3 Little Things: Origami, Science and Tax Refunds

3 little things making me happy - MoneywiseMoms

Wow–only two days of school this week. We’re buried again under ice and snow, and with winter illnesses going through the kids and I and no routines to speak of, I really appreciated the things that made me smile this week. Hope they make you smile, too!

Dancing Paper

This fun video takes origami to another level, and the kids and watched it several times with huge grins on our faces:

Outrageous Acts of Science

Between the sick days and snow days, our screen time has increased. But we’re learning a lot with the show Outrageous Acts of Science on the Science Channel. It takes viral videos off YouTube and explains their scientific merit. We’ve seen some really cool things and some people being complete idiots (which makes for great teachable moments with the kids). As a mom, I love that they have a cadre of international scientists (and lots of women) who explain everything in very easy-to-understand language. Each shares their point of view as an engineer, materials scientist, biologist, astrophysicist, etc. It’s a great combo of entertainment with accessible education.

Outrageous Acts of Science

Tax Refunds

We received our tax refunds via direct deposit this week–yippee! I’ve used TurboTax online for 8 years now, and even with my multiple side-gigs (blogging, babysitting, mystery shopping, etc.) it’s always easy to use just by filling out the prompts. You may be able to file for FREE if you have a simple tax return (versus the Home + Business version I use), and state returns cost extra (but check my Free State Tax Filing post for yours).

 

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, but I only recommend what I love. Thanks for supporting MoneywiseMoms at no additional cost to you.

Free Theme Park Admission: CA, FL, TX and VA

FREE theme park admission for kids 3-5 to Busch Gardens and Sea World

Virginia

Get your FREE Busch Gardens Preschool Pass for children ages 3-5* when you register via email. Your child will get unlimited FREE admission to Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA through September 7, 2015. A regular children’s one-day pass is $65, so this is a significant savings. You’ll need to print out and redeem your pass at the park by May 31st to be able to use it all summer.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg opens for the season on Friday, March 27th. For parents accompanying your little ones to the park, you can purchase a Fun Card for $75 (same price as a one-day ticket) that gives the named passholder unlimited admission all season.

*As long as your child is 5 when you register for the pass, it’s okay if their 6th birthday occurs during the park season. The FREE pass will still work!

 

Texas

This same offer is available for the Texas parks, too. Online registration runs through May 31, and you must redeem the pass at the park by July 31:
Free Preschool Pass to Sea World San Antonio and Aquatica San Antonio

 FREE Theme Park Admission for kids 3-5 at Sea World

California

Hurry and register for a Free Preschool Pass to Sea World San Diego by March 13th if you are an Orange County or San Diego County resident. This gives your child(ren) their own Preschool Pass for FREE theme park admission through the end of the year, saving you $80!

 

Florida

Florida residents can register for a Free Preschool Pass to Busch Gardens Tampa and Sea World Orlando for free theme park admission through December 31, 2015.

 

Free State Tax Filing 2015

You may be eligible for FREE State Tax Filing through your state’s website. For some states, all residents are eligible. For others, you may need to meet a requirement, so read carefully when you reach your state’s tax website. This is a great way to save a little money during this stressful time of year–tax season! Even if you’re using an online program for your federal filing, you can stop at the federal filing, print out your return, then use that information to complete your FREE state tax filing through your state website below.

You may be eligible for FREE State Tax Filing through your state's website | MoneywiseMoms

States with FREE state income tax e-filing for for ALL filers:

States offering FREE state tax filing with income, age or other requirements:

And finally, states that do not require individual income tax filing (like Tennessee) do offer free e-filing of interest income and other taxable income.

 

Original image from normanbleventhalmapcenter at Flickr.

Disclosure: I am not a financial advisor or CPA and am not offering advice as such. My tax posts are informational and contain links for reference and verification.

Moneywise Menu Plan 3/1: Freezer Cooking to the Rescue!

What a winter! Are you snowed/iced in and sick of school snow days like we are here? It’s been very hard to get out and buy groceries, so I made a big push around icy roads, a rescheduled swim meet, and a very sick kiddo to hit three stores and get everything I needed to do two small freezer cooking sessions. To stick with my goal of cooking 6 of 7 days of the week without having to actually cook that often, I planned out some similar meals and a few hours to get all the work done. Now my freezer is stocked with healthy and frugal meals, and I have lots of options for both the slow cooker and oven.

