Just a blog about my adventures and mishaps in life.
Expect things like recipes, art, ways to save money,
fashion, creativity, beauty, babbling and randomness.
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Friday, August 15, 2014

School at Home is Not Homeschool (or so I've been told).

Week one of school is finally over! We both really like the new curriculum.

We've now started our 5th year of school at home and looking back I can say that it's been very challenging.

There are so many times that I wanted to rip all of my hair out and then run from the house screaming! (I'm sure Nate has also had this feeling).

And then there are those times when he does something really amazing and I look at him with just a tiny bit of tears in my eyes and know that I taught him that. Not some stranger, me. I taught him to read and to love reading, I taught him how to count, and after many frustrations how to multiply, I taught him that AZ became a state on Valentine's Day in 1912.

Over these years I've also learned just as much as he has. Not only have I relearned so much History and Geography, Science, and Art that I'd forgotten but I've learned, (am learning), patience, that imperfection is not only ok but necessary and best left uncriticized (in fact, it should be praised), and that sometimes a soft voice and a short break are more important than anything that the lessons could teach.
People always say they don't know how/why I do it...
How can I not?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Morning Star Farms Veggie Burger Review

*bzzagent is a word-of-mouth media channel that helps connect consumers with brands, companies and marketers to harness the power of honest opinions. In most cases, I have received a free product to try and give my honest opinion about. I received the products I'll be talking about from bzzagent.

Another fun campaign from bzzagent. First, let's talk about veggie burgers.
I. don't. like. them.
Haha! People say they taste like cardboard. I don't know if I would describe them that way but they definitely don't taste right.
So, I'm not a vegetarian, and I don't like veggie burgers. But...I decided to join the campaign anyway, and here's what I've learned.

I received a coupon from bzzagent for a free product from MorningStar Farms. There were quite a few different flavors to choose from at my local Fry's including a "Chik'n" and breakfast line. I picked the Mediterranean Chickpea Burgers. On sale for $3.49 for a box of 4.

(Looking back, I wish I would have included a ruler in the pic to show you how thin these are.) 110 calories and 4.5g of fat per patty is pretty good, but keep in mind that if you have a hearty appetite you're gonna need two of these babies. Even with two patties, the calories are low, but the fat is creeping up into a high zone, especially considering that you'll be eating other things (like a bun) with these burgers.

The recommended cooking instructions say to microwave, pan-fry, or bake. So I put them on the grill. lol Such a rebel!
I grilled them straight from frozen for a few minutes on each side at medium heat. I got some nice looking grill marks and also a bit of a crispness to the outside. You can see all of the texture in these burgers in this pic.

I was in a hurry to make dinner on this particular night so I just grilled some organic carrots and threw some brown rice in the rice cooker. I also made a simple tzatziki sauce for the burger since it had already had a Greek flair.

Tzatziki Sauce Recipe:
Peel, seed, and chop 2 cucumbers and put in a food processor with 1-2 containers of plain Greek yogurt, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 the juice from a lemon, 1 tbsp fresh dill, 3 cloves garlic. Blend until smooth-ish. Refrigerate for about an hour.

Now let's talk about taste. Personally, I noticed the texture more than the flavor of this burger. The texture was very interesting, it was almost like the inside of a processed chicken nugget but with a whole chickpea every once in a while. I make it sound bad but it was actually pretty good. I didn't think that the patty itself had a whole lot of flavor but I only had one on my bun and I told you earlier that these are thin. My husband had a double patty and he like the flavor a lot.
I think that if I were a vegetarian I would love these as an alternative to meat. They have a unique flavor and awesome texture. Personally, I doubt I'll buy them again, I'd rather have a good chicken or portobello burger.
But that's just me...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Burt's Bees Skin Care Line

*bzzagent is a word-of-mouth media channel that helps connect consumers with brands, companies and marketers to harness the power of honest opinions. In most cases, I have received a free product to try and give my honest opinion about. I received the products I'll be talking about from bzzagent.

I was so excited when I landed this campaign, I love Burt's Bees!

The bzzkit was great, as is the norm from my beloved bzzagent. :)

The products that I received are from the Intense Hydration line. There are several products in this line ranging from $9.99 to $17.99.

