Saturday, October 25, 2014

Slow Cooker Vegetable Soup

If you're a regular here, then you know I love soup!  When summer begins, I count the days until it's cool enough to make soup again.  This year, I'm slacking!  I've only made two pots of soup so far and October is almost over!

This soup was inspired by the overflowing vegetable bins in my fridge.  I had to use 'em or lose 'em! So, after dinner one night, I began chopping and throwing everything into my crock pot.  Before I went to bed, I turned the slow cooker on low and let it cook overnight.  Cooking overnight seems to be the only way I manage to get dinner on the table these days.

Slow Cooker Vegetable Soup 

  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 28 oz can petite diced tomatoes
  • canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • canned black beans, rinsed and drained 
  • 12 oz. bag fresh baby spinach, torn
  • 1 onion, diced 
  • 1 large carrot, diced 
  • 2 celery ribs, diced 
  • 1 tsp dry minced garlic 
  • 1 Tbs. Italian seasoning 
  • crushed red pepper flakes (to taste) 
To Prepare: 
  • Combine ingredients in slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.  

This recipe was a hit! We both enjoyed it for dinner the first night, then I ate the rest throughout the week for lunch.  

Here are more of my favorite meatless, slow cooker soups:  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

VTech InnoTab 3S Plus Learning Tablet Review & Giveaway

Disclaimer:  I received this product as a sample to test and review for this blog post as well as an additional product to giveaway to one lucky reader.  All opinions are honest and my own.

I don't know about your kids, but Grace is hooked on electronic gadgets.  I saw it right away when she was a baby.  She would pull herself up to the desk and try to use the mouse of my old, clunker of a desktop computer.  (My current laptop is a clunker, too!)  Even now, if I walk away from the desk, I'll catch her typing her name on the keyboard.  Mostly, though, anything with a app catches her attention.

I was recently asked to review an InnoTab 3S Plus Learning Tablet by VTech and with the holidays quickly approaching, I figured it was perfect timing!  Especially since they are allowing me to give one away to a lucky reader!

Before we get to the giveaway, let me tell you a little about the the VTech InnoTab 3S Plus Learning Tablet:

  • The recommended age group is 3-9 years and the suggested retail price is $79.99.  

  • The InnoTab 3S Plus is a value-packed 5" tablet that features a rechargeable battery power pack so you don't need to worry about constantly purchasing batteries, a cost that really adds up. 

  • This tablet offers access to more than 800 educator-endorsed, age and stage appropriate cartridges, software and apps that can be purchased and downloaded from VTech's Learning Lodge app store.  

  • InnoTab 3S Plus features Wi-Fi and comes with 16 apps, including free access to an enhanced 2nd generation of VTech Premium Kid Connect, a tablet-to-mobile communication app that lets kids communicate in real time and exchange voice and text messages, photos, drawings and fun stickers with their parents' smartphones.  

  • New enhanced Kid Connect features include a parent-controlled group chat and a fun multi-player game which will be available in the fall.  (Kids can explore VTech and parent-approved websites through the kid-safe Wi-Fi.) 

  • Children will also love taking photos using the 180 degree rotating camera with over 55 special effects and using the video recorder for movies.  They can even import and listen to their own MP3s with the music player.  

As I expected, Grace really loves the VTech InnoTab 3S Plus and just like our iPhones, we have to limit her time otherwise she'll want to use it during dinner!  She won't tell us what her favorite feature is, but I suspect it's the 180 degree rotating camera!  Also, she loves that she can send her daddy text messages when he's working late or on the weekend.  We love that it's helping keep her interested in learning!

To learn more about the VTech InnoTab 3S Plus Learning Tablet and other VTech products,
check out these links:

Would you like to win a VTech InnoTab 3S Plus Learning Tablet?  Use the rafflecopter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Winner will be selected using  Winner will be notified via email and will have 24 hours to respond with their shipping information which will then be forwarded to the sponsor.  US residents only, please.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

ZonePerfect Blog Forward Challenge Part 3 with a Giveaway!

Lately on Facebook, I've been seeing some posts counting down to Christmas already.  I know a lot of people wish it was Christmas all year 'round and are really looking forward to the holiday season.  Me?  I'm just getting past the start of the school year and am counting down to Halloween, as this might just be the year that Grace decides to go out for Trick or Treat for the first time!  She loves the decorations and the pumpkin patch is her favorite place in the world, she's just not into the scary parts and every year opts out of costumes (even her princess costumes) and trick or treat.

Seeing these crazy, Christmas Countdown posts has made me realize that this year will soon be coming to a close, which I find really hard to believe!  Where has the time gone?  It also has me thinking about the goals that I set for myself earlier this year when I signed up for the ZonePerfect Blog Forward Challenge.

Currently, we're in part 3 of the challenge and while I've really done well on some of my goals, there are still a couple of points that I need to make an effort to address.