Moneywise Menu Plan - easy frugal meals that are family friendly

Moneywise Menu Plan – 3/1

Sunday: Slow Cooker Pork Ragu & Fettuccine and green beans
Monday: Leftovers (they scrounged the fridge while I was out food shopping)
Tuesday: Broccoli Rice Casserole (I added cooked chicken)
Wednesday: Homemade Spaghetti Sauce with pasta and vegetables, plus Caesar salad
Thursday: Slow Cooker Teriyaki Pork, broccoli and brown rice
Friday: Pizza and salad for family movie night (we just got Big Hero 6!)
Saturday: Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup and cornbread

I prepped zipper bags of slow cooker meals, plus some casseroles either in zipper bags or Pyrex dishes (affiliate link). Now my freezer is full, and feeding the family is a whole lot easier.

Menu Plan Resources

Healthy Valentine Food for Kids

This post includes affiliate links. Thanks for supporting MoneywiseMoms at no extra cost to you!

Healthy Valentine Food for Kids | MoneywiseMoms

With no shortage of sweets available for Valentine’s Day, think about some ways to add a little fun to your kids’ meals with this roundup of Healthy Valentine Food for Kids. I’m not the kind of mom to do Bento-style lunches, but I am willing to wield a heart-shaped cookie cutter to celebrate this weekend. I’ve found the easiest ways to add some hearts & love to their day. Let’s start with breakfast, then move on to fun food for lunch and dinner:

 

Valentine French Toast | Healthy Valentine Food for Kids | MoneywiseMoms

Valentine French Toast from Happy Hooligans

So easy! Just cut the bread with a heart cookie cutter before making. She also includes an easy French Toast recipe.

 

Heart Shaped Fruit Kebabs | Healthy Valentine Food for Kids | MoneywiseMoms

Heart Shaped Fruit Kebabs from Life in Wonderland

Use those handy cookie cutters on sliced of melon for a fun fruit salad or these cute kebabs. Click through to check out the fun puzzle piece watermelon–the kids will love it!

 

Valentines Day Egg in the Basket | Healthy Valentine Food for Kids | MoneywiseMoms

Valentine’s Day Egg in the Basket from Reclaiming Provincial

If your kids like sunny-side up eggs, surprise them with this fancy version of breakfast.

 

Valentine Shaped Pancakes | Healthy Valentine Food for Kids | MoneywiseMoms

Valentine Heart-Shaped Pancakes from One Creative Mommy

Such a clever idea! She uses a squeeze bottle to draw and fill in the heart shape (and a Mickey, too!).

 

Heart Shaped Egg | Healthy Valentine Food for Kids | MoneywiseMoms

Heart Shaped Hard Boiled Eggs from Anna the Red

Anna shows an easy way to shape a hard-boiled egg into a heart using cardboard and a chopstick, but there’s also a heart mold you can buy.

 

Valentine Heart Pizza | Healthy Valentine Food for Kids | MoneywiseMoms

Valentine Heart Pizza from Coupon Clipping Cook

Pizza is healthy? It can be! When you make your own at home, you control the ingredients, can include whole wheat in the crust, and there’s so much less fat & sodium than delivery pizza. Nancy’s version has ham & swiss, but you can use whatever ingredients your family enjoys.

Cherry Tomato Hearts | Healthy Valentine Food for Kids | MoneywiseMoms

Cherry Tomato Hearts from Eye Candy

Learn an easy way to create hearts from grape or cherry tomatoes, then set up a veggies & dip appetizer or snack.

 

Valentine Veggies | Healthy Valentine Food for Kids | MoneywiseMoms

Roasted Valentine Veggies from Unconventional Kitchen

Cut potatoes and beets into heart shapes before roasting. Then serve with Desiree’s Skinny Greek Yogurt Dip.

 

Homemade Pita Chips | Healthy Valentine Food for Kids | MoneywiseMoms

Homemade Pita Chips from Meaningful Mama

Same idea–open pita breads and use cookie cutters to make the shapes before baking. Then dip into hummus or a healthy dip!

 

Heart Shaped Carrots in Soup | Healthy Valentine Food for Kids | MoneywiseMoms

Chicken Soup with Heart-Shaped Carrots from Sophistimom

If you’re having wintry weather this Valentine’s Day, you’ll find a delicious chicken soup recipe along with a great photo tutorial on how to cut heart carrots.

 What is your favorite Healthy Valentine Food for Kids?