The Facts:
Clinically proven to hydrate
Reduces appearance of lines and wrinkles
Dermatologist tested and noncomedogenic
99% natural
probiotic technology
Can be found just about anywhere

As far as my personal experience, I should start by letting you know that my skin is unpredictable and pretty sensitive. Even B.B. cream makes me break out!
That being said, the products did feel a bit heavy on my face and, after about a week of use, I had a lot more congestion (blackheads), especially on the upper part of my cheeks. My skin felt greasy to the touch, not a good thing.
Keep in mind though, my skin is weird. I have several friends who use these products and love them.
I have 9 samples left from the pic above. If you'd like me to mail you one, just leave a comment below and email me with your address. After you've tried it, come back and let me know what you think.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Quick & Easy Weeknight Meals (freezable)

I just love knowing exactly what I'm going to make for dinner and exactly how long it's going to take during those hectic week nights.
Don't get me wrong, I love to cook from scratch, but I have a husband and 3 boys to feed and with all of the other things going on during the week I just don't always have time to slave over a hot stove.

But I still want to make healthy meals...

This ongoing dilemma is what inspired my post.

Have you ever heard of those boxed meals that come with "everything" you need to make dinner? I purchased one made by Banquet:

The package says that it serves 4. . . 4 what? It definitely didn't serve 4 of my family members! I also noticed that everything looked very processed and preserved, I mean even more so than most packaged food. It actually tasted pretty good but I knew I could do better.

My version of one-dish week night meals:

You'll need a few key ingredients to make several different versions of these casseroles. I literally made one of these meals every day for a week and no one got tired of it.

Let's start with one basic recipe:

What you'll need

1 big can Cream of Mushroom (or Cream of Chicken)
1/3 cup milk
1 - 1 1/2 cup frozen chicken
Powdered biscuit mix like Bisquik or Jiffy
1 - 1 1/2 cup frozen veggies
2/3 cup shredded cheese (optional)

Dump the creamed soup into an 8x8 pan and mix in the milk. (I use disposable pans for easy clean up.)
Mix in the chicken, then the veggies.

Mix in the shredded cheese and smooth it out.
Stop here and wrap tightly with foil if you want to freeze it, then you can put it in the fridge the night before cooking to let it thaw and proceed to the next step.
Mix your biscuit mix according to directions for drop biscuits. It's ok if it's a little lumpy.
Spoon the biscuits evenly on top of your mixture.
Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until biscuits are browned and cooked through. You can sprinkle shredded cheese on top during the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Another version of this one-dish meal is to start by adding a layer of mashed potatoes to the pan, mix chopped, cooked ham and veggies with country gravy and layer on top of potatoes, then add your biscuits on top.

My twist on chicken fettuccine alfredo
Add cooked noodles of your choice to one jar of alfredo sauce in your pan. Mix in one can of very well-drained tomatoes, 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, and 1-1 1/2 cups cooked chicken. Add some dried basil or other Italian seasoning if you'd like.

Add refrigerated breadsticks to the top.

Or try this one:
Cooked noodles, cheese sauce (or cr. of chicken), crumbled sausage, veggies, shredded cheese, refrigerated biscuits on top.

The possibilities are endless!

Use canned crescent rolls or biscuits.
Use shredded chicken, beef, cooked ground beef, sausage, bacon etc for your meat. Just make sure it's always cooked meat.
Use cream of chicken, cream of potato, cream of mushroom, cream of broccoli etc. or a combination.
You can also use several other types of sauces or gravies including spaghetti or alfredo sauce.
Any frozen or canned vegetables can be used including broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, etc. or a mix.
Add cooked noodles or rice to the mix.

You can make a bunch of these dishes in advance, (minus the bread), and freeze them for a whole month of ready-to-make meals.

More to come.

What are your favorite combinations?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Miss Aprril's Secret List of Freebies!

I don't know about you, but I LOVE free stuff! When I open my mailbox and a pile of little packages come tumbling out, my heart skips a beat! I've been compiling a list of my very favorite "free stuff" sites and here are just a few:

(Click the blue text for the link)

I've been an active member of BzzAgent since 2008! This site allows you to join "campaigns" where they will send you free, full-sized products to try in exchange for your opinion and feedback. They also want you to spread your opinion about the product,(whether good or bad), and report back. You earn a score based on how active you are. This is by far my favorite site for free stuff. Bzzagent goes above and beyond when sending out "bzzkits". If you check out my "product reviews" link. You can see just a couple of the bzzkits that I've received.
Bzzagent is also connected to MyPoints which is a site that gives you points for online purchases and things. Bzzagent gives you points whenever you complete certain tasks. It may take some time, but these points eventually add up to gift cards and things like that.

Target Samples
Target doesn't have a ton of samples but one reason that this site made my list is their Summer Beauty Bag.
Right around Summertime Target offers a version of this little goodie bag:

Don't get me wrong, they offer samples all year long, just keep checking back.

Walmart Samples
Same deal as Target, check often for new samples.

All You Samples
They post a sample a day, every day. You can click the calendar to go back through the ones you missed. Sign up for their email list to get it sent directly to your inbox.

