Monday, February 27, 2012

Menu Plan Monday 2012 ~ Week of February 27th

Wow!  It sure has been a while since I posted.  We had a really busy couple of weeks making blogging a little difficult. 

I want to remind you to enter the V8 V-Fusion Smoothie Prize Pack (including a Vera Bradley tote!) Giveaway.  There are just a few days left to enter and the entries are easy! 

I skipped menu planning completely last week.  It was such a hectic week, I knew I wouldn't really have the chance to cook or stick to a plan.  I also knew that I had some pre-made meals in the freezer that I could just pop into the oven or microwave.  It was like a week-long Leftover Buffet!  It was great!

We're not doing anything really fancy here this week.  We're going to cook from the freezer and pantry again this week.  We had a couple unexpected expenses the past couple of weeks, so I won't be stocking up on sale items or making any impulse purchases.  We'll need bread, milk and eggs this week, but other than that, we'll be using what we have here....and that's plenty! 

Here's a look at what I'll be serving this week: 

  • Corn Dog Casserole, baked potatoes.  A couple of weeks ago, I diced up a ham steak and used it in place of the hot dogs in this yummy baked bean casserole.  We really enjoyed it, so since I have another ham steak in the freezer, I'm going to make it again!  This will be a perfect way to use up some of the leftovers of the Easter Ham we'll be dealing with in a few weeks! 

  • Packer Country Soup.  We didn't get to this when I included it in our menu plan a couple of weeks ago.  I plan on making it this week.  I think we're supposed to have a wintry day this week, so I'll double check the weather again try to coordinate with that day! 

  • Porcupine Meatballs.  Although, we just had this recipe a few weeks ago, we enjoyed it so much, that I think it's a good idea to make it again!  A few weeks ago, I found some ground beef on "manager's special" so I bought up a few packs to keep in the freezer!  We always have rice in the pantry, so this will be a great meal for this freezer and pantry week! 

  • Tuna Noodle Casserole.  Lent is here, so that mean meatless Fridays.  But really, we don't need that as an excuse to make this easy, comfort food casserole! 

  • Lentil Soup with Beef.  This is another recipe I didn't get to from a few weeks ago.  To be honest, I'm slightly worried about this one.  Joe isn't really fond of lentil soup.  I'm hoping that the addition of beef will change his mind about lentil soup!  Again, we have all of the ingredients for this meal in our freezer and pantry. 

  • Crunchy Tuna Salad with Egg.  I'm thinking of making a bowl of this yummy tuna salad to eat for lunches this week.  Either as a sandwich or with crackers. 

So, now that you know what we'll be eating this week, please share your menu ideas with us!  You can tell us in the comment section! 

Like what you see here?  You can check out our past menu plans by clicking the MENUS tab at the top of the page! 

Need more menu planning inspiration?  Follow me over to Menu Plan Monday for more menus and recipes! 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Join Ebates Today: start earing your BIG FAT CHECK!

I know that I've shared my love for Ebates with y'all before, but since I just received a BIG FAT CHECK from them today! 
This check was cash back for online purchases that I made over the holidays.  Gotta love getting a little something back after the holidays, huh?! 

Last spring, I shared with you how I helped my mom save $40.20 by looking for the lowest price, then logging into Ebates before placing her order! 

Over the holidays, I was at the mall with a friend.  I only left the house with a small amount of cash and didn't bring my debit card either.  In the Disney Store, I saw a few things ON SALE that I knew we wanted to get Grace for Christmas.  My friend knew I didn't have enough cash with me and offered to buy the wanted items and I could pay her back later.  That was tempting, but instead, I bought one item while we were at the mall and decided that I would check online when I returned home. 

I was so glad I waited.  The online sale was better than the in-store sale!  I logged-in on Ebates to check out the percentage and at the time it was double's normal percentage!  To top it off, was offering free shipping that weekend!  I was so pleased with myself! 

Next week, we're driving into the city to get our taxes done.  Thankfully, we're expecting a return!  As with past years, we'll be making some purchases for items for the house.  I plan on using Ebates as much as I can! 

For instance, I saw lamps at Lowe's that I want for my living room.  Sure, I could just walk into Lowe's and purchase the lamps.  But here's what I plan on doing:  I'll visit, log-in, then click on Lowe's in list of participating retailers.  Then, I will place my order for the lamps, using the FREE in-store pick up option.  Not only will I save on shipping, but I'll receive a percentage of my purchase from Ebates!  (the current percentage for Lowe's is 2.5 %...not a lot, but more than I would have saved if I just walked in and made my purchase)

These days, every little bit of savings helps!  And that is why I want to invite you to join Ebates today and start earning your BIG FAT CHECK! 

