1.28.2010

Girl Scout Tip #1: Free Field Trips


I've been a Girl Scout Leader, on and off, since 2000, for a total of six years altogether. I currently have two troops, one for each of my girls. One thing that I think sets my troops apart from others is that we like to go on lots of field trips! Generally, we go on at least one or two outings per month during the school year, and sometimes one in the summer.

When I first started as a Girl Scout Leader, I was assigned to a wealthy private school in Austin. Money was not an issue for my scouts' parents, so we requested, and received, generous troop dues to fund our Brownie activities. So when planning field trips, the cost of the outing was not a huge consideration for us.

In time, I became a Mom of girls and therefore a Leader once again. This time I had a troop of kindergarten Daisies at our public school who were not allowed to sell cookies yet and therefore earned no troop funds. This time around, I was very conservative and realistic in setting the amount for our troop dues; I only charged enough to cover patches, insignia and first aid supplies. Field trips would have to be funded separately by the families as the year progressed OR we could creatively plan free outings for the girls!

We live in a very large city, so thankfully there are lots of options available when planning a free field trip for a group of giggling little girls. Very often, especially for the older girls, our outings coincide with badges we are earning. For example, just last week I took my Brownies to our local branch of IBC Bank, where we keep our troop bank account for a free tour and Q&A with the branch manager. The girls, I have to say, were not thrilled initially with the idea of visiting a bank around the corner from our neighborhood. But the bank tour fit in perfectly with our work on the 'Penny Power' Try-It. Well lo and behold, the girls were fascinated by the tour! We actually stayed an extra half hour longer than we'd planned because they were so busy asking question after question, really thoughtful ones too. We learned quite a bit about counterfeit checks and bills, which is pertinent to their roles as entrepreneurial salesgirls. The girls and I were thrilled that the bank manager gave us two counterfeit detector pens to use at our upcoming Cookie Booth! It was a memorable field trip, and best of all, absolutely free.

Image from Google Images

1.27.2010

Penny Pinching, Target-Style

Would you believe I actually fell asleep, computer on my lap, last night as I attempted to do my blog bit? Pathetic! On my way out the door in a few minutes, but here's my Tuesday Penny Pinch, a day late:

Yesterday I was at Target in search of a single pair of slightly dressy shoes for Thalia, who is, at size 5 1/2 - 6 ladies, a mere size and a half away from me. She's only 8 years old, but wears an adult size shoe. This poses a problem in several ways.

Her foot, although quite long for her age, is very, very narrow. As was mine when I was growing up, so I know where that comes from! So right there, very few styles will fit her narrow foot. Also, ladies' shoe styles are pretty much inappropriate for the everyday routine of a 3rd grader. And finally, ladies' shoes cost more than kids' shoes! My 8 year old may only wear them for 2 months, but they still cost as much as my shoes that I could (theoretically of course) wear for years. Sheesh!

So you can imagine my absolute joy when I discovered the shoe sale aisle at Target was full of 50% to 75% off flats and sneakers! Now we're talking a good buy! I bought 13 pairs of shoes in all, 9 of which were deeply discounted. Two pairs were $1.75 each. The most expensive pair I bought, full price, was $24.95. Clearly we don't intend to keep all of these shoes; I bought several sizes because I wasn't sure about the sizing of different styles (sandals v. loafers v. dressy flats.) They all looked slightly different even when they were the same size.


Not the same exact shoe I bought, but very much like it: $6.24

Returns are not a problem at Target! I saved my receipt, but even if I didn't, they are always so nice about looking up my purchases by credit card.

As it is, Thalia was down to one pair of loaferish flats that she was wearing constantly because they were her favorites, but they were so obviously getting too small and so worn out. They too were a Target find last fall at half price. Thank you, Target!

1.25.2010

FoodieLicious: Mint Chocolatey Goodness

Pic from LittleBrownieBakers.com

We are finally down to just two Girl Scout cookies left in the jar! Hooray! We've never had this many left over, and I've never been so motivated to think of recipes to use them up. Our 2010 cookies arrive in 4 days, so not a moment too soon!

From chatting with other Girl Scout cookie customers, it turns out that many people still have extra Girl Scout cookies from last year in their freezer (the best place to keep them). The other week, Dylan's aunt said that she likes to add Thin Mints to a pan of brownies. I thought this would be a great idea to use up our last 8 Thin Mints, so I used Little Brownie Bakers' own Thin Mints Brownies recipe. Little Brownie Bakers is the bakery that bakes the cookies for about half of the Girl Scout troops in the USA; they also get to use the "traditional" cookie names such as Do-Si-Dos and Samoas. The other Girl Scout bakery does not.

