A Budget Friendly Summer…

This has been a Groupon summer. I started the summer knowing that if we wanted to maximize our fun on a slim budget, I would have to be creative. My first stop was all the daily deal sites and I followed it up with coupons and creative ideas. Here is how it went down:

 

Sip & Stroke Art Camp
This deal was on Groupon. They offered a 3 hour camp class for kids at $15/child. You could use it on any day during the summer and it included things such as clay sculpting, painting and jewelry making. My kids love to get dirty and be creative so we held out for the clay class. They had a great time and even though this was a costlier excursion, it was still a good deal.

Let’s Roll Skate Center
The kids love to skate and with 100 degree temps, we needed to find some stuff to do inside. I saw deal for this place on Groupon too but I already had a coupon for BOGO so that is what I used. For less than $10, my kids got to skate in the AC all afternoon and I got to sit and read a book. Well worth the money.

SkyZone
I have written about this place before, it has all the trampolines. The first time we went I had a Groupon for half price but this time I negotiated a deal for cheaper as a group with our Cub Scout pack. The kids got to jump in the air conditioning for 90 minutes at $11/child. And I got to use their free wi-fi undisturbed. And an extra bonus is that they were exhausted afterward which meant a peaceful nights sleep for us all.

Studio Movie Grill
This is my favorite place to watch movies. You have a big cushy chair and a table in front of you. Someone comes to bring you drinks and popcorn and they are always running deals on Groupon. I bought this several times this summer at $6/person for a newly released movie and a drink. Their popcorn is also reasonable at $4.25 for the kids and I to share. There is no way we can go to AMC and watch the movies for less than $20 for the three of us.

Regal Cinemas  
Speaking of movies, Regal Cinemas has their Kids Summer Camp which offers older kid movies at $1/person. The movies are typically from last year so if there was something you didn’t get to see, it is a great way to see it for cheap. We are heading to see Smurfs this week, even though we have seen it, it is still a fun outing.

Adrenaline Climbing
Same deal as Skyzone, I got a group discount by booking a Cub Scout event but I have seen daily deals for this place too. My kids love to try their hand at rock climbing and are actually very good at it. When you belay the kids yourself, you save even more money. This was $9/kid and they were exhausted afterward. A great indoor activity that still keeps them moving.

Laser Voyage Cafe
The kids liked this place too! I bought a daily deal that allowed the kids to play three games of laser tag (each were 15 mins long), $10 in arcade tokens and 3 times through the laser maze (although they let the kids go 10 times each since they weren’t busy) for $9.50 each kid. It was a multi level play area shaped like a pirate ship and once the kids got the hang of it, it was very fun to play. I only purchased a deal for them to play so I spent my time in the parent’s lounge area surfing the free wi-fi – oh, the sacrifices I make for my children!

Zoo Atlanta
Not many people know this, but you can actually check out passes to the zoo from the library. I put my name on the waiting list over a year ago and my turn came up this summer. John went by the library and checked out our passes and we went to the zoo for no cost. It was actually the best zoo experience that we have ever had!

World of Coke
This is Josh’s most favorite place to go in the world. We try to take him once a summer and let him drink as much soda as he can hold. His little eyes light up like beacons, we are not sure if it is from the sugar or the caffeine. This year I realized that you can “buy” tickets to World of Coke with your coke reward points. I didn’t have enough for all four of us but I did have enough for two adult tickets – that saved us $32! I guess I now know what I will be saving my points toward for next summer.

Lake Lanier Islands Waterpark
This is not exactly frugal but it can be budget friendly if you work it. We paid $69/person for a season pass and we use it atleast once a week. I figured that the cost comes out to be less than $10/time we go and it gives us something to do that cools us off. We bring our own snacks, drinks and lunch so that we don’t have any food costs while we are there, which also helps offset the price. There was a daily deal on this too for a one day pass for half the admission price. Not a bad way to spend a very hot summer day.

We rounded the summer out with trips to see family, a camp or two (I volunteered at Girl Scout camp so both kids went for $20 total, what a deal!), and trips to the neighborhood pool. With enough planning and careful consideration, you can have a very fun summer for not a lot of money.

 

Peanut Butter Blondies…

John loves blondes. At least he loves blonde brownies. He is more of a blondie guy than a brownie guy. So I  make blondies for him every so often but I have to add in some chocolate to suit my taste. After all, what is the purpose of a dessert if it doesn’t have chocolate in it? This is a twist on your regular blondie by incorporating peanut butter into it. I used smooth peanut butter because of the kids but if it were just John and I would would have used the crunchy for sure – I just love the extra texture in there. Give this a try next time you are looking for a sweet treat! Yummy!

