Monday, April 30, 2012

Menu Plan Monday

What a busy week it has been at my house! Between my traveling several days for work and the kid's sports schedules, we just simply haven't been around. This week, the kid's schedule is equally busy, but at least my schedule is easier. There are a lot of before/after practice type dinners on our menu plan for this week.

Sunday
Cereal
Macaroni & Cheese
Stromboli

Monday
Pizza

Tuesday
Lemon Chicken Artichoke Pasta

Wednesday
Chicken Patty Sandwiches

Thursday
Chicken Tacos

Friday
Pork Chops

Saturday
Turkey Hot Browns

Breakfast is cereal or oatmeal each morning, although sometimes at school my daughter will have pancakes or french toast. For my son, lunch is either the menu item at school or a packed lunch with some type of sandwich. Lunch for my husband and me is typically sandwiches, frozen meals or leftovers.

This post shared at Menu Plan Monday.

The Kentucky Derby

Growing up, I am sure that I had heard of the Kentucky Derby, but I really don't remember knowing much about it.

When I met my husband, that changed. He is a big fan of horse racing and as such, being someplace (home works) to watch the Kentucky Derby is very important to him. I can remember when we lived in Pittsburgh going to Ladbroke's where they hosted a Kentucky Derby party. They even had official glasses available with Mint Juleps. I tried one the first year that we went and I must say that I was glad to learn the next year that you could get the glass with another beverage - the Mint Julep just wasn't my thing. I generally like mint, but to me it was just too strong.

My cousin and her husband briefly lived in Louisville and we had the opportunity on a visit to see them one year to actually visit Churchill Downs, the home of The Kentucky Derby. It was pretty neat to check out both the facility and the pictures/history around the Kentucky Derby. The fashion alone was an interesting aspect. As is noted on their party planning site, "The Kentucky Derby is a chance for every female to express her inner Southern Belle so take note and don't hold back when planning your party hat (especially if you are the hostess!)."

During my travels last week, one of the dinner themes was The Kentucky Derby. The fashion was definitely interesting. Many of the women had a hat of some fashion and even some of the guys came in some rather unique clothes. The menu for the meal was all Kentucky inspired food. One of the sandwiches that we had was the Turkey Hot Brown. I really enjoyed the combination of flavors, and although not listed on The Kentucky Derby website, I think that we will be enjoying them for dinner on The Kentucky Derby day.

It is hard to believe that May is just a day away and that the 'Greatest Two Minutes in Sports' is already next weekend, so if you would like to try it too, here is the version of the recipe that I will make, there are several variations out there, so I chose my favorite aspects from each. There are recipes that use special bread, egg battered bread, toast or regular bread. There are versions that use cheddar, those that use Romano and those that use Parmesan. There are recipes that have you start by roasting a turkey breast and others that use deli meat. I even found that they are called Turkey Hot Browns, Louisville Hot Browns and Kentucky Hot Browns, depending on the version of the recipe. In the end, I chose the combination that I found to be most appealing to me and simple enough to prepare.

We aren't having a 'formal' party, but we have extended the invitation to some friends to come over for the event, and if they do, I will need to increase the recipe as I'm guessing that this version would serve four adults. If it's just us, I probably will make the same sauce, but will use less bread and less turkey/bacon.

Turkey Hot Browns

The Bread:
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
Salt
8 slices of bread (I'm using a 'heartier' bread like Italian)
2 tbsp olive oil

Whisk together the eggs, milk and salt. Dip each slice of bread in the eggs for about 30 seconds to allow it to soak through. In a skillet, over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the bread and cook to a golden brown on each side.

The Cheese Sauce:
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 1/2 c milk
3/4 c sharp white cheddar, grated
1/4 c Pecorino Romano, grated
dash of Nutmeg
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk, bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened and the flour has cooked out, about 4 to 5 minutes. Whisk in cheese and cook until melted. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper, to taste.

The Sandwich:
Bread from above
Cheese Sauce from above
Pecorino Romano for sprinkling
Paprika
Tomato Slices (I'm using Roma Tomatoes)
Hormel Natural Choice Oven Roasted Deli Turkey
16 slices of Hormel Black Label Bacon, cooked until crispy

Preheat broiler.

Place bread on baking sheet. Top each piece with 2-3 slices of turkey. Add cheese sauce. Sprinkle with grated cheese and paprika. Place under broiler and cook until bubbly and golden brown. Top with 2 slices of tomato and 2 slices of bacon.

Now, I just need to figure out what type of sides to have. I'm thinking that perhaps a salad and maybe some green beans.

How do you celebrate The Kentucky Derby?

No compensation was received for this post. All opinions expressed are mine or those of my family. I am completing this post as a participant in the Hormel Foods Extended Family Blogger program. Hormel Foods provided some of the information for this post.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Samples and Freebies

Requested:
Finish Dish Washing (Facebook)

Received:
Land O Lakes Free Cinnamon Sugar Butter Spread coupon (from rebate offer)
Mio Blueberry Lemonade sample

Monday, April 23, 2012

Menu Plan Monday

It's another busy week at our house. There are four practices (two at the same time), two soccer games and one baseball game on our calendar for the coming week. Toss in a little work travel and you have a very crazy week.

Sunday
Cereal
Sandwiches
Sloppy Joes

Monday
Chicken Patty Sandwiches

Tuesday
Pasta

Wednesday
Mexican

Thursday
Hamburgers on the Grill

Friday
Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce (Pasta Bravo)

Saturday
TBD

Breakfast is cereal or oatmeal each morning, although sometimes at school my daughter will have pancakes or french toast. For my son, lunch is either the menu item at school or a packed lunch with some type of sandwich. Lunch for my husband and me is typically sandwiches, frozen meals or leftovers.

This post shared at Menu Plan Monday.

CVS Scenarios - week of 4/22

There are a few deals this week that might just have me stopping by CVS. I haven't been in a few weeks, so I think that I have some ECBs that are nearing expiration.

Transaction #1
1 - Blink Tears

-$1/1 Blink Tears or Blink Gel Tears Lubricating Eye Drops IP

Total $7.99 OOP, earn $8.99 ECBs.


Transaction #2
3 - American Greeting Cards (@$.99)
1 - U by Kotex
1 - Tampax/Always Radiant
4 - Arizona Iced Tea Cans

-$2/3 American Greeting Cards CVS printable
-$1 U by Kotex IP

-$1 Tampax/Always Radiant

Total $8.97, pay with $8.99 ECB adjusted down and $0 OOP. Earn $3, $2, and $1 ECBs.

For the trip, the total OOP is $7.99, with $6 ECBs to roll and $22 in product. A savings of 71%.

For more deals and scenarios, check out Money Saving Mom and Deal Seeking Mom.

