Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Second Love...Baking Soda

Remember how obsessed I am with vinegar?  My second love obsession is baking soda.  With these two items by my side, no task is too difficult!  While there are so many uses for vinegar, baking soda falls right in line, sometimes hand-in-hand.  Take a look at how baking soda can make your life easier (and healthier without all the toxic chemicals).

In the Kitchen
  1. Burnt food stains in your pots?  No problem.  Toss in some baking soda, water, and a drop of dish soap. Put your pot on the stove and boil away those black stains.  You may need to add more water as it boils. This definitely works!  My husband tried cooking for me one evening (how sweet) and burnt the carrots to the bottom of the pot (not sweet but at least he tried).  I tried this method, and voila!  It worked!
  2. I can't stand looking at a dirty cook-top.  You guessed it!  Baking soda works as a light abrasive to scrub away those spills or drips during cooking.  No need to go out and buy that "cook-top cleaner" anymore, you have one already there in your pantry.  It costs less, too!
  3. Clean your stainless steel pots and pans.  I remember growing up and having to clean my mother's stainless steel pots and pans.  I hated the dust from the cleaner making its way into my nostrils.  [cough, cough...ugh!]  I looked like a ninja, chopping at the air, fighting for fresh air.  Goodbye toxic cleaner.  I've got my baking soda to clean my pots and pans!
  4. In keeping with the polishing tips, sparkle up your silverware with it.  Just use 3 parts baking soda and 1 part water, make a paste, and polish away.
  5. Make your microwave shine by using a damp (not soaking wet) sponge with a sprinkling of baking soda.  Scrub off those old splatters and refreshen at the same time.
  6. Sparkle up the kitchen sink by sprinkling baking soda in the bottom.  Add a little bit to a sponge for the sides of the sink, and scrub.  
  7. Now, what to do with that nasty sponge?  Rinse it out well.  Soak it in 2 Tbsp baking soda and 2 cups warm water solution.  Then pop it in the microwave for 2 minutes.  Don't squeeze it out before microwaving.  The baking soda gets rid of the bad smells, and the microwave disinfects.  
  8. Put out grease fires.  I remember years ago when I was living in an apartment, my downstairs neighbor's fire alarm went off.  After a minute or two I became nervous so I checked on her.  She had started a fire in her kitchen.  Her fire extinguisher failed, so she was trying to fan it (do not do this) and throwing water at it (that makes it worse if it is a grease fire).  I searched through her cabinets, found the baking soda, and doused the flames.  No big deal.
  9. Keep odors out of your refrigerator.  Set the open box in the fridge.  Ta Da!  Your work is done.
In the Laundry and Personal Care
  1. Boost your laundry detergent by adding 1 Tbsp to each load.  It softens the clothes and gets rid of smells.  It also balances pH levels.
  2. Worried about bad breath?  The gum and mints only mask it...but not for long.  Put 1 tsp in a half glass of water.  Swish, spit, and rinse.  
  3. Notice how all the toothpastes these days contain baking soda?  There's a reason for that.  Skip putting money in their greedy corporate pockets and save by making your own toothpaste with 1 tsp baking soda, a few drops of water, and an optional addition of a drop of essential oil (such as: mint).
  4. Exfoliate.  Use baking soda to exfoliate and cleanse your face and body.  The fine grain sloughs off dead skin cells and brings a soft feeling to your skin.  For my face, I just make a paste of baking soda and water in my hand and scrub all over, then rinse.  I even like make soaps with the addition of baking soda in it, but using the baking soda in combination to your shower gel will give you the same results.
  5. Wash your hair.  Yes, I did say that.  I wash my hair with baking soda.  Those who know me didn't know that secret till now.  Some prefer to put it in a bottle with water and use it as a rinse while I prefer to rub the soda into my scalp.  It gets rid of oil and build-up.  Rinse.  Then, rinse with vinegar afterwards.  If there is any remaining baking soda in my hair, the vinegar reacts with it and gives a tickling sensation.  I just rinse it all out in the water.  It leaves my hair feeling soft.  No knots.
  6. Soak.  Take a bath in it.  Or use my recipe for bath salts.  It has baking soda in it.  Trust me, your bathwater never felt so soft.   
  7. Treat zits.  Wet the area, put a clump of baking soda on it, and then cover it with a band-aid.  By the next day, your zit should be smaller.
Bathroom, Household, and Other Uses
  1. Unclog a drain by pouring a handful of baking soda down the drain and 1/2 cup of vinegar.  Rinse with boiling water.  
  2. Get rid of soap scum by sprinkling baking soda on a damp sponge to clean the shower walls and tub.
  3. Clean your sinks the same way as mentioned above.
  4. Deodorize the toilet by sprinkling baking soda in the water.
  5. Clean faucets by wiping down with a wet sponge sprinkled with baking soda.  Just rinse off with a regular wet cloth afterwards.
  6. Deodorize carpets by sprinkling baking soda on top, brushing it in, and vacuuming it up after letting it sit for a few hours.
  7. Pet accidents.  Occasionally pets have accidents.  Soak.  Then, clean up with a wet, soapy cloth.  Heavily sprinkle baking soda on the spot.  Then pour vinegar on top of the baking soda.  It will foam.  Soak up with a towel.  BONUS...the vinegar smell will deter your pet from going back to that area again. 
  8. A Must-Have during a camping trip.  Baking soda can be used as your toothpaste, deodorant, pot and dish scrubber, and fire extinguisher.
  9. Septic system neutralizer.  Just a handful of baking soda a week should keep it in good standing.
Just like with the vinegar, the list can go on and on.  If you have any ideas or tips, feel free to leave a comment and let us all know.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hearty Bean Soup & Sweet Cornbread Muffins

