Preparing for the future with AZ529

All this news of hurricane Sandy has brought planning for the future to my thoughts. Not only preparing for my family's physical needs but also our monetary needs in the future. Currently my kids are 5 and 7 and sadly we have not even begun to think about saving money for their college educations. Right now it seems like college is a long ways off, but I know it will be here in a snap.

I was excited to learn about the AZ family college savings plan. (AZ529 plan). With a 529 plan you can  contribute monthly to a savings account and have those contributions be tax exempt at both the federal and state levels.



I spent some time looking at the AZ529 website and I got tons of great information. Here is some of the things that really stuck out to me about the AZ529 plan:
  • Married couples filling jointly can deduct up to $1500 a year
  • The money in your 529 account is not considered when determining financial aid awards. Meaning that when it's time to determine financial aid, you won't be penalized for planning ahead and saving your money.
  • The savings can be used at all U.S. DOE accredited universities, colleges, private colleges, and vocational schools in the U.S., as well as eligible foreign institutions
  • Anyone can make contributions. What a great idea for grandparents and other family members. Christmas time is coming right up!
  • The best news for me is that you can start contributing with as little as $15 a month. We don't have a lot of extra money each month, but $15 is totally doable and I can feel good that I am doing something to plan for the future. 
Keep in mind that it is a tax deferred plan, meaning that when you withdraw the funds you will be required to report the income. You can get even more information about the tax incentives offered on the AZ529 website.

This is my youngest child. The two things she loves most in the world is coloring and piggy banks. So if given the opportunity to color a piggy bank, she is in heaven. Everyday that I look at my kids, I want the best for them now and in the future. I know that is what every parents wants. I am glad I had the opportunity to learn more about the #AZ529 plans. It has really gotten me excited to learn more and start saving for my childrens bright future.

Dis­clo­sure:  This post is spon­sored as part of the #AZ529 Col­lege Sav­ings Month Blog Tour with Mom Select.

Ashley

Stuffed Pepper Pumpkins

I walked into the grocery store yesterday and saw some beautiful orange bell peppers. I was hit that these would make some awesome stuffed pepper "pumpkins." I have wanted to try making some stuffed peppers for awhile now, so this was perfect. It will be so surprise that this native Arizonan decided to go with a Mexican style filling.

Perry the Platypus Tote Bag

When I asked my son what he wanted to be for Halloween, there was very little hesitation before he said Ferb, from Phineas and Ferb. I was totally on board with that decision because we really like Phineas and Ferb too. Ferb isn't really too much of a costume, and I was afraid that people might not recognize him. Then I got the idea to make a Perry the Platypus/Agent P trick or treat/tote bag.



I even made a template to share so you can make one too! I am not going to walk you through making a tote bag. If you need some help, here is a tote bag tutorial you can reference. I used felt, so it was very easy.
I will tell you that for the straps, I cut two pieces of felt that were 3" x 19". I simply folded it in half and then stitched around all four sides. The felt won't fray and I don't even think you can really notice that there is a raw edge showing on one side.

Supplies:

  • Perry the Platypus Template - click the link to see and download the PDF
  • White Felt (Eyes and Pupils)
  • Brown felt (Irises) - I used black, but it should be brown
  • Gold felt (beak)
  • Turquoise tote bag
  • Brown crayon/brown sharpie - For outlining the beak
  • Black 3/8" ribbon for the eyebrows
  • Black Sharpie - to outline the eye pieces
  • FABRI-TAC fabric adhesive - found in the glue section of Jo-anns

Directions:   

