Friday, April 29, 2011

Spring break FAIL

So I had grand plans for a boatload of cleaning I wanted to accomplish over my spring break. 

Did the master bathroom get cleaned?  No.

Did the kitchen get cleaned?  Negative.

Did the basement get cleaned?  Meh. Kind of. I guess.

To be fair, I did have an unexpected family situation come up that required two days of my time. Then I volunteered to babysit a friend's kid so she could get some work stuff done, so there went another day. Add an unhappy Little Miss with tonsilitis to the mix, and my ideal spring break of cleaning my house from top to bottom has now been postponed until next year.     

The Big Guy and I did tackle the basement on Tuesday morning and serious progress was made. 
Here's the pile of trash:

This is the Mountain of Boxes.  With all the consolidation of STUFF going on, we have a lot of boxes left over.  It might be time to unload these via Craigslist. Do you know anyone with a move in their future? If so, let them know that all the boxes they need are in my basement.

The Big Guy made a lot of progress on his Man Cave/Rec Room.  Truthfully, it's driving me nuts that a room is set up without actual any actual walls, floor or ceiling, but this project is making him happy, so I'm trying to keep my mouth shut.

I did add a few more boxes to the garage sale pile.  It may not look like much from the picture, but each column is actually three boxes deep.  That's a lot of crap that needs to get out of my house by this summer.

This is the only remaining area of the basement that remains unidentified and unsorted.  Not cool.  I plan to tackle it in the next few weeks. 

The only task on my original "Spring Break To-Do List" that was truly completed is the take down and storage of the Easter decorations.  They were taken down, safely packed and tucked away in just under two hours.  How was this done so quickly and completely?

Easy...My Big Martha did it. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Martha Monday--Spring cleaning

While it doesn't feel like spring in north-central Illinois, I am on spring break so it's time to get down with spring cleaning. Martha has a lot of information on spring cleaning:  a list of spring-cleaning basics, 10 clever cleaning tricks, spring-cleaning organizing tips, and essential spring-cleaning tools.

Let's be clear, while I'll have the time to clean the entire house this week, I don't have the energy or the inclination.  I'll use what energy I do have for a few critical areas: the master bathroom (I hope to get it painted in the next few months), the basement (I'm only half-way ready for a summer yard sale) and the kitchen (with two small children, you can imagine how sticky the cabinets and handles are).  With any luck, I'll get the Easter decorations put away this week, too. 

How do you spring-clean?  Or do you just say "to hell with it!" and eat bon-bons instead?  Because I could really go for some bon-bons right about now!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter eggs

We dyed Easter eggs the other night. It was nothing fancy, no marbelizing or painting.  We didn't even use a white crayon...well, mainly that was because one wasn't included with the kit.  We simply got out six mugs and put eggs into the red, orange, yellow, teal, blue and purple dyes. 

MOM2 was on hand to help us out.  She came up with a true purple egg when she first dyed it red, and then put it in the blue bath for a while.  We also got a bright kelly green egg with the double-dipping method.  

Otherwise, there was really no difference between the purple and blue dyes, which was a bit disappointing.  And the red never seems to get bright red.  Next year, I might add a bit of food coloring to increase the red color.

The Little Guy was quite involved in the process, and when they were all done, he insisting on smelling them.

The still-wet dye gave him a bright green moustache.  

Fun times! From the TMI household to yours, have a very happy (and hoppy) Easter!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tips for a frugal Easter

Easter is only days away, and I'm busy dyeing eggs and filling baskets.  With all the cute bunny and chick stuff out there, it would be easy to go overboard, and over budget, on Easter. However, with a bit of planning and creativity, it's possible to have a nice Easter celebration without spending a lot of money.

To save money on the holiday meal:
  • Have a potluck meal.  Even if you aren't having a potluck meal and someone offers to bring a dish, accept their offer! 
  • Rotate holidays--if you had Easter last year, find someone else to take a turn.
  • Host an Easter brunch rather than a formal dinner (breakfast foods are a lot cheaper).
  • If you must go out to eat, save money by moving your celebration to Saturday instead of Sunday.
To save money on baskets:
  • Don't go nuts on toys/candy/trinkets for the kids.  I'm limiting myself to $10.00 per basket. 
  • Don't worry about fillers like that plastic Easter grass. It's messy and unnecessary. 
  • Right after Easter, all the baskets, fillers and Easter-themed stuff will go on sale.  Think ahead to Easter 2012 as you peruse the clearance racks, and get what you need (and only what you need) at a steep discount. 