CVS $5 Challenge
Transaction #1

3 - American Greeting Cards (@$.99)

-$2/3 American Greeting Cards CVS printable

Total $.99 OOP, earn $3 ECBs.

Transaction #2
1 - U by Kotex

-$1 U by Kotex IP


Total $2.99, pay with $3 ECB adjusted down. Earn $2 ECBs.

Transaction #3
1 - Tampax/Always Radiant

-$1 Tampax/Always Radiant

Total $2.99, pay with $2 ECB and $.99 OOP. Earn $1 ECB.

For the trip, the total OOP is $1.98, with $1 ECB to roll and $11 in product. A savings of 84%.

For more $5 Scenarios, check out the CVS $5 Challenge.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Earth Day!

Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the celebration of Earth Day.

Did you know that about 80% of Hormel Foods' product packaging by weight is recyclable and/or made form recycled materials? Over the past few years, Hormel has found many ways to reduce, revanmp and change the size nad material of their packages. When you think of some of the little changes that they have made and how quickly it adds up across the business, it makes you take pause and consider how each little change you make as part of a greater population can have a significant impact. As an example, when in 2009, they reduced the height of their Jennie-O Turkey Store turkey burger carton by just 1/2", they generated a 68,000 pound annual paperboard savings. That is a lot of paperboard! You can learn more about their efforts on package minimization on their site.

It's interesting, a number of things that we have changed in our lives over the past few years for the purposes of convenience and/or money saving, have brought about some environmental savings as well.

When my son was a baby, we started using wipes to clean him up after a meal. Very quickly, we realized that this would amount to a lot of wipes over the coming years. We picked up a 10-pk of white washcloths at Kohl's and have been using them ever since. We used to keep a basket of them next to the bibs, now that the kids are older, they are under the sink in the half bath. These work great for cleaning up the kids boo-boos too! I can't even begin to guess how many wipes this has saved us over the year...all of those wipes and plastic containers have been saved too!

Another change that we made was the move to using cloth napkins at the table. My goal was to reduce the amount of money that we were spending on paper napkins. Understanding that I do laundry on a near daily basis, I figured that having a couple of sets of cloth napkins would work well for us. I wasn't concerned on coordination of the napkins, so I picked up some beige ones at a post-holiday clearance and pulled out some that I had in my linen closet. If we try, we can all four use the same napkin, but generally there are at least 2 or 3 different ones on the table. We haven't bought paper napkins other than some themed ones for the kid's birthday parties in over 2 years. That is a lot of paper napkins not thrown away.

Around the same time, we returned to using more clothes for cleaning. We have old cloth diapers (actually for us they were just burp cloths) and a set of wash cloths that are unique from our actual dish cloths to avoid confusion. We use them for cleaning and then rinse thoroughly before dropping into the laundry. This has reduced our usage of paper towels.

The next move was a change from paper plates to reusable plates. I struggled to find the right solution, finally settling on Correlle dishes, found at the outlet allowing me to purchase just the dinner plates. It was a bit of an investment to move to the reusable dishes, but now that we have them we can use them for every birthday, picnic, etc., saving us the repeated purchase of paper or foam plates and saving the environment all of that waste.

Once we started using real plates, the next move seemed natural...dumping the plastic silverware. It just makes more sense to use real utensils with real plates. It took a while to find just forks, spoons and knives. The answer was found at Sam's Club. They sold 24ct packages of individual types of silverware. We bought one each of forks, spoons, and knives. A handy storage container picked up at Target has allowed us to store them easily between parties.

None of these changes were 'major' for us. All of these changes have saved us money and has reduced the amount of trash that we are generating.

Another change that has saved us a little bit in the form of discounts from the store are reusable bags. For a while, our grocery store was offering a 5c per use discount which essentially paid off the initial investment. They don't that anymore, but Target and CVS still reimburse - Target at 5c per bag used and CVS at 25c per visit in the form of a $1 ECB after four visits. Personally, I am most glad to not have all of those plastic bags to deal with. Now, to be honest, we don't use them 100% of the time, but when I go to the store for my weekly trip and when I go to CVS, I use them everytime. It's those little stops for an item or two or when my husband is running errands that they don't always get used. This is fine, because we do reuse those plastic bags and it is good to have some on hand.

Not a change, but another way that we like to live green is planting a summer garden each year. It is a great way to not only teach children, but also a wonderful feeling of accomplishment when you eat a tomoato or cucumber or other vegetable picked from your own garden.

How are you living more green?

No compensation was received for this post. All opinions expressed are mine or those of my family. I am completing this post as a participant in the Hormel Foods Extended Family Blogger program. Hormel Foods provided some of the information for this post.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

XO Laptop & Betty Crocker Fruit Snacks Winner!

Congratulations to Betty B! Her entry was selected as the winner of the XO Laptop & Betty Crocker Fruit Snacks Giveaway.

Thanks to everyone that entered. Be sure to enter the current giveaways and watch for more in the coming weeks.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Samples and Freebies

Requested
No Slip Grip Barrettes (500 per day, have to subscribe to newsletter)
Tampax (Facebook)
Free 20 issue Subscription to Family Fun Magazine

Received:
Voskos Crunch - 7 Free Voskos + Crunch Yogurt Coupons

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Gossip by Beth Gutcheon

I have been very busy lately, but still, I have been making time for reading. Many nights its not much more than a chapter, but there is something about the escape that reading provides that I feel even a few minutes is good for me.

Most recently, I finished reading Gossip by Beth Gutcheon. The blurb (teaser) on the back of the book definitely had me interested in reading more - you can read the full blurb here on the author's book page. "Gossip is a tale of intimacy and betrayal, trust and fidelity, friendship and motherhood that explores the way we use "information" - be it true, false or imagined - to sustain, and occasionally destroy, one another."

The book felt like a study in characters. It started in what I believe is 'present day' and then took us back and forth through time to establish the connections that existed between Loviah "Lovie" French, Dinah Wainwright and Avis Metcalf. It allowed us to learn the story behind these women and their connection. Lovie is the central character that ties the others together. She met Dinah and Avis when they attended a boarding school together as children.

After school, while her friends go on to college, she finds a job working for a dressmaker Mme Philomena. As time progresses, we learn that Dinah becomes a gossip columnist and Lovie eventually owns her own dress shop. Lovie has a love interest, but we learn that he is married and that his wife will not grant him a divorce, so they carry on their relationship in stolen moments. In addition, since Avis and Dinah don't get along, she maintains each friendship in it's own silo.

Through many coincidences, it seems that Lovie always seems to be at a point of hearing, or overhearing gossip, some of it from her friends, some from her clients, and some in social settings. What she chooses to share or not to share is an exercise in curiosity and I find myself wondering sometimes, why would (or wouldn't) she share that with her friends. I imagine that as she has built many silos in her life maintaining her affair and her separate friendships, making sure everyone is protected, so she is able to keep the information bucketed and holds/shares it to protect them.