Thin Mints Brownies
recipe from Little Brownie Bakers

Ingredients
½ box of crushed Thin Mints Girl Scout Cookies
1 box of brownie mix
2 eggs (3 eggs for cake-like brownies)
¼ cup of water
½ cup of vegetable oil
Directions
1. Crush Thin Mints into medium size pieces.
2. Mix all ingredients into mixing bowl. Do not use electric mixer. Batter will be stiff.
3. Spread batter evenly in greased baking pan (13 x 9 x 2 inch).
4. Bake in center of oven at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes.
5. Remove from oven and allow to cool before cutting.

Serve with mint-flavored tea.
Yields 6 servings.

My Notes: We only had 8 cookies left, which is about 1/4 of a box, while the recipe calls for 1/2 of a box. The taste was subtly minty and would have been more minty if we had used more cookies. We also used 3 eggs instead of 2.

Counting down the days to our new cookies, including the newest one, Thank U Berry Munch! Cookies still available from Troop by the way!

1.23.2010

This Week This Year: 18 January 2010

Today's theme should be 'This Week Last Year,' but I already posted about what we did this week, last year! That in itself is amazing, that I was already caught up with our January 2009 pics last year.

So, we'll just talk about 'This Week This Year'! Here are some more moments from Carys's Show Week on Monday:


Carys and her classmates received a special medal from the owner of the school, which thrilled them all very much of course! She was soooo proud of herself! And so were we.

LAYOUT CREDITS:
Layout sketch: Creative Memories 'Decorative Click & Fill' pg. 13. All papers, embellishments, word art: Creative Memories 'Delight Surfer Girl' Additions kit, Creative Memories 'For Her' kit; Font: 2 Peas Scrapbook by Two Peas in a Bucket

1.21.2010

Photo of the Week: Hawaiian Rainbows

This week provided ample photo and video opportunities! On Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday, our own Carys Faith performed for her family at her Little Gym 'Jazzy Bugs' Gymnastics/Dance class's Show Week! Kind of like a recital, only without the costumes, memorizing dance steps or outrageous fees. Very, very low key.

Carys's class showed off their gymnastic prowess and then wowed us with their tap dance and ballet routines as well as "creative movement" (ie. free dance).

Here, without further ado, is Carys's ballet performance of Hawaiian Rainbow (apologies for the low-quality video):


Some of you already know that this is the third dance class that Carys has been a part of in the past 3 years. The previous two dance experiences, both at the JCC, did not go well. She was politely "kicked out" of the first one, and I removed her from the second class after Carys had repeated differences of opinion with the instructor. However, this casual, fun approach to kids' movement has been the perfect fit for her! She is one of the oldest girls in the class, which also helps with her self-confidence.

1.20.2010

Stuff We Like: Dual-Screen Car DVD Player, or A Little Piece of Heaven in Your Car


The newest member of our automobile family, our silver Volvo S80, arrived last Monday, after a long trip through wintry, snowy parts of the U.S. We had it shipped to San Antonio straight from the dealer in Virginia, right outside of Washington, DC. How we ended buying a car from several hundred miles and states away is a story for another day. What the car came with, however, is the topic at hand. (Actually, it's a combination of yesterday's and today's topics, as I wasn't in a bloggy mood yesterday and I'm catching up today.)

The Volvo S80 has a number of pretty cool features never before seen in any of our previous cars. We've never been ones to spring for the extras at the dealership, and the one time we did, it ended up biting us in the you know where. So to have a car that is fully loaded with all sorts of car-geek toys is something. Features of note: Air-conditioned Seats. Pop-up Navigation System. Push Button Start/Stop.

But you wanna know what really rocks in this car?

The Volvo Dual-Screen Rear Seat Entertainment System. That's fancy talk for two built-in DVD screens on the backs of the front seats and two wireless headsets plus a DVD player inside the arm rest. I usually hate these kinds of things. I hate the idea of my kids watching TV while we drive around town, doing our normal everyday routine. It's just one more way to electronically remove them from their surroundings. But I'm a hypocrite, and we do own a mini-DVD player, nothing fancy, that we use on long car trips or airplanes. Our long-standing rule, however, is that we don't use it for just driving around San Antonio. Entertainment? Look out the window.

Dylan defines a long car trip as an hour's drive away. I usually think it should be somewhere farther. This past weekend, we drove 45 minutes to New Braunfels for a Girl Scout outing in the new car. Dylan (not I) decided to surprise the girls with with a DVD on the drive there. Grrr. After some figuring out of how the DVD player works and how to turn on the headsets, there was a strange and eerie sound in the car. It was the sound of silence.