I got the Little Guy and Little Miss's basket at 90% off after last Easter for a cost of $0.99 each. The bunny ears were also 90% off, making them only $0.19.  Score!

The contents of the baskets all came from the Dollar Spot at Target. Seriously, whoever created that thing is a genius! 

I'll round out their baskets with fruit snacks (for the Little Guy) and fun crackers (for Little Miss).

To save money on entertainment:
  • Look for free/cheap community events featuring the Easter bunny and egg hunts.
  • Focus on activities (decorating eggs, making garlands, baking desserts) as a family rather than paying big bucks for passive entertainment.
  • Combine resources with friends/neighbors to have a large-scale Easter egg hunt. 
Happy Easter planning!

PS. Did you know that I'm available for public speaking?  Neither did I!  As it turns out, I am able and willing to speak with community groups.  Kaneland WINS invited me to speak at their meeting today, and they got an abbreviated version of my "Live Well, Spend Less" class.  Thanks to Kaneland WINS for a fun lunch!  I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Martha Monday--Easter

Easter is less than a week away!  Martha has some great Easter menus, decorations and crafts on her site.  Here are a few that are catching my eye:

These Easter egg balloons are so simple, but pure genius!

This napkin bunny fold would be perfect for a formal place setting:

Are you ready? Are you hosting a dinner, or going to one? Do you have plans to visit the Easter bunny?

As we've done since the Little Guy's first Easter, we'll attend an Easter breakfast hosted by a local community service group. Getting everyone dressed and out of the house by 8am on a Saturday is worth it for pancakes and pictures with the Easter bunny! After that, we're heading off to the first Easter dinner. My kids will get their baskets and hunt for eggs on Easter morning, and then we're back on the road for our second Easter dinner. I see a lot of chocolate eggs in my near future!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cupcakes from kids

There were a TON of entries for the kid (12 and under) category at the library cupcake decorating contest, and two in particular caught my eye:

The apple tree is actually a formed rice krispie treat.  Brilliant!

This "Day at the beach" cupcake was the winner for the kids' category, and it was also voted crowd favorite:

My "crowd favorite" vote went to this solar system cupcake:

I have to give the kid credit for bringing a semi-educational space theme to a cupcake.  Way to go, Solar System Cupcake kid!  Way to go!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Teen cupcakes

There were only three cupcakes in the teen category at the library's cupcake decorating contest:

Obviously, the bunny scene titled "Hop into spring" was the winner in the teen category, as it should be.  But I have to give the popcorn cupcake decorator some serious props for creativity.  Look at the cupcake inside the container:

The 'popcorn' is actually tinted marshmallows.  Isn't that adorable? 

I really like all the teen entries, and that sundae cupcake is giving me inspiration for a summer ice cream social.  Hmmmmm....

I'll have the kids contest entries for you tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My competition

The library cupcake decorating contest was divided into three groups: adult, teens, and kids 12 and under.  When I first got there, this was the only other cupcake in the 'adult' category:

It was cute, but I thought that my ingenious rose-butterfly combo could take it, especially since I put it on a darling cake pedestal:

That is, until all the other adult entries started arriving.  Then I realized I was toast.  Toast!

The middle of this sunflower is an Oreo cookie! Isn't that awesome?

This one, titled "Butterfly Garden in the Spring" or some such blabber, was the winner for the adult category. 

Really, though, I think the winner was this 3-D fondant fairy. 

Judging from the audience's reaction at the announcement, everyone must have thought the fairy was the clear winner.  It really was a beautiful piece of work made by a very talented food crafter.  Too bad the judges didn't appreciate it as much as the audience did.  As it was, the actual winner of the adult category didn't even stick around for the outcome of the contest.  Shame! 

I'll have the teen entries for you tomorrow. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Manda Monday--Cupcake contest

Way back in early March, my local library announced that it would be having a cupcake decorating contest.

A cupcake decorating contest? Awesome! 

