Quick & Easy Zucchini Tortellini Dinner

Last night was another one of those:
"Mama, what we havin' for supper?" (said by TRex)
"Dunno yet, whatcha cookin' for me?" (I replied)
I was simply enjoying playing with my kids too much to realize I needed to cook some supper.

 So off to the pantry & freezer I went, to dig around and find some inspiration. Then I remembered the tortellini I had picked up at Aldi's last week. Throw that together with the fresh zucchini's I had also gotten, and half a jar of spaghetti sauce leftover... and BAM! We had supper. And a good supper.

You know how sometimes when you whip up a recipe with whatever you've got that cooks quick... and it turns out wonky, but you all eat it anyways because supper was 30 min later than usual, and you're all starving?  LOL... nope, never ever happens here :)
Well, this was NOT one of those suppers, I am proud to say I whipped it out super quick, and it was as gourmet as my cooking gets!

OMG it was sooo good. I have a weakness for zucchinis, and they were beyond delish.

2 ~8oz packages of tortellinis 
1 medium zucchini, sliced into half moons
1 cup spaghetti sauce of your choice
olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
Italian herb grinder (mine is from Aldi's called Pizza and Pasta Grinder)

Fill a large pot with enough water to cook your amount of pasta. Turn burner on high.

While waiting for water to boil, get zucchini going. Add just enough olive oil to coat bottom of non-stick skillet (I used my medium sized one). Set burner on medium, and dump in the garlic.

Wash zucchini well.  Slice into rounds, then cut into half moons. Stir around the garlic in the pan to distribute it well, then add in the zucchinis. Cook until mostly tender. Don't bother flipping every single one over, they'll get good and done when added into the pasta later. I like to get some golden spots on the zucchinis, and just barely brown up the garlic. That's when I know it's done for my taste.

Once your pasta water is boiling, add the tortellinis.  Cook per the package. Mine suggested 8 minutes. Drain pasta, add back into pot. Add cooked zucchinis. Dump in spaghetti sauce (your family might like it saucier than I do, add as much or little as you see fit). Add a couple cranks of the Italian herb & spice mix, depending on how your family likes it. Stir up to mix. Give it a minute on a warm burner if your spag sauce was refrigerated.

Serve hot with a side of fruit, maybe some garlic toast, and a glass of cold milk.


No More Bruised Bananas {Simple Solutions}

What the most perfect snack. It comes in its own wrapper, requires no silverware, and tastes oh so delish. 

Our family loves bananas. They are great on road trips (probably the cheapest gas station snack), in lunches, for breakfasts, and in banana bread. 

But how to tote it around without those nasty slimy bruises?

Well, when trying to throw together a healthy lunch this morning I had an idea... oven mit!

It's the perfect size, it's something we already have, and it is cushioned enough to keep the banana from getting banged up in my lunch sack. Yay! Problem solved. One of those "why have I never thought of that before?" moments!

Those brown spots on the banana aren't bruises, it's the freckles of a super sweetly ripe banana!! My favorite kind....mmmmm...
Now I think I might create quilted banana cozy's for Christmas gifts. I have so much sewing to do :)

Toddler's Busy Box {Part 2 - Finished Product}

I set out to make a busy bag.. well it turned into a box... full of fun and educational activities. None of the items are too small to worry about a small baby choking on them (you never realize how many kids toys are small until you have a baby that puts EVERYTHING in his mouth). Every piece of the busy box fits inside, so its easy to pick up and put away. I tried to make sure it's all stuff that can be done by a 3 year old, pretty much independently.

This post got way too long all together, and with so many pictures that I decided to split it up into two postings.  To see the inspiration with pictures and links, click here.

Super large formula can with lid
craft sticks (or popsicle sticks)
clothes pins
scrapbook paper & scraps
fabric scraps - any shape
Wide ribbon
Big button
hot glue & gun

The "box":
Instead of a bag, I decided to recycle a formula can. It's a giant cardboard can with a plastic lid (formula originally in bulk from Sam's Club). I liked the idea of an actual lid of a box/can versus just a bag. To me it's much easier to keep the kid's toys rounded up in things that shut nicely.

I used hot glue to attach two sheets of scrapbook paper around the outside. Then created a label "G---'s Busy Box", on contrasting paper scrap using some lettering stencils and marker. Then hot glued that on too.