If you sign up using my referral link, I'll earn a bonus only after you make your first qualified purchase. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Frugal Toy Storage

Before I start today's post, I want to remind you to enter my current giveaway!  Click here to find out how to win a V8 V-Fusion Smoothie Prize Pack including a Vera Bradley Tote Bag

Last week, I guest posted over at Mess For Less.  For those of you that may have missed my post, I wanted to share it here too! 

I've probably mentioned more than once that Grace's toys have taken over the house.  Grace likes to dump all her toys out onto the floor.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that's what she thinks is the purpose of toys. 

Just the other night, I heard her singing "clean up, clean up" and was thrilled to see that watching me clean up has finally caught on.  That thrill was short-lived.  As soon as she cleaned up the last piece, she dumped it all back out!


I realized that all of Grace's toys, books and stuffed animals are stored in toy boxes, bins and baskets in which she has full access.  No lids.  A year and a half ago, I was convinced that this 12-bin storage unit would be the perfect solution to our toy problem.

As soon as naptime is over, this: 

Turns to this: 

It's beyond frustrating.  Some days, I don't even see the point in picking it all up. 

Since the time that these photos were taken, the amount of toys in our home has more than tripled; and so has my frustration. 

Over the summer, I decided to put some of Grace's favorite mess making toys into recycled containers with lids.  These clear tubs, that once held bulk sized portions of cheese balls or pretzel rods, now hold Grace's pretend food and dishes for her toy kitchen. 

These tubs fit nicely on the top shelf of the closet in Grace's room.  Even if they weren't stored so high in her closet, Grace would still need help with removing the lids.  She can play with them when she asks, not just every time she feels like dumping them on the floor.

Since then, I've started adding other small toys to similar snack tubs.  We've asked family and friends to save their tubs for us, so we've had a pretty regular supply of them coming in over the months.

Usually, I peel off the labels, but sometimes, when I'm really desperate, I don't even bother removing them! 


Smaller plastic containers work well, too.  For Christmas, Santa put a cute little set of plastic bugs in Grace's stocking.  I wanted to get her a plastic bug box from the dollar store for her new little buggie friends to live in, but they are more of a seasonal (spring/summer) item.  As I was about to throw away an empty mayonnaise jar, I remembered catching fireflies and putting them into empty jars! 

I washed out the jar and peeled off the label and gave her buggies a new home!  Perfect! 

Some labels are easier to remove than others.  After picking and peeling and scraping for a while, I asked Joe to pick up a bottle of Goo Gone.  I won't deny that it worked, but I wasn't thrilled with the smell.  I had a headache and sore throat from breathing in the fumes. 

I knew there had to be a better way to remove the sticky labels, so I looked online and found that a hair dryer is a great, chemical-free solution for removing the labels!  So easy and no chemical odors!

Now, don't get me wrong.  We still have issues with toy storage and we're still trying to teach Grace that she should treat her toys nicely and put them away when she's finished playing with them, but for now, we've gained a little control of the smaller and sometimes more annoying items. 

I'll be linking this post to the following blog carnivals and linky parties: 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Giveaway***CLOSED***: V8 V-Fusion Smoothies with Vera Bradley Tote

Ever since I became an aunt for the first time (18 years ago...yikes!), I enjoyed having my nieces over for Girls' Day.  I like to think that I'm a fun aunt.  I provide movies, snacks and activities. 

Occasionally, I'm that aunt that lets the kids fill up on junk food and send them home all sugared up!  But more often than not, I like to keep a healthy balance of  junk food and real food when the kids are visiting. 

Knowing the girls were planning a visit, I was excited when I was contacted by the people from V8 about tryng their NEW V8 V-Fusion Smoothies!  From the time the girls were little, they prefered fruit juices over sodas, so I knew these smoothie flavors were going to be a hit! 

I wasn't wrong!  The girls loved them!  We planned a Girls' Day soon after my V8 V-Fusion Smoothie Kit arrived.

Yes, that IS a Vera Bradley tote bag! 
More information further down in the post! 

Since I was planning a somewhat un-healthy lunch for the girls, I was pleased to know that V8 has 1 gram of protein per serving, no HFCS and packed full of antioxidants. Each 8 ounce glass of V8 V-Fusion juice smoothies provide a 1/2 cup of vegetables and a 1/2 cup of fruit! 

