Crafty, DIY, Gift Ideas, Holiday, Nifty Thrifty, Shopping, Super Deals

DIY Valentine’s Day Treat Bags for Under $20

This week I volunteered to read to my son’s class.  Since Valentine’s day is literally just a couple days away, I decided to pick a couple of books that celebrate love and warm, happy feelings.

I absolutely love these books and they were perfect for the occasion and season!20180209_105428.jpg

Note: If you’re interested in any one of these books you can find them in the picture links below:

Whenever I visit to read to his class, I also try to bring treats that compliment the general theme of the book/season. And further, since I LOVE LOVE LOVE Valentines day, I wanted to do something a little special for the kiddies.  I made a quick trip out to Dollar Tree and found a few things:

If you don’t know what Dollar Tree is, it is the best dollar store in the world and every item there is a dollar or less!20180209_105323.jpgPictured above are pencils, erasers, bubble tubes, plastic treat bags, and tissue paper. 

On a side note, I also found these cute tote bags there:20180209_105622.jpg

I also managed to dig up a few things from my closet since I generally stock up on items in the clearance bins after a holiday.  These were the items I found last year at Walgreens and Walmart for 75-90% off:

I literally spent less than $3 TOTAL for the items pictured below:20180209_104844.jpgPictured above are plastic cups, buttons, and plane kits. 

I also like to add a few sweets in there (because it’s Valentine’s Day!!!) so I added a couple of lollipops and rice crispy treats from my local grocery store.  After I gathered all of the items, I essentially used the cups as little “baskets” to hold everything.

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I then added a bit of tissue paper as well, but cut the sheets into quarters so that they would fit proportionately to the cups:

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Since I was going to be transporting them from my home to their class, I wanted to make sure that the cups and contents would remain in tact, so I placed each cup into an individual bag:

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If you’ve ever used the plastic cellophane bags, you’ll notice that they come with several wire twisty-ties for securing the bags–  I cannot stand these things mainly because I usually end up pricking my fingers with them and they’re a pain to get off once they’re on; so I decided to create paper tags that I could staple onto the bags to keep them closed and add a little bit of extra flair.  I had some heart-themed cardstock that cut into 3.5×4 inch rectangles and folded in half long-wise:

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I basically just folded the tops of the bags and cupped them over with the paper tags.  I then secured them on with staples.  Here is the finished product:

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I made a total of 24 treat bags– one for each student in his class.  This project cost me less than $20 to make and about an hour to assemble. The kiddies nearly lost their minds when they saw them!  I love how the smallest things can bring so much joy.

I’m still not done with assembling my other Valentine’s Day goodies as I’ve procrastinated just a bit.  So if you’re in the same boat as me, we’ll be burning the midnight oil together!  Cheers to you and I hope you’re having a Happy Monday!

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Food, Nifty Thrifty, Super Deals, Thrifty Dishes

Ridiculously Easy Alfredo Pizza

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I love spending time in the kitchen, but realistically, I don’t have the time to spend hours on a given meal unless it is for a special occasion.  In addition, I’m not great at long-term meal planning and prep– I always forget to leave the meat out to thaw, and I don’t always feel like eating what I planned to make for dinner anyway.  I also like to make dishes that are versatile– this generally allows me to save money by putting a meal together using whatever ingredients I have on hand or whatever I find on sale at the grocery store for the week.

This week I made a trip out to Dollar Tree where I found a few great grocery finds that I was able to turn into a yummy, quick, easy, and thrifty pizza:

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These items cost me a total of $2.50– the Alfredo Sauce and Pizza Crust were $1.00 each, and the can of Organic Tomatoes was $0.50.  At home, I had a few other ingredients on hand from Kroger such as shredded cheese (I buy in bulk when on sale for about a $1.00 /cup) and pesto sauce (on sale for about $3.79 for 10 Oz).

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*Just a quick side note– I love pesto sauce and always keep a few jars in my pantry to add 1-2 tbs to certain dishes for an extra kick of flavor and color!

