Couponing for a Cause

 

 

What’s in your hand? Not literally, like what you are holding at this very moment. I’m referring to what God-given talents, gifts, and influences you have. You know that God has gifted you with unique talents, personality traits, circles of friends and family, and (if you’ve accepted Him) spiritual gifts as well. My question is, how are you using them to bless others? I was strongly influenced by a sermon series several years ago called “What’s in Your Hand?” Since then I have been asking myself that question quite often. How can I use my God-given talents, spiritual gifts, resources, and influences to bless others, and in turn, give glory to God?

Well, a few months back I really got into couponing. I love to shop, but not spend a lot of money. Once I learned to shop more strategically and take time to use coupons, I was finding myself saving lots on our grocery and household expenses. (By the way, they do take a bit of time but I find it is well worth it). For some reason there are a lot of personal care item coupons out there and I was finding that I was getting lots of these items (like toothpaste) for free or dirt cheap. Even though I have a fairly large family, we really can’t use all that I was able to buy cheaply. So, I started a donation box for these types of things in my garage.

My Dad is a men’s chaplain at Water Street Ministries, which is a wonderful organization in Lancaster,PA. It is not only a homeless shelter, but helps many, many people out in many ways. Dad loves his job and loves the people he encounters, so we hear about WSM all the time. I have also met and our family has had lots of his clients to dinner over at my parents’ home. They give clients that come into the mission something called “Hope Totes,” which are bags filled with basic toiletry/hygiene items. What better opportunity to bless someone else with all of those toiletry type items I have been acquiring? Also, in light of all my kids having spring birthdays, what better way to teach them to have a “giving” attitude rather than a “getting” one? So, for the past month we have been collecting items to put into our totes and I have sewn up some women’s & men’s drawstring bags to put them into. Last night we finally laid out our finds (3 boxes worth!), organized them, and assembled our bags. My gang was SO excited to see all that we had and to put the items together.

My gang with our fabulous coupon finds.
Before we actually put everything into bags, we did a little count of how many total items we had. I think we were all surprised that we had 211 items!
Part of our stash (that’s a lot of deodorant!)
Overall, we put together 13 bags and had a lot of stuff left over. For example, we ran out of shaving creams and lip balm but had plenty of other items left. Guess I’ll be sewing up some more bags and buying some more stuff.
Our assembly line in action.
If you are interested in doing something similar, there is an organization on facebook called “Couponing for Community” that I would encourage you to check out. Also, there is a list of tangible items needed for Water Street Ministries on their website, waterstreetministries.org. If you don’t live in my area, I would highly encourage you to check out local shelters and food banks, or something on a more global level. Giving feels so good and it is wonderful to get children involved.
So, to wrap things up, I’ll ask you again–What’s in Your Hand? Couponing may be totally not your thing, and that’s okay. I’m personally encouraging you to take a look at what resources you have that you can use to bless someone else today, this week, or on the months to come.
 
 

Easter Coupon Booklets Tutorial

 

If you’re scrambling for some sweet additions to your kids Easter baskets, look no further. I have a meaningful idea you can quickly and easily make that costs zero $.  As a bonus, this has no candy either! Now, I love coupons–clipping them, using them, researching them online, and so on. One of my favorite sites that I visit regularly is thefrugalgirls.com. This past week they had printable Easter coupons for kids. What a grand idea! I printed out a few sheets and then came up with some of my own more personalized ones that I typed up and printed out.

Kids coupons, waiting to be clipped.

For some of the ones I made up I even drew a little picture or used a scrapbooking sticker to go along with it. After that, all I did was cut out a rectangle of cardstock slightly larger than the coupons and added each child’s name to the front. I used printed cardstock that suited each of their personalities and punched two holes along the side of each coupon and cardstock cover. 

Andrew’s book cover and coupons before assembling.

To wrap things up, I  laced two ribbons through those holes to “bind” their coupon books. Now they’re waiting for the Easter bunny (aka Mom) to put them into their baskets tonight.

