Friday, September 22, 2017

JOYful Moments

Happy Friday!  I'm excited to share the joy filled moments of my week with you today.  We had more smiles than tears, everyone is healthy and had lots of fun plans.  It was a great week and it's now officially Fall.  I'm ready for cooler temps, delicious pumpkin treats, scarves, football and my birthday! 

These were definitely the joy filled moments of the week:

I made my first pumpkin recipe of the season.  Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies!!  The cookies were amazing... like fluffy clouds of pumpkin goodness.  I was going to wait until next week to share the recipe, but it's too good to not share right away.  Do yourself a favor and celebrate the arrival of Fall with these delicious cookies!
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

(original recipe from Two Twenty One's blog, but I made some changes and my recipe is below)

1/2 c canola oil
1 c pumpkin puree
1 c sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla
1 t whole milk (yes, 1 t milk :)
1 t cinnamon
2 t baking powder
2 c flour
1 c chocolate chips

Combine wet ingredients.  Add in dry ingredients.  Fold in chocolate chips last.

Let the cookie dough sit for 15 minutes before you bake.  The dough will be runnier than regular cookie dough, but should still hold its shape when you scoop the dough out.  Scoop dough out with a cookie scoop for uniform cookies.  Recipe makes 2 dozen cookies.

Bake at 350 for 10-11 minutes.  Let cool on cookie sheet for a couple of minutes.

And since we're talking about pumpkins...
We scoped out the pumpkins at the store, but decided it was too early to buy real ones. 

Mom, Prince Charming is not listening to me! - Olive
Which reminds me... we decided on Halloween costumes this week!

SOLO Sandy ride while Olive was at school.

It feels like SUMMER again so we had dinner at the club and pretended it was Summer.  The berry salad was delicious.

The grad students in Kevin's department always host a back to school PICNIC for everyone in September.  We had a great time.  Man, is it nice not to be the new people :)  The kids played with everyone and we had a really fun time visiting.

I made my first pot of soup - Taco SOUP - this week.  It was too hot for it, but it tasted delicious.

We've had some crazy big BUGS hanging out at our house.  I love when they find our big windows so we can check them out close up from inside the house.

We went shoe shopping for Olive and she had to have these GLITTER tennis shoes.  She actually gasped when she saw them and it was love at first sight.  It's so fun when your kids start getting older and having opinions about all of their favorite things.

I like to try to coordinate the kid's outfits when I can.  Double DINOSAURS is usually a crowd pleaser for them.  Olive insisted on acting like a dino in every picture.  haha

You know you're a grown up when you get excited to get your GUTTERS repaired.  We've had on ongoing issue that we finally got taken care of this week.  Fletcher was a great project manager.

Poor Fletcher is TEETHING and has been kind of pitiful throughout the week.  When we found something that made him happy we did it a lot - sunglasses, Moana, baths, swings, playing outside, etc.  Anything to distract him :)

Sunset WALKS have been a fun thing this week.  Like I mentioned it has gotten hot again in the Midwest so late night walks have been slightly cooler than our usual afternoon strolls.  The sunsets have been so pretty with all those cotton candy clouds.

BOOK CLUB is always fun.  The each pick out a stack of books and we all pile into the rocker recliner.  We take turns reading books and then they head to bed.  It's sweet moments like this one that make me want to freeze time.

Hope you had a great week!!  What were some things that brought you JOY this week??

In Case You Missed it on Polka-Dotty Place:

Monday: Usborne Love
Tuesday: Zucchini Brownies & Fall Recipes
Wednesday: Creatives Ways to Save

I'm linking up with my friend Beth at Our Pretty Little Girls today along with my usuals.

Linking up with

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Creative Ways to Save

Who doesn't love saving money???

Kevin and I have been working hard to cut down our spending.

We have regular meetings to discuss bills, to look over spending and set goals for ourselves.  We don't do spreadsheets or anything really strict with cash, but we do talk about our finances regularly.  We both know our goals and we communicate about them often.  We've cut back on areas like eating out and opt for take out instead a few times a month.  I cook dinner most nights and we eat at home a lot.  All these little choices add up to big savings which means we can do more of the things we love.

I thought I'd share some things we've been doing to save money because A. they're really easy and B. we've been trying to get creative with saving.

