four and under, I don't know when I will have time to read 5 magazines!  I guess I need to start passing on the free magazine least for a little while.

    Here is what I got in my mailbox for Free:

    • Magazines:  Spin, Martha Stewart Living, Cosmo (I forgot how raunchy this was when I signed up for it...I am almost embarrassed that it comes in my mailbox),  Redbook, Field & Stream, Baby Talk, Parenting Early Years
    • Huggies Diaper Samples 
    • Huggies Onesie (I received this by buying two packs Snug & Dry diapers)
    • Free Pantene product coupon 
    • Free Fresh Express Salad coupon from VocalPoint
    Join me next week @ A Frugal Friend!

    Whatcha Eatin'?

    Wow, this weekend was crazy busy, but I still found the time to plan out our weekly menu.  This week, I am going to be ambitious and try making homemade french bread.  Last week, we were pleasantly surprised when a cousin of mine showed up with a yummy meal that included this most delicious french bread.  I have never made bread before, so we'll see if it works out!

    This is what we are eatin' this week...

    Monday:  Salisbury Steak, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, Rolls

    Tuesday:  Cheeseburger Soup, Homemade French Bread (I will share both recipes this week!)

    Wednesday:  Spaghetti, Salad, Corn, Garlic Bread

    Thursday:  Taco Chicken Bowls

    Friday:  Cheeseburgers on the Grill, Baked Beans, Cheesy Potatoes

    Saturday:  Pizza, Veggies & Dip

    Sunday:  Sloppy Joes, Corn on the Cob, Mac & Cheese (We always have Mac & Cheese with Sloppy joes...not sure why, but it sure is tasty!)

    I am linking this up with Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

    Friday, August 19, 2011

    Our Trip to the Zoo

    Yesterday, my mother, sister and I decided that we needed to take the kids to the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington.  My sister lives nearby and it is always nice to spend the day with her.  I thought I'd share my experience with you if you decide you would like to try it out sometime.

    Before even entering the zoo, we were greeted by the splash park.  This posed a little problem for Little Bro because he wanted to immediately get wet and we did not bring our swimsuits.  I did not see anywhere that you had to pay, so I am assuming that it was FREE!  Next time, we will definitely remember that. 

    Upon entering the Zoo, I was pleasantly surprised on the admission fee.  $5.00 for adults, and $3.50 for children 3 and up (and Senior Citizens...Mom!).  I compare this to the Peoria Zoo which costs $8.50 per adult and $4.75 for children.  So it was only $8.50 for myself and Big Bro, while Little Bro and Baby Sis were free.

    The zoo itself had a lot of your traditional exhibits: bears, monkeys, and tigers.  There was also a petting zoo, but it for some reason was not open today.  However, it had a few unique exhibits.  For example, there was a walk-through Rainforest where the birds and animals could come in direct contact with you.  Little Bro LOVED this.   Here is a picture of him in the Rainforest.  See if you can notice the tiny blue and yellow birds in the picture that he chased off.  

     Meanwhile, Big Bro loved the reindeer and bug exhibits.

    However, the highlight of our trip was riding the Carousel with Aunt Jill.  This was in addition to the admission cost.  It was $1.50 per child.

    Overall, we enjoyed the zoo.  It was perfect for my boys, ages 4 & 2, but much older children may get bored.  It took us about two hours to visit all areas of the zoo.  It was not crowded, so the boys could walk freely.  There was a gift shop, but we avoided it!   It was a great day and we will definitely do it again soon! 

    Thursday, August 18, 2011

    Thankful Thursday

    A thankful heart is a happy heart!  I find that no matter how bad my day or week may be, if I take a minute to stop and think of something that I am thankful for my attitude instantly changes.

    Today I am Thankful...

    ...that even though money is tight, there is always a little left over to enjoy a McDonald's picnic in the park and an afternoon at the zoo.

    ...for a sister who loves to be around my children, even when they are crabby!

    ...for a healthy baby girl who allows me to sleep six hours straight at night.

    ...that all the weird stuff that little brother sticks in his mouth doesn't make him sick.

    ...for surprise meals.  (my cousin's wife brought a meal over Wednesday night unexpectedly)

    ...that I have a husband who works hard physically all day, but will come home at night and play soccer with the boys.

    What are you Thankful for today?  

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

    Is Summer Really Over?'s hard to believe that the kids are going back to school today!  We had our last official day of swimming yesterday at my brother and sister-in-law's house.  Thought I'd share a few pics.

     Big Brother started "swimming" by himself...he was quite proud of his accomplishment.  The yellow belt was like a security blanket for him; he dragged it all around the pool. 

    Little Bro had fun with the googles.  

    Of course, they both had fun hanging with their cousins.  

    Where was baby sister?  Snuggling with her Aunts...but here is a cute picture of her. 

    She is getting so big!

    $10 GiftCard to CVS for only $6!

    If you love shopping at CVS like I do, then you will love this sweet deal from Saveology.  This is for first time buyers only.  Get a $10 giftcard to CVS mailed to you for only $6....TODAY ONLY!  I love these deals.  If you don't know much about shopping at CVS, take a look at my recent transaction.

    This is what I bought:
    • 3 Bottles of Dove Shampoo
    • 3 Bottles of Dove Conditioner
    • 1 Pack of Pampers Swaddlers Diapers
    • 1 CVS Body Wash
    This is what I paid:

    A total of $11.96...PLUS I got $8 in ECB to spend on my next that means I really got this for $3.96.