Eating Healthy was at the top of my list.  For the most part this year, I did really well in making healthy food choices.  Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables were served with meals throughout the past several months, though, I will admit that I didn't do such a great job kicking the junk food habit completely.  On a good note, though, I have been grabbing an apple to eat in the car while waiting in the pick up line after school!

This year, I wanted to Become More Active.  I wish I could say that I stuck to this one from the very start but sadly, it took a while for me to get my butt in gear for this one.  But for the past several weeks, I've been getting myself (and the dog) to the walking park for a daily walk.  Occasionally, I manage to fit in two walks a day!  It's not much, but it's definitely a start!

Saving Money is hard for us.  We've been on a single income since we moved into our home 7 years ago and finding extra money to stash away isn't easy.  This year, with Grace starting school, we've had some additional expenses making it even that more difficult to save but at the same time, we're trying to make smart choices with our purchases and really making it a point to avoid late fees by paying our bills on time.

Getting Organized is still a big problem for me.  I thought with Grace being gone from the house for 2 hours, that I'd be able to get a ton of stuff done and organized around this place.  Nope!  Not at all.  If anything, I feel like I'm more unorganized than ever.  Something seems to come up every day, not to mention the ton of paperwork in Grace's back pack every day!  This kid needs her own filing cabinet!  I joke...but hey, that's a great idea!  I'll be focusing on this goal in the upcoming weeks so that I can be organized by the holidays.

It was difficult to admit that I need to Be a Better Wife and Mother.  I'm having a tough time with this goal, too.  I think time management is a big issue.  I get up, get Grace ready for school (this takes several hours and usually there's an argument during this time), drop her off, come home, eat lunch, try to clean up a little, then pick her up, then it's time to make dinner, etc.  I've been trying to fit in some mommy/Grace time with visits to the playground and play dates, etc.  But all of that cuts into the time I need to be doing stuff around the house.  Often, I'm tired and grumpy.  Not my idea of a better wife and mom.  This needs more work.

I vowed to Take Care of Me this year.  This seems to be the goal I focused on the most, as I felt it was important for me to be well (mentally and physically) in order to follow through with any of the other goals on my list.  While I still haven't gotten in touch with a therapist for my depression and OCD, I have taken care of other things that have been neglected.  I learned how to drive this year, I saw an eye doctor and got glasses (I haven't worn my glasses in over 12 years) and I'm currently recovering from some some dental work I had gotten done.  I joined Weight Watchers online and even went to a meeting recently.

Part 3 of the ZonePerfect Blog Forward Challenge has reminded me that I do need to work more on my goals.  Reading the letter I wrote to myself at the beginning of the challenge also reminds me that I need to order myself some Dark Chocolate Almond ZonePerfect bars!  They are my favorite, but I have a difficult time finding that particular flavor in the stores we shop.

With just about 2 1/2 months left in the year, I plan to reall dig in and get involved in working on reaching my goals.  Here's what I plan to work on:

Eat Healthy.  It's soup season, so this should be a no brainer!  Lots of fresh vegetables and lean meats in my soups, along with whole grains in my hearty, keep-warm soups!  Keeping a handful of ZonePerfect bars in the glove box of the car will help me keep on track when I'm on the go!

Stay Active.  I'm keeping up with my daily walks.  The dog won't let me skip them anyhow!  With it getting dark earlier, I'll have to take my walks before picking Grace up from school.  Also, I'm considering checking out a local gym.  I need to see if this is something we can afford.

Save Money.  I started my Christmas shopping earlier this year and have been taking advantage of sale prices and some daily deal sites.  In addition to avoiding late fees, I also plan to focus on saving money on groceries.  With Joe doing the majority of the food shopping in the past, we didn't pay a lot of attention on the cost of groceries, just getting what we needed when we needed it.  Now that I'm driving, I think I should be able to comparison shop and save more money on the food we purchase.  Also, I am continuing to transfer money to our savings account every week.

Get Organized.  I'll be putting an empty box in the back of my truck each week.  Every day after dropping Grace off at school, I will add items to the box that we no longer use.  At the end of the week, when the box is full (hopefully), I will drop it off at a local thrift shop that takes donations. Working on time management will also be something I will be focusing on in the next several weeks.

Being a Better Wife and Mother and Taking Care of Me.  These are tough ones.  I believe I will always be a work in progress when it comes to both of these goals.

How about you?  Did you set goals or make resolutions for yourself at the start of the year?  How are you doing with reaching those goals?  Did you forget about them, like I sometimes do?  What are your plans for finishing out the year with those goals in mind?

To help give you incentive to reach your goals, ZonePerfect will give one lucky Under the Big Oak Tree reader a ZonePerfect Wellbeing Essentials Kit which includes hair ties, a pedometer, lip balm, a tumbler, and some ZonePerfect bars!

It's super easy to enter using the rafflecopter form below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*As required by the Federal Trade Commission: The information and gift packs have been provided by Abbott Laboratories to Under the Big Oak TRee at no cost. All that was asked of Under the Big Oak Tree was to review the product, and give our honest opinion. 

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