  1. Print and cut out the template pieces on cardstock.  Trace and cut out the number and color of pieces specified in the template, except for the beak.  IMPORTANT: Do NOT cut out the beak until you complete step 3.
  2. Outline the eye pieces with a black sharpie or fabric marker. Make sure you reverse one of the eyes, so they will look like mirror images when you glue them on. Use the FABRI-TAC to assemble your eyes.
  3.  For the beak: After you have traced the pattern onto the gold felt, outline the beak with a brown crayon. At this time, also make the arch line that goes through the middle of Perry's beak. It is nearly impossible to outline with the crayon once you have cut it out. Cut out the beak. 
  4. Turn your iron onto a low setting(no steam) and gently press down on the beak. Lift up and wipe off any melted crayon on your iron. Continue to press, lift, and wipe until the crayon has completely melted into the felt. Take care not to slide the iron around on the felt or the crayon will smear. Eventually your iron will come up clean and you can slide the iron around with no smearing. I really liked the effect and I didn't have to go buy a brown pen! 
  5. Glue your eyes and beak onto your turquoise felt with the fabri-tac. 
  6. Using black 3/8" ribbon add your eyebrows. I used hot glue for the eyebrows, as the fabri-tac is too hard to be that precise with. Make sure you use a lighter to heat seal any cut edges of the ribbon before you glue it on.

I had my son get all dressed up for a little Halloween dress rehearsal. Here he is in his Ferb costume, with his Perry bag.

My daughter is going to be Sugar Cookie from Lalaloopsy, so I made her a tote bag too! I'll be sharing the template and instructions for that soon, so be sure to check back!


Ashley

The Amazing Spider-man is almost here! #SpiderManWMT

I have mentioned before that my family loves superheroes. You can check out the Avengers party I put together if you need some proof. The Amazing Spider-man is coming out on November 9th and I can't wait to see it.  We missed this one in the theater so we have been anxiously waiting for it to come out. It looks so good. Here's the trailer if you haven't seen it already.

The movie might not be released until November 9, but you watch it on vudu.com on October 30! Walmart has an exclusive pre-purchase of The Amazing Spider-Man. There are three options to choose from: DVD/Ultraviolet, Blu-ray/Ultraviolet, or a special Blu-Ray+DVD+UltraViolet Limited Edition Mask gift set. I headed into my local Walmart and picked up the DVD/Ultraviolet pre-purchase.

The pre-purchases are located on the end with the new-releases and they are really easy to find.
DVD, Vudu

Witch Shoes Oreo Treat

Awhile back, my good friend Vanessa had a craft night and we made some adorable Witch Shoes with 'socks' made out of Oreos. You can check out Vanessa's post about them over on The Sew-er, The Caker, The Copycat Maker. They were super adorable and I loved them. However, I am kind of a lazy crafter and I didn't love tracing, cutting, then trying to figure out a way to mark the fold lines and all of that good stuff. So.... I created a digital cut file and I am sharing it with you today. Anyone with a machine that can cut SVG files can use this. 

I am also going to walk you through the steps of constructing the shoe, once you have it cut out. I used hot glue to assemble the shoes, it was fast and easy.
 1. Cut out the Witch Shoe Template on two sided scrapbook paper. You can use 1 sided, but 2 sided is better.
2. Fold the shoe on all of the perforated lines. That is what makes this template so easy to use, all the fold lines are already scored for you.
3. Overlap the back of the heel and glue together. Make sure the 'insole' of the shoe is bent up.
4. Glue the flaps for the inside of the heel together.
 5. Glue the thin flaps to the inside of the shoe.
6. Overlap the toe section of the shoe and glue down. Be careful not to overlap the toe pieces completely. The Oreos would be too wide to fit. Also, if you are not using two sided paper, I recommend folding up the toe section and gluing it to the top of the toe flaps.
7. Embellish as desired.
8. Put 8 Halloween or Mint Oreos in a plastic bag and secure with a twist tie or ribbon.

Here is a better look at how I embellished some of my shoes. The big black spiders game from the dollar section of Target. They are called table scatter. The glitter stickers were from Dollar Tree last year. I haven't checked if they have them again this year.

You can get really creative. I tried for a mix of cute and fashionable.

Here is one more look at all the shoes I made without any treats inside. You could get really creative and put all sorts of treats inside of these. You can see the purple glitter shoe and the black/green shoe were one sided papers. I personally prefer the look of the two sided papers, but when treats are inside the shoes, you won't see the white anyway. 
You can also get a better look at how I folded the toe up on some of the shoes. I like them both ways.
 
Now it's your turn!
Download the SVG files here: Witches Shoes Template
Note: In the Zip file for the witches shoe, I did include a file for a shoe insert. You can use the insert if you are using single sided scrapbook paper. I didn't use it at all, but I wanted to include that.

