Monday, April 30, 2012

Toddler's Choice Spinach Bake

In honor of my little girl turning two today, I thought I would post a recipe of her favorite side dish.  You might be surprised to learn that the main ingredient is spinach.  However, cheese takes a close second which is the "not so secret" special ingredient.  Our entire family loves this recipe so much that I double it.  You will need a casserole dish.  Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

Toddler's Choice Spinach Bake
1 tablespoon butter
2 eggs
3/4 cup Milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pkg (10 oz) fresh organic spinach, stems removed, chopped
2 cups grated medium cheddar cheese

1. Place butter in casserole dish and set in warm oven for 2 minutes or until the butter is melted.  Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, lightly beat eggs, add milk and stir.  Mix together flour, baking powder, and nutmeg and then add to egg and milk mixture.  Beat until smooth.  Add chopped spinach and cheese.
3. Place in prepared casserole and bake for 30 to 35 minutes.

Spinach Cheese Bake Recipe

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Review: The New Palmolive Fresh Sponge

Here is the box I received from Influenster.  Included was a full size bottle of the new Palmolive Fresh Sponge, a new sponge, an instruction guide, and several coupons to share.   I was given the task to try this product for 2 weeks, look (or smell) for any changes with the sponge, and then give my honest feedback.  Two weeks have come and gone, and I am ready to share my views!

I first noticed the wonderful scent from this product.  I have tried Gain dish soap in the past and found that the overpowering scents would give me a headache.  The scent of the Palmolive Fresh Sponge is light and nice.  It is now flowery nor is it overpowering.  It filled my kitchen with just enough of a clean smell to be noticeable, but not annoying.

I put this detergent through the test.  I cooked a huge turkey dinner and then used the Palmolive Fresh Sponge to see how it cleaned up.  Like all Palmolive products, it did a great job of cutting through the grease and washing away clean without stripping my hands of moisture.  Check out what I had to clean!

The soap lathered up nicely and I found it didn't take a lot to get the results I wanted.  I just bought new cookware from Cuisinart, so my pots and pans clean up easily.  The lids however require more work.  Palmolive was able to clean the glass without leaving spots.

Finally, my dishes were done!  I have continued to use the Palmolive Fresh Sponge and found that it really left my sponge smelling fresh and clean even when I left it wet in the sink.  I still need to microwave the sponge every couple of days to kill the bacteria.  A couple of tips for its use:  After finishing dishes for the night, put a drop of Palmolive Fresh Sponge on the sponge, lather and rinse it well, and at the next use you wont have any stinky sponge problems.  I also filled a bowl with soapy water and used it to clean my glass cooktop.  It works great!

As a note of disclaimer, I received the Ultra Palmolive Fresh Sponge as a complimentary product in return for my review.  I received a full size of the product along with a sponge and Palmolive coupons from Influenster.  Opinions about the use of this product are all my own, and no other compensation is given in return for my honest review.  Go to for more information.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Claritin and Madagascar III

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted is coming to theaters June 8!
The dynamic group,  Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, and Melman the Girafee, and Gloria the Hippo, is still fighting to get home to their beloved Big Apple. Their journey takes them through Europe where they find the perfect cover: a travelling circus, which they reinvent – Madagascar-style.

Circus performers need to be at their best. Being in an allergy fog or taking an allergy medication that may make them drowsy is simply not an option. NO Drowsiness Allowed!

But for 40 million children who do suffer from allergies, symptoms can interfere with their everyday activities, including school work, and extracurricular activities – whether it be a music lesson or having fun with the family, like going to the movies or the circus.

Children’s Claritin Grape Syrup is one way to help ensure they won’t be held back by allergies so they can achieve full potential at school, on the playing field or doing any of the things they love. 

Get Your Own Big Top Fun 
Get your kid excited for the release of Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted by downloading FREE Madagascar 3 -Inspired Circus Activity Guides available on the Claritin Facebook page.

I have been testing Claritin for allergies on my kiddos.  My whole family gets horrible summer allergies.  While I need prescription strength relief, I look for over-the-counter allergy medicines for my children.  I have tried Benedryl, but the side effects are too great.  Even when I give them the medicine at night, they are still groggy the whole next day.  We also tried Alavert, but it had little effect on their allergies.  We have tried Claritin in the past with a little luck.  What works best for us is the Zyrtec.  In fact, my doctor told me to take it along with the other allergy medicines that she prescribed me.  Zyrtec can be purchased in a strength appropriate for children, and I like that there are generic alternatives available.

Does Claritin work?  Yes, but I honestly think it works better for some and not at all for others.  My advice to parents is to get small amounts of each of the allergy medications available, try them for a week each, and choose the one that works best for your child.  In the meantime, enjoy a little theater time with Madagascar III.  I think it would be a treat for kids to go see when they are freed from school!

I received Claritin as a complementary product in exchange for my honest review from  The product was provided at no charge, but the review is all my own!

Friday, April 20, 2012

What is the 529 Plan Anyway?

