Monday, July 15, 2013

  Our First Vegan Road Trip and Stay in Philly!

We recently decided, for a variety of reasons, to become fully vegan.  Although I have been a vegetarian for almost a decade, the switch has made me realize how much we depended on eggs and cheese to eat when out or traveling! Since we were staying with family, but did not want to burden them with any of our specific needs, we brought a lot from home!  

This is what we found most helpful ::

  • milk in an aseptic box 
  • cereal *the good stuff*
  • variety of fruit 
  • variety of veggies 
  • canned beans for salads 
  • a few granola type bars 
  • dried fruit 
Basically anything simple, easy and what did not exactly need to be refrigerated, because we did not want to take up too much of their space.  

My most amazing tofu scramble from The Local 44
 - home fries were to die for!
What we loved the most, you ask?  The Local 44 Bar - in West Philly - that had some AMAZING vegan food but also food for the rest of America so everyone could eat there.  I think in 2 days, we ate there 3 times!  

Photos from Daddykins and I exploring the city after a run by the river!  That is the Art Museum ("Rocky Steps") in the background.  And there is me, on a random pretty staircase, suffering from the thick Philly air!

Presents for everyone!

Again, I have neglected this idea for a while, but find myself back here, with a ton of fresh ideas.  June was the month of gift giving and traveling, so we had quite a bit of fun!  My college friends came for the day, so I whipped up a low cost gift basket for them.  I finally got to meet my soon-to-be niece and Daddykins got some baby practice in, which means we brought presents for momma and baby on our visit.  And of course, it was Father's day, so I needed to think of something nice for my step dad!

My first gift basket of the month - the lime green theme!  It was for my best girlfriends who came up for a visit.  It happened to be close to one of their birthdays, so I made a basket for them both, since I didn't send a present for the January birthday gal!

  • green basket - $1 
  • basket filler and paper - $2 
  • stickers (my friend loves them) - $2
  • photo book - $1
  • picture frame - $3
  • photos, 25 printed - $6.75
  • Glee game - $8
  • Jellies - free (leftovers from xmas presents)
  • CD of our favorite songs - free (already had them!)
  • wrapping paper and ribbon - free 
So for a gift that covers 2 birthdays, less than $25.  They loved it, it looked amazing and it did not break my bank!

My second gift basket of the month - "play ball" theme!  I was fortunate to be running through my hometown on father's day and was able to give my step-dad his present!  His gift is a little more 'over the top' than I would usually like to spend or do... However, I feel like I must make up for my 20 years of just giving peanut "m&ms" for Christmas, birthday and father's day.  So I step up my game a bit with him.  

  •  My step dad LOVES Golden Corral (me, not so much), but our little city just built one, so I hopped on board and tried to get him a gift certificate... after trying FIVE TIMES to get in the door, I finally got one, for $40
  • Tickets to a baseball game - I figured since he would be traveling to eat, he could stay for a bit and take in america's past time... tickets for four were only $50 and our seats were awesome!
  • Gas card - he didn't really need it, but I thought it tied the gift together and made it more of a carefree day - $20 
  • Basket - $1
  • Bow - $1 
  • 'flair' aka the ball - $1
  • basket filler - $1
So our total was a little out there, at $144, but that is including all 4 tickets, not just his.  And like I said, it is money and time well spent because I feel like I need to make up for lost time, and we got to spend a whole day together, which was amazing.  

And now we are on to the new momma and baby!  I had a lot of fun with this one, and my soon-to-be sister-in-law was very thankful and LOVED the chocolate!  It was simple, but had some heartfelt touches.  

  • First and foremost - the chocolate.  I went with organic because momma was not using formula yet for the baby, and I didn't want to cause harm.  $12 
  • Tea - took some time to research what was ok for new mother's to have, and I think I got it right!  $6 
  • Cute little sign "a daughter is a gift sent from above to treasure and forever love" $4 
  • a very cute press on/press off owl night light $10 
All in all, she loved it and really appreciated the chocolate!  I think she was very touched that someone thought of her and not just the baby.  