Peanut Butter Blondies

1/2 cup of butter, melted
1/3 cup peanut butter, melted
1 1/3 cups of  brown sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons of vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup peanut butter or chocolate morsels

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, melted butter and peanut butter until smooth. Add in eggs and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients together, and whisk into the batter. Fold in morsels. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until done.

Roasted Tomatoes…

Tomatoes are coming in and I am looking for creative ways to use them. I typically make sauce from some of them, add them to every dish imaginable – from pasta to paninis and of course, salad. I was watching Ina Garten on Food Network today and she made Roasted Tomatoes. They looked so yummy and I knew I had to try it. I had all the ingredients including Balsamic Vinegar, one of my favorite things to eat. Anytime I find a recipe using Balsamic Vinegar I know that I have to add it to my try list. This recipe was a winner! I had just picked at least 10 Roma tomatoes this morning so I used the ripest 6. I knew that only John and I would eat it so it didn’t seem like I needed more than that. We devoured them so quickly that I am going to have to make more next time. I could easily see adding this to tons of savory dishes. The ones that were a little more caramelized/charred were by far my favorite. I also added fresh basil from my garden to the tomatoes, which is what I saw Ina do on her show, even though it is not reflected in the recipe. Enjoy!

Roasted Tomatoes

2006, Ina Garten, All Rights Reserved

Prep Time: 8 min
Cook Time: 25 min
Level: Easy
Serves: 4 to 5 servings
Ingredients
  • 12 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, cores and seeds removed
  • 4 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Arrange the tomatoes on a sheet pan, cut sides up, in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle the garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper over the tomatoes. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tomatoes are concentrated and beginning to caramelize. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Pig Cake…

We went to a family reunion last weekend. It was good to see all the relatives that I don’t get to see but once a year and it was also good to sample some of the dishes that go along with a family reunion. Some of the honorable mentions this year were a fabulous pasta salad made by my Aunt Betty (one of them, I have two) and my brother brought pulled pork, North Carolina style. But the winner of my favorite thing to eat at our family reunion is my Uncle Don’s Pig Cake. The Pig Cake began with my Aunt Margaret. She used to make it when she was alive and after she passed on, my Uncle Don took over the tradition. My Aunt Margaret was an amazing woman. She raised two kids on a dairy farm, kept a beautiful home and cooked wonderful food – all while blind. She went blind as a result of a car accident when I was just a young kid, I actually remember being told that she would never see again. Our family was stunned but she perserved and continued on with her life. And one of my best memories of her is this cake.

This cake goes by lots of different names including Pig Pickin’ cake, Sunshine Cake or Mandarin Orange cake. It is a delicious golden yellow cake with flecks of mandarin orange blended in and topped with a pineapple whipped topping. My Uncle Don makes it as a two layer cake with lots of whipped topping but I make mine like Pioneer Woman in a 9×11 sheet cake. It is just easier for me and travels well since I can put a lid on it. Light and fluffy, it is a perfect ending to a hot summer day. Give it a try and see what you think!

Pig Cake
Pioneer Woman

Ingredients

  • FOR THE CAKE:
  • 1 box (18.25 Oz. Box) Yellow Cake Mix
  • 1 stick Margarine, Softened
  • 1 can (14 Oz. Can) Mandarin Oranges, Drained, 1/2 Cup Juice Reserved
  • 4 whole Eggs
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • _____
  • FOR THE TOPPING:
  • 1 package (4 Oz. Box) Vanilla Instant Pudding Mix
  • 1 can (20 Oz. Can) Crushed Pineapple, Juice Reserved
  • ½ cups Powdered Sugar
  • 4 ounces, fluid Frozen Whipped Topping (such As Cool Whip)
  • Extra Mandarin Orange Slices, For Garnish

 

Preparation Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For the cake, combine cake mix, margarine, 1/2 cup juice from the mandarin oranges, eggs, and vanilla. Beat for four minutes on medium-high. Add drained oranges and beat again until pieces are broken up and small. Pour batter into greased and floured 9 x 13 inch baking pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown and set. Remove from oven and cool completely. If desired, turn out cake onto a large platter.

Once cake is cool, blend juice from drained pineapples with the vanilla pudding mix. Add powdered sugar and mix, then mix in whipped topping. Stir in drained pineapple. Spread on cooled cake and refrigerate several hours.

To serve, cut cake into squares and top each square with a mandarin orange slice.