If you ask a financial adviser to explain what a 529 plan is, arm yourself with a full cup of coffee first.  I think there are a lot of complicated facets to these plans, but they do work well for a lot of people.  As I shared in my last post, I personally prefer the Coverdell Education Savings Account, but I know that 529 plans are a lot more popular.

I think the simple explanation as to why they are more popular is there is a $60,000 limit on the yearly amount that can be invested in these plans per year.  Other rules apply, but this higher yearly limit allows the savings account to better fund the costs of college for some lucky little squirt.

What I find strange about these accounts is how you choose them.  States have sponsored 529 plans through some investment company.  When you choose an investment firm, you choose a state plan to invest in.  Your investment choices are then chosen by this plan.  There is little flexibility.  For example, American Century has a 529 plan sponsored by the state of Kansas.  Tax benefits follow if you are actually a resident of Kansas.  You have no other choice with American Century- it is Kansas or nothing.

I could advise you now to refill that coffee cup, or cut it short with this simple understanding; 529 plans are great if you (or grandma and grandpa) have a good amount of cash to invest on a yearly basis for college expenses.    You can invest in plans that aren't for your state, but you get more benefits if your state matches that of your investment plan.  I have searched both the plan offered by my state as well as what investment firms belong to which states.  This is the point where I tell you to check with your own financial adviser.  At least you have the knowledge that such a plan exists.

Most importantly, I think we should save for our kids.  If all you can do is put $25 a month into an account, DO IT!  It will truly make a difference.  A lot of mutual fund companies have low initial investment amounts as long as you set up automatic recurring deposits.

Thanks for reading, and have a good weekend!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

College and Coverdell

Many parents here the words "Saving for College" and shudder at the thought.  We wonder how we could possibly afford the expense when the time comes.  I envied the trust fund kids that attended college while I was there.  They had enough money to buy all of their textbooks new and still have enough left over to buy pizza.  My kids wont be so lucky.

I expect my kids to finance some of their college when the time comes.  I believe that by investing some of their own funds into their education, they will take it more seriously.  I don't want them to do it on their own though, and so we have been putting money aside since they entered the world specifically for their education.

There are lots of options out there of where to put college savings.  529 plans are popular, but I don't like the lack of flexibility these funds provide.  I prefer to pick the mutual funds that my kids invest their money in.  Instead, I have chosen the much less popular option of a Coverdell or Education IRA account.

The Coverdell account works a lot like the IRA - you put after-tax money in, and the money that grows in the fund can be withdrawn tax-free later.  With a Coverdell account, the funds must be used for educational expenses.  These expenses can be used for grade school on up and are not specific for college.  There is a limit of $2000 that can be invested in these accounts per year which is one reason they are not so popular.  If a Coverdell account is opened for a child that does not use the funds for educational expenses, the money can be passed on to a sibling or other relative, still tax-free.  I like the freedom to pick the fund that money is invested into.

Of course there is other fine print related to the Coverdell account, including income restrictions and possible withdrawal penalties, but that is for you to investigate should you want further information on the accounts.  We currently have it set up for a monthly automatic deposit of $100 into each of our kids' Coverdell accounts.  These small amounts can grow pretty big over time.  They are easy to set up, and require little effort afterward.  I recommend the Coverdell along with state-sponsored plans to best save for college.  State plans vary, so it is best to talk to your own accountant to decide what is best.

Several mutual fund companies offer the Coverdell accounts, so simply asking for information from your own mutual fund company is a great way to get started.  Tomorrow, I plan on covering the 529 plans and how they differ.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

When a Sponge Marries a Dishcloth

My husband and I discussed a lot of things before we got married.  We covered the areas of children, finances, and religion.  One area we failed to cover though was that of doing dishes.  You see I grew up in a family that used sponges for cleanup in the kitchen.  His family used dishcloths. Unfortunately, neither of these choices was ideal, so we were in a constant argument of which cleaning item was better.

The dishcloth doesn't scrub dishes as well as a sponge, and turns a terrible shade of brown after just a few uses.  The upside to the dishcloth though is that it can be laundered.  The washing machine could only do so much good though, and I found using the dishcloth ineffective and ugly.

The sponge sadly had its faults as well.  While it did clean dishes well, it had the tendency to smell like old gym socks after a few days of sitting wet in my sink.  I used this same sponge to wipe down spills, therefore spreading the horrible smell to all surfaces in my kitchen.  I can just imagine the bacteria that I had been spreading.  I did stick the sponge in the dishwasher whenever it ran, but the smell always returned.

Imagine my sheer excitement when my box of Palmolive Fresh Sponge Dish soap showed up at my door.  I do believe we might have found a happy ending to the Sponge and Dishcloth dilemma after all. I have used it for all of one day, so I can't tell you if it will really keep my sponge happy and not stinky.  I can tell you that using it fills my kitchen with a lovely scent.  I hope the days of my sponge and kitchen smelling like dirty gym socks are over.