We still have one bottle of the V8 V-Fusion Smoothies left and the girls are visiting this weekend.  I plan on pouring the smoothie into popsicle molds for a healthy dessert!

Here's some information straight from V8: 

Win It!  (giveaway is closed)

Now, I'm sure you're ready to learn how to win this fabulous V8 V-Fusion Smoothie Prize Pack! 

One winner will receive the prize pack shown above.  The prize pack includes the following: 
  • The three new V8 V-Fusion Smoothie flavors:  Strawberry Banana/Mango/Wild Berry.
  • A colorful Vera Bradley tote bag.
  • A glass "juice" bottle so you can take the delicious smoothies with you when you're on-the-go! 

  • Leave a comment here, letting me know which of the 3 new flavors you are most excited to try.  (Please include your email so I can contact you if you win.)

  • Like Under the Big Oak Tree on Facebook and leave a comment here letting me know you did.  (Please include your email so I can contact you if you win.)

  • Like V8 V-Fusion on Facebook and leave a comment here letting me know you did.  Please include your email so I can contact you if you win.)

  • Double your chances and enter Lisa's V8 V-Fusion Smoothies Giveaway and leave a comment here letting me know you did.  (Please include your email so I can contact you if you win.)

  • Each entry requires a separate comment. 
  • Giveaway ends at 11:59 PM on Friday, March 1st. 
  • Winner will be selected via
  • Winner will be contacted by email and have 48 hours to respond to claim their prize.

Wordless Wednesday ~ Card Shark

I planned on sharing a sweet Valentine's Day photo of Grace this morning.  We had a great morning, I gave her a bath, clipped her nails, did her hair and I had a cute pink dress set out for her to wear.  I showed Grace the dress and she seem thrilled at the idea of wearing it.  Until it actually came time to put it on.  Grace gets freaked out when it's time to put shirts/dresses over her head.  Some freak outs are worse than others.  Yesterday was particularly bad.  She ended up in a Sesame Street T-shirt and a pair of gray leggings.  Both of which I had to wrestle onto her! 

So, it's a good thing I had other photos to share with you today! 

A couple of weeks ago, we were eating breakfast at the table.  I look over to see Grace picking up her little Toy Story 3 cards and trying to arrange them in her fingers like a poker pro! 

I cannot imagine where she came up with this idea!  It's been over a year since she watched her cousins play Uno, so I don't think that's was it! 

Soon after she arranged the cards to her liking, she looked over at me and told me to "Pick a card!  Pick a Card!"  I'm guessing she was doing card tricks?  Pick a card, any card!

After picking my card, that's as far as the trick went!  She then got up to go ask Joe to "Pick a card!  Pick a card!"

This post has been linked to the following blog carnivals and linky parties: 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Porcupine Meatballs

I love reading blogs and looking for new recipes.  Although, I receive several blog feeds to my email, I just don't always have the time to read as many a I would like.  Often, I read the title of the post and determine if it's something that will interet me. 

That's when I saw Lynn's post for Porcupine Meatballs.  I had some ground beef in the freezer that I was planning to use in my menu plan for the following week, so I was very interested in checking out her recipe. 

I had most of the ingredients on hand and what I didn't have, was easily substituted!  Gotta love it when new recipes are compatible to what's in your pantry! 

The only thing that worried me, was the rice.  Even though we eat a lot of it, sometimes I can be rice-challenged.  I don't know why, but sometimes it just doesn't turn out.  I think it might be my stove, it tends to cook a bit fast.  (It's really old and I think whatever controls the temperature of the coils just doesn't always work the way it should.)  Anyway, I was worried that the uncooked rice that was added to the meatballs, wouldn't cook all the way and we'd have little crunchy rice bits in the meatballs!  I had a back up plan of leftover soup, just in case!

No back up plan needed!  The meatballs turned out great!  Both of us were very happy with the meal and I cannot wait to make it again as soon as there's a sale on ground beef! 