No screaming, crying, fighting, whining. No toys or books or whatnot flying across the backseat. Just the occasional tinkle of a laugh. Big smiles on my kids' faces wreathed in headsets. It. Was. Very. Strange. Usually, I find myself telling the girls in exasperation that they have to quiet down/stop fighting or else I might crash the car with the distractions. For once, we could actually hear our music on the radio.

I admitted that I could become addicted to this strange peace in the car. It's so tempting, the DVD player is built in! Not like our mini-DVD player that is a pain to hook up and often becomes disconnected during travel. Now the arm rest of the car is my Pandora's Box. Will I be able to resist the temptation and become one of those Moms?!

1.18.2010

FoodieLicious: Tim-Tam Slam

Yes, they actually have Girl Scout cookie jars. I have one.

We are finally down to 8 Thin Mints and 6 Dulce De Leches in our Girl Scout Cookie Jar! Two weeks ago, we still had at least 5 or 6 boxes of cookies left from last year's Cookie Sale. My Girl Scouts ate up about 3 boxes and I created my own recipe for Lemon Pie using 1/2 box of Lemon Chalet Cremes, 1/4 box of Lemonades and some stray Trefoils. Whew! Just in time for the new cookies, which arrive on January 29.


In the process of trying to figure out what to do with our leftover cookies, besides eat them of course, I found this interesting tidbit in the comments section of an article on the Orange County Register's website:

Have you heard of the Tim-Tam slam? It’s not a recipe, but it’s still a fun thing to do with a Girl Scout cookie. Here’s what you do:
  1. Fill a mug with hot chocolate to just under the rim.
  2. Bite off opposite ends of a Girl Scout thin mint (make them small bites since you want much of the cookie left to work with).
  3. Dip one end in the hot chocolate, put your mouth on the opposite end.
  4. Suck the hot chocolate through the cookie as if it were a straw.
  5. After sipping just a tiny bit of hot chocolate the cookie will begin to disintegrate, so pop it in your mouth.
  6. It will melt into your mouth like a tasty piece of warm, chocolatey, minty heaven.
  7. Wash down with hot chocolate, of course!
Posted by Martha on March 5, 2009

I don't know, sounds like a recipe to me! And a yummy one! Will have to try this one out with our remaining 8 Thin Mints!

Images from Girl Scouts of the USA website

1.17.2010

This Week Last Year: January 14, 2009

I was busy with a special cake order on Friday evening and then too tired to blog after that! But I'm getting caught up with our endless photo backlog by revisiting Friday, January 14, 2009:


I blogged last year about the Spurs v. Lakers game that Dylan won tickets to at work. It was the best basketball game experience we've ever had! Box seats, hospitality suite, private bathroom, all the Cokes I could ever drink and Sean Elliot up close!


The game was close, but the Spurs prevailed. 112 to 111, but we'll take it. After the game, we sauntered to our reserved parking spot right outside the entrance, next to the limos and private cars. Awesome game!

Digital Layout Credits:
Creative Memories 'For Him', 'Go Team', 'Jewel Achievements': All paper & embellishments; Except wood floor paper (recolored) from 'Schoolin' by Kate Teague for Two Peas in a Bucket, Icy Alpha Set by Lauren Bavin for Digital Scrapbook Place, and Spurs Basketball from Google Images

1.14.2010

Farewell to Christmas: Photo of the Week

Christmas 2009 is finally packed up and out of sight at our house! Yesterday, I packed away this last decoration:


This is the ceramic "Piano & Mice" that my Mom made for me in the very early 1980s. Each piece was painted by hand with great detail, and the tree has actual miniature translucent plastic ornaments that "glow" when a light or candle is placed under the hollow tree. The mice's piano was modeled after my own piano, an oak Baldwin that I had received for Christmas. It's so cute! I think I've had this on display every Christmas ever since our second house in Austin, when we acquired a baby grand piano and therefore a "music room." I stopped taking piano lessons just a few years after I started, but I still dearly love to play Christmas carols on the piano. I treasure my "Piano & Mice" very much because it was made especially for me!

1.13.2010

Doing For Themselves

When I was growing up, my Mom would constantly remind us that she shouldn't have to do things (clean up, homework reminders, etc.) for us that we could do for ourselves. And that she wouldn't be around forever so therefore we should learn how to do these things for ourselves. This was said often in exasperation and met with a "yeah, whatever" on my end.

So now that I'm the Mom, I find myself saying the same exact things to my kids! How can I not?! Because it's true--I can do it for them over and over and over again, or I can teach them once and for all how to do it for themselves.