The hot glue maybe wasn't the best idea, but I didn't think Elmer's would hold, and couldn't find my tacky glue. It was a pain to work with, since you can see the lumps where it cooled before I could flatten it out. Oh well!

The metal rim of the formula can was also pretty sharp. I was afraid of little hands getting cuts from this, so I wrapped it in some scrap of light blue bias tape. Perfect use for the little bit I had leftover from some quilts.

Counting wheel:

I knew if the counting wheel was on just plain paper, it would get smashed and crumpled in about 4 minutes. I don't have a laminator and was NOT going to be tracing and cutting a circle of cardboard.. too much work! Plus... how would it fit into the box nicely? So I incorporated it into the lid of the box, now it can't get crumpled, won't get lost, and doesn't need to be a certain size to live inside the box.

Using scrapbook paper, I traced the lid. Then cut out just a tad smaller. Many blogs I read suggested to use stickers, but I didn't have any small stickers in those quantities. Using a stencil acquired from my lovely semester of drafting class, I make perfect little circles. Remember to do this BEFORE gluing it in... yup... mistake I made :)

I originally used Elmer's glue to fix it to the underside of the lid, but quickly learned it wouldn't hold on the plastic. A small ring of hot glue on the very edge of the lid worked perfect, plus it will deter little fingers from prying the paper up.
The first attempt of numbering clothespins, I went the easy route, and just used sharpie straight on the pin. Well... soon did I realize that it didn't look so great. The marker would bleed into the wood grain, making it look messy, and somewhat unreadable (especially for a kiddo just learning his numbers, clarity is key!). Those yucky looking numbers got covered in little scraps of paper that I glued on. Then the pins got renumbered. Much, much better!!!

Craft stick puzzles:
I printed off some Halloween realted graphics from my favorie site, The Graphics Fairy.

Then using my paper cutter, cut them into the width of the craft sticks.

Using two strips of masking tape, aligned the craft sticks in a row. Glued them on with Elmers.

I was concerned about those every picking and prying toddler fingers, so I ended up giving them a couple quick coats of clear spray paint. I'm thinking Modge-Podge would work too? But I don't have any of that...

Here are the finished puzzles, held together with painters tape so that my newphew knows what they look like before taking them apart to play.

Upper-/Lower-case Alphabet Spoons:
How awesome is this idea!?! I love this because
1. It takes less than $2 of spoons from the Dollar Tree
2. What toddler doesn't love to play with silverware? (We are constantly reminding TRex that spoons and forks are for eating, not playing)
3. If a few break or get lost, it's an easy cheap fix for my sister!
At age 3, I know that this activity would be a huge challenge for TRex - it wouldn't be an independant activity at all. So I added a little hint! On the very bottom of the handle, on the backs of the uppercase spoons, I wrote a little lowercase of that letter. So it essentially just makes it a matching game - flip over the white spoon to find the little letter, then find the clear spoon to match. I figure the repitition of seeing upper & lowercase letters side-by-side will help him learn pretty quick!

And my favorite - The Button Snake!
I have been wanting to learn how to make button holes on my machine for a while now, and this gave me the perfect practice! I knew my nephew wouldn't mind a few wonky button holes as I experimented with the settings on my sewing machine, so I jumped on the opportunity to do this.

I have a ton of 6inx6in squares of fabric from plans to make a quilt that I never did. I picked out some blues and reds to use for this. I cut the squares in half - making 2 retangles of each. Turned them right sides in, sewed all around but left a gap. Turned right-side-out, ironed, and used zig-zag stitch to add contrast around the edge.

Next, I learned to use my button hole setting!!! I sewed, and sewed and sewed. Then pined each end of the button holes, and cut them open. Once I got the hang of it, it was a pretty automatic process... it took no brains and became an assembly line of fabric squares. All together the squares for the button snake probably took about an hour.

I had about 2 feet leftover of wide baby-blue ribbon that I had used to make tie-backs for TRex's curtains last year. The best part was that the very end was fray-checked, so I didn't have to do any sewing or fray-check myself!! About 2 or 3 inches from the end, I sewed on just one of the finished squares. At the other end, I sewed on the large button (which was a spare from my favorite H&M cardigan).
I buttoned on all the squares, and it was ready to go!

I know that TRex struggles with buttons, and this is the perfect teaching tool. With a large enough button for toddler fingers, and fun colors to make patterns, I know it's something that would get a lot of attention in our house!