This is a healthy and filling soup.  A friend of mine gave me the recipe.  I loved it.  It is so versatile, I change it once in a while to suit my tastes (you are welcome to do the same), but this is by far my favorite version.  Best news is you can put it in the crock-pot and let it cook while you are at work.  Who doesn't like coming home to a meal already prepared?  
Missing black beans in the photo

  • 2 cups of mixed beans (your choice of beans to total 2 cups--I like kidney, black-eye-pea, navy, red, and black), SOAK overnight prior to making soup.
  • 8 cups water
  • 4 chicken or beef bouillon cubes (I prefer chicken)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 whole hot peppers *optional but I love them!
  • sprinkle of spices such as turmeric, garlic, and paprika 
  • splash of red wine vinegar *optional
  • 3 celery stalks finely chopped
  • 4 carrots peeled and chopped
  • potatoes (I don't measure--I just put how many I think I want) chopped with or without skin

  1. You can do this all at one time if you will be absent throughout the day, but I break it up into two parts.
  2. I put the soaked, drained beans, water, bouillon cubes, bay leaves, peppers, and seasoning in the crock-pot, and heat on high.   I usually start this in the morning around eight or nine o'clock.
  3. At noon I add the rest of the ingredients to the crock-pot.
  4. By evening, the meal is ready.  Serve with sweet cornbread muffins (recipe below).  Enjoy!
  5. My children love helping!
Sweet Cornbread Muffins
I love serving cornbread with soups, stews, and gumbo.  Or how about any time I serve biscuits, cornbread follows?  :)  The only thing is...I'm not a fan of dry, plain cornbread.  I like mine sweet!  If you like yours sweet too, try this with your next meal.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup butter-flavored shortening, melted

              1. Preheat oven to 375.  
                1. Spray or grease muffin tin.
                  1. Mix dry ingredients.
                    1. Stir in wet ingredients but do NOT over mix.
                      1. Spoon into muffin tins 1/2-3/4 full.
                        1. Bake 15 minutes or until golden-brown on top.
                          1. Enjoy!

                          Monday, August 29, 2011

                          I Don't Feel So Crazy Anymore

                          Over the years, I have been told numerous times how "weird" I am or how strange it is that I do this or that.  Whether it is eating a banana with a fork because I don't like to touch the peeling, leaving the toilet paper roll on top of the empty roll because I can't stand to change it in fear the roll holder is dirty, or folding my underwear in the shape of a package because I don't want them to get all messy in the drawer...I do these things because they seem completely rational to me while to onlookers, I am just plain odd or crazy.  