Here, let me show you where your jacket goes when you're not wearing it.

Look, this is how you unload the dryer.

Yes, this is how you tie your shoelaces.

Okay, this is how we put our dishes away after we're finished eating.

And they do learn, in small baby steps, how to do some things just like you've taught them. And they do remember, sometimes, where things go. But this morning, I truly felt like we'd turned the corner.

I usually get up around 6:35 am to supervise the getting up/getting dressed phase of our onging Project Get-Out-The-Door-On-Time. Either Thalia or Carys will turn off their shared alarm clock that rings promptly at 6:30 am, but there is often some heel-dragging going on after that. Then I prepare breakfast like a short-order cook at the busiest IHOP in town--I mean really fast. They eat a hot breakfast and sometimes talk or laugh or fight too much at the table so there is not enough eating going on. I do their hair while they eat (ever the multi-tasker). In general, this all happens under my, or sometimes Dylan's, direction.

But this morning! I woke up to the vague sound of water running in another room, which I assumed was one of the girls getting ready in the bathroom. There were also footsteps in the kitchen, which I assumed meant someone was ready to eat. I high-tailed it to the kitchen and discovered Thalia had already made breakfast for herself and Carys! I mean, she was putting the food on plates and putting away the ingredients! And a chorus of angels from above sang in absolute harmony as I stared in wonder at my oldest child doing for herself!

Breakfast, by the way, was raspberries washed carefully before serving (that explained the earlier sound of running water), toast with either Boursin cheese or butter and milk. I added some scrambled eggs, which Thalia would not have known how to heat up as I have not taught her the magic of the microwave yet. (And yes, I cook my eggs in the microwave.) But all those random lessons about toaster safety (ie. always use the bamboo tongs, never a metal fork) and using a knife carefully (to spread butter or cream cheese on toast) all came together this morning in perfect harmony--no burns or cuts or spills.

This morning wasn't rushed for me as it usually is, and they ate their breakfasts with enough time leftover to play for a few minutes before heading out the door. I'm so proud of my big girl! Today she showed me that she can take care of herself and her little sister, that she is responsible enough to be trusted with easy cooking tasks, and that she enjoys helping out. She's already asked when I'll show her how to cook eggs. Those baby steps lead to big steps in the end.

After-Christmas Shop & Save Tip

Blogging on a schedule is too difficult for me! I forgot to post my Tuesday Shopping or Saving Tip yesterday. Will I ever get it together?!

I posted this on my personal blog already, but I think it's actually more appropriate on our family blog as it's all about my post-Christmas shop-and-save tips:

Here are two successful shopping strategies that I've used in the past few years, now that I have school-aged kids and their friends are also past the toddler years:

1) Holiday Gifts for Kids-- I no longer buy toys to give our close kid friends like I used to. Too confusing to remember who had what or what I'd already given the year before! And getting more and more expensive as our friends' families expanded in size as ours did as well. My big idea: Christmas books for the kids. I love Christmas books, as I've already mentioned, and love even more giving them to other families. And the best part is they always go on sale at bookstores nationwide and online after Christmas! A few days after Christmas last month, Carys and I had so much fun selecting several books each for the kids on our Christmas list. Board books for the chubby hands little ones who are just discovering words, holiday puzzle books and Mad-Libs for the beginning readers, and really cool chapter books set at Christmastime for the older kiddos. And since they are all on sale when I buy them, I just buy more of them to give! Books, by the way, are not cheap. A mere paperback for kids can set you back up to $10. So books on sale are always a good thing. The only sad thing was having to pack them away in the Rubbermaid box until November!

2) Teacher Gifts--This may not be much of an issue for those whose kids go to very small schools or have few teachers. However, my kids go to an elementary school with upwards of 1,100 kids. Lots of kids = lots of teachers! When you factor in the number of rotation teachers (art, gym, music, etc.) and specialists in addition to their homeroom teachers, that's alot of teachers. Each of my children are taught by 10 teachers or specialists. When I was growing up, my brother and I always gave gifts to our teachers at Christmas. I loved picking out the boxes of Whitman's Sampler or French pastille candy tins for my teachers. I did this through high school! Even the teachers I didn't like. (That whole Asians-respecting-elders thing.)

Thalia and Carys love giving to their teachers as well. Each year, we start weeks ahead and make hand-made Christmas cards for each teacher. This year was quite a challenge for Carys, going from three pre-school teachers from last year to this year's 10! Card-fatigue set in quickly! Thalia decided to make scrapbooked cards for her teachers using my scrapbooking supplies such as buttons, ribbons, glitter, pop-ups, etc. They looked great! (She gets it from me.)