1. Buy Holiday shirts/clothing/pjs at chain stores instead of boutiques.

I love all of the holiday pjs that are monogrammed and coordinated, but I just can't justify spending $20+ per kid on these items.  They're adorable, but not something I want to splurge on right now.  My kids love holiday clothes and I love dressing both kids in them.  The fact is that they are just as happy with a pumpkin shirt from Meijer as they are a fancy boutique.  So I opt to save money and go with the Meijer options.  Their Halloween shirts were on sale for $4.20 this past weekend and they're really cute.  The regular price is $6 and they come out with cute ones for every holiday.

2. We are making the most of our FREEZER.

We don't have a huge chest freezer so we rely on our regular side by side freezer.  It's just an average sized freezer, but we pack it to the max.  Scroll down to the bottom of the post to see what I mean.

We dice up bread and buns that we're done with before they go bad.  I make sure to closely keep track of what is in our pantry so that I can freeze things before they spoil.  I dice up the bread and then freeze it to use later for stuffing or french toast casserole.

I noticed that a big bag of frozen banana slices was $10 at the store this week.  Bananas are super cheap so don't let your ripe bananas go to waste.  Slice them up and use them in smoothies or bake with them.  I like to buy the big bundle of 8 or more bananas from Sams.  It's usually around $1.50.  We eat the bananas throughout the week and then slice them one they're too ripe.

3. Stock up on TOYS when you find them for a great price.

We are just barely entering into the birthday party stage of life with kids.  We always buy gifts for our little cousins and now we're starting to have friends to buy for.  I heard this great idea once: Have a stash of gifts that would be good friend gifts for boy and girls and then let your kids choose something from the stash when they are invited to a birthday party.  This month I stocked up on all the Melissa and Doug sticker and marker activity pads I could find at TJ Maxx.  They're $3.99 each and are so much fun!  My 4 year old loves them and I think they'd make great friend gifts.

I also found some great deal on character books.  This big flap book was $8 so I'm saving it to give to Olive for a holiday this Fall.

4. Say yes to free garden PRODUCE

Kevin has some coworkers that garden.  Anytime they offer to share, we say YES!  We've enjoyed tomatoes, raspberries and zucchini thanks to them.  I even froze some of it to use later.

5. Buy MEAT when it's on super sale or marked down and freeze it in smaller packages.

Our freezer is currently packed with ground beef, fish, steaks and other random meats to use in tacos, soups, spaghetti, etc.  It makes dinner prep so much easier to have great options in your freezer.

6. Use what you have in your PANTRY or freezer

Keep close track of what you have and try to use it up.  We eat Mexican food a lot.  And every time we eat it we end up with some leftover taco fixings.  Instead of tossing them, I decided to freeze them in a little sandwich bag to use later.  I ended up with nearly 10 little bags of taco toppings.  Perfect time to make TACO SOUP!  I thawed them out, added in a bottle of V8 and taco meat.  Voila!  Delicious taco soup for dinner.

7. Figure out your favorite FREE activities and do them often.

My kids LOVE going to parks and playing outside.  So instead of going on expensive outings like the zoo or the movies, we often opt to meet friends at a park.  I'll pack snacks or a lunch and we all have a great time.  We have tons of neat parks in our city so I'm hoping to keep checking out new parks as the weather cools off a bit.

See my freezer is STOCKED and every inch is being used :)

 Do you have any creative ways you save your family money??

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Zucchini Brownies & Fall Recipes

We are lucky to have friends who garden and SHARE!

Maybe some day I'll have some beautiful raised garden beds with veggies to share, but that'll be a few years down the road.

For now, we are thankful for their zucchini!

I grated it all up and froze it so I can just pull out a bag when we need it.

I found the best recipe for Zucchini Brownies and they were so good.  My whole family loved them.

Homemade brownies aren't usually my thing, so you know these must have been delicious for me to share the brownie recipe.  It was really easy, too.

Original recipe here at Two Peas and Their Pod

1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 c flour
1/4 c cocoa
2 c shredded zucchini (don't drain off all the moisture)
2 t vanilla
1 t salt
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 c chocolate chips
powdered sugar to sprinkle on top

Combine sugar, oil and flour until it looks crumbly.

Add in everything else until the mix is well combined.

Save the chocolate chips for last and fold them into the wet mix. 

Pour brownies into a greased 9x13 pan and bake at 350 for 25-35 minutes.  Insert toothpick making sure it comes out clean when brownies are done.  Let cool.  Sprinkle powdered sugar on top.  Delicious for a couple of days!