If you want to make these shoes, but you don't have a cutting machine, Vanessa has the template that she used over on her blog. Head on over and download the original witch shoe template.
Ashley

Pumpkin Roll with Cool Whip Frosting

I hope you are ready for holiday baking. I know that I sure am. Today I am sharing one of my favorite holiday recipes. It is a pumpkin roll with COOL WHIP Cream Cheese Frosting.
 

That's right, COOL WHIP makes frosting now. It is in the freezer section right next to the regular COOL WHIP.  It is a whipped frosting and it comes in Cream Cheese, Vanilla, and Chocolate flavors. You can see all about my trip to buy COOL WHIP Frosting over in my Google+ album.


 Okay, it is recipe time!

Pumpkin Roll with COOL WHIP Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup pure pumpkin
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 3/4 cups walnuts (optional)
Directions:
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a cookie sheet and set aside. 
  2. Beat eggs well. Add sugar, pumpkin and lemon juice and mix again. 
  3. In a separate container mix the flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and baking powder.
  4. Combine the wet ingredients and the dry ingredients and mix well.
  5. Pour the batter onto the greased cookie sheet and spread it out with a spatula. Make sure the batter covers the cookie sheet.
  6. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes. 
  7. Turn out the cooked pumpkin cake onto a towel that has been sprinkled with powder sugar. The powder sugar prevents sticking. Immediately roll the pumpkin cake up in the towel.

  8. Set aside and let the roll cool to room temperature.
  9. Unroll the pumpkin and apply an even layer of thawed COOL WHIP Cream Cheese Frosting. Make sure you go all way to the sides and ends.
  10. Roll the pumpkin up again. Slice the roll in half with a sharp knife and wrap in aluminum foil. Store in the refrigerator.You can store the pumpkin roll in the fridge for up to two weeks, if it lasts that long!
Slicing tips: When it is time to slice your pumpkin roll, use a sharp knife and use a slow sawing motion. Placing downward force on the pumpkin roll with results in your frosting squishing out. You could also put your pumpkin roll in the freezer for about 30 minutes before slicing. Clean your knife between each cut for the prettiest looking slices.



We went to Grandma's house to play with cousins and this was the perfect treat for the kids and the adults. You don't need a special occasion to use COOL WHIP frosting.
That looks says, "MOM! Stop taking pictures, I am trying to eat"
I really liked the COOL WHIP frosting. It had a nice light texture and a great flavor. The cream cheese was a mild cheese flavor. That was perfect because my husband usually says "no way" to anything including the word cream cheese. However he is a COOL WHIP junkie and he couldn't resist trying this. He really, really liked it.
I think next, I am going to try using the frosting on some pumpkin cupcakes. Yum! You can check out the COOL WHIP frosting Pinterest board for lots of other recipe ideas.

I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community. This content has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™ and Kraft Cool Whip. #CoolWhipFrosting #CBias #SocialFabric
Ashley

$50 Walmart gift card giveaway + Flatout prize pack

Today is my birthday! Here's a fun fact, October 5th is the most popular birthday in the whole year. Apparently it's just about 9 months after New Years.
I did not like turning 30 last year one little bit, but I'm actually really excited about 31! To celebrate I am giving a present away to one of you. Remember the fun Pick Your Own Fixins Pizza party we had for my husband's birthday? Well the fine folks at Flatout are giving away a $50 walmart gift card and a Flatout prize package! Here's what you will get in your prize package.


Let's get this giveaway going.
 a Rafflecopter giveaway



I've got a lot of fun activities planned for my birthday, including making some Flatout flatbread pizzas. Yummy!

Ashley

Monster Jello Popcorn

I love it is my daughter's turn to take a snack to preschool. It gives me a good reason to come up with some fun kid friendly snacks.
A few weeks ago I found some adorable Monster face sandwich bags in the Target Dollar Spot. I snatched them up and knew I had to come up with something fun to put inside. I was stumped for a bit until the husband mentioned popcorn, and I remembered I had been wanting to try this popcorn recipe from Our Best Bites. That, my friends, is how Monster Popcorn was born.