 

I blew it…

There isn’t any excuse I can make. I blew it today. I yelled at my kid and I am not proud of it. As a parent, I sometimes get frustrated and loose my cool. It normally happens when we are pressed for time. Time is one of my hot buttons, I hate to be late and get stressed out when I realize it is going to happen. This morning we were walking out the door at 8:58 for VBS and Brittany couldn’t find her glasses. Now, since this has happened every morning this week, I had begun telling her to look for her glasses at 8:30 and she didn’t. I snapped and yelled at her for being disorganized and irresponsible and she broke down crying. It wasn’t pretty and I am still feeling the effects 2 1/2 hours later. I hate it when things like this happens, especially since I have been reading books lately on encouragement. And here was a test to see if I could encourage under pressure and I got a big fat “F” on it. My comments were disrespectful to her as a person and I am sure she felt unloved. I wish I could have a “do over” like you had on the playground in school. But since those don’t exist in real life, I can apologize and set forth to do better the next time around.

The good news is that she found her glasses and we made it to VBS just as it was starting. The bad news is that my yelling at her just caused both of us to suffer this morning and didn’t help the situation at all. My take away is to try to remain calm and realize that in the scope of life, us being late for something is a small detail. And I am ordering her a spare pair of glasses for next time.

Golden Peach Pie…

Summer in the South means peaches. Lots of beautiful ripe juicy peaches. I stopped at a fruit stand in South Carolina to get some freshly picked peaches – 13 giant ripe peaches for $6. Of course I ate one in the car on the way home and man, it was so juicy and sweet. I had juice dribbling down my chin while rocketing down I-85. I knew as soon as I saw them that I wanted to make a peach pie when I got home. So today I whipped one up using my 1953 Better Homes and Gardens red checked cookbook. This is the cookbook your grandma would have used to cook with. There are no “instant” ingredients in here – just sugar, flour and butter. Here is the recipe for anyone whose mouth is watering from just looking at the picture!

Golden Peach Pie

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2-3 Tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
5 cups slices, peeled fresh peaches
2 Tablespoons butter
1 recipe Plain Pastry (see below)

Combine sugars, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl. Add to peaches; mix gently. Spread in a 9″ pastry-lined pie pan. Dot with butter. Adjust top crust onto pie and flute edges (I crimp mine). Bake in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes. Enjoy plain or with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream!

 

Plain Pastry (double for a pie with a top crust too)

1 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup crisco
4-5 Tablespoons ice cold water

Sift flour, salt and sugar together. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender or fork until pieces are the size of a small pea. Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of ice cold water over mixture. Gently toss with fork. Repeat until all the flour is moistened. Form into a ball. Flatten on a flat surface and roll to 1/8″ thick. Fit into a pie pan and trim edges

 

What the old can teach the young…

This summer has been jam packed with things going on so I haven’t had time to post. I am hoping to catch you guys up soon on what has been going on around here.

The kids and I have just gotten back yesterday from our 10 day family visit. Our first stop was just outside Raleigh, NC to spend a long weekend with my mom. We then went on to Abingdon, VA to spend a week with my grandma and finished it off with a family reunion. I have been taking the kids to spend a week with my grandmother since I was pregnant with my oldest one. It is important for me that they get to know their elder family members since they do not get to see them but a few times each year. It was a great time for all of us but I am especially impressed by how much my kids get from these visits. Just being able to slow down and spend time building forts from cardboard boxes or writing out a play to put on for all the adults to see. It is really a time to expand their imaginations.

It is also a time for the young to learn something new from the older generation. Brittany got a sewing machine for Christmas last year and has taken a sewing class to learn how to use it. She is not intimidated by it and will often get it out and design and sew her own doll dresses. My grandma has been sewing for most of her life and took time this visit to spend sewing with Brittany. They went through three large drawers of fabric and picked out over 50 different patterns for Brittany to take home with her. They also worked on a sewing project together of making a purse. Brittany did all the design work and cut out the material. She also did all the sewing on the machine with instruction from her great grandma. Grandma taught Brittany a few new tricks including how to make a ruffle – which I don’t know how to do!!

I wouldn’t trade these times for anything. It is so important for the younger generation to spend time with the older wiser generation and learn life’s lessons. My grandma is 76 and my daughter is 10 and there is so much that she can teach Brittany.  Whether it is baking a pie together, digging up a garden or sewing a purse, there are plenty of things for kids to learn and lots for seniors to teach. We are a society that often disregards the vast amount of knowledge and experience that our senior citizens have in favor of doing everything faster. What a shame that we are missing out on a great wealth of experience!

But for us, the best part are the memories that are made together that will last a lifetime. I am sure this is one trip that Brittany and her great grandma will never forget.