And that's it! Busy Box finished!!!

All you mama's of more than one child know that the transition for a toddler to suddenly not be the center of attention can be rough... and I hope that this gift to my nephew will make it easier for him, and his mama in the first few weeks of meeting the new baby.

Toddler's Busy Box {Part 1 - Inspiration}

My sister is due in about a month with her second little boy - making my parents proud to have 2 daughters that gave them four grandsons :)

A few weeks back we held a "sprinkle" for her, just a small get together of some close family and friends. Sprinkles are usually just diapers and wipes, but of course we all couldn't help ourselves and have already spoiled that little boy rotten with the cutest darned outfits ever! I made from my fabric leftovers two adorable bibs, as well as a taggie toy that crinkles.

I drew back on a few memories of when I was pregnant and then also when Baby C had first arrived, as inspiration of what to give my sister at her shower.

When my sister thew my baby show last year, she was so kind and generous to also give T a few gifts. All the attention being on the baby in Mama's tummy can really make an older sibling feel left out, and just a small gift of toy animals and books really tickled T!

Another very kind gift that a friend got after Baby C was born was a pack of puzzles and a Thomas the Train movie for T. She said it was stuff to keep T busy, so I could be a little more hands free to nurse baby, or give Daddy a bigger break so Mama can sleep. I've just been so touched how family and friends have welcomed T into the family with such open arms, and been so very thoughtful.

I've mentioned in many of my other posts that finances are very tight right now. I would have loved to buy my nephew DVD's, toys, and games, but even $50 extra right now isn't possible. But who needs store-bought toys, when I've got a craft stash big enough to make some awesome things... oh yeah, and Pinterst to get the most amazing ideas :)

So away I went to make a busy box - here's my inspiration:

Uppercase & Lower Case Matching

Popsicle Stick Puzzles

Button Snake

Number Counting Wheel

I had hoped to not spend any money at all on craft supplies, but since most of it was cheap, and only required partial amounts of what you'd buy in the store, it wasn't too big of a deal.

I set out to make a busy bag.. well it turned into a box... full of fun and educational activities. None of the items are too small to worry about a small baby choking on them (you never realize how many kids toys are small until you have a baby that puts EVERYTHING in his mouth). Every piece of the busy box fits inside, so its easy to pick up and put away. I tried to make sure it's all stuff that can be done by a 3 year old, pretty much independently.

This post got way too long all together, and with so many pictures that I decided to split it up into two postings.  To see the tutorial & finished project of the Busy Box, click here. {if the link isn't working, check back soon! I'm still in the process of writing it all up :) }

Keeping a Naughty Boy Busy - Tot Books

Pre-post note: I've been trying to come up with cute nicknames for the kids for the blogosphere and I think I'll start calling our 3-year-old T-Rex. He LOVES a dino book we have, and it's pretty fitting for his loud personality :)

I know TV rots kids' brains, and that parents should strictly limit the amount of exposure, it's on at our house much more than probably should be. When we get home, Baby needs a bottle, then right afterwards I start supper - then TV is what keeps T-Rex preoccupied and out of the kitchen while I cook. Let me make a few more excuses for the one thing I'd said I'd never do when I was a parent...the only TV shows we allow him to watch are definatly age appropriate, with no violence. I've even stopped letting him watch Thomas the Train, just because the characters are so sassy (another bad habit of T-Rex).

Our habit of letting T-Rex watch too much TV got even worse when Baby was born. Exhausted parents, hands tied up nursing a little one, it all was just easier to sit T-Rex down on the couch and veg.

We also have new rules in the house that naughty boys don't get to watch any TV. Then the challenge becomes that Mama has to come up with creative ways to keep T-Rex interested and stimulated while dealing with a grumpy, angry, or just not-having-a-good-day type of boy. (We've been having A LOT of these days lately....)

Somewhere in the world of Pinterest I found a wonderful website written by a mom of 3 who homeschools: 1plus1plus1equals1.com. I am not a teacher by any means, but yet want to help teach my children the skills they will need. There are printables for toddlers, preschoolers, kindergardeners, and older kids. I've only really explored the "tots" section, but am really blown away by it!

I really want T-Rex to start to read. He knows all of the letters, upper and lower case, but hasn't started to put together the recognition of short words. He also can't draw letters either (or shapes for that matter). I've printed off the Thanksgiving pre-school pack and plan to do it bit by bit with T-Rex this week.
The best part is that some of the activites will require me to guide him - tracing letters. But there are others that I can simply give him instructions, and let him go on his own - color by number, sorting people from shapes.