On my end, I am in charge of selecting gifts for the 9 rotation/specialist teachers and 2 homeroom teachers without breaking the bank! And I like the girls to be part of the process, so they go with me in search of fabulous treats at fabulous prices. Our go-to store: Michael's. Hooray for the $1 bins at Michael's! For the past four years after Christmas, we've found awesome office supplies to give as gifts to the teachers. Some years they've been holiday themed (ie. Mary Engelbreit Christmas) and some years not (last year's colorful flower motif). We've found decorative binder clips, post-it notes, notepads, magnets and purse-size tissue packs, all of which a teacher friend has confirmed they can all use more of! And since they're 50 cents instead of $1 each we buy several of each and mix and match for each teacher, creating a useful gift with zero calories. I like to think that months later, when they're reaching for a binder clip in their desk, they think of our family!

1.11.2010

Foodie Fun: Mrs. G's Amazing Butternut Squash


This recipe is not mine and comes to us by way of one of my favorite blogs, The Women's Colony (specifically the Kitchen). Mrs. G has a funny backstory about how she came about this wonderful recipe. I made this for the first time for our very good friends who willingly tried and loved this last month. I've made it a few times in fact, and Dylan and I have rediscovered how much we love squash.

So here it is, sans Mrs. G's witty commentary which you can find directly at her blog:

1 medium butternut squash (peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes)

3 large eggs

1 3/4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup chopped green onions

2 tablespoons (packed) chopped fresh dill or 2 tsp. dried dill

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 stick butter

2 1/4 cups fresh bread crumbs (Sometimes Mrs. G. replaces 1 cup of the bread crumbs with 1 cup of crushed garlic croutons...your call)

Preheat oven to 350

Butter 13x9x2 in. baking dish

Steam squash until tender (about 10 minutes). Coarsely chop squash in food processor or blender.

Beat eggs in a large bowl. Blend in 1 cup of cheese, green onions, dill, salt and pepper. Add squash and mix thoroughly.

Melt butter in large skillet--add bread crumbs. Stir until bread crumbs begin to crisp and brown. Remove from heat.

Mix half of bread crumbs into squash mixture. Transfer squash mixture into prepared dish.

Mix remaining 3/4 cup cheese with remaining bread crumbs in skillet. Sprinkle crumb mixture over casserole.

Bake until topping is golden and squash mixture is set. About 35 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Take a bow and enjoy.

My notes: I used more fresh dill than the 2 Tbsp. in the recipe. I added garlic powder and Pampered Chef dill seasoning mix to the fresh breadcrumbs and butter. I skipped the food processor/blender step and just mashed in my standing mixer.

1.08.2010

This Week Last Year: January 7, 2009

In typical "Melissa" fashion, I'm months and years behind in scrapbooking our family's memorable moments. We've got lots of photos, both traditional and digital, just waiting in boxes and computer files to be rediscovered!

So our new Friday blog feature will be a completed digital layout of something from exactly a year ago (in this case 364 days ago).

Family Night at the JCC Pre-School
Event Theme: Discovering and Using Natural Materials in the Classroom (or something like that)


So basically Carys and her Dragonfly classmates showed us (siblings and parents) their new discoveries, such as seashells,rocks, pottery bowls, sticks and natural wood blocks. Not that they didn't love plastic-y Legos and other such toys, but it was all about getting back to nature in the classroom. My contribution was several pairs of wooden chopsticks, which I'm not sure were ever played with!

DIGITAL LAYOUT CREDITS:Layout template: Creative Memories Decorative Click & Fill Template; All Papers & Embellishments (some altered): Creative Memories Family Kit, CM Party Favor Kit, Frost Kit; Font: CK Journaling by Creating Keepsakes

1.07.2010

Order, Order


Happy 2010! If you were to visit my personal blog, you'd already know that I'm embarking on an ambitious (perhaps too much so) project for my collected blogs: imposing some order and structure over the none-too-frequent posts. I have weeks and weeks worth of posts, good ones, in my head, you know. And the blog post inbox is filled with unfinished posts that I've started but never got around to completing. No longer a problem! Here's what you'll see starting tomorrow (my apologies for the cutesy topic titles, I just couldn't help myself):

Mondays: Foodie Fun
Tuesdays: Product Reviews (a.k.a. Shopping) or alternately, Penny Pinches
Wednesdays: Mom Moments or Girl Scout Leader Tips (I've got lots of both)
Thursdays: Photo of the Week
Fridays: This Day Last Year (or something like that)

Come back soon! Although this schedule may not last, it will be fun trying!

Graphic image from Google Images