Monthly Archives: December 2007

Feature Friday Fun

This is also on my calendar, but I want to highlight something fun and cheap for kids to do when it starts to get cold outside.  Kentwood Recreation has “Bouncin’ Babies & Tumblin Todders Time” each Friday (excluding holidays) from 10:00AM through noon.  It is for kids 6 years and under, and is $1 per child.  They just open up the gym and let the kids run amok. The staff is very friendly, and will get chairs out for the moms (and occasional dad, or grandparent) to sit and chat it up with the other moms carefully watch their children play. 

They have a few toys on hand too; mostly balls and some baby stuff but you can bring your own. If you are really ambitious, like my friend Jill, you can even bring bikes and scooters for your kids.  Or, you can be lazy like me and let your kids borrow bikes from the other kids.  If this is your game-plan, my advice is to bring a snack to share so you don’t look like a total mooch.

It goes by quick, and guarantees a nap for anyone under three and at least a little rest time from the older crew. Kentwood Rec is at 355 48th Street and the number is 656-5270.  Where is 48th Street? That’s a good question, and I have to hunt for it every time I go.  It runs between Division and Eastern, if that helps.  Once you find it though, it’s perfect playtime for the six months out of the year that weather outside is frightful!


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Gifts In A Jar

The Winter Bazaar

I have done a cookie exchange with my Mom’s Club for several years now.  This is the first year I have been the organizer though, and I decided to change the rules.  Previously, recipes were submitted and approved before the exchange.  Candies, fudge and the like were not allowed.  Why anyone would prevent the addition of fudge to their holiday diet is beyond me.  I basically did away with the rules, allowing for a little more creativity.

I made a ‘Cookie In A Jar’ rather than baking cookies (or fudge, or whatever) for everyone.  I left the “To/From” card blank to allow for re-gifting because they make perfect last minute gifts. 

There are a bazillion recipes for cookies in a jar, but the secret for these is to have a ‘tamper’. 

 Norpro Pastry and Tart Tamper It’s a wooden tool with flat ends that comes with the Ball Gift Jar kits (which I found on sale this fall for $1.87 each).  It’s what you use to squish down the ingredients so they are packed in and have that nice ‘layered’ look. Going forward, I can just use a regular wide mouth canning jar without buying the kids now that I have the tamper. 

I got carried away with the jar gifts, and decided to make teacher gifts in a jar too.  I layered red, black, and white beans in a jar which filled it about 3/4 of the way full. The kits also included a cute, pre-cut piece of fabric for the lid, a wooden tag, a recipe card, and pretty string.

Then, in a square of cheesecloth I put:

  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons dried onion
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

I tied the cheesecloth with cooking twine, and set it on top of the beans.  I attached a recipe card with the following instructions:

Three Bean Chili 

Remove spice bag from jar; set aside.  Place the dried bean mixture into a saucepot.  Cover dried beans with cold water and soak overnight.  Drain.  Cover beans with 2 inches of fresh, cold water.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 1 1/2 hours.  Add 1 pound of browned ground beef, 2 14 ounce cans of diced tomatoes; the tomato sauce and the contents of the spice bag.  Mix well and cook on low heat for 1/2 an hour.

TabascoIt occurred to me that people might not be very excited about basically getting a jar of dried beans, so I found some inexpensive stockings and put a box of Jiffy Corn Bread mix, a can of tomato sauce, and very cute tiny jars of Tobasco sauce to give with the jars. 

I’ve gone gift jar mad. Someone needs to stop me…


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Tea For Two (Year Olds)

When I was about 15 my mom, sister and I took a big camping trip across the US.  It was amazing, and left me with some very special memories.  One in particular was when we were eating at a very fancy place called “Chateau Lake Louise“. 

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta

The food was great, it was a beautiful restaurant with an awesome view.   The other people eating there were surely vacationing in the Chateau, not rolling up from their campsite at Banff National Park in a station wagon with a cargo carrier on top. We looked like we had been camping for a month because, of course, we had. 

I was embarassed.  I announced to my mother in an adolescent huff that, “Everyone in here has more class than we do.”  She told me to take a good look around. Our fellow patrons looked the part; with their nice clothes and enviably clean hair.  On closer inspection I saw that they were shovelling in their food with the wrong forks, rendering them more a gardening tool than a utensil.  Food was chewed loudly, in large bites, and with open mouths. Napkins were still on the table, or worse, tucked into their shirts.  My Mom said, “You know your manners. You could eat with the Queen (we were in Canada, after all); money doesn’t buy you class.” 


I recently took Maybelle to a local place called “Etissentials“.  Wanting to get her started on the proper footing, etiquitte wise, we attended the “Nutcracker Suite” Tea.  She was one of the youngest people in the place, but behaved herself beautifully.  She knew that her little napkin went on her little lap, and was quiet when the hostess was speaking.  I was so proud, and know that my mom would have been too. 

We have one area we need to work on however.  The food is brought to the table on something like a cake pedistal, and Maybelle ate every morsel of food on our table and even borrowed a cupcake (she had only had two, after all) from a neighboring table.  At least she won’t be the girl who orders a salad just to appear dainty on a date.

I enjoyed our tea time together, but found it very expensive.   Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I didn’t eat anything, but I was disappointed in the food. I’ve had tea in Germany, and they don’t mess around with these little tiny crustless sandwiches. It’s like Taco Bell’s “Fourthmeal”, except it comes at a much better hour – around 10:30 AM just when breakfast is wearing off and lunch is dangerously far away.

I don’t know how much kids pick up in a few hours about etiquette, so I guess it’s like everything else – if you want your kids to learn good manners you just have to teach them yourself. Sigh.