With about 5 minutes of prep time, this was the final product– it was so good and ridiculously easy to make:

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Ingredients (Yields about 2 Servings):

  • 1 ready-made 12-inch thin-crust Pizza Crust;
  • 1/2 cup of Alfredo Sauce (feel free to be more generous with your sauce if you prefer, or if using a thicker crust, but I would suggest no more than 1/4 cup more);
  • 1/2 – 1 cup of Shredded Cheese, per your preference (I would suggest mozzarella or mixed cheddar);
  • 1/4 cup of canned diced tomatoes, gently strained;
  • 2 tbs of Pesto Sauce;
  • Optional Toppings:
    • dried/crushed basil leaves for garnish
    • Mushrooms (fresh, sauteed, or canned)
    • Spinach (fresh, sauteed, or canned)
    • Sliced Salami
    • Bacon (pre-made)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit;
  2. While the oven is preheating, place the pizza crust directly onto an ungreased baking sheet;
  3. Take the Alfredo Sauce and spoon it generously onto the surface of the Pizza Crust (i like to spoon my sauce all the way to the ends, but feel free to leave a half-inch circumference without sauce if you prefer);
  4. Top generously with shredded cheese;
  5. Further top the pizza with the diced tomatoes, and finish off with tiny dollops of pesto sauce.
  6. Bake in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 minutes.
  7. Enjoy!

Out of the Optional Toppings as listed above, I used only dried/crushed basil that I sprinkled over top of the pizza; however, I do make other variations of this pizza using one or more of the items in the Optional Toppings list and they are delicious!

This pizza took me less than 20 minutes total to put together, and it was a hit!  I actually served this pizza with a salad on the side that I was able to toss together while the pizza was in the oven.  My bug liked this pizza so much that he has even requested it again for dinner!

I hope this recipe has shown you that with a little creativity, even dollar store groceries can be turned into something tasty and indulgent!

Crafty, DIY, Holiday, Life, Nifty Thrifty

Our Middle Earth Christmas Tree

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Every year since my bug’s first Christmas, we’ve had a themed tree in our home for Christmas.   Since I like to have a different theme every year, I don’t like to spend a lot of money on ornaments/tree decorations.  I also like my trees to have a personalized touch as well, so we tend to make quite a bit of the decorations that we use.  I typically let my bug choose the theme of our tree, and I also let him choose what the topper will be; this year, our theme was “Middle Earth!”  This was topped off with Sauron’s helmet!

Now I will tell you that my bug and I are major J.R.R Tolkien fans and we love love love The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings (LOTR) books and movies.  I’m not kidding– my bug has the entire collection of Hobbit toy figurines, he actually had a Hobbit/LOTR birthday party, and his entire room is covered in life-size Hobbit/LOTR cardboard cutouts and decor.  My bug has been a huge fan since I introduced him to the LOTR movies a few years ago.  He’s 7 now, and although his fandom now includes Star Wars (double win for me!), Hobbit/LOTR still reigns supreme in our house.

I had so much fun putting this tree together with my bug, and although I wasn’t able to complete everything I had planned for this tree (December was a really busy month for me!), I’m still really happy with the results:

Our tree this year.  Sauron was feeling festive too! 😀20171225_091957.jpg

I am really proud of Sauron’s helmet– I made it out of a single 24×24 inch sheet of black poster board, scissors, and glue, and using only the picture below/right as a guide:

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I planned on painting it but completely ran out of time!  I’ll still finish it though and will add it to the decor in my bug’s room.

The Tree of Gondor  was painted onto black cardstock (4×5 1/2 inches) with white acrylic paint, but it could also just be printed if you don’t mind using the ink (I didn’t want to!).

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For our Rings of Power, we just took a black sharpie to a few standard gold ornaments and did the best we could to duplicate elvish font/writing:

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I also made a few other paper crafts/prints that I just tucked onto the tree.  The fans were made out of paper lunch sacks and were each about 3 inches in diameter; the print strips were just images I found on Google Images that I cropped and printed out on to regular printer paper.  The remaining ornaments were just some items I found in the bottom of my Christmas ornament box that I thought complimented the theme of the tree.

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Because I had all of the materials on hand, this project cost me $0; however, assuming I had none of the materials on hand, I estimate that the total cost would have been roughly $15, conservatively, and would include glue, scissors, paint, poster board, etc.

Making ornaments and assembling our tree is my favorite Christmas tradition– I love that we have no idea what it is ultimately going to look like until it is complete, and best of all, we are making beautiful memories every step of the way.

We love our tree so much that we still haven’t taken it down…I’ll get on it soon enough. 🙂  In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you– what kinds of holiday traditions do you have?

Food, Thrifty Dishes

Easy Burrito Bowls

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I live in good ol’ south Texas where food portions are large and in charge, and Tex-Mex is the food of our people.  That said, I will be the first to admit that many of my recipes are not for the faint of heart– I use butter, shortening, cheese, etc. and all of those kinds of things that are yummy but also generous in calories. 🙂  I think that is just common, dare I say necessary, in Southern food.

That said, this is one of those Tex-Mex meals that can easily be modified to trim down said calories.  Best of all, it is one of those quick and thrifty meals that I can easily whip up within 20 minutes or less…and yes, my bug loves it so I’m going to say that it is kid-approved!