Porcupine Meatballs

  • 1/2 cup long grain rice (uncooked)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 16 oz. tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. A-1 Steak Sauce
  • Combine rice, water, salt, pepper, garlic powder and ground beef in a bowl.
  • Once combined, shape the mixture into 1 1/2 inch balls.
  • Brown meatballs in a large skillet.  Drain the fat. 
  • Mix together the remaining ingredients (tomato sauce, water, brown sugar and steak sauce) and pour over the browned meatballs. 
  • Cover and reduce heat.  Allow to simmer for 1 hour, until meatballs are done. 
  • This recipe has only been slightly adapted.  I increased the amount of pepper since we tend to like peppery foods.  Also, I replaced the Worcestershire Sauce with Steak Sauce since I was completely out of Worcerstershire Sauce. 
  • Lynn was right when she said that Porcupine Meatballs aren't very photogenic.  But let me tell you, they are delicious! 

I'll be linking this post to the following blog carnivals and linky parties: 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Menu Plan Monday 2012 ~ Week of February 13th

I barely followed last week's menu plan.  The leftover nights went as planned, but I either changed the new meals that needed to be prepared or skipped those cooking nights completely by using up more leftovers.  We even broke down and had take out on Friday night!  I don't even feel guilty about the take out, since it's usually our tradition to order Chinese Food on the weekend of special occasions.  In this case, we would have ordered Chinese on Saturday, but after a particularly sleepless night due to Grace, I was in no mood to plan Friday night's dinner! 

On Sunday, we did a large shopping order.  We were in a hurry and didn't manage to pick up everything we needed since we were in a new store and didn't know where to find everything.  We did get a bunch of fresh veggies, some meats and diapering supplies.  We still need some canned and frozen items to hold us over until it's time to fully re-stock our pantry in a couple of months. 

After my almost non-cooking week, I'm ready to try some new recipes! 

  • Packer Country Soup Recipe.  I found this recipe via Pinterest sometime last week.  Since we're just about chickened out, we're in the mood for some red meat recipes!  Although we splurged and bought the meat when it wasn't on sale, I'm sure we'll get a few nights from this recipe. 
  • Cauliflower Potato Soup.  I've been in the mood for my Mashed Potato and Cauliflower Soup, but I don't have any leftover Mashed Potatoes with Cauliflower.  Again, Pinterest saves the day by allowing me to find this yummy looking soup recipe! 

  • Pasta with Easy Bacon Tomato Sauce.  This will most likely be our Valentine's Day meal.  It's easy but seems special enough for a holiday dinner.  Plus, it's one of our favorites!  I was hoping to pair it with these Fresh Mozzarella Bites shared at Pocket Change Gourmet, but Joe caught me when I tried to sneak the $6 container of fresh mozzarella into our shopping cart.  Boo!  Hoping that goes on sale soon because I really want to try that recipe! 

  • Mini Barbecue Meatloaves.  Although the chuck steak that we bought this week wasn't on sale, I did find a big pack of ground beef on Manager's Special.  Meat Loaf is one of our favorite comfort foods, but since we eat so much chicken and soups, it only makes the menu plan a couple times a year.    I can't decide if we should have mashed potatoes or buttered noodles with our mini meatloaves. 
  • BBQ Bacon Spaghetti Squash with Carmelized Onions.  I never did get to Debbi's  recipe last week.  Mainly, because we didn't have the spaghetti squash.  Even though, I didn't do much cooking last week, I like to think that if I had the spaghetti squash, I would have made this! 

  • Lentil Soup with Beef.  I don't get the opportunity to watch cooking shows too often anymore.  A few weeks ago, I had the chance to watch some reruns while Grace napped.  This Giada Di Lauretiis recipe has been on my mind ever since!  I've made Lentil Soups before and while I enjoy them, Joe's never really been on board with the idea.  I'm thinking the beef added to this recipe will be a winner! 

Okay, I know this is a pretty ambitious menu plan and I hope to be able to get to all of these meals this week.  If not, meal planning for next week will be really easy!  :) 

Now that you know what we'll be eating this week, share your dinner plans in the comments or follow me over to Menu Plan Monday for more recipes and menu planning inspiration.  Also, if you like what you see here, check out my past menu plans

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Favorites ~ Dollar Store Solutions

After reading my recent post about my dollar store party supplies, my buddy Nicole from Colie's Kitchen reminded me of all the great dollar store tips and tricks that can be found while browsing Pinterest.  So it only seems fitting to make that the topic of today's Friday Favorites! 

This first Dollar Store Solution is pure genius!  We've been wanting to get a backseat organizer for the truck for a while now.  But whenever we are in the automobile aisle at Walmart, I always think of other ways to spend that twenty bucks!  Heather from Decor-ganize shows how she turned a 5 pocket shoe organizer into a backseat organizer!  For a Buck!!! 