The price was a little high, at $32, but it was much cheaper than sending flowers, fruit or pre-made gift basket that I was thinking about doing just after the baby was born.  And I know she would do the same for me, or even more, so it felt nice to do something sweet for her!!  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Kitchen Organization for Cheap!

In our current situation  Daddykins and I have a small kitchen, without much storage, but with a lot of ingredients, cook and bake ware and contraptions.  And I happened to do a lot of canning last summer, so we needed to find space for that as well!  This time around, I wanted to focus on 3 things specifically... the pots and pans mess, the spices mess, and the 'pantry' cupboard.  With the help of the dollar store, I was able to make some changes, without much impact on my budget!  

Pots and Pans ::
once stacked and organized, pots and pans are not that bad, but the pot tops are obnoxious 
Easy Fix :: dish drainer from the dollar store!  Keeps all the tops organized and accessible!  Never-mind those silly store bought organizers for now, this was a quick, cheap fix!

We love to cook, so we have a ton of spices.  But they can be hard to find, especially when they were high up atop the stove, so I moved them and sorted them into bins from the dollar store!  So now they are organized into 'everyday,' 'Indian/Mexican,' and 'baking' and I can just pull the whole bin out according to what I am working on, which is neat and organized.

The Pantry::
We have a lot of canned goods and dry goods, and every week I add to it, but some weeks it feels like we take very little out of it, so it gets filled and unorganized!  Cue the mason jars!  I have a ton of extras lying around, so I put them to good use!  I also wrote on them with a dry erase marker so I can keep track of everything.  So far, so good!  

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Lentils and Sweet Potato - Yum!

I am continuously being told Spring is right around the corner, but with measurable snow fall this April, I am wondering what corner everyone is looking around, because I don't see winter ending anytime soon.  BUT, the good news with that is, I can use stews and sweet potatoes longer!  I had intended this to be a crock pot recipe, but when I got home from working the overnight, I was too tired to even plug the thing in!  So I changed my plan and just made it on the stove top.  This meal was hearty and had a unique combination of savory and sweet, but it was really quite filling and delicious.  I served it with crunchy bread and salad.  Quick, easy, cheap and best of all, vegan. :)


1/2 onion diced 
1-2 cloves garlic diced 
1 - 2 tablespoons oil 
1 - 2 cups water
1 large sweet potato - cut into 1/2 inch cubes 
1 cup rinsed lentils 
1 tablespoon vegetable stock 
2 teaspoons each rosemary, thyme and sage 


  • saute onions in oil until see-through, add in garlic, being careful not to burn garlic 
  • add water, sweet potatoes and lentils 
  • once warmed, add stock and spices, and simmer until lentils and potatoes are tender (about 30 - 40 minutes) 
  • At the end, I added about a half cup on frozen spinach to give its some green and it turned out to be a nice addition!

Spending so much $$ on fruits and veggies, just to waste them!

In my house, I always seem to over estimate how many fresh fruits and veggies we will eat in a week, and, as much as I hate to admit it, a lot of them go to waste.  But, on our new budget, I have very little wiggle room and so I have become better at estimating, as well as preserving what we purchase.  As Spring and Summer approach, we will be able to purchase more veggies for less money, and hopefully increase our consumption during that time!

Ways to extend the life of fruits/veggies...