 

Linked up to Weekend Bloggy Reading at Serenity Now, On Display Thursday at Average But Inspired, Valentine’s Day Link Up at The SITS Girls, Tasty Tuesday at CreativeKKids, Valentine’s Day Link Up at 5 Minutes for Mom and Valentine’s Day Link Up at So Simply Stephanie.

Moneywise Menu Plan 2/8

I hope you’re finding these weekly menu plans helpful. I cook frugal, healthy meals, and they’re all easily replicated. This week, I was in a casserole mood, so I took a little time on Sunday afternoon to cook ahead in order to save weeknights for working on homework and hanging out with the kids. That’s a strategy I used when my kids were toddlers, and it works just as well now that they’re school-aged. It’s worth spending an hour or two on the weekend to free up time later, when I can just pull a casserole out of the fridge or freezer, stick it in the oven, and feed the family.

Moneywise Menu Plan 2-8 | Weekly Menu Plans at Moneywise Moms

Moneywise Menu Plan – 2/8

Sunday: Chicken breasts with sauteed mushrooms, saffron rice and cauliflower
Monday: Crustless Italian Spinach Pie and cornbread
Tuesday: Crockpot Beef & Broccoli with brown rice
Wednesday: Vegetarian Baked Ziti
Thursday: Broccoli Rice Casserole (I’ll add cooked chicken)
Friday: Leftovers Smorgasbord plus a salad
Saturday: Valentine Pizza (homemade crust in the shape of a heart) and leftover salad

Not sure if you’ve noticed, but another strategy I use to make my weekly menu plans quickly is using themed nights. Mondays tend to be meatless; Tuesdays are taco-related; we often have leftovers on Friday or Saturday evening as long as I’ve planned large-portioned meals (like casseroles) earlier in the week.

Menu Plan Resources

Washington Auto Show: Women & Electric Power

This post is part of a compensated opportunity with SheBuysCars.com. All opinions expressed are my own.

2015 Washington Auto Show | MoneywiseMoms

I attended my first car show, the 2015 Washington Auto Show here in DC, along with a group of women bloggers. It’s a great place to go if you’re car shopping, because there are no salespeople. You can sit in every single car, push all the buttons, and get all your questions answered. I learned a ton, and I got really excited about what I would like to be my new car next year…

 

 The Washington Auto Show

Washington Auto Show | MoneywiseMoms

We started off with a tour of both floors of the Convention Center (and boy, was it bright! Sorry for the glare in the photos). Our tour guide was James Bell, Head of Consumer Affairs at General Motors (GM), who walked us through the story of every single car brand. I learned the history, current situation, and future of each one. It was absolutely fascinating! It never occurred to me that the brands that were BIG when I was a teen are now trying to reclaim their image for our children’s generation. Makes sense, right?

Overall, we saw many similarities in the offerings across the brands:

  • more connectivity and infotainment, embracing phones and communication
  • improved propulsion, with a focus on lighter-weight materials that still allow structural integrity
  • active and passive safety features, which really had me thinking about what kind of cars my kids will be driving once they hit their teen years (just five years away)

Some features on the 2015 models appear futuristic, yet they’re here, and they suggest that in the next 10 years cars will be virtually driving themselves.

 

Women in Automotive

Women in Automotive Panel at the Washington Auto Show | MoneywiseMoms

The Women in Automotive Panel was moderated by SheBuysCars’ Scotty Reiss and featured panelists Britta Gross, GM’s Chief of Advanced Vehicle Commercialization Policy; Melanie Batenchuk, Washington Automotive Press and blogger at Be Car Chic; and Tori Barnes, GM’s Executive Director of Federal Affairs. They talked about how they each got into the industry, which we had also heard that morning from Pam Fletcher, Executive Chief Engineer of Electrified Vehicles at GM. We all know STEM activities are important for our daughters, but seeing the real-world application of women’s curiosity and ingenuity was inspiring. My 8-year-old mini engineer was so excited to hear about these women when I got home that day.

 

And then there was The Volt…

The 2016 Chevy Volt at the Washington Auto Show | MoneywiseMoms

The newly redesigned 2016 Chevrolet Volt made its debut at the Washington Auto Show, and it was amazing. As an all-electric vehicle, the generator supports the battery which gives you 50 miles on a single charge and continuously recharges while braking. The extended range gives you 400 miles on one tank of regular gas! Estimated fuel cost is around $950 for a whole year, and the Volt can be charged on a regular outlet in your garage. Plus, it’s one of the many cars Chevy is introducing that include new technologies to improve safety, performance and fuel efficiency. The Volt has automatic crash response, automatic front braking, and more. Truly futuristic, but available today.