Because the book is focused on the development of the characters, it was a good book but not what I would call a page turner. The story did not draw me in, making me stay up too late to read just one more chapter, but the interesting characters and the author's development of them brought me back to learn more each evening. It was a book about the characters and the inner-connectedness of lives that makes even a big town seem small. It was a book about how sharing and not sharing gossip can impact the lives of the innocent.

There is a bit of a surprising event near the end of the book, but you'll have to read the book to find out exactly what the cost of gossip can be.

You can find the book at online retailers and your local bookshop. It is also available through the iBookstore. You can find links on the book's page.

No compensation was received for this post. A review copy of the book was provided for the purposes of sharing. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Quick Prep Meals

As the kids are about to start their spring sports season, I am once again preparing to include many quick prep meals in my weekly menu plan. Eating dinner together as a family on as many nights as possible is important to me. During sports season, with practices and games it can make this a little more challenging. This is when I turn to quick prep meals (and the occasional picked up pizza).

At our house, we seem to have a mix of conflicts.

Some practices/games start early in the evening and we plan our dinner for after the game. On those days, we start by grabbing a small snack before the game/practice. Generally, I try to encourage them to have yogurt or a granola bar. Something that will give them a bit of energy without being too much food. Then, I plan a dinner that can be made after the practice/game, while the kids shower. Some of our favorites (and my approach) are:

Tacos - by cooking the meat and prepping the toppings the night before, I can quickly warm the meat in a skillet and set out a taco bar for everyone to enjoy a satisfying meal.

Chicken Caesar Salads - if I plan the menu right, we can have grilled chicken for dinner one night and follow it up with Chicken Caesar Salad the next night. By using bagged salad, the preparation is quick and the meal satisfying.

Hamburgers on the Grill - we use the frozen, premade burgers. They are quick to prepare and topped with lettuce and tomato make a quick and tasty meal.

Pizza - we pick it up on the drive home. We have a shop that does $5 large pizzas, so it is still pretty economical.

Breakfast for Dinner - whether the Tyson Breakfast Bowls that I shared earlier this week or pancakes or scrambled eggs, breakfast seems to be a quick prep meal.

Some practices/games start later in the evening and we plan our dinner before the game. This allows us a lot more flexibility. Clearly, we don't want to eat as we are rushing out the door and we need to make sure that we aren't eating too heavy that the kids feel sick while they are running around. Some of our favorites (and my approach) are:

Baked Chicken - whether we are using the new Fresh Take option from Kraft or simply baking chicken with barbeque sauce, my husband, who is home to get my son off the bus, will put the chicken in the oven so that it is ready to go on the table when my daughter and I walk in the door. A quick side of vegetables or a side salad, round out the meal.

Casseroles/Lasagne/Enchiladas - I prep the dish the night before or in the morning and leave it in the refrigerator. My husband can put it in the oven at the right point for us to enjoy a warm meal when we get home.

Freezer meals - frequently casseroles/lasagne/enchiladas are freezer meals, but there are other meals that I will put up in the freezer that will allow for quick prep. Meals like Chicken Gravy over Biscuits, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Chili, and Sloppy Joes are meals that are ready to heat and eat in my freezer most of the time.

Of course, the options for after practice/game work was well.

I leave the 'fancy' meals for the days where we have more time.

Having a variety of quick prep meals allows my family to enjoy dinner together even when the schedules are busy with sports. This works for me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Menu Plan Monday

It was a good weekend. I did an indoor community, kids stuff garage sale and it was great. I was able to sell through three totes worth of clothes and toys. I still have more, but they are doing a fall sale too. My winter totes were the most full, so I'm thinking that will be a great time to sell all of that stuff.

Sunday, the family headed to the ballpark for a little minor league baseball. It was a perfect day for a game. We even got the chance to go on the field before the game and play a little catch with the kids.

This week marks the start of spring sports. We are able to ease into it, but there will be some adjustment as we return to a combination of quick meals to make and eat before a late practice/game and quick meals to have after an early practice/game. I find that I have more flexibility if the practice is late enough to eat before. I can have something prepped and my husband can put in the oven or he can start dinner on the stove before I get home. When it is after, it needs to be something that takes me the length of a shower to put together and on the table. I will share some of my quick mealtime solutions with you here shortly.

Sunday
Cereal
Leftovers/Hot Dogs
Hoagies

Monday
Pasta

Tuesday
Mexican

Wednesday
Southwest Three Cheese Chicken

Thursday
Pork chops (in my head I hear "and applesauce" - not sure I even know where that is from)

Friday
Lemon Chicken Artichoke Pasta

Saturday
TBD - some of us will eat at a Birthday party, some will wing it.

Breakfast is cereal or oatmeal each morning, although sometimes at school my daughter will have pancakes or french toast. For my son, lunch is either the menu item at school or a packed lunch with some type of sandwich. Lunch for my husband and me is typically sandwiches, frozen meals or leftovers.

This post shared at Menu Plan Monday.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tax Day Freebies

As seems to be the case each year, many businesses embrace Tax Day (and the days leading up) by offering some special deals.

From now through April 17th (tax day) Bruegger’s Bakery CafĂ© is offering a Big Bagel Bundle for $10.40, a reference to the 1040 tax form. The bundle includes 13 bagels and two tubs of cream cheese, which amounts to savings of between $4 and $5, depending on location. You can become a fan of their Facebook page to get the coupon that is required to take advantage of this offer.

Arby’s is giving away a free order curly fries on Tuesday, April 17th. You can print the coupon when you like them on Facebook. In addition, you can enter to win $5000 in Tax Relief.

P.F. Chang’s China Bistro is offering a 15% discount on meals Tuesday. Happy Hour deals and PF Changs for Two are excluded. You can use this offer on dine in or carry out. I can't find anything that suggests a coupon is requried.

Sounds like a tasty day to me!

There are several other Tax Day offers out there. What offers have you heard about?

Breakfast for Dinner with Tyson Breakfast Bowls #cBias

When it comes to my weekly meal planning, I am a big fan of including breakfast for dinner. It is one of those meals that is appealing to everyone and offers many options. When we have breakfast for dinner, it can include anything from scrambled eggs, to omelets, to pancakes, to waffles, to sausage and pierogie, to breakfast sandwiches (bacon, egg and cheese on an English Muffin), to Blueberry Bread Pudding and even on occasion, a bowl of cereal. I like to serve fruit as a side dish when we have breakfast for dinner.

Recently, I had the opportunity to check out the new Tyson Breakfast Bread Bowls. I picked them up at Sam's Club, along with some gorgeous strawberries that I thought would make a great side dish and several other items that we were in need of. You can check out all of the pictures from my shop here, but here are a few highlights:



,



The Tyson Breakfast Bread Bowls package from Sam's Club comes with 12 bowls.