They were soft, chewy and fluffy.  You really can't even see the zucchini in them :)

I'm also looking forward to doing some Fall baking this month.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Baked Oatmeal
You can find my recipe here

Pumpkin Struesel Muffins
You can find my recipe here

Caramel Apple Crisp
You can find my recipe here

What are you looking forward to baking?

It's time to link up with my favorite Tuesday Talk ladies.
Be sure to join us with a current blog post.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Usborne LOVE

Have you ever purchased any Usborne books??  They are the nicest, educational books for kids!  My kids love them and they are some of the most read books in our house.

I'm excited to share 6 new Usborne books with you today!!

I'm teaming up with my blog friend Emily to tell you a little more about Usborne books.  In full disclosure, I was gifted these books in exchange for my honest feedback on them.  

My name is Emily Maduzia and I live with my husband, Matt, and our cat Daisy in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.  I grew up loving books and reading and always wanted to be a high school teacher.  After teaching for a few years, I am now working at the University of Illinois while finishing up my Master's in Health Communications.  Some of my other hobbies include cooking, singing at church, needlepoint, and cheering on the CUBS!  

Emily is offering my readers FREE SHIPPING on orders over $50 that are ordered through her link for the month of September.  You won't believe how many amazing books there are.  They'd make the perfect birthday party gifts or if you're already starting your Christmas shopping keep them in mind.

Here's her link to shop:

Just tell her I sent you and she'll reimburse your shipping!!

You can also find her on:

Facebook business page:

Pinterest: thebookbouquet

We loved reading this book to learn about gardens, flowers, seasons and trees.  It labels the parts, talks about the process and is a great science book for kids.  The book is full of great vocabulary.  This book would be great for any science unit on growing, plant vocabulary or seasons.  I loved this book because it introduces my 4 year old to some growing basics and as she gets older we can read all of the fine print together to help her learn more about how things grow.

My kids love the ocean and had so much fun flipping through this book.  They asked the names of the animals, we counted the fish, pointed out colors, used blocks to cover up certain animals (everything with a fin, white animals, animals with stripes, etc) and had a great time talking about all of the things that live in the sea.  It was fun to learn about chilly water creatures along with warm water ones.  This book is great because it gives little kids tons of things to spot and big kids tons of names to learn and creatures to check out.

This book is kind of like a current Where's Waldo?  So many things to spot and count on each page.  We had a lot of fun talking about all of the different scenes.  It's the perfect book to practice numbers, counting and identifying objects.  This book is best suited for older kids (4 and up) because the pages of the book are thin like a regular book not a board book.

This book is a MUST HAVE.  It was our #1 favorite of the bunch!!

 Each page has a question on top and then two pages FULL of pictures to talk about.  It asks a question that gets kids thinking and it is so much fun to talk through all of the options with your kids.  My daughter loves doing this book with me, but this book is the first one she picks up for independent reading, too.  She LOVES flipping through the pages and seeing all of her options for careers, people, friends, house furnishings, pets, weather and more.

This would be a great book to take along on a trip.  Kids LOVE looking at it again and again and the book reads differently every time since you can always change your answers.

We loved this pop up alphabet book.  The information on each page is really cute and it's a great way to interact with the letters.  Each page pops up and gives the kids a chance to trace the letters with their fingers.  The animals in the book are darling.  The pages are thick like a board book and really durable.  It's a very fun, interactive book.
*** This book has been so popular that it is back ordered until December!

My daughter has the best time with this book.  It makes her laugh and she can easily read it on her own.  While she can't read just yet, she happily flips through the flaps to make her own funny characters.  She gives them names, voices and thinks it's hilarious to muddle up the characters.  The book is more of a board book so it's very durable.  I like to read the story with her and we point out letters throughout.  We also practice describing out loud what each character looks like to work on colors, shapes and building her vocabulary.

I've shared The Very First Book of Things to Spot with you before.  Both are Usborne books.  The Spot book been Olive's favorite book to read in the car for about two years.  It's so cute.  Then my Mom got the kids Secrets of the Seashore for Christmas last year.  It's a really cute interactive flashlight book.

Hope you find some books you LOVE!!  Feel free to comment with any questions :)

Here's the link to Emily's Usborne Shop one more time: