Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Farm Fun

We had the opportunity to visit my boyfriend's family farm this past weekend. It's an old, white farmhouse on a peaceful lot, located a few miles outside of Wisconsin Dells. It's the perfect place to go when you just want to get away from the chaos of every day life.

The kids LOVED it up there. It's amazing the fun you can have when there's no Netflix available (okay, so we did scrounge up an old VHS tape of Aladdin at one point, but electronics were definitely at a minimum). There was loan mower riding, corn shucking, bubbles, swinging, archery, baby cow feeding, barbequing, bonfires, s'mores, hide-and-go-seek, and more swinging.

Oh, the swinging!

You'd think my children had never been on a swing before. It was a hot ticket item, for sure. Lots of giggles and glee were had.

Willow was a big helper when it came time to shuck the corn. She loves helping the grown-ups with chores and tasks, so she was very proud to help prepare the corn.

While there are no animals on this farm, there was a dairy farm a couple of miles away that had lots of baby cows we could visit! My kids are huge animal lovers, so this was a fun little trip for them. The cows were sweet and friendly and gobbled up all the hay we offered. Willow said she wants to be an animal doctor one day -- but only for stuffed animals. Because she doesn't like blood. Oh, and she will make millions doing this. Hey, there's a market for everything, right?

I thought it would be hard to be so close to the Dells and not partake in any of the tourist activities, but I actually found that this was much preferable. It was a great, relaxing weekend with my family. It is so peaceful up there. And only a two and a half hour drive -- definitely worth it! We can't wait to go back again.

PS: Hair + humidty = ugh.

Monday, August 10, 2015

House Renovation for $8,000!

Back in the summer of 2013, our family suffered a huge setback. The dream house we were building fell through less than a month before our move in date. The house was completely finished and then everything fell apart. It was a huge, devastating blow. Luckily, we were able to regroup and the opportunity to rent my grandparent's house presented itself. Their home held a lot of nostalgia for me, but it was a bit of a fixer-upper. It was a small, 1950's ranch house with wood paneling, shag carpeting, flower print wallpaper, lime green and orange paint colors, and outdated vinyl tile. While we were grateful to have a home we could move into, we also knew that we might be staying for a few years and we desperately wanted it to feel more like "home". We decided to renovate it. We were given the option to buy the home at the end of our renting period, or we would get the money back that we put into it. It sounded like a good plan! Money was tight at the time, so we needed to renovate this house on a tight budget-- and there was a lot to do! I set our budget at $10,000 and we came in right around $8,000 thanks to a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and discount shopping! The budget accounted for the whole house, minus the basement. We put work into the kitchen, living room, bathroom, three bedrooms, and hallway. I will start with the kitchen in this first post and get to the rest of the rooms later...

Kitchen Remodel

The first thing we wanted to do was open up the kitchen to the living room. It's a small house with less than 1100 square feet, so I wanted it to feel as open and spacious as possible. We hired our friend, who is an independent contractor, to do the major demo work. We had the option of taking down the whole wall or making a pass through window. We went with the latter to keep our extra counter space and lower cabinets. We also saved the upper cabinets that were attached to this wall and moved them to the opposite side of the kitchen above the oven.



Not too shabby! The granite counter tops were the big splurge and took up about 35% of our budget, coming in a little under $3,000. The big money saver was deciding to paint the cabinets ourselves. New granite and cabinets would have eaten the entire budget so we had to make every penny count! Now, this project was a LOT of work...I'm not going to lie. With two little ones and a part time job, painting cabinets took up the rest of my free time. I still have dreams about painting those things! But in the end, the extra effort paid off because all we spent was about $50 on paint instead of $5,000 on replacing them.

We also decided to custom install a dishwasher. I feared I could not survive without one, so I was happy to throw money towards this expense.

Surprisingly, one of the toughest finds was the tile back splash. Everything I liked was so expensive and I really wanted to keep things reasonable. When I would finally find something that fit the budget, there was never enough to cover my square footage. It was frustrating. This was one of my last purchases because I ended up getting to be so picky. In the end, I found some iridescent glass tile at Home Depot on clearance that worked perfectly! It was on sale for $4.99 a square foot so I only spent around $175 on it all. I couldn't be happier.

Another big project was closing up the random open space from the kitchen to one of the bedrooms.


I suppose if one were to use the bedroom as a formal dining room, this could work. But our family needed a three bedroom house, so up went the drywall.

Much better...

Overall, we are very happy with our kitchen transformation. We saved big money here by painting the cabinets, taking down wallpaper and painting the walls ourselves, and finding great discounts on the back splash and tile floors. The majority of the budget definitely went into this space, but it was well worth it!

Next up will be the living room...stay tuned!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Puppy Party!

My sweet boy, Liam, just turned three. He is a proud puppy lover, so I thought it would be fitting to have a puppy party for this year's theme. I am very big on party themes. In my five years of being a mom, we've been Under the Sea, went on a Teddy Bear Picnic, played with Princesses, enjoyed an Ice Cream Social, and partied with Elmo (rainbow style!). This year went to the dogs. Here are some photos and details of the tail-waggin' fun!

I found a great deal on a huge, fabulous bounce house. This had nothing to do with the puppy theme, aside from the kids acting like animals while they were in there. It's just some good, old-fashioned fun.

Once I decide on a theme, I work on the menu. For this party, I opted for a "bar style" main course of grilled hot 'dogs' and lots of toppings. Aside from the standard condiments, I set out little plates of onion, jalepenos, banana peppers, shredded cheese, pico de gallo, and pickles. It was a big hit! It was also stress-free, as I didn't have to worry about cooking for a large amount of people, and I didn't shell out tons of money on catering. In fact, I snagged the hotdogs on sale for $1.69 a pack. That is less than $8.50 to feed fifty people!

I also like to try and find creative ways of incorporating the theme into the rest of the menu. Pinterest is a great tool for inspiration! A few favorites were the Jello Water Bowls, Kibble (yummy meatballs), Puppy Chow, and Pupcorn. I also found some bone-shaped gummies on Amazon which was a magnet for little hands.

I also made some Puppy Punch for both the kiddos and the adults. The simple recipe was just Hawaiian Punch and lemon-lime soda. The "spiked" version had some berry flavored vodka in it.

The dog bowls and small, glass bowls for the jello were Dollar Store finds, and the punch bottles were in the dollar section at Target.

The biggest hit of the party was the Puppy Adoption Center. I certainly cannot take credit for this brilliant idea, as I saved it as a Pinterest gem many moons ago. It was a fun, interactive party activity and a fabulous alternative to the generic goodie bags. I had a friend of mine man the table as party guests chose their favorite puppy. I found a free Adoption Certificate Printable ( HERE!! ) where the children could name their friend before taking him/her home.

I was originally going to purchase some bulk puppies online, but then realized my kids had enough stuffed animals that I was certain I could find enough puppies for all of the guests. Sure enough, I was right! I gave them all a bath and they were ready to go. I probably saved more than $50 by doing this and each child got their own unique puppy!

After the children chose their new friend, I had a small table and chairs set up for some arts and crafts. I purchased little white carrying boxes that the kids could take their puppies home in. They were able to decorate their carriers with markers, puppy stickers, and paw print stamps at the art station. I also found some wooden dog ornaments at Michael's for fifty cents a piece that the kids could color. This was also a big hit.

To wrap everything up, I ordered some paw print cookies (they were eaten before I could get a picture!), along with an assortment of mini "Pupcakes" and, of course, the cake!

All in all, the party was a big success and the kids had a great time. I set out a sprinkler, two kiddie pools, and some inflatables for added fun. I am all about getting creative and DIY-ing as much as possible. When I can't do that, I try to get the best deals I can find. You don't need to spend a fortune to host memorable birthday party!

Happy third birthday, Liam!