I like that they are wrapped two to a pack, allows me to make only a portion and know that the rest are still sealed and fresh in my freezer.
Preparation was so easy, just about 3 minutes in the microwave.
Served with a side of pierogie and strawberries, it was a crowd pleaser.
Some might pick up the bread bowl and eat it, but the kids preferred them cut up.
My daughter, of course, needed some ketchup since she always dips her eggs in ketchup.

With such quick and easy preparation, Tyson Breakfast Bowls will make a good option for us for dinner during the upcoming sports season. I always struggle when we are in the thick of practices and games to find quick meal options that allow us to continue to eat as a family every night. Eating as a family is a priority for me.

Have you tried #TysonBreakfast? What are your go to quick meals?

You can connect with Tyson on Twitter and Facebook.

Be sure to join in on the Twitter party on April 19 at 1:00 EST. You can share with others about Tyson Breakfast Bowls.

This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. #CBias

CVS Scenarios - week of 4/15

I am not sure how I feel about the new 'Free Spree' and the other changes to the CVS ads. On one hand, of course, I love buy one get one type deals and I guess that their spend $30 get this free deals are similar to their CVS cash deals, but I just am not sure that there are as many ECB deals. Maybe there are and there just aren't as many that apply to me.

I have included some things in my scenarios today that I don't use and will plan to donate, because they are moneymakers. Generally, I don't pick up deals on things that I don't use, but since they are moneymakers I thought I might.

Transaction #1
1 - Depends Silhouette/Real Fit 3ct

-$1.50 Depends mfg coupon
-$2 Depends CVS IP

Total $.49 OOP, earn $2 ECBs.

Transaction #2
1 - NatuRelief Tablets

-$1 NatuRelief mfg coupon

Total $7.49, pay with $2 ECBs and $5.49 OOP. Earn $8.49 ECBs.

Transaction #3
4 - Skittles/Starburst Singles
2 - EasyMac
1 - Colgate Total

-$1 $1/2 EasyMac mfg coupon
-$1 Colgate Total Advanced mfg coupon

Total $8.99, pay with $8.49 ECBs and $.50 OOP. Earn $1, $3, and $2 ECBs.

Transaction #4
3 - M&Ms (9.9 - 15.4 oz)
1 - M&M King Size

-$1.50 $1.50/2 M&M mfg coupon

Total $9, pay with $6 ECBs and $3 OOP. Earn $3 ECBs.

For the trip, the total OOP is $9.48 with $3 ECBs to roll for $34 in product. A savings of 74%.

For more deals and scenarios, check out Deal Seeking Mom and Money Saving Mom.

CVS $5 Challenge


Transaction #1
1 - Depends Silhouette/Real Fit 3ct

-$1.50 Depends mfg coupon
-$2 Depends CVS IP

Total $.49 OOP, earn $2 ECBs.

Transaction #2
2 - EasyMac

-$1 $1/2 EasyMac mfg coupon

Total $5, pay with $2 ECBs and $3 OOP. Earn $3 ECBs

Transaction #3
1 - Colgate Total
4 - Starburst/Skittles Singles

-$1 Colgate Total Advanced mfg coupon

Total $3.99, pay with $3 ECB and $0.99 OOP. Earn $2 and $1 ECBs.

For the trip, the total OOP is $4.48, with $3 ECBs to roll and $15 in product. A savings of about 75%.

For more $5 Scenarios, check out CVS $5 Challenge.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Big G Curvy Straws - a giveaway

My kids love straws. Of course, from their perspective, the more fancy the better. A bendy straw is better than a straight straw, a wacky straw with bends and loops is even better than a curvy straw.

When they first saw the new colorful, curvy straws that are available in specially marked passages of Big G cereals, they were very excited. You can use just one or connect them all.
"Did you know that simply drinking the leftover milk from cereal bowls may help kids work towards fulfilling their body’s daily dairy, calcium, and Vitamin D needs? And what better way to slurp down to the bottom of the bowl than with the new Curvy Straws, available in-pack of specially marked boxes of Big G cereal! With these collectable, connectable Curvy Straws, children of all ages can enjoy mixing and matching to build bigger, colorful straws all while helping them work towards stronger bones and muscles through increased calcium intake!
Be sure to collect all six different colorful straws featuring beloved Big G cereal characters
- Participating Big G cereals include Cinnamon Toast Crunch® (17 oz.), Lucky Charms®(16 oz.), Reese’s® Puffs (18 oz.), Honey Nut Cheerios® (17 oz.), Trix®(14.8 oz) and Cocoa Puffs® (16.5 oz)
- Made with more whole grain than any other ingredient, Big G cereal, combined with a ½ cup of milk, can help provide a great start to your family’s day


Whether you use one or connect them all, the fun with Big G Curvy Straws doesn’t have to stop when you reach the end of the bowl. Simply grab another serving of ice cold milk, and slurp away!"


Personally, I love to drink the milk from my cereal bowl. Especially if I have a fun cereal like Cocoa Puffs or Cinnamon Toast Crunch that leave behind a bit of the cereal flavor in the milk - yum! (Although, I just drink it right up, no straw required for me).

Wanting to pick up some boxes today? You can head here to download a printable coupon for $1.25 off of the purchase of (2) boxes of participating Big G cereal.

Giveaway

Thanks to Big G Cereals, through MyBlogSpark, one A Busy Mom of Two reader will win a Big G Curvy Straws prize pack.
The prize pack contains:
1 box of a participating Big G cereal
1 Curvy Straw
1 ‘spilt’ milk bowl
2 glow cups
2 tangle toys


a Rafflecopter giveaway



Giveaway will remain open through May 3rd. Giveaway is open to residents of the US only. One winner will be selected through Rafflecopter. The winner will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be selected.

No compensation was received for this post. Prize pack, information, and giveaway have been provided by General Mills through MyBlogSpark. All opinions expressed are entirely my own or that of my family.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Giant Eagle Pasta Deal!

When I was a child, pasta was a meal that we had about once a week and simply called Spaghetti. Sure, we would have macaroni and cheese and lasagne from time to time, but mostly it was Spaghetti with ground meat and sauce.

Having married a man with an Italian heritage, my consumption of pasta has changed significantly. Fortunately, so has the variety of pasta dishes that I eat.

I think I've changed things a little for him too. I have taken pasta and turned it into non-Italian meals, like Taco Stuffed Shells. I have even taken pasta and moved it to a side dish on occasion.

A number of our favorite pasta dishes are knock off dishes that I recreate at home after we eat out. It is a great way to enjoy a variety of flavors without having to go out.

One of our favorites is a Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce. This recipe makes a lot! Which is great, because you can either feed an army or for me, it gives me an easy freezer meal in the next few weeks.

Penne with Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce
1 jar Traditional Pasta Sauce
1 jar Light Alfredo Sauce
1/2 c diced, roasted red peppers
1 small onion, diced
1 pound Chicken Breast, pound thin and cut into bite size pieces
olive oil
Prepared Pasta - I use Penne, but you can choose your favorite shape

Saute the onions in your skillet, using a little olive oil. Add the chicken breast and cook through. Add the roasted red peppers and both jars of sauce. Cook over medium heat until warmed through. Split the sauce, setting half aside. Add the cooked pasta and stir to coat. Serve with fresh Parmesan cheese.

I had to run to the grocery store this evening because I needed some ingredients for dinner and while I was there, I picked up the ingredients so that we could enjoy this recipe for dinner next week. While at Giant Eagle, I took advantage of a great offer that they currently have on their pasta and sauces. From now through April 25th, mix and match 10 Giant Eagle Pasta and Pasta Sauce products for just $10 - a savings of up to $7.90 with your Advantage Card. As a bonus, for every 10 you purchase, you can earn 10c in fuelperks!

I love deals like this, I get to earn 10c for this deal and the $10 purchase counts towards the spend $50 get 10c fuelperks! standard offer. Since you fuelperks! can save you on up to 30 gallons, this bonus offer is worth up to $3 in additional savings.
I got 6 jars of sauce and 4 boxes of pasta. Unfortunately, no Giant Eagle Alfredo sauce - but they do have a savory cheese sauce that combines Parmesan and Romano in Tomato Sauce that sounds interesting. For the pasta, I picked up some fun shapes like Choo Choo Wheels, Cavatappi, and Farfalle (bowties) plus a box of Penne.

While there, be sure to pick up their Infinite Pasta-bilities, Amazing Value booklet that has some pasta recipes like Creamy Shrimp pasta, Spaghetti Pie, Garden Medley Pasta and Beefy Mac & Cheese. I found them on a tear pad on a display in the pasta aisle, or you can also check out www.gianteagle.com/pasta-dinners for more recipe ideas.

No compensation was received for this post. A sample pack including two jars of Giant Eagle Pasta Sauce, two boxes of Giant Eagle Pasta and information about this promotion were provided by Giant Eagle. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family.

Samples and Freebies

Requested:
OneCare coupon booklet
Tresemme Split Remedy sample (have to watch a video)
Eucerin Daily Protection sample (Facebook)
Zevia Soda sample
Cutex Nail Polish Remover Pad sample (Facebook)
Sebamed Face/Body Wash Sachet and $3 Coupon (Facebook)
One A Day Vita Craves - won a free bottle of vitamins (Facebook)
Carefree Samples (CVS)

Received:
gud from Burt's Bees Body Lotion sample and coupon

CouponTrade.com and The Ultimate Baby Shower present The Rainy Day Facebook Frenzy!




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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Removing Furniture Dents from Carpet

I read about this a long time ago and wanted to check it out for myself. For the past couple of years, my daughter's doll house was kept in our dining room. In part, it was so I could keep an eye on her and in part, because she wouldn't go downstairs to the playroom on her own. Well, we finally moved it downstairs a few weeks ago. I feel like my dining room has doubled in size! It is amazing, how that little house seemed to shrink the space. When we moved it, there were dents in the carpet. After vacuuming, they were still there. So, remembering that you could use ice to remove furniture dents from the carpet, I decided to give it a try.

the dents:
added ice:
as the ice melts it lifts the carpet:
after vacuuming:

I'd say that this trick worked for me!


Mother Nature Must Be Confused

This post shared a Wordless Wednesday.



Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rascal Flatts Changed

At one point in my college career, I started listening to some country music. It was the influence of some of my friends who were part of a neighboring fraternity. My Big in my sorority was friends with several of them and I found myself spending time with them and as we listened to the music, I found that I was learning the songs and singing along. Country wasn't completely 'new' to me at this point. As a child, I remember one of my first albums (yes, actually a record album) was Kenny Rogers' The Gambler. And, a few years earlier, Friends in Low Places had been released and was a common song to be heard at social events in college. I do remember having someone (who, I'm not sure?) make me a mix tape of many of those country songs that I listened to on my Walkman the following summer as I would walk in the evenings. (Record albums and mix tapes - makes me feel old! My kids have seen record albums, but probably aren't familiar with tapes)

Since that time, I have continued to enjoy country. My favorite morning drive channel for several years when I was first married was a country station, until they changed up their morning crew and I lost interest in the DJs. I still listen to some country, although much of what I hear these days are the cross-over hits on the radio or the songs that my husband has on in his car.
One group that I have become familiar with is Rascal Flatts. They just released their 8th studio album, called Changed, last week. I have been listening to it for the past couple of days. There are a number of songs that sound familiar to me, although only one has been released. I'm thinking it is mostly their comfortable style that is familiar to me.

The first single from the album, which was released earlier this year is a song called Banjo. It is already a top 10 country radio hit. It is a bit of a catchy tune, about having to get away to a place that is off the maps where you hear the banjo. You can check out the lyrics here.

I think my two favorite songs are Hot In Here and A Little Home. Hot In Here is a fun song with sing along lyrics. A Little Home is a song that I feel I can relate too. It talks about always needing home. As a member of a large extended family, not being around makes me homesick - growing up, we got together at least monthly and being away from it, I miss it. Even now that I have a home and family of my own, it is still nice to go home to where I grew up and be with the rest of my family. I love the end of the song:

'No matter how grown up you get
Oh, no matter how far you roam
Sometimes you just need a little home
Home sweet home
Sometimes you just need a little home
"Hey, mom and dad, what’s goin’ on?”'


You can learn more about the band, their past albums, their upcoming tour stops and more on their website. I learned, for instance, that two of the members are from Ohio (what a great place to be from and live!).

You can find Rascal Flatts out on tour this summer. You can find the current schedule and purchase tickets here.

Here is a chance to win tickets to see Rascal Flatts, as part of their fly away contest - they're giving away airfare, hotel, tickets and meet & greet passes for two lucky fans to see Rascal Flatts on their summer American Band tour kicking off this June with Eli Young Band, Little Big Town and Edens Edge. Contest ends April 30th.


No compensation was received for this post. All opinions expressed are mine or that of my family. A complimentary, review copy of the album was provided through One2One to facilitate this review.

Free Entrance Days at National Parks

Over the past few years, my parents have spent at least part of their vacation time visiting and exploring the National Parks. There are so many beautiful and interesting parks and monuments out there to explore - in every state except Delaware. I've been to a couple of National Parks as a child with my parents. I can remember going to the Petrified Forest in Arizona and the Grand Canyon. There are a number of other parts that I would love to explore someday.

Have you explored many of the parks? Do you plan to anytime soon? Did you know that the National Parks offer several Fee-Free days? We've already missed the first fee free days for 2012 back in January, but in just under two weeks, during National Park Week, you can once again visit the parks that normally charge an entrance fee for free.