Naturally, I signed up.  I did this in spite of the following:
1. I had cookies and cake to bake/decorate for a baby shower that same weekend.
2. The next weekend is my biggest fundraising event of the year, and I would be incredibly busy and stressed.
3. I had absolutely no idea how I wanted to decorate my cupcake.

I signed up anyway, even though I knew deep, deep down that it was bad idea to be adding things to my schedule.  But when someone throws the words "cupcake" and "competition" together, I have a hard time saying no.

Due to my crazy schedule, I didn't even think about the contest until Thursday night when I made the cupcakes, and I didn't think about how I would decorate them until Friday afternoon.  I checked in with Martha for inspiration and found this:

Then I surfed over to Wilton and found this:

And there was my idea! I would do something resembling forget-me-nots on a cupcake and top it with a chocolate-covered pretzel butterfly.  Woohoo!

Of course, this was easier said than done.  In a perfect Martha-wannabe world, I would have had hours to work on my contest entry with no interruptions and real butterflies flitting about.  In reality, I started the cupcakes at 12:15pm for a contest that began at 1pm.  And, because this is sometimes the way I do things, I didn't even have the correct decorating tip to do a forget-me-not flower. 

Move over, Charlie Sheen, because I am more winning than you.

Here are the cupcakes I came up with for the contest:

Obviously, not my best work, but that's what happens without enough time to properly execute a crappy plan.  I took the pink rose cupcake to the contest. Needless to say, I got schooled

I'll show you my competition tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Communication central

We are a busy family. For the most part, I do an okay job of keeping everything together.  This helps:

It is Communication Central.  Command Central.  The Giant Cork Board Thing That Helps Keep This Family Organized.  Whatever you want to call it, this organization tool is how I've been keeping us, well, organized.

The 5x4 cork board takes up a good portion of a wall in the kitchen.  Originally, I had hoped for an even bigger piece of cork board, but 5x4 was as big as I could fine. 

To keep track of birthdays, kids' activities, work events and more, I keep three months of calendar up at all times. It's nice to plan quarterly, whatever that quarter may be.

The map of our lovely city takes up most of the board.  I'm okay with that because I am a visual person and still feel new to the Aurora area, and the map is consulted at least once a week. 

I've even laid out points of interest/importance for our caregivers, in case they want to get out and about with the kids.

Below the map are three clear plastic sheet protectors I'm using as pockets.  The pocket on the left  contains the maps to get to and from all those points of interest.  The middle pocket contains things I need to deal with soon, like a Groupon that's going to expire in a few weeks.  Note to self:  get to Alsip Nursery soon!   

The last pocket contains the daily routine and info about the kids for their caregivers, and that is actually the newest addition to the communication center.  I'm anticipating great success with posting it as we have 3-4 nannies during the month and everyone needs to be on the same page as far as the kids are concerned. 

Sigh. I heart organization.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I'm working on a baby shower and therefore neck deep in frosting.  It's not a bad place to be, but it is a tad messy.

And since we're on the subject of frosting, I have to tell you about a great invention the Big Guy came up with.  Well, it's more of a combination, but you get the idea.

Take Nilla wafers (see above).  Take leftover buttercream frosting (see below). 

Combine the two, pop the Nilla-wafer-meets-buttercream-frosting creation in your mouth, and declare it to be so good that surely it must be illegal in 14 states.

Rinse and repeat, say, 20 times or so.  Yum!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bread mystery

So I made some bread, and it turned out like this:

WTH??  It was a short and squat loaf and it just wouldn't rise.  Seriously, I gave it OVERNIGHT to rise, and it did nothing.  The obvious theory would be that I forgot to put in the yeast, but that's always my first step I do, just so I don't forget to put in the yeast.  A reasonable follow-up theory might be that the yeast was old, but that wasn't the case either. 

My current working theory:  I might be cursed.

Even though it was quite dense, the bread tasted okay once it was toasted and smothered with butter and honey. 

I made another batch of bread a few days later, and everything turned out fine.  So, no verified curse, but there's still a mystery afoot.  What happened to make the bread so flat?

I welcome your theories, conspiracy and otherwise, as to why and how this happened. 

In other news, it might be time for a new toaster.