I do enjoy making things for my children, but the simplicity of printing this off is what has totally won me over :)

I can't wait to start this with him and I'll update on how he likes it!
Super huge thank you to the creator of these activity books!

Tot Books & Packs

Easy Pantry Chili {Slow cooker & Freezer Meal}

With Mr E back to work (it really is a blessing he found work so quickly in this economy!), I feel my already busy hands not capable of carrying the whole load of housework, cooking, and raising children not glued to TV. I could get it all done if I ignored my children, but they come first.  I'm trying to simplify life, not let chores distract me from what's really important.

One of those ways is a crock pot supper like this.

I prepped the meat and mixed together all the ingredients the night before. In the morning, I dumped it all into the crockpot, set on low, and when supper time rolls around, all I have to do is dish it up!

Ingredients, well other than I almost forgot the corn!
1 1/2 lbs ground hamburger 90% lean
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 Tbsp chili powder  - use more if you like a kick, we are a spice-less prefering family
1 tsp powdered garlic
1 tsp McCormick Garlic & Bell Pepper (optional)
2 cans beans (I used 1 black bean & one kidney bean)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can crushed tomatoes (this is a bigger can.. sorry I don't remember how many ounces!)
1 bag of frozen corn

In a large skillet, add hamburger and onion. Cook on medium until hamburger is cooked through, and onions are soft and translucent. Add chili powder, garlic, and garlic/bell pepper mix, stir well.  Add in any other spices that your family enjoys in chili (cayenne, tabasco sauce, oregano, cumin, etc)

While the onions and hamburger cook, empty cans (do not drain!) & corn into large tupperware.

Let hamburger and onion mixture cool. Add to tupperare. Store in frigde overnight.
The picture to the right shows the hamburger all browned up, and the tender onions. See how translucent they are? Yum, I could eat the computer screen!

Morning of - dump into crock pot (4 quart or larger will do), and set on low. Dish up with a dollop of sour cream and shredded cheddar.

Serve with rolls, and fruit.

Freeze leftovers for a heat & eat meal! Want more freezer meals? Check out some recipes and reviews here.

T - our 3 year old - actually ate quite a bit. He's been in a very picky phase lately, so the fact that he took about 10 bites means a seal of approval.

I thought it was too bland, so I ended up sprinkling a couple more pinches of chili powder onto mine. It was just perfect. I wiped my bowl clean with the biscuits I served :)

Fall Frame Wreath from Broken Picture Frame

Finished Project!

You wouldn't believe how many of my large picture frames have had the glass broken out of them.  I guess when you move 6 times in 5 years, that'll happen.

So what to do with them?

I saw on a linky party, someone used a frame as a front door wreath (I'm sorry, if I would have pinned it I would link back, promise!). Well, I thought I'd take that and adapt it for my apartment, and make an fall frame wreath for my dining room.

What to do with a plain frame?

No more black frame  - it'll be painted the green that I'm trying to tie into the dining room & kitchen.  Since I was going to paint it, I thought I should sand it - so that the paint would adhere well. Looking back on it, probably more work that I really needed to do for something that would just sit on the wall.

Sanding in Progress
 Sanding took a lot of time. It was messy, so I wanted to do it outside, but with losing more daylight with each day, it was difficult to do so once the kids were in bed. ...I have picture of the sanding in progress... I will upload them this evening!

Next, I used a wide paint brush and hand painted the green on. It was a matte wall paint.  It took about 3 coats total, but was tricky to get good even coverage around all those little beading details. Thank goodness painting relaxes me, because it took some patience!

I am not fond of matte paint, and didn't want the green to end up scuffing onto the walls when trying to mount it straight, so I decided to give it a quick couple coats of clear gloss. Like my Ziploc boxes that double as mini sawhorses? Hey, ya do what you can with what ya have :)
Clear Gloss Spray

Now for embellishments:
Using some scrapbook leftovers of yellow plaid paper and brown ribbon, I quickly whipped up the "Welcome Fall" strung banners. I attached each flag with hot glue, then the ribbon with hot glue as well to the inside back of the frame.

Just the banner didn't seem like enough to me.  Made up some pinwheels, used a marker to add some depth to the edges, and hot glued them to the frame. Half of a larger pinwheel is then glued in the corner of the frame as well.