Deanna from Shady Tree Diary (love the name of her blog!), shares a clever idea for storing decks of cards and other small toys.  Grace is loving flash cards these days.  I normally keep them in small tins, but she has a few sets of cards and I'm out of the small tins right now.  Plastic soap dishes from the dollar store are a great, frugal solution for storing those different sets of cards! 

I've had my eye on this dollar store craft for a while.  Even before I knew about Pinterest.  It's hard to believe that this wonderful creation by Kara was once a plain silver serving tray from the dollar store!

My final Friday Favorite is something I think would really come in handy when we eat at Sonic.  This padded lap desk was created using a few dollar store finds.  I can't wait to check out our local dollar store....I'm hoping to find those great polka dot trays and place mats!  (I reallywanted to share the photo here, but tried 3 times to save the photo to a file and didn't succeed.)

To see more of my dollar store finds, check out my Dollar Store Stuff board on Pinterest

This post has been linked to the following blog carnivals and linky parties:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Guest Posting at Mess for Less ~ My First Guest Post!

Good Morning, Friends! 

I'm so excited! 

Today, you can find me over at Mess For Less sharing a Thrifty Thursday solution for toy storage! 

Mess For Less

Yes, it's my first time doing a guest post!  While I am super-excited, I was a bit out of my comfort zone... Not only writing for someone else's page, but also on a topic I don't write about too often.  In the end, I'm pleased with my post and I may start posting more thrifty solutions here in the future! 

I'd love for you to follow me over to Vicky's page, not only to check out my post, but to see what else her page has to offer! 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wordless Wednesday ~ My Little Cupcake

Everyone loves cupcakes!  I mean really, who doesn't love a cute little cupcake with swirly frosting and festive sprinkles in a variety of colors? 

Right now, Grace doesn't eat much.  She's so picky it's ridiculous.  But she LOVES cupcakes! 

More specifically, she loves cupcake FROSTING.  Occasionally, she'll actually eat the cake.  But more often than not, the cake itself is left somewhere on the floor and soon gobbled up by Remmy, our Boston Terrier with a sweet tooth!  (I try to limit the sweets that Remmy gets, but I've never met a dog that won't stalk a toddler to see what they'll drop on the floor!) 

Joe picks up a package of cupcakes from the bakery counter of our local supermarket at least once a week.  Seeing the crazy price of $3.99 for 6 regular sized cupcakes (or 12 mini), I decided I should make some myself.  For half the price, I could get double, if not triple, the amount of cupcakes. 

Little stinker can tell the difference between the "professionally" frosted cupcakes and my slap-some-frosting-on-there cupcakes!  So, until I get my niece over here to show me how to make some fancy cupcakes, I guess Joe will have to continue picking up a tray of cupcakes each week! 

This post has been linked to the following blog carnivals and linky parties:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Party Tips ~ Dollar Store Party Supplies

Dips seem to be insanely popular these days and I have to admit, I have recently hopped onto the I Love Dip bandwagon! 

Over the holidays, I shared a recipe for Easy as 1-2-3 Funfetti Cake Batter Cookie Dip.  I found the original recipe on Pinterest and couldn't wait to give it a try.  I made a small serving of the dip before making a larger batch to take to a family house warming / birthday party.  The dip was a hit! 

Being someone that hosts a few family gatherings during the year, I love when guests bring a food item to the party, but the one thing that I hate the most is having to remember which containers need to be returned to which person.  I decided to make things easy on our hostess and arranged the dip, along with all the necessary scooping items (cookies, graham crackers, pretzel rods) on a dollar store chip and dip tray! 

This made things easier on my sister-in-law and also, I didn't have to worry about needing it for another event before I had the chance to get it back from her.  My plan actually back fired, though, since my sister-in-law is crazy-super-organized and returned my dollar store tray the following week!

I did the same thing when I made the dip for my mother-in-law's annual Christmas Eve party!  So easy!  I'm sorry I didn't get photos of the assembled trays, both times I was in a hurry to get out the door on time and didn't have time to snap a picture! 

This idea would also work well for taking fruit salad to summer barbecues, especially if you include some Fruit Dip

Instead of glass, switch to inexpensive chip and dip trays from the dollar store!  

I've managed to pick up a few in a variety of different colors to keep with my party supplies, for anytime an occasion comes up that I need to bring something to a party. 

I even picked up 2 football shaped containers that worked perfectly for our small Super Bowl party over the weekend!   

This post has been linked to the following blog carnivals and linky parties:

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