Ingredients:

(Yields 2 Servings)

  • 1 cup of cooked Rice (feel free to substitute with Brown Rice or Quinoa)
  • 1/2 pound of Ground Turkey (feel free to substitute with Ground Chicken or Beef if preferred, or omit altogether and substitute with veggie crumbles for a vegetarian/vegan alternative)
  • 1 cup of canned Black Beans (feel free to substitute with Pinto or Re-fried if preferred)
  • 1 cup of canned Corn
  • 1/2 cup of Salsa (Red or Green is fine, but I typically use Green Salsa because it is my favorite)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Optional Toppings:
    • Sliced Avocado or Guacamole
    • Shredded Cheese
    • Sour Cream
    • Tortilla Chips
    • Pickled Jalapenos

Instructions:

  1. Begin cooking Rice according to package instructions.
  2. On a separate burner, saute Ground Turkey in a skillet over medium-high heat until fully cooked.  Season with Salt & Pepper and set aside.
  3. Heat Beans and Corn in separate containers according to package instructions (I normally just toss them into the microwave to heat them up).
  4. When all ingredients are fully cooked/heated, begin assembly of bowls– beginning with 1/2 cup of rice for the bottom layer, followed by a layer of 1/2 cup of Beans, 1/2 cup of Corn, and 1/4 pound (1/2 cup) of Ground Turkey on top.
  5. Top with 1/4 cup of Salsa.
  6. Stop here and enjoy, OR join the Dark Side and top with additional ingredients as desired 😀

As pictured above, I’ve topped my bowl with Tortilla Chips, Avocado, Shredded Cheese, and a dollop of Sour Cream.  I also may or may not have added some extra Green Salsa after the picture was taken.  😀  What can I say?  I love spicy food!

Aside from the fact that this dish tastes yummy, I love this dish because it is so versatile– I’ve made at least a dozen different variations of this dish using a variety of ingredients (including leftover ingredients) that I’ve had on hand, and each time it comes out just a satisfying as the last.

Until next time– I’d love to hear from you!  What variations would you recommend?

 

Life

45 Days

I remember the day I first really entertained the idea of quitting my job to take some time off.  I had just come home late again after having spent over 12 hours in thick coveralls out in the summer heat of Texas.  This was followed by a long drive home, where Houston traffic forced me to spend 2 hours reflecting on the frustrations that had been accumulating at work over the past year.  Working the way I had been over the last few years, it became common for me to come home late; in fact, I can not tell you how many nights I had to put my bug to bed over the phone.  It broke my heart, but my job enabled me to provide well for my bug, so I bit my lip and continued to press on day after day.

But on this particular evening, I came home in tears.  I had reached critical mass and  decided I was done– but I didn’t have the slightest clue about what “done” looked like.  I sat in my car a little while longer, sobbed a little bit more, then pulled myself together before I was able to get out of my parked car and go inside.

Being a single parent and the sole provider in my home made it difficult to even entertain the thought of quitting my job without an offer; nonetheless, I began to crunch numbers that night– the exercise alone lifted my heavy spirits.  However, as I moved from row to row in my spreadsheet, I began to realize that with some preparation and a revamp of my budget, that quitting my job and taking a break from work were entirely possible.  That was enough for me to commit to make the leap.

Fast forward to today, I am officially 45 days in to my “sabbatical.”  These last 45 days have been powerfully rejuvenating, each filled with simple pleasures that have been therapeutic in their own right.  Though the time has certainly sped by, I already feel like a new person– less hurried, less stressed, and more open, loving, and giving.  As I reflect back on 2017, I realize that my favorite parts of this year have mostly occurred in the last 45 days–  I have spent my mornings having breakfast with my mom after walking my son into school, or sipping on coffee as I curl up with a book; visiting my bug at school for lunch; and picking him up every day after school; volunteering to tutor at his school, or just to come and read a book to his class.  I have been experimenting in my kitchen again, and I successfully baked my first bread cornucopia and made tamales for the first time; I spent hours crafting ornaments for our Christmas tree and many more hours crafting goodies for my son’s classroom holiday party that I also hosted.  Most satisfying of all, I have had the honor of serving in my community again, donating time, resources, or even just a batch of homemade goodies.  I am not only happy, but in a way that I haven’t felt in a very long time.  I can honestly say that this break is one of the greatest gifts I could have ever given myself and my family, and I am better because of it.