Where to Buy
The suggested retail price of Palmolive Fresh SpongeTM is $3.29 for a 25oz. bottle. It is available in most grocery stores, and mass retailers like Walmart and Target.  
Palmolive Fresh SpongeTM dishwashing liquid can also be purchased online at

I will update this post in a couple of weeks to let you know how my little test turned out.  Raise those sponges high ladies, I think Palmolive Fresh Sponge could be a mom's favorite product of the year!

As a note of disclaimer, I received the Ultra Palmolive Fresh Sponge as a complimentary product in return for my review.  I received a full size of the product along with a sponge and Palmolive coupons from Influenster.  Opinions about the use of this product are all my own, and no other compensation is given in return for my honest review.  Go to for more information.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rubber Bracelets and Silly Bandz

I grew up in the 80's.  It was a great decade of hair, music, and leg warmers.  My kids actually choose the 80's channel on our Sirius Radio to listen to, but I don't expect my daughters to attempt to replicate my super high bangs.

Back in those days, Madonna was on the tape deck at my friends' houses.  We would create dance routines by the hour to her songs.  Her style also had an impact.  While I wasn't excited about wearing bras with pointy tips on them, I was in awe over her jewelry.  She would load bracelets up her arms.  Soon the girls at my school were showing up with 50 rubber bracelets on their arms.  They were cool, and I wanted to be cool too.

I blew all of my birthday money that year on rubber bracelets.  I wore them with pride for about a month before they became "uncool."  All of a sudden my fascination with Madonna's style was gone and my money went with it.  That was a good lesson for me on buying fad items.

Fast forward 25 years and you will see my kids having the same fascination with Silly Bandz.  If you are not familiar with them, here is a quick description.  They are basically rubber bands that kids wear on their wrists as bracelets.  When the kids take them off, they form shapes - cartoon characters, flowers, baseball bats, or whatever the company came up with.  My kids used their allowance money to buy these things up so they could wear and trade them at school.  It was just like what I went through as a kid.

I chose to let them learn the same lesson as I did.  I shared my bracelet story to them, but it was not what they wanted to hear.  I find those silly bands under their beds and tend to suck them up in the vacuum from time to time.  They no longer decorate my kids' arms, and have gone back into the fad vault.  They learned the lesson I hoped for, and now they tend to save for items that they know they will enjoy for a longer time.  I wonder what the fad will look like once their kids are ready for the lesson.  Time will tell.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Allowance - My Way

I am a firm believer in teaching kids how to handle money from a young age.  Figuring out how to do allowance with my kids was something that I worked on for years until I found something that worked well for all of us. Through my process of learning what worked, I tried two strategies.  The first was to give the kids a set amount every week along with a list of expectations.  They ended up expecting the money, but did not keep up with their end of the bargain.

My second strategy was to pay them for each of their chores each time they did them.  This backfired on me.  They wanted to be paid for everything I asked them to do.  If something was needing to be done, they wanted a dollar amount attached to it for them to follow through.  Bad plan, so I found another strategy to try.

My final strategy is the one that we use now and works like a charm.  It follows the second strategy I tried with a bit of a twist.  I have a list of chores for each of my children to accomplish along with set amounts for each time they accomplish the task.  I have this list printed out in a way that they can write in when they accomplished a task and how much they earned.

Sounds familiar - right?  There is a twist to this new allowance sheet.  My kids have to take the initiative to be paid for their chores.  The minute mom or dad assigns them to do a chore, they lose the benefit of being paid for it.  However, they are still expected to follow through with it.  I feel a bit excited when I announce family chore time because while the kids may moan about helping out, they made the choice to wait to do their chores for free.

It is an easy concept, but one that works well.  Tomorrow I hope to expand on my allowance concept.  It includes learning the art of biting your tongue and allowing mistakes to be made.  See you then!

Monday, April 2, 2012

A little background

So here is a little background about me.  I graduated college with a business degree concentrating in both accounting and finance.  I am a numbers nerd, and I love it!  I then got a great job working for a Department of Defense contractor.  I really enjoyed being part of something so important.  I was encouraged to work on my Masters degree while working there, so I signed up for graduate school and started night classes.

During this time, I brought my youngest daughter into the world.  Suddenly my strong desire to conquer the world disappeared as my new desire of being a mom overtook.  I finished my master's degree with a concentration in finance, but left my wonderful job.  That was 12 years ago.  Now two more kids later, I am still loving my life as a stay-at-home mom.  I do miss the work environment and the challenges that came with success.  I wouldn't trade the time I have spent with my children though.

Because I realize that there are a lot of moms out there that are not so nerdy with numbers, I hope to publish several financial articles in this month's blog posts.  My goal is not to bore you with details, but to explain things I do to mange my household's finances in this crazy world we live in.  A few topics I am thinking of are paying allowance, saving for college, responsible spending, and how to determine personal financial goals.  Let me know of any other ideas you may have as I would love to get feedback!