  • keep the fridge clean
    • leftovers that sit too long accumulate bacteria that increase the spoiling rate of other foods in the fridge.  
    • we keep unfrozen leftovers for only 48 hours and discard them after that 
    • I use my standard cleaning spray (vinegar, water, tea tree essential oil)  wipe down all surfaces of the inside of the fridge every 2 weeks (or more if I notice anything)
  • if fruits or veggies ripen too fast outside the fridge, I toss them in the fridge to give me an extra 2 - 3 days to use them 
    • bananas will turn brown in the fridge, but will still be fine to eat
    • I usually end up throwing my tomatoes and avocados in the fridge by the end of the week, but they still taste just fine to me!
  • as soon as I get home from shopping I wash the fruits and veggies - it makes them last so much longer!!
  • I do it for all veggies, even melons and squashes... keeps them
    fresh longer!
    • it is quite simple... wash out the sink, fill with cold water, add a half cup vinegar, and soak everything for 3 - 5 min, rotating as it floats up... viola!  
    • the vinegar helps stop any fungus or bacteria growth and inhibits decomposition for some time, which obviously keeps things fresh!!
  • Hydration is your friend!! 
    • soft or soggy veggies (peppers, broccoli, celery, asparagus etc) can be freshened by cutting a new edge (the top stem of a pepper, the ends of celery etc) and placing the fresh end in a bit of cold water and allowing it to sit for an hour will give you fresh veggies once again!!
    • sometimes veggies are beyond help, so be sure to look for mold, rot and slime... I would not advocate eating or trying to save those!!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Living and Saving on a Budget

At the start of the year, Daddykins and I started a new budget and so far, it is working well.  We have a few savings options and ideas kicking around, but what I love most is my file folder of savings.  Our amounts saved grow little by little every week and so far, so good!  

I have a few categories that were immediate needs for us, and so those became the categories we contribute to on a weekly basis (most of the time...).  All of the accounts have a capped limit, and once the limit is reached, the funds will be diverted into another account.  If I have to take money out of an account, then I will revert to building the emptied account as I did before it was full.   

  • Girl's Food - Amount contributed: $20/week -  we buy the girl's food from amazon, but I did not want it sitting attached to my debit card, so I pull $20 out a week, and then put it back in my account when we need to purchase.  This is the only account that has money coming and going on a regular basis.  The account will be frozen at $200, and new incoming money will be put into their emergency fund.
  • Girl's Emergency - Amount contributed: $10/week - we do have pet
    Just a simple file folder found at the dollar
    bin in Target!  Love my dollar finds!
    insurance on the girls, but just in case anything happens, we have something to go on.  I have the account to be frozen once funds reach $400 and then we will contribute new incoming money to our vacation fund.  
  • General Emergency - Amount contributed: $5/week - this is for those unexpected dryer repairs, calls to the plumber, 'last pair of sneakers finally worn out' things that come up in our lives.  I have less contributed to this account than others because we historically have had few of these 'emergencies' and I am banking on the trend continuing.  Once the account reaches $400 and then new incoming money will be put towards our "car emergency" fund.   
  • Car Emergency - Amount contributed: $5/week - I hate cars, hate hate hate them... they always break.  And cost a lot.  So I have this fund, and I hope I never have to use it!  This is capped at $400, and I am sure it will be forever in use and never actually full, but in the event that it is, money will then be diverted to my oil changes and tolls fund.  
  • Oil Changes/Tolls - Amount contributed: anything extra - I couldn't justify having a real amount given to this, so when I have a mileage check come in or an extra few bucks, it goes into this account.  
  • The ledger I created to help keep track
    of what was going in/out of the accoutns.
  • Camping - Amount contributed:  My Nannying Money - we love to go camping and have most of our supplies but food and gas still cost money, and so I don't blow our weekly budget when we want to go, I have a fund!  And it is full at $300!  So now all my money from part-time Nannying will go into General Emergency!  So happy to have an account full... I never thought it would happen!
Other accounts that will be contributed to in the future... but our budget didn't allow for it now, but I have plans for it!
  • vacation 
  • home improvement 
  • health emergency 
  • wedding fund

To keep track:

  • I ended up making a ledger for each file within the folder.  It allows me to keep track and add/subtract as things change, and I can easily remember how much I contribute and what my goal is so I know when I can stop.  I also put a sticker on the back of each one which tells me what I will be contributing to next, once my account is full. 
So, what does this look like on a weekly basis?  
  • To do the saving I want/can do, it is only $40 a week, which fits into our budget well. 
  • Pop it in, adjust my ledger and move on!  So fast and easy once I had it set up and I have a little cushion to fall back on in case of emergency. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Been away for a while, quite busy!  Planned, decorated and baked my way through my soon-to-be sister-in-law's baby shower!  It was quite a blast and according to many many people I should be a party planner... Daddykins might not be that happy with that choice - my poor house was a disaster for quite some time, but I had a blast!