2017 has been a good year for me and it is ending on a wonderful note.  I am so thankful for the good, the bad, and even the ugly parts of this year, for it has reminded me of the things in life that are truly important.  As we get ready to enter January, I will begin the New Year feeling refreshed and with a greater sense that my priorities are back in order.  I’ll go back to work in the near future simply because my savings won’t last forever, but for now, I will just sit here and enjoy the quiet while I sip on my coffee; and as I wrap up this post, I am smiling both on the inside and out.

Here’s to the end of 2017 and to the start of an even better 2018!  Thanks for visiting my blog–  I have a bit of catching up to do on on here but I hope you’ll be back soon anyway!

Have a very safe and Happy New Year, everyone!

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Crafty

Book Character Day – The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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If you have small children, chances are that you’ve heard of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.  This was one of my favorite books as a child, so when my bug told me he wanted to be The Very Hungry Caterpillar for Book Character Day at school, I was thrilled!

Then things got busy, and the next thing you know, it was 9PM the night before Book Character Day when I realized that I still had not prepared anything for my bug to wear!  It was far too late to go to the store for materials, and it didn’t matter anyway as my bug was already in bed.  I started to panic until I realized that I’m a parent and as everyone knows, parents work well under time and pressure constraints 😀

So I hit my crafting boxes to see what I could piece together.  By 10PM, this is what I had come up with:

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This is my bug in his Book Character Day outfit:

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This outfit was so easy to make, and it took me less than an hour to pull together.  Best of all, my bug loved it!

To make the shirt and hat, here is what you’ll need:

  • A Green Shirt
  • A Red Beanie (I made one out of an old red T-Shirt I had on hand)
  • Colored Foam Sheets (Construction Paper will work as well if you have that on hand, but you will likely need to double-it down to make it more sturdy)
  • Button Pins or Safety Pins (Optional)
  • Hot Glue Gun/Hot Glue

How I made the the shirt:

  1. First I cut several fruit shapes free-handedly out of the foam and construction paper (I used the fruit shapes that were in the book as reference), and then glued on green “stems.”  (*Note that I had limited foam sheets/colors on hand so I used both foam and construction paper to make all the fruits I wanted; otherwise, I would have used all foam sheets.  Also note, you can cut out any food shapes you would like– I just made fruit shapes because they were easiest for me to cut free-hand and I was pressed for time.)
  2. I then hot-glued the fruit shapes onto some old buttons that could be pinned to the shirt and removed later.  Place the pins where ever you would like on the shirt.  (*If you are OK with fully sacrificing the green shirt you’re using for this project, feel free to hot glue the shapes directly onto the shirt where ever you like.) Just like that, the shirt was complete!

Front and Backs of my Fruit Pins:

How I made the hat:

  1. Again, I cut the shapes of the eyes, nose, and antennae free-handedly out of the foam sheets and construction paper, using the pictures in the book as reference.
  2. At this point, if you have a red beanie, just glue the shapes directly onto the beanie.  Since I did not have a red beanie, I just made one by cutting a beanie shape out of a red shirt and sewing around it, leaving an opening only for the head. (If you have a beanie, you can use that as a pattern to trace and cut around. Also, you can use glue in place of sewing if that is easier for you, or if you do not have sewing materials on hand.)  
  3. Last but not least, I glued the shapes directly onto the hat.
  4. After the glue dried, I put the hat on myself to figure out where I needed to tuck and trim.

Pictures of the outside and inside of the hat:

 

I paired this hat and shirt with khaki pants and sneakers (it was cool outside) but this could easily pair with a variety of different bottoms and shoes.  My bug is still able to wear the green shirt, and the fruit pins and hat are waiting in queue to be added to a scrapbook I’m working on.

This was a cheap and easy project that took me less than an hour to make, using materials that I already had on hand.  Best of all, this outfit survived the whole school day, including recess and P.E.!

I hope this post gave you some ideas for your own Book Character Day project.  I’d love to hear from you– let me know if you liked this project, or have any questions!

 

 

Gift Ideas, Shopping, Super Deals

20 Great STEM Gifts for Kids for Under $10

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For as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for math and science.  I remember mixing random hygiene products in the bathroom in an attempt to create a chemical reaction and digging up holes in the backyard in search of fossils.  To this day, I am still fascinated by the universe, and while I did not grow up to be a chemist or an archaeologist, I have spent my adulthood in a career in STEM as an Environmental Specialist.  Needless to say, I LOVE SCIENCE!!!