I'm not sure how I feel about how it turned out. It feels too plain to me still, although maybe that's just because the pinwheels aren't my typical style.  It also doesn't feel very much like autumn with the bright springy green frame. Oh well. I plan on changing out the ribbons for other sayings to correspond with other seasons, so it can be a dynamic wall hanging.

The cost of this project:
$0.00  Wahoo!

Everything I used was already in my stash - paper scraps, ribbon scraps, markers, and frame with no glass just waiting to be crafted :)

I'm getting really good at this whole free-crafting thing.

Sewing the Cutest Baby Bibs Ever

For all you that sew or quilt, isn't it a constant challenge to decide how to use up those little bits of fabric left over from big projects? I always get these fab ideas, then realize my scraps aren't big enough :(  I run into creative dead ends all the time.

Well not this time! 
How adorable are these bibs? 

How much did they cost? Nothing. Bam, even more awesome!  

When I was pregnant, I got on a sewing kick to make blankets for sick kids through Project Linus. They are a wonderful charity.  Here, I'll go on my soap box about them for a minute. They take donations of all sorts of blankets: knitted, crocheted, no-sew fleece, quilts.  These then get distributed to sick children (babies in the NICU, and children in hospitals), children affected by disasters or loss (house fire, family turmoil).  A warm, soft and hand made blanket means so much to kids, and lets them know that they are loved, even by people they've never met.
Thanks for listening... now onto my bib project :)

The material I used was left over from a few of the Project Linus quilts I've made:
  • brown flannel for the front
  • brown and blue elephant/peanut material contrast for the front
  • earthy blue-teal cotton for the back
The flannel will be great choice for the front - soft to wipe baby's face, and dark color so it won't stain easily.   The busy print of the contrast material will hide stains well too, and it used up the very last scraps I had of this fabric.

How I did it:

1. Trace bib adding extra around the edges for seam allowance. I also free-hand drew it longer by a couple inches, Baby C is a puker, and there is nothing more annoying than 3 changes of clothes simply because a bib isn't long enough.
- here you can see that my fabric is doubled over, since I made 2 bibs.

Cut out along the lines.  

2.  Take the newly cut out fabric, and use as a pattern on the backing material. 
Since it was somewhat free-handly drawn, using the cut-out piece as the pattern makes sure that you'll have front and backs that are copies of eachother.
 - if you're using material that has right/wrong sides to it (mine didn't), you'll want to make sure that  the front and backs of the bib is mirror imaged of eachother.

4. Cut backside fabric.
I don't know why I didn't remove my front sides when cutting... it was late :)

 5. Now it's time to add your embellishment, or contrast fabric to the front part.
How cute are these little circus elephants and peanuts? Get it, little peanut... ha, ha. I must need some more coffee this morning.
I wasn't sure if I wanted it at the very bottom, or the middle.You could add an applique, do some embroidery stitching, or add a crumb catcher at this stage too.  Get creative!

6. Pin your contrast material to the right side of the front bib material.

7. Attach contrast/embellishment. Using zig-zag, and very short stitch, I sewed tops and bottoms of the contrast. You could also iron under the cut edges, and sew it down for a more crisp finished look.

 8.  Now place the wrong sides of the top and bottom bib pieces together. Pin all the way around except for leaving a gap to turn it right side out again. I chose to have my opening at the bottom.
Sewn around edges with a opening.

9. Outside curves get notched, inside curves. This helps the edges stay flat when turned right side out.

10.  Turn right side out, and iron.  The strap that goes around the neck can be a pain to turn right side out. Be patient, go little by little. Use a knitting needle to stick through, or gently grab the material with a pin to pull through.

11.  Add finishing stitch around the edge.  I used zig-zag, since that's as decorative as my ancient machine gets. You could use all sorts of fun quilting stitches if you have a machine that can handle it. Or just use a straight stitch with contrast color. Go slow around corners, pivot with needle in the fabric around tight spots.
12.  Add snap.  Done!!

Ok.. so I don't have my snaps or snap pliers yet, they just got shipped from IL yesterday, I'm hoping they arrive very soon! I will be sure to get these bibs done right after I receive it in the mail, then post pictures and wrap this post up. 

I just love how these turned out, what a feeling to see something so cute come together from scraps of fabric.  They did take some time - probably because I did two at once, and made up the design as I went along.