Of course, most of this was done in "DIY" fashion, with a lot (I mean, a lot) of time was put into it!  It turned out so beautifully and the mommy and daddy - to - be loved it, so I was trilled.

First thing's first... the color scheme.  We know we will have a little niece come May, and the nursery is going to be purple and grey.  So the soon - to - be momma wanted the shower color to be purple... so I settled on mostly purple, with pops of pink.  So our theme was not shower centered, but rather purple and pink, classy and used food for fun.


So as I was perusing the Dollar Tree on my Friday shopping trip, I found cute, spring like boxes, that would work wonderfully for centerpieces.  It did take me some time to figure out how I would use them, but after some planning, I figured they could be cute with cake pops, white chocolate candies and purple peeps.  

The Box :: With a little floral foam, Easter grass and sticks, I had planned the centerpieces.  Assembling them, other than the foods, was quite easy and people thought they were cute.  

Pops :: The cake pops that went into the centerpieces and filled in gaps on the dessert table, were somewhat difficult to make, mainly because I am a huge perfectionist.  I used a cake pop mold and box cake mix, with pudding added, and they baked ok... the problems occurred when 'frosting' them in the white chocolate. Some of the cake balls fell off, the chocolate was not going on smoothly... horror after horror.  But by the end of it, I had a good recipe (a lot of vegetable shortening) and a good technique (roll the pop on the side of the jar, to achieve a smooth and not too thick finish).  

Chicks :: The peeps were fun to assemble.  We had 4 packages of purple chicks, and we took them apart and attempted to roll them in the purple dust left behind, to cover up the white sides.  It worked well, but wasn't perfect.  We put them in plastic baggies and taped/tied them off so they would not go stale.  It was pretty quick and easy, and a great addition to the centerpieces   

Chocolate :: we also made purple hearts and flowers out of white chocolate to fill in gaps.  Worked out well and added nice contrasting colors.  

I carted everything from home disassembled, and then put them all together the night before the shower while on the tables.  They held up well and were LOVED!!  What people didn't eat, they took home, which was amazing!  :)

Shower Activities!!  

The momma - to - be did not want to play any traditional shower games, and as we had a short time frame (10a - 12), it didn't really matter.  But I was able to convince momma to do two activities:  advice for the momma to be, and a fun little diaper game where guests wrote funny quips on diapers to make momma's late night diaper changes funny and less stressful.  

Advice :: The note cards were placed on the plates, to add color to the somewhat bland room, and I had made them to fit into a 3x5 photo book so that there was a cute "book of advice" for the parents - to - be.  They guests loved giving advice and there were some very thoughtful insights into parenting, as well as some humor and some art from our younger guests!  
The Diaper Rhyme 

Diapers :: The guests also loved participating in the diaper activity and came up with some really cute quips.  Someone wrote "baby got back" on the back of one diaper, and another wrote "the diva demands!" and a third memorable one was "Mom!  Only 3,232,232 diapers until I am potty trained!"  It was quite fun, and gives the mom and dad - to - be a usable gift, which is always nice.  The table also was a cute addition to the decorating and the frame tied everything together.  

The Dessert Table!!  

It was freakin' adorable!  I made and frosted all the cupcakes (some of the ladies said they looked like they were professionally made... I was so flattered!), designed everything and made (most) of the cake stands, and used the cake pops and white chocolate pops as fillers.  
Spray Painting in Winter!