"America's Best Idea - the national parks - gets even better with several fee-free days at more than 100 national parks that usually charge entrance fees.

Mark your calendar for these fee-free dates in 2012:

January 14-16
Martin Luther King Jr. weekend

April 21-29
National Park Week

June 9
Get Outdoors Day

September 29
National Public Lands Day

November 10-12
Veterans Day weekend

Here's a tip - many of your 397 national parks NEVER charge an entrance fee."


You can check out their Free Entrance Days page for more details.

As I was exploring the site, I learned two things. You can buy an annual pass for $80, or if you are over 62 and a US Citizen/Permanent Resident, you can buy a Senior Pass for $10. The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series will provide you access to over 2000 National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands. The annual pass, as you might guess, is good for one year. The Senior Pass is good for your lifetime.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Menu Plan Monday

It seems so hard to believe that it is already Monday. Time to return to 'normal' for me and my daughter, one last day of Spring Break to be enjoyed by my son and husband.

We had a wonderful, long weekend, filled with lots of family. I took a vacation day and turned the three day weekend into a four day weekend and spent the first three days with my family and then Easter at home. The stretch from New Year's to the first holiday of the year is a long one and it felt nice to have an extended period of time off.

I didn't head to the store this weekend (other than a quick trip to Kroger at my mom's house), so I will likely have to go early this week for things like milk and fruit. I'm planning my meals based on what I know I have at home, so that I can choose when to go to the store.

Sunday
Sausage and Pastries
Easter Turkey
Dinner out at Macaroni Grill (a pre-Anniversary meal out)

Monday
Pizza

Tuesday
Leftover Turkey

Wednesday
Buffalo Turkey Cheese steak

Thursday
Pancakes

Friday
Enchiladas

Saturday
TBD

Breakfast is cereal or oatmeal each morning, although sometimes at school my daughter will have pancakes or french toast. For my son, lunch is either the menu item at school or a packed lunch with some type of sandwich. Lunch for my husband and me is typically sandwiches, frozen meals or leftovers.

This post shared at Menu Plan Monday.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Silk Fruit & Protein Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Christine! Her entry was selected as the winner of the Silk Fruit & Protein Giveaway.

Be sure to check out the current giveaway (and watch for a new one soon!) listed on the right sidebar.

Thanks everyone for entering.

Happy Easter!

May you and your family have a Happy Easter.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Easter Turkey?

When I was growing up, there were many Easter traditions. I can remember going to egg hunts and to a couple of family dinners. You could always count on plenty of hard boiled eggs, marshmallow eggs and ham.

Unfortunately, my husband doesn't care for marshmallow eggs (more for me!) or ham. As such, when we celebrate on our own, we have the non-traditional Easter Turkey for dinner. Sure, I am a big fan of a roasted turkey with all of the trimmings, but I miss the ham. I can't really make a ham for myself (the kids might eat some, but I'm thinking that they will choose the turkey), so I have to improvise.

I think that we will likely do our main meal at noontime this year. So, I will get my ham fix at breakfast and lunch this year using Hormel Cure 81 Ham. Instead of buying a larger spiral sliced ham that would feed a family, I am going to stick with their diced ham. It is the perfect way for me to get the taste of that delicious ham without having to make a whole ham for one!

I will make eggs for breakfast, but mine will not be just plain scrambled eggs. I will be adding some of the diced ham to my eggs. I can already taste the scrambled eggs with ham and cheese. And then, at dinnertime, since we will likely still be full from the turkey, we will have a simple meal of grilled cheese and perhaps, some tomato soup. Once again, I will plus up my sandwich by adding some diced ham.

Whether you are planning a traditional ham dinner for Easter or having to improvise, be sure to print out a coupon for Hormel Cure 81 Ham.

No compensation was received for this post. All opinions expressed are mine or those of my family. I am completing this post as a participant in the Hormel Foods Extended Family Blogger program. Hormel Foods provided some of the information for this post.

Samples and Freebies

Requested:
Metamucil Sample (Walmart)
Meow Mix (I didn't request this one, but thought it might be of use to others)
Target Style Spring Beauty Bag (Facebook)
Mio Blueberry Lemonade sample (Facebook)

Received:
Metamucil Sample and coupon

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pudding Pops

I have a weakness for pudding. I think it started at a young age. My grandma would always tell the story of me asking for pudding and her not understanding what I was asking for. When Grandma would make pudding, she used an egg beater. I can still remember the sound that it made as she mixed up the pudding. As with anytime that she was in the kitchen, you would hear her humming a soft tune while she was making it too.

Now, I find myself buying pudding from time to time, simply to have on hand for a quick and easy dessert or treat. The other week, when I cleaned out my pantry, I found a few boxes tucked in back and created a cookie that was super tasty with the pudding. I also had a few boxes of cook'n serve pudding that had been purchased by accident one time for a recipe (nothing wrong with Cook'n Serve, but generally if you are using pudding in a recipe, it needs to be the instant variety).

The other day, I decided it was time to use up that pudding. I had some excess milk in the refrigerator (some weeks we easily go through 2 gallons, others we barely get through one), so it seemed like the right time to make it. As I was making it, I was suddenly inspired - pudding pops!

When I was a kid, I can remember Bill Cosby doing commercials for Pudding Pops. I'm not sure if they were new or had been around for a while at the time, I just remember that he was the spokesperson and did the commercials. Of course, I also remember that I rather enjoyed eating the frozen, creamy pudding treats and figured that the kids would too.
I grabbed my popsicle making tubes (what exactly do you call those?) and filled them with the warm pudding. I put in the sticks and set them in the freezer. The kids were very excited to try them the next day. Of course, they feel now that we should have them more often.

So, when I made the German Cream Puffs this weekend, there was so much Vanilla Cream left, that I decided to put it in the popsicle molds and make pudding pops (cream pops?) out of the leftover cream. The drawback of cooled pudding/cream is that the finished pop has more 'bubbles' in it, but they still taste just as sweet.

Not only is it a fun to make treat, but it is a great way to use up milk so it doesn't go bad.

They were so good, that now I'm thinkking of finding a recipe for using pudding to make ice cream too!

This post shared at Works for Me Wednesday.




Monday, April 2, 2012

CVS Scenarios - week of 4/1

There wasn't a lot of deals that excited me this week at CVS, but there are at least a few things that I will stop in for.

Transaction #1
1 - Complete Multipurpose Solution

Total $8.99 OOP, earn $8.99 ECB.

Transaction #2
1 - Allegra 5 ct
1 - Tums Freshers
4 - Hershey's Easter Candies
3 - Russell Stover Easter Eggs

-$2 $2/$10 CRT
-$1 $1/2 Hershey's mfg coupon
-$1 $1/2 Hershey's mfg coupon
-$7 Allegra mfg coupon
-$1.50 Tums mfg coupon
-$1 Tums CRT

Total $8.98, pay with $8.99 ECB adjusted down, earn $2 and 1 ECB.