5 coupon booklets, each one a bit different.
Each kids booklet is a bit different. Like I said, I put together coupons for each one that I know they would appreciate. For example, in my oldest son’s book, I have one for staying up 30 minutes later, 1 for a game of catch, and 1 for an ice cream date with Mom or Dad. In my daughter’s book I have 1 for a manicure or pedicure (done by Mommy), something the boys definitely would NOT be into. Here’s a list of some other ideas:
*1 batch of homemade cookies, their choice
*1 picnic at the park
*Movie night-they pick movie of choice & popcorn
*1 extra bedtime story
*Game night-they choose game
*Pool pass
*30 extra minutes of TV time
 

Baking Powder Biscuits

Gotta love biscuits.

I just had to share this recipe with you all, especially with Easter dinners literally around the corner. This is one I have been making since I was a blushing bride almost 12 years ago. It was an instant hit with my husband and since then, each of our children. You’ve gotta love recipes that you know the whole family will eat and appreciate! So anyway, I had made soup last night and these biscuits and figured this would be a perfect time to share my tried-and-true recipe with all of you. Bon Apetit!

Baking Powder Biscuits

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 TB Baking Powder
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450. Stir dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl; cut in shortening with a pastry blender. Add milk and stir in with a fork. Turn dough out on a floured surface and roll to a 1/2″ thickness. Cut into circles and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes.

Easter Eggs turned Teacups

  Lots of empty eggs…

What do you do with all of these empty plastic eggs once Easter is over? Do you save them? Pitch them? Well, I recently stumbled upon a sweet idea over at dollarstorecrafts.com that upcycles those plastic eggs into something cute for the kiddos. I do save at least some of our eggs from one year to another, but for some reason I’m finding just halves that don’t match. Does anyone else have that problem? If you do, hold onto your Easter bonnets, because I’m going to show you an easy way to upcycle those plastic eggs!

 
 

Mini Teacups!

That’s right, teacups. As in, the little kiddie tea party pretend ones. All you need for this craft are those plastic egg halves, glue (I prefer a hot glue gun), buttons, and any embellishments or ribbon you may have on hand.

Easy peasy.

Seriously, if you’re not the least bit crafty, you can still do this. All you need to do is glue the bottom rounded end of your egg half to a button. That’s it. Now, you don’t have to use a button. A couple of other things I tried were a fabric yo-yo (not very stable, but cute!) and a glass “gem” from the dollar store (glue to rounded side, flat side down).

A two-tone cup with glass gem bottom.

For this one, I stacked and glued one half of one color inside a half of another color. If you look at the two halves, you’ll notice that one is more short and rounded and the other a bit taller and thinner. Stack the thinner one inside of the shorter, rounder one. All I did then was hot glue a length of coordinating ribbon around the middle.

A yo-yo on the bottom, pearl gems all around.

 For the one above, I glued a fabric yo-yo on the bottom and used adhesive pearl gems to embellish the outside.

Love that button and ribbon!

As you can see, you definitely don’t have to go all pastel with this craft. I love the more contemporary look of this one. Hey, if you have one that turns out cheesy, who cares? If your teacups look more Mad Hatter than Martha, the kids won’t notice. This is a fun, easy little craft that you can really use your imagination on a bit. I had fun making them (can you tell?), and I’m sure kids would love this as well. Here are a few more ideas to try:

*Stack a smaller button on a large one for a layered base.

*Rickrack

*Small stickers

*Let the kids use markers or puffy paint pens to decorate the outside.

*Adhesive crystal gems

More teacups...

Happy Easter everyone!

PS-If anyone has a great idea for a handle, let me know!

Easter Nest Candy

Easter is quickly approaching! Not only is it my favorite holiday, this year it falls on my son Andrew’s 8th birthday. I have been gathering some bought candy to put in baskets, but wanted to do some homemade candies as well. Not too long ago a co-worker of my husband’s gave us a version of this candy for my kids. I thought they were too cute and the kids loved them as well. So, Linda S., here is my little version of your Easter nest candy.

For starters, here are all the ingredients you need to make this treat. It is very simple, kids can definitely help make them, and it is no-bake!

Gathering my ingredients...