Cake stands ::  they were all dollar store or thrift store purchases (plates and funky cups/dessert bowls), which I spray painted with a frosted glass finish, before I spray painted them with color.  I assembled them after I spray painted (being sure to leave a perfect circle where my cups would attach), but based on my experiences  it could be assembled pre-paining as well.  I found doilies at the dollar store and was sure to put these on the top of the plates, to make sure the food wasn't tainted.  Not pictured was the one I did in pink so I could add a little pop!

Silverware as decorations :: To add more color and tie in the prints throughout the room, the silverware came into play!!  The pink silverware was leftover from a previous party, the basket I had, and the rest was from the dollar store!  It was simple to roll it up, and then tie them off with some cute ribbon or tulle.  It made a nice addition and was very little time and money to set up.  Once put on the table, it was just adorable.  

Welcome Baby 
Cupcake Liner and Note the Purple Chocolate
Cupcakes ::  I had made about sixty, even though we had 30 people slated for the party... I wanted to be sure I had enough, and I had baked them in white cupcake liners.  I used store bought cake mix (3 boxes at $.99 made for a good deal) and the frosting was butter-cream made from scratch.  I had mixed in varying amounts of food coloring into each batch of frosting, so the cupcakes all had slightly different shades of purple.  Once frosted, I put them in one of two fun cupcake papers, which really made the table come together.  I had also made a "Welcome Baby" decal on the computer, and after many attempts, made it exactly an inch and a half wide!  My mom had a scrapbook punch that size, and a scalloped one 2-inches wide, so I was able to quickly and easily make cupcake toppers!  They turned out beautiful and I so thankful to have my mom's help!

The HUGE Mantle!!

Nothing is worse than having a huge, manly mantle in the middle of a baby shower.  So, I tried to work with what I was given,... a few vases and a place to hang a wreath.  And I once again got busy at the dollar store!

The Masculine Fire Place Made Baby Cute
The Beautiful Wreath :: The dollar store had pool noodles - amazing!  So I got some purple and white tulle, I had some leftover pink tulle, and I got cutting and tying.  The problem:  you could see the blue of the noodle through the tulle... so I ended up using some of my leftover spray paint from the cupcake stands to coat the noodle, which made a bit of a mess (it kept flaking) but it worked out ok.  It basically ended up looking like a stripped tutu, and Daddykins said the middle looked empty (and he was right), so I got a letter T (for the baby's last name) from the craft store with the intention of painting it but ran out of time.  So I punched some paper out of paint samples, various scallop sizes, and quick pasted them on the T.  Looked adorable.  And I found small letters and bought "baby" and spray painted those pink and hung them on the side.  The process was pretty easy and quite fun, and turned out so cute!!  And doubles as a nursery decoration!

The Vases :: quick decorating = tulle bows.  Took less than 5 minutes for all of them and really pulled the room together.  Quite simple and earned a lot of compliments.  

The Diaper Table

The Remainder of the Party:
The dessert table from a distance

Puff Balls :: so cheap and easy.  Tissue paper fanned out with fun cut ends, scrapbook paper cut into strips then made into balls, and coffee filters stuck into a foam ball.  Tissue paper packs were less than a dollar each and if I cut them right, they made very different sizes and 2 for the price of 1, and I personally think the smaller ones turned out better.  They really tied the rooms together and they made the decorations.  It was quite simple and created a warmth and sense of welcoming.
The Food Table, prior to the food of course


The Banner :: I was so excited to make this - it was originally going to go over the present table, but once I figured out what the site looked like, it wasn't going to happen - and I wanted it to be cute, but not say "welcome baby" or anything like that since she wasn't actually going to be present!  So we opted for "For now in mommy's belly, forever in her heart" and I made each letter independently and used 3d glue stickers to give it a bit of a pop.  It was cuter in person and the picture below does not give it much justice.  

Other Pretty Shots ::