For the trip, the total OOP is $8.99, with $3 ECB to roll for $31.50 in product. A savings of about 74%.

For more deals and scenarios, check out Money Saving Mom and Deal Seeking Mom.

CVS $5 Challenge

Transaction #1
1 - Allegra 5 ct
1 - Tums Freshers

-$7 Allegra mfg coupon
-$1.50 Tums mfg coupon
-$1 Tums CRT

Total $1.48 OOP, earn $1 ECB.

Transaction #2
1 - Colgate Optic White

-$1 Colgate Mfg coupon

Total $2.99, pay with $1 ECB and $1.99 OOP. Earn $2 ECBs.

Total for the trip is $3.47, with $2 ECBs to roll for $15 in product. A savings of about 80%.

For more $5 Scenarios, check out the CVS $5 Challenge.




Menu Plan Monday

We had a good weekend. It was a reasonably uneventful weekend - which I think is a good thing. It started early, which is an even better thing.

Friday afternoon was my son's talent show at school. I took a half day vacation and we went to the talent show. Afterwards, we went to the movies (late matinee) to see The Lorax. We did the standard version, not the 3D version. It was a cute show. Since we ate so much popcorn, dinner was a grab what you want affair. There was some pizza, some cereal, and a waffle. I also made up two loaves of Light Rye Bread in the evening - a warm slice was part of my dinner.

Saturday we boiled the eggs for coloring, started some laundry and the kids went to an Easter event (not a hunt, a business to business trip around the downtown collecting eggs filled with candy and prizes). Saturday afternoon was full of errands. I got a lot of errands in, but otherwise, did little that I planned for a Saturday. Saturday evening was spent hanging out with friends - it was a nice relaxing evening. I had made the Asparagus Guacamole and it was just too yummy - I felt stuffed (which is a feeling I hate) by the time the evening was over.

Sunday we colored our eggs and I started to go through clothes drawers. I am doing a community kid's only garage sale in a few weeks and want to make sure that I take everything that I can. Normally, I would wait a few more weeks to go through so that I could be more thorough on the winter stuff, but in the interest of time, I figured I would at least pull out the stuff that is too small now and worry about the winter stuff later. We also started the process of 'refilling' the drawers and determining what we will need. Right now, things are looking well and little shopping will be required for summer clothes this year.

We also made up a batch of German Cream Puffs. My son had tried them at school during someone's book report on the country they chose. They turned out okay, but I think I might have to retry with a slight tweak to the puff recipe.

Sunday
cereal
sandwiches
BLT (yum!)

Monday
Pizza

Tuesday
Chicken Tacos

Wednesday
Baked Chicken and pasta

Thursday
TBD

Friday
Fish

Saturday
TBD


Breakfast is cereal or oatmeal each morning, although sometimes at school my daughter will have pancakes or french toast. This week is spring break week for my son, so lunches will be at home. Lunch for my husband and me is typically sandwiches, frozen meals or leftovers.

This post shared at Menu Plan Monday.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Money Saving Mom's Budget

Several years ago, I stumbled upon a 'little' blog called Money Saving Mom. I was very intrigued by the content and the amazing deals that her and her readers were getting. I bookmarked her sight and found myself stopping by on occasion. After some time, I finally decided to try one of the CVS deals that was posted. It was for Colgate toothpaste at CVS. It was a rather simple deal, and I was nervous as all get out. I headed to the register and handed the clerk the first tube of toothpaste and a coupon. She handed me an ECB and I handed her the next tube of toothpaste. I did this three more times. In the end, I left the store with 5 tubes of toothpaste and a $1.99 ECB and it had only cost me $.99 because I had a coupon. I was so nervous walking out to my car. I kept thinking, there is no way that I could do that. Is someone going to come out and tell me there was a mistake. It was not long after completing that first deal that I started this blog.

Hard to believe, but that was about 4 years ago. I still continue to read Crystal's blog, as well as many other sites that I have discovered over the past few years. I really enjoy the online connections that I have. I really enjoy the fun of finding and sharing great deals. I enjoy what I have learned about new products and tips to make things easier. I wasn't a menu planner before I started to blog. Now that I do, I can't imagine life without menu planning.

When I learned that Crystal would be publishing a book, I knew that it would be a great collection of helpful tips and guidance. I recently had the opportunity to listen to the audio book.

The book reflects a lot of what is found and shared on her blog. For the most part, the ideas were not new to me, but listening to them, was a way to reinforce them and to give me a different perspective. There are a lot of things that she talks about that don't work for me and/or I'm not willing to implement. There are tips that I think would work great if you were in a point of financial difficulty and trying to improve things, but since what I am doing is working for me, are not things I would change. She provides a framework, worksheets and resources to help you implement a budget in your life.

One new thing that it made me consider is a Time Budget. We all think and know about Financial Budgets, but what about time? Time is a constrained resource. There are only so many hours in a day and each task that you undertake involves a certain commitment of time. How do you plan your day? Not planning alotted times can make you feel like you have accomplished nothing. Planning to dedicate a certain amount of each day (or a given day) to tasks like cleaning and laundry allows you to measure what you have accomplished, even though there is always more that can be done. By setting up a Time Budget you can feel accomplished and move on to the next task at hand. When my kids were little, I recognized that my time was limited and chose to dedicate the 1/2 hour after they were in bed to doing dishes and cleaning up in the kitchen. It allowed me to not feel bad about not getting everything done, as I was doing the 'time' that I had committed to. It gave me the chance to spend the evening enjoying my family and not worrying about cleaning up fully from dinner until after they were in bed. I didn't consider it a time budget at the time, but now I recognize that was what I was doing.

Overall, I think it is a good introduction to the concepts of planning and budgeting. I have never taken the Dave Ramsey course, but from what I have heard and read, it seems that she does reflect on many of the principles that he instills.

"Crystal Paine, who has helped busy women everywhere take control of their finances, presents her most effective strategies designed for families of all sizes and income levels

With hundreds of inspiring “why didn’t I think of that?” TIPS, plus WORKSHEETS, Paine breaks down your goals into easy, manageable steps so you can:

• Achieve a complete financial makeover
• Set up a realistic budget
• Never pay retail
• Slash your grocery bill
• Organize your time & your home
• Use coupons wisely
• Pay with cash only
• Live simply
• Become debt free
• Choose contentment
• Make every dollar count

About Crystal Paine:

Crystal Paine is a wife and homeschooling mom to three young children who has been writing on topics related to frugality for the last five years—and living a frugal, simple, and debt-free life since she was born. Her blog, MoneySavingMom.com, is one of the top personal finance blogs on the web averaging over four million pageviews per month. Crystal has contributed to articles in Woman's Day magazine and All You magazine, as well as being mentioned on National Public Radio and CNN.com, in USA Weekend, and Real Simple magazine and numerous other local newspapers and radio and television stations."