Chevy Volt Interior at the Washington Auto Show | MoneywiseMoms

The Volt and the Spark EV (completely electric, so 82 miles per charge, but no extended range like the Volt) just blew me away. I had the opportunity not only to sit in them and ogle their good looks and amazing technology, but to ask questions of everyone from the chief engineer to current owners. In fact, I met a local family of seven who love their Chevy Volt, and I can’t wait to chat with them again and learn even more about how to make electric car ownership work in the suburbs. Since we’re shopping for a car purchase in 2016, I want to learn more about how electric can work for our family.

Chevy Spark EV at the Washington Auto Show | MoneywiseMoms

 

TBA

5-Minute Valentine Garland

5-minute Valentine Garland | easy Valentine's Day decor | MoneywiseMoms

I haven’t done crafts in so long. There are just too. many. things. that are more of a priority, and when I do find free time, I’ve been reading like crazy. That or taking a nap. This weekend, my girls and I made a 5-Minute Valentine Garland with just a few simple supplies. Easy peasy, just the way it should be done. This tiny project really helped brighten up our entryway. We love it!

5-minute Valentine Garland | easy Valentine's Day decor | MoneywiseMoms

Materials:

5-minute Valentine Garland | easy Valentine's Day decor | MoneywiseMoms

Originally, I tried attaching the hearts to the string with cute Washi Tape (you know I love it!), but the hearts kept popping off. Using a low-temp glue gun worked much better, and now they’ll hold up after the season so we can enjoy them again next year.

5-minute Valentine Garland | easy Valentine's Day decor | MoneywiseMoms

Looking for more 5-minute Valentine decor? Printables are another easy way to add a little color & fun to your home. Find the cute printable above and lots more easy ideas on my Valentines & Love Pinterest board.

5-minute Valentine Garland | easy Valentine's Day decor | MoneywiseMoms

5-Minute Valentine Garland is linked up to Valentine’s Day Roundup at Type A Parent, Valentine’s Day Link Up at So Simply Stephanie, Weekend Bloggy Reading at Serenity Now, Valentine’s Day Crafts Linky at No Time for Flash Cards, DIY Craft and Recipe Link Up at The SITS Girls, and Valentine’s Day Link Up at 5 Minutes for Mom.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for the craft supplies. Thanks for supporting MoneywiseMoms at no cost to you!

Slow Cooker Hamburger Soup

Hamburger Soup?! My kids get excited when they hear it’s for dinner. Because I buy ground beef in bulk, and cook it all at once with chopped peppers and onions, then freeze it–I have several bags in the freezer at any given time. That makes this Hamburger Soup an easy load-the-slow-cooker-and-walk-away meal, rather than having to thaw and brown the ground beef the same night. It can also be made on the stovetop, see below for instructions.

Hamburger Soup | easy frugal crockpot slow cooker meal | MoneywiseMoms

If you’re not a fan of these vegetables, put in whatever your family likes (corn, a can of diced tomatoes, zucchini, etc.) I use mushrooms, carrots and red potatoes to go along with the onion and peppers that I put in my freezer-bagged ground meat mix.

Hamburger Soup
Serves: 8 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 1 lb ground beef, browned and drained
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 4-5 red potatoes, cubed
  • 8oz white mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 6 cups beef broth
  • 1 Tbsp oregano
  • 1 Tbsp basil
  • 1 Tbsp parsley
Instructions
  1. Add all ingredients to slow cooker and stir to combine.
  2. Cook on low for 7-10 hours.

I made mine in the slow cooker so I could leave it and walk away. But this recipe also works fine on the stovetop: Using the same pre-cooked beef, let simmer for 45-60 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Need a yummy bread to serve on the side? Try 10 Sensational Sides for Soups & Stews. I’ve also shared my favorite Fall Slow Cooker Soups.

 

Hamburger Soup is linked up to Real Food Recipe Roundup at JoLynne Shane, Talented Tuesday Link Party at Cook Craft Love, Inspire Us Tuesdays at Two Little Cavaliers, On Display Link Party at Average But Inspired, Pin Junkie Pin Party at The Pin Junkie and Tasty Tuesdays at CreativeKKids.