House Party
I just found this site recently. You sign up to host a party pertaining to a certain product line and they'll send you a big ol' party pack with a bunch of free stuff to host your party. Definitely not for everyone, but if you like to have get-togethers check it out.

Centsless Deals
Awesome site that tells you about the latest freebies as well as smokin' deals on the web and in the grocery stores. You can sign up for their email list too.

Free Kindle Books
Offers free kindle books from up and coming authors. Some good stuff here, and super-easy to use.

Yes, this is a survey website. No, this is not a referral link. Haha. Seriously though, I normally can't stand survey sites but this one has been pretty great! They've sent me products to sample and take surveys on and I've already earned almost $90 (in e-rewards, which can be used for gift cards). The surveys are simple and pay well.

Last but not least, Cravebox. Ok, in all fairness, this is not a freebies site. It's a subscription site that gives you 5-6 products a month for a flat $10. There are two reasons I'm adding this to my list:
1. Their Limited Edition Boxes are an amazing deal for $10. When you sign up you can choose which limited-edition boxes you are interested in and they will notify you when the box is available. You can then choose if you want to be in the drawing. The boxes that I have received so far are, to me, valued much higher than what you spend. In fact, sometimes I wonder how they can be making money at all since the 10 bucks includes shipping. The boxes are themes like Spring Cleaning, Summer Beauty, Dog Lover's, Coffee Lover's, New Mom's, etc.
2. The 2nd reason I love this site is their AMAZING customer service! When their Back to School box shipped late, they sent out an apology email and gave everyone a refund. We still got the box! When they sent me chocolate (to AZ, in the summer) I sent an email telling them they were melted and they responded the same day and gave me free stuff! I can't say enough about the CS at this company.

So there you have it. This list is by no means all-inclusive but it should give you a good start if you want to get free things in the mail nearly everyday.
What are your favorite freebie sites?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Unreal Candy Review

*bzzagent is a word-of-mouth media channel that helps connect consumers with brands, companies and marketers to harness the power of honest opinions. In most cases, I have received a free product to try and give my honest opinion about.

I can honestly say that I'd never even heard about "Unreal Candy" until Bzzagent offered to let me try it. I did some research about the products and it's actually a pretty cool concept.
The basic idea is that "the worst parts of candy (like hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives) aren’t there to make it taste good. They’re there to make it cheaper to produce."
The company decided to take all of that extra stuff out of candy to make it healthier for us and possibly make it taste better. They use things like cacao, real caramel (not corn syrup dyed to look like caramel), more peanuts, protein, and fiber.
There are, by no means, meant to be a "diet" food. They're just a healthier version of well-known candy products.

Now on to the review:

My local Walgreen's had 5 different varieties of this candy, but I actually had to ask an employee where they were because they had their own display rack and weren't with the other candy. They were 89 cents each which isn't too bad even though they're a little smaller than the brand they copy.
Anyway, the five different flavors were a version of; peanut m&m's, regular m&m's, peanut butter cups, Snickers, and Milky Way.
I set out a mini candy buffet after dinner and we dug in. The first thing that I noticed, (probably the 1st thing you noticed), is that the m&m's are funky colors. They're very muted and dull which didn't bother me too much because I knew that the company used natural things to color their candy.

You shouldn't be under the impression that these taste just like the popular brand. They don't. They resemble them closely but there are definitely distinct differences.
One main difference is the taste of the chocolate. It's not as sweet and has a bit of an aftertaste, although, not a bad aftertaste.

The peanut flavored filling was pretty flaky, or crumbly. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, just different.

I'm not big on candy bars so I probably wouldn't buy these for myself, (unless they come out with a Twix version), but the kids and hubster really liked all of them and I would feel a lot better buying the Unreal version than the regular candy bars.
I think that people are so accustomed to the way that candy tastes now, their initial reaction might be to dislike Unreal. You would need to try it a few times to decided if you like it or not. Think of all the benefits of switching.

"Unjunk Your Candy"

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Paint Chip Art

(Click on photos for larger image)
I've actually been done with this project for some time now but I was putting off the blog because I wanted to make a frame for it. After trying (and failing) to make a frame due to lack of tools (and skill), I decided to hang it on the wall "as-is" and I have to say it turned out pretty cool.
Pret-ty cool...

Here's what you'll need:

Paint chips
These are little paper color samples that you can find at the home improvement stores or anywhere that sells paint. I choose these ones by Martha Stewart because 1. they didn't have any writing on them so I wouldn't have to cut them. 2. They had a bunch of different textures and sheen and all of the colors in the display went together perfectly.