Special Event and Giveaway!
Celebrate with Crystal by entering her iPad2 Giveaway (a GREAT tool to keep track of your budget!) and RSVPing to the Live Webcast Event on 4/5!


One savvy winner will receive:

  • A Brand new iPad2
  • The Money Saving Mom's Budget by Cyrstal Paine, audio edition
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends 4/4/12. Winner will be announced at The Money Saving Mom's Live Webcast Event on 4/5. Crystal will be hosting an evening of chat, laughter and encouragement - bring your friends! She'll share tips and advice and her husband will be joining her to share how the prinicples Crystal outlines in her book have dramatically impacted their family life. She'll also be giving away some GREAT prizes: gift certificates, books, and much more!



So grab your copy of The Money Saving Mom®'s Budget and join Crystal and friends on the evening of April 5th for an evening of fun of learning, sharing and encouragement.



Want to see what other bloggers have had to say? You can check out the blog tour here.

You can head here to purchase a copy of the book.

No compensation was received for this post. A complimentary copy of the audio book was provided for me to listen to and share with my readers. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family.

Reading Kingdom

When my daughter started preschool this year, she filled out a survey about her likes/dislikes and what she was looking forward to and what she wanted to learn. Normally parents would fill out this survey, but because her brother was filling one out for his class, she wanted to do hers too, so I had to write all of her answers on the dry erase board so she could fill it out. In response to the question, what do you hope to learn about this year, her answer was reading. Being that she is in preschool and many of her friends are still learning their letters, the teachers have been working with her some on reading, but they have to focus on the larger class needs. So, what they are doing is while her classmates spend time each day learning to first recognize and then learn their first and last name, their address and their phone numbers, she has been working her way through some site words and associated books that focus on those site words and picture cues for the other words.

She really does want to learn and I think that her brother (who claims not to like to read) is her strongest influence. Frankly, she wants to do everything that he does. He has a daily reading goal for school, so he spends 15 minutes reading most nights once he climbs into bed. So, of course, when she goes to bed, most nights she also asks if she can read in bed. It really is rather sweet to peak in on. There she is 5 years old, 'reading' her chapter books and making up the cutest stories as she turns through the pages of nothing but words. I can't wait until she can read them.

So, when I learned about the online program, Reading Kingdom, I was curious, would this be a tool that could help my daughter achieve her goal?

The program allows the child to start with mouse and keyboard training, which helps them improve their skills with the mouse and keyboard. If they only need to work on one or the other, they can elect to do keyboard only or mouse only. If your child is already comfortable with both the mouse and keyboard, they can skip this section altogether.

The program starts with a skills assessment, which helps determine the right place to start them in the program. For my son, who is older and already reading, it moved him to the second section. For my daughter, who is just learning to read, it put her into the first section to work on Seeing Sequences and Letter Land. In Seeing Sequences, the focus is on getting them to recognize and repeat sequences. Initially, the sequence (word) they need to match by clicking on the right letters below, stays on the screen. Then, later in the program, they are shown the sequence (word) and then it disappears and they select the letters. Letter Land slowly moves them through the keyboard, helping them to become more familiar and comfortable with the keyboard.

After completing Seeing Sequences and Letter Land, or if those sections are needed based on Skills Assessment, the next sections are increasing levels of Reading and Writing. In this section, it very systematically moves them through the process, introducing them to new words and teaching them the building blocks. With each section, there are more words and the words and stories become more complex.

Assuming your child does about 4-5 sessions per week, it will take several weeks to get through the different levels. I like that it takes the time to allow your child to become fully comfortable with each level, but I can tell you that for an eager child, they sometimes ask why they are still doing this and not the next thing. I told my daughter that the program is making sure that she has had plenty of practice so that she is fully ready for the next level. To encourage her to keep moving through the sessions, I encourage her to do a session of Reading Kingdom before playing other programs on the computer.

She is still in the early section, working on Seeing Sequences and Letter Land (she is 90% and 81% complete respectively), but I can already tell that this program, coupled with what her teachers are helping her learn at school is really getting her moving towards reading. The other night, she read a book to me. It was rather cool. One other day, she came into my room early in the morning and was asking about a box, you know a 'b' - 'o' - 'x'. Which I found to be cute. I look forward to her continued progress in her quest to learn to read.

After having my older son play with the program for a few weeks, I can say that if your child can read, that the program really isn't geared for them. He humored me and worked through a few sessions so that I could look at how the lessons evolved. He reads chapter books, so it seems reasonable that a learn to read program is not for him. I wanted to see, since he is 8 and the recommended range is 4 - 10 years old. If your child is not fully comfortable with reading, it would be a great reinforcement tool, but from my experience a child that reads chapter books is likely beyond the program.

The program sends a weekly update e-mail to the parent updating you on their progress. You can see how they are progressing and how they are doing in each section - Good Performance; Very Good Performance or Excellent Performance. I like that I get an update by e-mail, but that I can also go in at any time to see how they are progressing. As a parent, you also have the option to have them repeat the Skills Assessment. This might be a nice way to go back and confirm their progress as they complete more of the sessions.

"The Reading Kingdom is more than a phonics program. It’s an online reading program for children ages 4 to 10 that teaches six skills needed for reading and writing success. Created by Dr. Marion Blank, one of the world's top experts in literacy, the reading system is beloved by parents and has helped thousands of kids to learn to read."

The Reading Kingdom was created by literacy and education expert Dr. Marion Blank, the Director of the Light on Literacy program at Columbia University. It goes above and beyond the traditional phonics programs you may already know. The program teaches children learning skills using six key skills needed for reading and writing success.

- Most kids can do this online reading program on their own after just a few lessons
- It's fun and children enjoy doing it
- It's created by Dr. Marion Blank, one of the world's top experts in literacy
- It works with any other curriculum a child may be using
- It's the only program to offer customized online reading instruction for each child
- And, it's the only system that teaches all 6 skills needed for reading & writing success!


You can learn more, by checking out their website at www.readingkingdom.com. They have information about the program, sample lessons and more. You can also take a more hands on approach by signing up at Reading Kingdom and taking advantage of the free 30-day trial. After that, the program is just $19.99 / month or save money (20%) by subscribing for a full year at $199.99 / year. If you are a teacher, you can also check out a 30-day trial and contact them directly about pricing for using this program in your classroom.

You can also Like Reading Kingdom on Facebook and Follow them on Twitter.

No compensation was received for this post. A complimentary one year subscription was provided to Reading Kingdom in order that my children and I could experience the program. All opinions expressed are mine or that of my family.