Peanut Butter Easter Nest Candy

8 oz. marshmallows

2 TB butter

1/4 cup peanut butter

5 oz. chow mein noodles (1 can)

1 cup pastel M & M’s, chopped

Pastel Peanut butter M & M’s (whole)

In a glass bowl, microwave the marshmallow and butter together until melted completely. Stir in the peanut butter until well mixed. Add the chow mein noodles and chopped M & M’s. You may need to mix by hand at this point in the recipe. Just try not to crush too many of the chow mein noodles! When all are well mixed, form into nest shapes by hand. Lay on cookie sheet covered in wax paper. Allow to cool for @30 minutes. After cooling, top your nests with M & M’s, arranging them as “eggs”. Cute!

A colorful trio of sweet tweets!

This recipe made 9 nests, but you could easily make them a bit bigger and just make @6. As long as they are big enough for your candy eggs, you’re good to go.

Gooey sweetness with just the right amount of crunch.

 

I realize that using peanut butter is not an option for some families, so here are a few variations:

*Chocolate Nests-follow the same method as above, just use 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 TB shortening.

*White Chocolate Nests-same idea, just use white chocolate wafers, a bit of coconut, and some food coloring if you want a bit of color.

*I have also heard of people that use butterscotch chips.

*Top with jellybeans instead of M & M’s.

*Use little pretzel sticks or potato sticks instead of chow mein noodles.

The Rained Out Game

For those of you who read my vacation blog from earlier in the week, I had promised a little story about our family’s jaunt to a Phillies pre-season baseball game. There will sadly be no pictures in this post, and you’ll read why in a sec.This is a sneak peek into my oh-so-glamorous life and tells of yet another time where my day totally didn’t turn out as planned. For you fellow Moms out there who can relate, this is for you!

Okay, I’ll start out with the background. Our family was staying at a house in Sarasota for a vacation. We are from PA and my husband and boys are big Phillies fans. The Phils do their spring training in Clearwater, so we purchased tickets to a pre-season game to watch during our trip. My kiddos have never been to a real baseball game before, so this was exciting stuff. Before the trip, my Mom had gotten all of my kids Phillies tees as an early B-Day gift (they all have spring birthdays). I also got one for myself at Target, a very cute, retro-y looking one. My honey already had one, so we were all set. I had a plan in my head of how things were going to go down. We were going to get there a bit early, get the kids some autographs from a player or two, I was going to snap some awesome pics of my crew in their Phillies get-ups, it was going to be a beautiful day out as a fam. Really, am I that disillusioned, or am I just naturally a glass-half-full gal?

We awoke that morning to some gray skies and to a “chance of light showers” forecast for later in the afternoon. I had packed everyone’s light jackets in the back of our van, anticipating that we wouldn’t need them until our ride back to PA. Everyone was dressed in their Phillies T’s, we hopped in the van and headed for Clearwater, stopping for lunch. By the time we got to the stadium we had to park somewhat far away, but the weather still looked okay, so I left our jackets and such in the vehicle. Until the whole family hoofed it to the stadium, the national anthem was playing and the first pitch was being thrown out. Oh well, I thought, we can maybe get autographs after the game. The kids were all good for maybe two or three innings max until someone needed a potty break, and of course I ended up taking 4 out of 5 with me to find the bathrooms. So, up, up, up we climbed the steps and found the restrooms. What do you know? There was a playground right near the bathrooms. How very convenient for antsy little bodies to burn off some energy! I let the kids take off while I supervised from the sidelines.

Now I have a confession to make–I saw a somewhat older parent couple also standing at the sidelines. They were wearing clear plastic ponchos and shallow me sort of made fun of them in my head. Coming down the slide was a cute little girl, also wearing a plastic poncho. Can you guess who’s child she was? That’s right, plastic poncho-wearing people’s child. They had probably packed a whole bag for their outing, complete with an extra outfit for their little darling, nutritious snacks, and of course hand-sanitizer to use after touching that germy playground equipment. Then there was my horde of children in their shorts and T’s and sandals, and me in my T, shorts, and flip-flops.