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Breakfast With Santa

By now, it’s probably not a secret that I love to cook.  My husband and I have a dream vacation that includes taking a trip to France together.  Once we get there, he heads for the Tour de France, and I take off to attend a cooking school with Patricia Wells.  Our children are not incorporated into this dream vacation, which is just fine, as by the time we would be able to afford it they will be quite capable of being on their own for a few weeks.


For now, we watch le Tour on le Television, and I poke around looking for chances to learn more about my passion from the pros. I recently heard about an opportunity to cook with R. Stanley, an amazing chef in Kalamazoo. This is coming up in February, and I started inquiring as soon as I heard.

It didn’t occur to me immediately that the name of the place sponsoring the event was “Young Chef’s Academy“.  All I saw was a chance to cook with a master.  Once it occured to me that this was a joint for kids, of course I was even more interested.

As it turns out, Young Chef’s Academy is quite the little cooking school.   They have weekly classes (a little difficult for those of us in Grand Rapids) but also camps, workshops, birthday parties, and field trips.  I quickly signed A.P. up for “Breakfast With Santa”.  We cruised down there last weekend, dropped Maybelle off for an afternoon with “Gampa” and were on our way.

The best way to picture this is to think of one of those “meal preparation” kitchens, but designed for kids.  The hosts are excellent at communicating with the young ones and explain everything that is happening.  And of course, everyone gets a turn to stir, dump, and scoop. 

Mid-way through the event, Mr. Claus came strolling through the front door with his lovely bride.  They assembled the kids in a story-time type circle and sang a few songs and talked to the Mr. and Mrs. Santa.  Each child got to sit on Santa’s lap, and then it was time to get back to work.   The kids now had a purpose: French Toast for Santa.

It was quite good, and so was the White Hot Chocolate and Breakfast Cereal Muffins.  A.P. had an absolute blast and really enjoyed his table-mates.  They all had a good time and  were the loudest table by a long shot.

The kids were sent home with the recipes and great memories.  Of course we had to make French Toast about 4 times last week, but that’s OK.  It will hold me over until I get to make the real thing. Bon appétit!

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The Last Thing You Need

I am certain that no one is in short supply of things to do right now, but just in case… don’t forget to check Big Binder’s Calendar (there is a tab up at the top of the page) for fun stuff in the upcoming weeks.

One highlight is the Grand Rapids Symphony Lollipop concert in January.  It will be Peter and the Wolf this time, and if you haven’t been, you really should! Before the show, the musicians let the kids get an up-close look at their instruments and the entire performance is fun for kids while sneaking in some musical education to boot.

It’s really reasonably priced, too.  The tickets are $5 per person and it’s all general admission so get there early for a good seat.  You know I can’t pass up an opportunity to save money so I’ll also tell you that if you order off the website, you will pay Ticketmaster fees.  Ugh! Stick it to the Ticketmaster; that’s the Man if there ever was one.  

A better choice is to call the Symphony direct and order (using a credit card).  The number is 454-9451 and you will just pay a $1 fee per ticket.  Or, if you are downtown you can just buy tickets at the Symphony offices (300 Ottawa, Suite 100 across from Calder Plaza) and pay no service fees.  Parking may outweigh your cost savings unless you’re downtown for something else.

You can also buy tickets at the door for no extra fee, but remember you’ll be waiting in line for tickets, then waiting in line for seats, then sitting for a 1/2 hour or so during the performance and if your kids are anything like mine this combination will not float.

Check out the other stuff in the Calendar too, I’m updating constantly!

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Are You Smarter Than A… Marketing Department?

Yes, it’s been a long time.  I figured I had better come out swinging and give you all some REALLY good information to make up for it. So here it is… the Pennance Post.

As you know, I have been working a seasonal job.  It has been a great experience and I have loved it (except the part where I forgot what my husband looked like, and not having any time to horse around or more importantly.. to blog).  But really, why did I work?


I used to be in sales, and I got really ‘good’ when I figured out I could sell any product if it would do one of two things for a company.  First, if it could increase revenues.  This is equivalent to my getting a job – and bringing more money into our household.  The other thing I could do was decrease expenditures, or save a company money.

This is where Savings Angel comes in.  The expenditure with the most flexibility in a household is food.  Start planning meals, and you have saved by not having to run to the store every night or eat out.  Start using the grocery ads to plan your meals, and you have two steps down.. now you are making meals with ‘sale’ items.  Add coupons and you’re really cooking with gas. 

Prior to discovering Savings Angel, this is where I was.  I fancied myself a pretty frugal grocery shopper, and I was right.  I did experience some frustration though when I would get to a store, my fistful of coupons in hand, and see that an item for which I had a coupon at home was on an un-advertised sale.  Grr! Even worse, when I was in line behind someone with coupons I had never seen before.  Where did they come from? Don’t we all get the same coupons in the Sunday paper?

I mentioned previously that I tried a service which lists all unadvertised sales and suggests when to ‘stock up’ on an item at its lowest price.  I found too many errors and it wasn’t worth the price, in my opinion. I loved the concept though, and kept searching.  I found Savings Angel and LOVE IT. 

You get a listing of all sales, unadvertised and advertised for Walgreens, Rite Aid, Family Fare, and Meijer.  You get a list of coupons to match the sales, bringing the prices down even more.  This includes coupons from magazines and online printable coupons in addition to the Sunday paper.  For me, it is a timesaver and a money saver. 

If you are interested, try it here.  You get a two week free trial, and don’t have to give a credit card for the trial.  After that, it’s just under $5 a week.  In my experience, it has been more than worth it.

Oh yeah, the best part? It’s a West Michigan thing so it appeals to my ‘local’ sensibilities.  No one knows how to pinch a penny like West Michigan, and now we have have another tool.

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