When my son was born, I had hoped that he would grow to have that passion for science and math that I did as a child; as luck would have it, he absolutely does.  Just look at this face when I told him we were going to learn about chemical reactions and polymers:

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Children today are so fortunate to have been born in a time where access to STEM has never been easier.  The internet is full of How-Tos for DIY STEM activities, and books and kits are only just a mouse-click away from being delivered right to your doorstep.  Since we are officially in gift-giving season (yay!), I though I would share some awesome STEM gift ideas that won’t break the bank, and more importantly, incorporate fun into science and math.  If you’re interested in purchasing any of these sets, just click on the set name or picture to be redirected to Amazon.  I’ll also note that at the time of this post, Amazon is having a special on many of these items and you might be able to nab them for even less than the prices listed below:

***Disclosure: The links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.***

1. 4M Tin Can Robot – $9.97

 

With this set, your child can create a battery-powered robot out of any used tin can.  This is too cute!

2. 4M Kitchen Science Kit – $9.97

 

This kit contains a few different (more like 6) experiments using things found in your kitchen.  It even has a few experiments that focus on chemical reactions (my fave!)!

3. Edu-Toys DIY Microscope Kit – $9.97

 

This is a great starter microscope set that you have to build.  I love that you could find a million things to observe without even having to leave your living room.

4. Educational Insights Nancy B’s Science Club Discovery Lab Pens & Field Journal – $9.99

 

This is my favorite item on this list– I just love this kit!  This set comes with 2 multi-tool pens (1 for water and 1 for land observations) and a journal.

5. Smithsonian Rock and Gem Dig – $9.00

 

I gave my bug a very similar set earlier this year– he loved it!  This set comes with a block that contains several stones– the block has to be chiseled away, archaeologist style, in order to unearth the stones.

6. Solar System Planetarium DIY Model Kids Astronomical Science kits – $9.66

 

This model requires painting and assembly.  This is a great set that will not only teach your children the order of the planets, but also each planet’s characteristics.

7. 4 in 1 Wind and Rubber Band Powered Experiment Car for STEM – Wind Sail Car, Rubber band Launched car, Propeller car, Propeller cable car – $9.99

This is a great set that you can use to teach your children about physics.  This kit includes the materials needed to make 4 different moving models.

8. Make 7 Game – $9.99

 

This game is the love-child between Connect 4 and math.  This is a great way to teach your kids about the Commutative Property without saying “Commutative Property.” 🙂

9. Battery Power Generation Experiment Combined Creative Building Diy Science and Nature Toys – $8.90

This is a building kit that contains several different experiments involving batteries.

10. Elenco LED Robot Blinker Soldering Kit [ SOLDERING REQUIRED ] – $9.99

 

This is easily my second favorite item on this list.  Soldering is one of those things that sounds intimidating, but is actually pretty easy to do.  This kit will teach your child about electrical components and how they interact.  I love love love this set.  This is definitely going under our tree this year.

11. 4M Grow a Maze Kit – $8.16

 

This is a great kit to teach your children about how plant life interacts with the environment around it.  This is also a great kit if your little one has a green thumb!

12. Ravensburger Science X 3D Optics Activity Kit – $9.77

 

This kit is a great way for kids to learn about 3D concepts and how to create them.

13. EIN-O’s Molecular Models Kit – $7.49

 

This is a great and easy way to introduce children to molecular structures.  This is a basic set that covers more common/simple compounds.

14. Yannothing 6-in-1 DIY Science Educational Solar Energy Robot Toys Kit Plane Windmill Airboat Car Educational Developmental Toys Baby Kids Training Toy – $8.99

 

This set is another one of my favorites on this list– I love how this kit can help children learn about renewable energy.

15. HiLetgo Kit Clock – $8.79

By this time I’m sure you’ve probably figured out that I really like sets and kits that require building and assembly.  I like this set because it checks that box, but also that it can be used to create a real, working clock that can be used daily.

16. Straw and Connectors Building Set – $7.88

 

This set is perfect for a budding civil engineer!  The possibilities are endless with this set, and it can be used to create large 3D figures.

17. Electronics Lab with Fiber Optics – $9.31

 

This is another great set that helps kids learn about electrical components while also introducing them to fiber optics.

18. Little Labs Physics and Forces – $7.01

 

This physics set focuses on activities that teach children about force and motion.

19. 4M Fingerprint Kit – $9.07

 

This kit contains a series of different items that enable a kid to collect fingerprint samples, including dusting powder!  This set serves as a great introduction to forensics.

20. Piccolo Genio Discovery The Human Body Game – $5.88

 

This set helps children better understand/learn about human anatomy.  This is a perfect set for a future doctor!

 

These were just some of the great items I came across this season.  I hope you were able to find some gift inspiration for your future scientist.  I’d love to hear from you– what are the STEM gifts you would recommend?