Every time I see them, I just laugh. They are so colorful and cute. Here is the recipe for the colored jello popcorn.

Candied Jello Popcorn

Ingredients:


  • 8 cups popped popcorn - approximately 1 bag of popped microwave popcorn
  • 3 Tbsp Light Corn syrup
  •  1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 3 oz box of Jell-o - NOT sugar free
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Directions

1. In a saucepan, stir to combine the butter and corn syrup over medium heat. Once the butter is completely melted, add in the Jell-o powder and 1/2 cup sugar. Stir well to combine.
2. Turn the heat up slightly and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn to low and simmer for 5 minutes.

3. Immediately pour the jello syrup over the popcorn in a large mixing bowl. Stir to coat the popcorn.

4. Turn the popcorn onto a cookie sheet cover in parchment paper. With your stirring spoon, smooth into a single layer or popcorn. 
5. Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 10 minutes.

6. Allow the popcorn to cool until it reaches room temperature.
7. Break into bite size pieces and enjoy!

I actually made 6 different flavors of Jello popcorn. I labeled each one in the picture, so you could see the color it turned out. Grape and watermelon were disappointing color-wise. I was hoping for a little more vibrant colors. However, watermelon was my favorite in the taste department. It tasted just like a jolly rancher.

For my photo shoot, I kept each monster bag to one flavor, however I thought it would be fun to mix them all up for the snack. Plus, that way the kids can't fight over colors. Everybody gets some of everything.
I just love how bright and cheery it looks!
Here our the multi-color monsters all ready for preschool tomorrow!

I hope you and your 'little monsters' enjoy!

Ashley

6 Month Weight Loss Update

I can't believe it has been six months since I started this weight loss journey and 8 months since I have had any Diet Coke or soda. If this is your first time reading about it, you read more about my journey here: weight loss update #1.

 I'll start with the important stuff. This month my weight loss is up to a total of 109 lbs which is a weight loss of about 8 lbs this month. Compared to previous months it is a much smaller number. However, I have really backed off trying to lose weight while I try to get my health in order. I am perfectly happy with only losing 8 lbs this month.
Here is a picture I took yesterday with the kids before church. I haven't worn a dress in ages(I usually go with a skirt/shirt combo), and I was really excited to find a dress that I thought was flattering. Plus it was 90% off on Kohl's clearance. Man, I love that place!  I still have a long way to go, but I'm getting there.


Last month I promised a 'Before' picture. It's a good thing I made a promise or I might just have chickened out. It's pretty embarrassing for me to share. I avoided cameras as much as possible, so the only before picture I have is from a wedding in December of 2011. I think I was about the same weight, so it's pretty accurate.

 Okay, here is another progress picture. I can't end it with that 'before' shot. We went out to a nice dinner at Rainforest Cafe to celebrate when I lost 100 lbs. I tried the whole self portrait thing with my kids.

Now for an update on the health problems I mentioned in Weight Loss update #5.
Warning: This is where you find out way too much about my medical situation. However, I mentioned it previously, so I think it's only fair to follow-up. 
I last left off telling you that my hair was still falling out and I had some abnormal blood test results. The hair is still falling out! However, I had a scalp biopsy to confirm that I have telogen effluvium. It's a temporary hair loss and it happens when your body undergoes big changes or stress like rapid weight loss or child birth. I just have to be patient and it should stop at some point and start growing back again. 
Now for the blood test update. I had elevated liver enzymes which indicates that your liver is being damaged/not working as it should. I have had a total of 4 blood tests and an abdominal ultrasound to rule out all sorts of nasty chronic liver issues. Thankfully, I don't have any of those scary things wrong with me. I may have fatty liver disease, which can be caused by losing weight rapidly, among many other risk factors. Even though it has the word disease in it, it is the best possible scenario because it can be reversible. I am going to continue my healthy lifestyle and monitor it over time.

 Phew! Congrats if you made it all the way to the end of this post. My birthday is October 5th, so I will be having a fun giveaway to celebrate. I hope you'll come back enter!


Ashley