Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sum- sum- summertime!

No matter what the calender says, Memorial Day weekend is the start of summer for me.  I love summer...there is just so much to see and do! It's hard to fit in everything before Labor Day (the end of summer in my mind), but we sure are going to try this year.  To keep us on track, I made a (Pinterest-inspired) kid-friendly summer fun list to keep track of our goals and plans. 

The list includes visits to three zoos, three festivals, two theme parks, several area attractions and one water park.  I also listed stuff to do, such as watch a movie in a theater, make snow cones, go for a bike ride, and more.  There's 25 things to do and places to go on that list. Summertime fun will be ours!

The kids' summer to-do list was so fun to make that I made a to-do list for me in the same style.  While most people might find their summer fun hampered by to-do's, accomplishing big projects gives me such a great feeling that I had to plan some for the summer.  My list includes painting rooms and furniture, tackling huge projects like the garage and basement workroom, and catching up on the kids' scrapbooks and photo albums.  My list isn't as long as the first one, but I'm sure as some projects are checked off, other ones will be added.   

With the start of summer, we already got to cross one thing off of the summertime fun to-do list...we watched the Memorial Day parade.  My Little Guy was more than happy to mark the occasion. 

Then Little Miss kicked off summer in her own way by putting her purse on her head.

That's just how she rolls, I guess.

What do you have planned for this summer?  Do you plan or do you just go with the flow?  Whatever your plans may be, I hope you have a fun (and safe) time.

Happy planning and happy summer!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Wilton Tent Sale 2012

This year's Wilton Tent Sale starts in one week. As my regular readers know, this event is like a mini-version of Christmas for me.   I just can't wait to get my hands on all that great, discounted cake/candy/crafting stuff!

For those not familiar with the company, Wilton is famous for their cake-decorating and candy-making supplies.  But did you also know they are the makers of all things Copco, the Mario Batali Italian Kitchen line, EK Success products and....MARTHA STEWART CRAFTS?!!!

And during their once-a-year Tent Sale in Woodridge, Illinois, many of the items they make are sold at a substantial discount.  While the selection varies from year to year (some years there have been more craft items, some years it's more about the cake decorating supplies), all items are 40-75% off regular retail prices. 

Here's what I bought in:  2011, 2010 and 2009.  Substantial hauls, each and every one! This year, I'm on the hunt for all things pirate, since that will be the theme for Little Guy's 5th birthday.  These pirate cupcake liners and candy picks are on my "must have" list:

The Tent Sale runs from June 1-19.  On June 1, the sale is open 1-8pm.  After that, it is open Monday through Friday from 9am to 8pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 8am to 6pm.  Read all about the Tent Sale here.

My plan is to be there on June 3.  See you there!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

We Grow Dreams

Last year I heard (can't remember how) about a great greenhouse/nursery in the Western Suburbs whose mission was to give folks with developmental disabilities training and work experience while providing high-quality plants and seedlings to the public.  I was intrigued, but never had the time to go.  Finally, this spring I made it there.

We Grow Dreams is a great source for beautiful flowers and vegetable seedlings.  I took the kids on Mother's Day, and purchased some eggplant, summer squash and winter squash seedlings for the vegetable garden.

We had a great time wandering in and out of the greenhouses admiring all the plants. 

In an unrelated note: thanks for the Thing 2 shirt, Shannon!

The good folks at We Grow Dreams have an extensive aquaponic vegetable garden. 

Of course, while I was marveling at the entire system, Little Guy and Little Miss were fascinated with the fish...

...which the folks at WGD were kind enough to let them feed.  It made their day!

If you are in the western suburbs, be sure to check out We Grow Dreams in West Chicago.  Happy shopping!

***Disclaimer: We Grow Dreams has no idea who I am. But I was VERY impressed with their seedlings, and their mission, and I just had to share this organization with you!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Manda Monday--Now at Wheaton Park District!

Happy Monday, everyone!

I'm thrilled to announce that in addition to my summer classes at Waubonsee Community College, I'm now also at Wheaton Park District! I hope you can join me for one, or all, of my classes there.

Coupon queens (and kings!) are able to cut their grocery and drug store bills in half and obtain products for free, and so can you! Become “coupon royalty” by making coupons work for you.   Learn the rules for spotting the best deals in stores; pairing coupons with sales, rebates, and customer loyalty programs; and using the best coupon web sites. Join Coupon Princess Amanda Grant (that's me!) in pursuit of the perfect balance of efficient and ethical couponing techniques.