    This is how I got it so cheap.
    1. I had a $5 off of $25 coupon that CVS emailed to me by signing up on their website.
    2. I had a coupon for a FREE body wash by "liking" CVS Minute Clinic on Facebook...still available (ends tonight)!
    3. I had three Buy One Dove Shampoo Get One Dove Treatment free coupons.
    4. I had a $2 off Pampers coupon

    Do I have you convinced to start shopping at CVS?  

    Try Somethin' New Tuesday

    One of my goals as a "homemaker"  is to improve my cooking.  Cooking does not come naturally to me.   I can't just whip something together like most people.  I MUST follow a recipe.  Therefore, I am constantly looking for new recipes to try.  Last night, we tried out a new recipe from the TASTE OF HOME magazine.  We decided it was a keeper, so I will share.  


    This is what you will need:
     (chicken not pictured)

    • 1 egg, beaten
    • 1 pound chicken tenderloins, chopped
    • 1 small onion, chopped
    • 1 tablespoon Crisco® Olive Oil
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • 2 cups cooked jasmine or long grain rice
    • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
    • 1 can (11 ounces) Mexicorn, drained
    • 1 jar (7 ounces) roasted sweet red peppers, drained and sliced
    • 1 jar (8 ounces) taco sauce
    • 2 green onions, chopped
    • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro

    This is what you do:

    • In a large skillet coated with cooking spray, cook and stir egg over medium-high heat until set. Remove and set aside.
    • In the same skillet, stir-fry chicken and onion in oil until chicken is no longer pink. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Stir in the rice, beans, Mexicorn, peppers, taco sauce and green onions; heat through. Stir in reserved egg. Sprinkle rice with cilantro. 
    This is what you get: 

    Here is what we thought:
    Hubby thought it was tasty.  He ate it with tortilla chips, sour cream and salsa.  Big Brother didn't like the black beans and picked around at it.  Little Brother devoured it.  I liked it because it wasn't spicy and wouldn't bother baby sister (I am breastfeeding).  Overall, I will add that to my list of keepers!

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

    My Love Affair with Kroger

    Becoming a stay-at-home mommy means one income.  Therefore I am constantly looking for ways to save money. About a year ago, I started using coupons.   I started following a few blogs to find out how to match up coupons with the sales.  It was really easy at first, and I was saving about $20 a week on groceries and toiletries.

    Then the TLC Extreme Couponing show came out and stores started changing their policies with coupons.  Even my beloved Kroger started limiting the number of coupons you could double...until I found that not all Kroger stores have the same policy.   My new Kroger store doubles any coupon up to $1.00.  Last week, they had a lot of items that were 10 for $10, so I was able to use $0.50 coupons that doubled to make them FREE!  A few items were out of stock, but I was able to get a raincheck and get them on Sunday (after the sale was over).

    Here is what I got for free:
    (the boys had to get in the picture...big brother is always shirtless and little brother likes to follow)
    • 5 - Pack of Ivory Soap (3 bars in each pack)
    • 1 - Ivory BodyWash
    • 6 - Crest Toothepaste
    • 6 - Dawn Dishsoap (1 pictured...they were out, so I used a raincheck and got them later)
    If you would like to learn more about couponing, visit my favorite blogs on the sidebar.  Thankfully, they do all the work for me!  

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    Mailbox Monday August 15th Edition

    Woo Hoo! I love FREEBIES.  Especially when all I have to do is walk to my mailbox.  Look what I got this past week...

    • Motts Tots Apple Juice Box from VocalPoint (sign up and get samples and freebies)
    • $10 off $10 coupon from JCPenney...woo hoo free (or almost free) baby clothes!
    • Kroger Coupons
    • John Frieda Frizz Ease Samples (gotta tame the frizz!)
    Join us next week with A Frugal Friend.

    Wanted: Professional Organizer

    Ha! Apparently, I am in need of a professional organizer! After reading 10 Signs It's Time to Hire an Organizer, I have come to the realization that I need to get my butt in gear and declutter!  Here is a peak of what I am up against in my basement storage area...please don't judge me! 

    Whatcha eatin'?

    When I was pregnant with my baby girl, I actually made several meals for the freezer so I wouldn't have the stress of making dinner with a newborn. Well, TEN weeks later, I still have a meal in the freezer. It was the first time that I have ever frozen a dish with rice in it. We are hoping it turns out. If not, we always have FROZEN PIZZA! Also, my mother has TONS of tomatoes from her garden, so we are going to can tomato soup. Yummy! I'll share the recipe sometime this week.

    This is what we are eatin' this week...

    Broccoli Rice Chicken Cheesy Casserole, Salad, Rolls

    Tuesday: Mexican Skillet Rice

    Wednesday: Beef Stroganoff, Noodles, Green Beans, Dinner Rolls

    Thursday: Stir-fry

    Friday: Cheeseburgers,French Fries, Baked Beans, Cottage Cheese (for some reason my husband MUST have cottage cheese with baked beans)

    Saturday: Steaks, Red Potatoes, Green Bean Casserole

    Sunday: Homemade Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese

    I am linking this up with Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011

    It's Frozen Pizza for Dinner tonight!

    My living room floor is covered with tractors, cows and fences. My laundry room has at least five loads of laundry ready to be washed, folded and put away. My kitchen sink is filled with dirty dishes.


    tonight we are eating a frozen pizza for dinner In fact, we would eat frozen pizza every day...if I could get away with it.

    I admit, I am a wreck. So here I am blogging and trying to better my household to make life more enjoyable. Join me in my journey. It should be interesting.