Let me tell you, I could really kick myself for making fun of poncho people, because they obviously had it together way more than me. Not even 10 minutes into the playground time, the skies absolutely let loose like no one’s business. Torrential rain, dumping right on me and the kids. Everyone sort of scattered, I have NO idea to where. All I know is that I grabbed little bodies that belonged to me and we huddled underneath the fish-shaped bridge that was part of the playset while the rain blew in almost sideways on us. Fortunately it let up after several minutes, got a bit clear, then dumped on us again. And yes, we huddled underneath the play bridge again. By this time my soaked husband and oldest son came up from the stands to check on us. After conceding that no, it probably wasn’t going to get any better, we made our soggy, bedraggled way out to the parking area, he and I each carrying a twin. Thankfully we did have beach towels in the back of the van! Everyone got a towel to dry off and wrap around themselves on the way back to the house.

Did my little ideal notions turn out as expected? NO way! Heck, I didn’t even get to snap a single picture like I had planned. But you know what? The kids didn’t complain a bit about how things turned out. They even thought it was kind of fun to run in the rain back to our vehicle. You want to know what else? I had a humbling conviction for kind of judging those parents in their plastic ponchos. How many times have I judged others quite flippantly, only to have it come back to haunt me? Also, I had a little reminder about my preparedness (or non-preparedness) as a parent. Sure, I was an extremely prepared Mama when I had one child. I’m sure if we had taken our firstborn to the game when it was just him, he wouldv’e been wearing a rain jacket. Slowly, slowly you let some things slide as the years progress and more children come along. In some ways I am much more organized now that I have a whole brood to manage. Obviously in others, not so much. You really don’t want to hear about the blow-out diaper debacle in Bonanza that happened several years ago! Let’s just say one of my twins has a total blackmail picture of something he ended up wearing because Mommy didn’t pack an extra outfit.(Hey, at least I had an extra diaper along!)

How about you? Has there ever been a time you were not prepared for something while out and about with your kids? Feel free to share!

Chocolate Felt Rabbit

Do you like to eat your bunnies ears first? Or maybe you like to chomp off an arm or leg? Do you make it last for a couple of days or do an Easter binge and eat that bunny in one or two sittings? By now you either think I am crazy OR you have figured out that I’m talking about chocolate Easter bunnies (not the cute fluufy kind!).

I am a big fan of Good Housekeeping magazine and saw a sweet idea in the April 2011 issue that I wanted to try.   It was a chocolate bunny silhouette made of felt. You know I love to copy things, but I usually add my own little twist to it. In this case, I made it reversible so you can flip it over for a different look/color.

First things first–I printed out the rabbit silhouette from the Good Housekeeping website (go to goodhousekeeping.com/purpleeaster). I chose a chocolate brown felt and white felt for my rabbit.

My original inspiration and materials

Next I cut out one silhouette of each color of felt using the rabbit template.

A conga line of rabbits!

I stacked my two rabbits and hand-sewed around the outline of the shape using a light blue embroidery floss. I imagine you could stuff it with poly-fil if you wanted, or use a heavy interfacing to make it a little sturdier.  To embellish my rabbit I stuck to simplicity–a white grosgrain ribbon around the neck. Doesn’t he look dapper?

Getting my chocolate fix--the no-calorie kind!

To mix things up a bit, I can flip him over to the white side and changed out my ribbon to a blue organza. This side looks equally sweet!

The flip side of Mr. Rabbit

There you have it–a fairly quick, cute, easy decorating idea for Easter. You could also punch a hole near the top, thread a ribbon through, and hang. Or, like they showed in the mag, have him holding a little basket bouquet of spring flowers. He would make a charming gift as well!

Sarasota Highlights

It’s good to be home, even though I just spent a week in beautiful, sunny Sarasota. Our family had the opportunity to take a “real” vacation, not something we do too often. In fact our last family vacation was almost 3 years ago, when the twins were a little over a year old. You wouldn’t believe how much I had to pack for THAT one! Luckily we had purchased a roof storage bag to hold all of those extra baby goodies. This time around wasn’t so bad, but still a lot of stuff to haul. Fortunately we had access to a washer and dryer this time too, so I went a bit minimal on the clothing.