Mondays, June 11-25, 7-8:30pm, Cost: $31 for residents, $39 for non-residents

The Ultimate Roadtrip: How to Survive (and enjoy!) a Family Vacation

Summer vacations are a great time to create memories with your family.  Make sure those memories are happy ones with surefire strategies that make “getting there” half the fun! Learn fun games suitable for all ages, techniques to get the best behavior from your travel buddies, and ways for each family member to participate in decision-making.   Tips for travelling on a budget with kids are included.  Happy travels!

Tuesday, June 12, 7-9pm, Cost: $29 for residents, $36 for non-residents

Saved by the Bell: Getting Your Family Organized in Time for School

The school bell will ring in a few weeks…is your family ready to make the transition from summer fun to school readiness? Start the process now with tips and techniques to get your family organized including:  strategies for getting ready for school the night before, how to get kids to complete housework and homework with minimal complaint, creating routines that get your family out of the door on time in the morning, and ideas for a family communication station to handle permission slips, sports schedules, family events and more. Make the transition from summer fun to school adventures a happy and calm one for your family.   

Thursday, July 12, 7-9pm, Cost: $29 for residents, $36 for non-residents

For more information, or to register, go here.  I hope to see you this summer!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Desserts for BUNCO

I play BUNCO once a month with a lovely, and sometimes rowdy, group of ladies. We each bring a dish and eat/gab for an hour or so before we start playing. It should come as no surprise to you that 90% of the time, I bring a dessert.

For April BUNCO, I made this amazing Cookie Dough Dip from Add a Pinch (her photo, not mine):

I don't have any photos of my version because every time I went to take a picture, I ended up eating some.  It was so rich and so, so good!  If you need a quick dessert to take to a potluck or summer outing, then this is it!  I served my cookie dip with plain animal crackers, chocolate animal crackers and graham crackers.  I liked it on graham crackers the best, but let's be clear: the cookie is just the delivery device for the dip. The dip is the star here!

Then, for May BUNCO, I made Pioneer Woman's Knock You Naked Brownies (again, her picture, not mine):

These brownies start with a boxed cake mix and turn into something so much more.  These brownies are so rich, so delicious, that they really do almost knock you naked. Even if it's because you eat so many that your clothes no longer fit and you have to run around naked and when you go to the store to buy new clothes you end up buying more ingredients to make more brownies.

In unrelated news, I'm trying to make muumuus the big fashion hit of this summer. Stay tuned. 

PW notes that this dough is really thick, and she mentions shaping a glob for the top layer of brownie with her hands.  My solution is much neater than that: flatten the glob between two sheets of waxed paper for less mess.

Finally, while PW's recipe calls for baking the bottom layer for eight minutes before adding the caramels and top brownie layer, I skipped that step and just baked the whole thing at once. It turned out just fine.

Give these two desserts a try--you'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

$5.00 art

There's a thrift store in town that I like to frequent: Thrift & Dollar. They have a variety of stuff from high-end antiques to everyday thrift items.  Each time I shop there, I make sure to stop by the $5.00 art section to see what they have. There are nice painting (for nice chunks of money) throughout the store, but I've found several nice treasures in the $5.00 section.

Lots of the prints in the $5.00 art section are nicely framed and protected by glass.  This reprint of "Home for Thanksgiving" by Grandma Moses is over the doorway that leads from the kitchen to the dining room. It's not the best place for picture-viewing, but it livens up the space.

This nice oil? acrylic? (whatever, I don't know anything about art) painting has a nice gold frame. It hangs in the half bathroom.  Because I support art.  Especially in the bathroom.

This painting is called "Best Friends." I put it in the hallway leading to the kids' room because, at this stage in their lives, they really are best friends.

The picture came matted, framed and covered in glass, which is a huge deal for $5.00.

Little Miss has been the beneficiary of several of my $5.00 art finds.  I like her room to have a flowery/feminine feel, so these Monet-ish paintings were a perfect fit:

Though it's hard to tell in the one below, it is a scene of several Victorian-ish women lounging outside, some of them napping.  I hope this inspires Little Miss to continue her naps for the next year or two.

Both of those paintings are in the corner of her room with the glider. 

Finally, this last piece was a huge find, especially since it was only $5.00.  I found this great gold-framed mirror and hung it at just the right height for Little Miss. 

This might be the best $5.00 I've ever spent.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Martha Monday--Asparagus

Spring is the season for asparagus.  I planted two bushes? shrubs? root balls? of it last year and since asparagus takes three years or so to get established, I'm still waiting on the tasty spears. However, asparagus is plentiful at grocery stores, farmers markets and in roadside ditches now.  Get your hands on some to make these awesome Martha recipes:

Asparagus Guyere Tart

Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto

Need more?  You can find all of Martha's asparagus recipes here.