Spray Adhesive
I used 3m but you could use pretty much any kind of glue, even stick glue, I guess. The main purpose is to make sure that the glue won't get your papers too wet or they will peel apart. I know this from experience! You also want to make sure that the glue won't leave lumps under the papers after they dry. So yeah, glue.

A Piece of Pressed Board
We got this at Home Depot for around $7. It's 1/4 in. I think. The best part is that they will cut the board to whatever size you need. Plan out your papers in advance and decide how big you want your board to be.

Wood Stain or Wood Finish
Darker is better in my opinion. I used Minwax Wood Finish in dark walnut.

Clear Coat
I used Polycrylic water based clear semi-gloss. They also have high gloss and matte. Experiment with what you like. :)

Modge Podge
I used matte

Start by separating your chips by color and lay them out to the side to find a pattern that looks good.

Glue the papers onto the board. Start in one corner and go across. Try to line them up if you can but don't get too concerned if there's a small gap here or there. You can see in the pic below that I had some gaps.

When I got to the end of each row, I noticed that my papers hung off of the edge by about 1/4 cm. If this happens, shave them off with a razor blade after the glue is completely dry. Try not to glue them around the corner, just let them hang off.

Here I applied a thin layer of modge podge to protect the paper from absorbing too much stain.

Once dry, apply the stain liberally to the entire front, let sit for a few minutes and wipe off. Don't rub too hard and don't rub it out of the cracks between your papers. If you plan on hanging without a frame, apply the stain to the sides of the board as well.

Apply a 2nd coat to really get in those cracks.

We want some of the stain to stay on the papers to help unify the colors.

Lastly, you'll want to apply several layers of clear coat, allowing each layer to dry before applying the next. Continue your layers until you can no longer feel the gaps or the edges of the papers. You want to make it as smooth as possible.
You can sand in between layers if you want to but it's not necessary.

Attach a hanging kit to the back and you're good to go. Experiment in different sizes, now that I know I can do it I'm going to make one that's about 2ft tall by 5 ft long to go over my bed.

If you decide to try it, send me a pic and I'll post it.
Good Luck!
Beyond The Picket Fence

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Baby Photo Props

UPDATE: You can now check out my etsy shop here

Here are a few things that I've been working on lately. I was thinking about selling these on Etsy. What do you think? (If you want to purchase one in the meantime, you can email me at aprril@hotmail.com)
Also working on a matching Minnie. How cute for twins!
A blue version of the sock monkey I made a few months back. I was also working on a pink one but I set it aside for now.
A recent request. I can't wait to see how it looks!

Now if only I had some baby models... :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Caprese on a Stick

Want a show-stopping appetizer for your next party?
Caprese pops are simple to make and a big hit!

Here's what you'll need:

Round Sourdough Loaf
1 Container of Mozzarella Balls
1 Container of Cherry or Plum Tomatoes
1 1/2 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar or to taste
2 tbsp Olive Oil
Olive Tapenade (optional)
1 tbsp Fresh Basil, chopped
1/2 tsp Lemon Zest
Colored Toothpicks

Mix mozzarella, olive oil, vinegar, basil, and lemon zest together and marinate in the fridge for at least an hour.
In the meantime, cut the tops off of the tomatoes and take out pulp and seeds. I used a small spoon to do this.
Add a dab of tapenade to the bottom of the inside of each tomato. Stick a toothpick up through the bottom of the tomato and put a marinated cheese ball into the tomato.
Stick the toothpicked tomatoes into the bread starting toward the bottom. Make sure you leave part of the toothpick sticking out so that the guests have something to grab.
This dish is pretty and delicious!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Lowfat Pumpkin Smoothie

With Fall right around the corner, I've noticed pumpkin recipes popping up all over Pinterest. Pumpkin donuts, pumpkin popper, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, (oddly enough, not one for pumpkin pie). I decided to join in the frenzy since Fall foods are some of my very favorite! I love the smell and the warmth of Fall cooking, it makes me feel so cozy.
Since I'm in AZ where it's still over 100 degrees in the day time, I decided on a pumpkin smoothie. And since I'm still trying to watch what I eat, I decided to make it as low-fat/calorie as I could without sacrificing flavor.
This turned out delicious and is perfect for breakfast, especially if you're like me and not a "big meal for breakfast" type person.

1 frozen banana (or just a banana)
1 single serve container non-fat vanilla yogurt (mine was 6oz)
1/2 cup to 1 cup pure canned pumpkin (I used half the 15oz can)
1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1-2 Tbsp honey
small handful of ice

Add everything to the blender or food processor and mix until smooth.
This was surprisingly filling and I gave half to my little guy. You could get creative and add things like oatmeal or bran and play around with the recipe. Unfortunately, I'm not very creative (or motivated) in the morning so I stuck to the basics. Enjoy!