Let me just say that we had a great time as a family. I think we really needed this trip together, just us and the kids. It was wonderful to get away from all of our normal daily activities and have nowhere we had to be at any certain time. In fact, once we were away from all that, I realized just how much we are involved in.The kids had Mom and Dad with no distractions–that’s right, no phone calls, no internet, no e-mail, and we actually didn’t even turn on the TV until near the end of the week. May I just brag on these kids for a minute? Our road trip was about 20 hours each way with stops, though we only stopped about every 4 hours. Those kids kept themselves occupied almost the whole time with books, little toys, songs, etc. Yes, there were a couple of squabbles here and there, but nothing like you would imagine. Thank you Lord!!!

I’ll stop rambling now and share some highlights of our trip. The first highlight for me was the beaches. We tried several in the area out. The kids favorite one was Caspersen Beach, which is famous for people finding shark’s teeth. My gang was SO psyched when they really did find a bunch of shark’s teeth, amongst lots of pretty shells.

My little diggers, hard at work.

This is the first beach we tried out in Florida and I was struck by how blue the water looked. So pretty!

The pier at Caspersen Beach.

We also checked out the beach at Siesta Key one evening. I had heard that the sand there was like baby powder or like sugar. I found that to be totally true! My toes were loving that sand and it was very pretty as well.

My fab 5 at Siesta Key.
I love this crew!
Stealing a smooch at Siesta.

We also went to Turtle Beach on our last day, which was similar to Caspersen and great for shelling. 

Since we’re from PA and my boys are Phillies fans, we also caught a Spring Training game up at Clearwater. I could just kick myself for not getting any pics! Our entire family had Philly gear on and we did see several innings.  Unfortunately, it dumped rain on us all and we didn’t see the whole game 😦  I have an amusing story to tell about that one, but I’ll save it for another blog. Trust me, if you know me personally, you may get a kick out of it.

On my twins’ actual birthday, we drove to Myakka State Park, which was well worth it. They have an awesome “canopy walk,” which is a bridge you can walk across supended between two towers, therefore you can walk across the treetops and see all around the area.

Don't look down!

Another highlight at Myakka is the airboat tour. My kids really wanted to see some gators, and this tour did not disappoint! We saw lots of ’em, plus tons of other wildlife. Our guide/airboat pilot was extremely  knowledgeable. He told us that for every gator we saw, there are an average of 5 more that are under the surface. I didn’t get a picture of this, but there were fishermen out in waders, standing in the lake. Better you than me!

Just one of many beautiful birds we spotted on our tour.

We topped off our trip and the twins’ 4th birthday with a trip to Yoder’s Restaurant to get one of the yummy pies they are famous for. The boys chose a strawberry cream pie for their birthday treat. Let me just say that that huge pie was obliterated by the next morning.

Trust me, it tasted just as good as it looked.
Going to see gators and strawberry cream pie. What 4 year old could ask for more?

Yet another highlight for us all was the pool. We do not have a pool and it was glorious to walk right out on the lanai and have a sparkling warm pool to jump in. The kids got lots of practice swimming and Mommy got lots of books read poolside.  As a bonus, they were good and tired by the end of each day.

My Joey learning to swim. What he's wearing are called Puddle Jumpers and they are a wonderful invention!

A couple of other things the boys got to do are going to Mixon’s Fruit Farm and visiting the Mote Aquarium. My daughter woke with a fever Thursday am and I stayed at the house with her while Daddy and the boys had an outing. He is not a camera guy, so no pics there either. Oh well, the guys were excited about the different creatures they saw at the aquarium.

The highlight for our oldest was driving through Washington DC at 2 in the morning. This was completely unplanned as we were planning to drive AROUND the city. Our GPS (an early B-day gift for me from the man) took us a weird route, but it actually worked out in our favor. Our kids have never been to DC and got to see the Washington Monument and the Capitol all lit up at night.

All in all, a great trip! As I mentioned earlier, a good time as a family, quality time with our kids. The icing on the cake was a beautiful location to spend it at  and new experiences for our kids.