In the meantime, I've found my asparagus.  Remember a few weeks ago when I mentioned that I needed to weed out the area next to the compost bin, which is where I had planted my asparagus?

I finally got around to it!

And look! It's asparagus!

To help the asparagus get established, it must be allowed to grow throughout the summer season.  The larger root base the plants develops, the more it will be able to produce.  And since asparagus plants can last for twenty years or more, it's really in my best interest to let it grow and grow and grow. 

Over the past few weeks, that small purple stalk has turned into an enormous 6-foot-long plant:

I can only hope I'm rewarded for my patience next spring with enough asparagus to make one of Martha's tasty recipes. 

Do you grow/find/buy asparagus?  How do you prepare it?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Summer fun

Okay, it's still spring, but the free and fun family activities have already begun.  A few weeks ago, I took the kids to the Kane County Farm Bureau's Touch-A-Tractor event. Little Guy and Little Miss had a ton of fun (maybe too much fun--there were temper tantrums as we were leaving) and I was happy to have a free, family-friendly activity to share with the kids.

In the coming weeks, I'll be searching the web and newspapers for more fun, free family events to fill up our summer months.  As I found last summer, there is plenty to see and do around here. 

For tips on how to find free or low-cost events in your community, read this post on Living Well and Spending Less in the Summer.  Happy planning!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What's happening?

So I dropped off the radar for a bit, and you better believe I was very busy during that time.  It's spring, and my kids and my garden are my life.  Here's what's happening:

The dwarf peach and pear trees (along the north side of the backyard) are doing quite well.  You can see in the background that Handy Freddy has been really busy making the vegetable garden border.

Along the south side of the yard, I added a Golden Delicious apple tree...

...and a Honeycrisp apple tree. Both are dwarf varieties from Stark Bros.

I planted those a few weeks ago, and they already have leaves. Awesome!

Between the start-of-the-season sale at Spring Bluff Nursery and the Conservation Foundation benefit, I acquired two new flowering shrubs and several native perennial flowers for the two butterfly gardens.  One is located in the NW corner of the yard under a honeylocust tree...

...while some others are in the SW corner of the yard.  I'm hoping the flowers will attract butterflies and bees, which will help with the pollination of my vegetable plants. I certainly don't want a repeat of last year's pumpkin sex incident

Next to the SW flower patch I installed two strawberry patches.  The variety on the left is the June-bearer Surecrop.  To the right (on the other side of the white trellis) is the Ever-bearer Ozark Beauty.  Strawberry beds are good for three years or so, and while they can take a year to get established I am really hoping for a few berries this season.

I put the broccoli seedlings in along the west side of the yard.  Hopefully these will do well and be ready for harvest in June or early July.  If so, I can start another round of broccoli seedlings in June, and plant them in mid-July for a fall crop.  Broccoli for everyone! 

Also in the ground are some carrots, beets and peas.  I hope to get the kale, sage and dill in the garden after work today, and I've set aside a large portion of this upcoming weekend to get some more things in the ground. 

What's been happening in your neck of the woods?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Martha Monday--Mother's Day

Mother's Day is May 13, and I'm sure you've already lovingly made your dear mother a beautiful card, a darling scrapbook of your fondest memories and have a wide array of flowers (that you've grown from seed, obviously) ready to be picked on Sunday morning so they are at their absolutely freshest.

You did this, right?

You didn't?


Just kidding.  As a mom, I'm a firm believer that while having a special day is nice, there's really no need to make a special fuss on Mother's Day.

I demand recognition of my hard work, sacrifice and dedication on a daily basis.  Just kidding! Sort of. Mostly. 95% kidding, okay?

Anyways, if you are in the mood to do something different from the usual card/flowers routine for your Mom this year, Martha has some great ideas. 

Is your Mom into movies and Hollywood glamour? This ticket stub sentiment would be perfect for her:

Better yet, have a family movie night in honor of Mom and be sure to let her pick the movie:

Is your Mom the crafty type? Give her a package with everything she needs to complete a craft.  Then, and this might be the most important part of the package, give her the TIME to do the craft. Seriously, go mow the lawn or do some laundry. Maybe clean the house.  Just sayin'.

But whatever you do, do not give your mother this:

Unless she specifically asked for a Big Ball necklace.  Seriously, Martha has a TON of great crafts on her site, but I just cannot get behind this.

In summary: for Mother's Day, a movie night or craft package is great.  Big Ball necklace? Not so much.

At least, not for this mom!  Happy Mother's Day!