                          After reading And I Thought I Was Crazy! Quirks, Idiosyncrasies, and Meshugaas by Judy Reiser, I don't feel so weird, strange, odd, or crazy anymore.  So what if I talk to myself in the mirror!?  The people in her book are crazier than I will ever be.  Okay, that was lie.  I actually have some of their very same quirks and more.  But hey, if I can't laugh at myself while laughing at them, I might as well climb in bed and pull the covers over my head.  Well, come to think of it, I freak out if the covers are over my head.  I feel trapped or like someone may trap me under there.  

                          Did I make you laugh?  Good!  Then you will LOVE reading Judy's book.  My quirks don't even scratch the surface of some of the hilarious "meshugaas (a Yiddish word for strange, unexplainable, inconsistent behavior)" offered from people she has interviewed along the way. (Kindle Location 69)  She even delivers their age, sex, and career.  You may read that a male hairstylist thinks it is "vile" to use toilet paper and instead will only use Kleenex, or you may find that a female educator to emotionally disturbed children can't use the bathroom unless her friend sings to her from the other side of the door while on a trip in Mexico.  How about a stockbroker who smells everything before taking or touching it?  Ha!  

                          What is so shocking is that some of these people are doctors (even therapists), lawyers, vice presidents, and some are your everyday waitresses, housewives, or cabana boys.  It seems no matter who you are, what you do, or how you dress, we are all crazy in our own little way.  We all have our "quirks, idiosyncrasies (notice it sort of spells crazy?), and meshugaas."

                          So, if you make lists of clothes you've worn, arrange your clothes by rainbow color and sleeve length, or wash your hands every time you touch the dishwasher (yes, sadly all that is true of myself) or even if you don't, but want to laugh at those who do, get Judy Reiser's book!  Someone may say you laugh like a hyena...  Oh wait, that was me according to my son who overheard me reading this book.  Seriously!  I laughed so hard, I cried.  

                          Check out her website for her other great books here-->Judy Reiser
                          Can't wait to buy it from the local bookstore?  Click the picture/link. 

                          Sunday, August 28, 2011

                          Peach Dessert

                          I love peaches.  No, better yet...I love desserts.  I would much rather eat dessert first and last.  :D
                          I use whatever fruit is available to make desserts.  With peaches in season, I try to make everything from peach pie, peach cobbler, peach cheesecake, peach souffle, etc....  Here is a peach dessert (I don't have a name for it) that is quick, cheap, and easy.
                          •  3-4 peaches (or any fruit) cut into slices
                          • 1/2 cup flour
                          • 1/2 cup oats
                          • 1/4 cup brown sugar
                          • 1/4 cup sugar
                          • 8 Tbsp butter, divided
                          • 1/2 cup cool whip
                          • *Optional 1/2 tsp cinnamon

                          1. In a casserole dish, spread sliced fruit on the bottom, sprinkle each layer of fruit with 1/4 cup regular sugar.
                          2. Slice butter (4 Tbsp) on top of fruit.
                          3. In a separate bowl, combine the rest of the dry ingredients and remaining 4 Tbsp butter using a pastry blender or fork.
                          4. Pour over fruit.
                          5. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
                          6. Spread or dollop cool whip on top.  The heat causes it to melt in and give the dessert an extra gooeyness (I know that isn't a word but it fits).

                          UWMW: Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make Do, or Do Without

                          UWMW are my new words to live by.  I recently came across these life changing words when reading Lorilee Craker's latest book.

                          One Saturday afternoon, while waiting for my children to pick out a book at Walmart, I scanned the shelves myself.  I usually save my book selections for bookstores or, but something had caught my eye.  There, sitting on the shelf amongst romance novels and spiritual growth books, was Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing, and Saving by Lorilee Craker.   

                          I have always had some fascination with the Amish, but more recently, I have found myself yearning to peek into their world.  How do they live so satisfied and content with so little and when us "Englishers," as they like to call us, seem so dissatisfied when we have so much?  It's puzzling.  If I had to give it all up today, could I do it?  I don't know, but what I do know is I admire their strength and perseverance.  They manage to maintain their simple life while thriving in this economy while many of us seem to suffer.  How do they do it?  Lorilee Craker delves right into the middle of it, and I was going to find out what she learned.

                          I showed the book to my husband as we turned to head towards the check-out.  He chuckled, "You want to spend money on a book that is suppose to teach you how NOT to spend money."  I could see his point yet I couldn't part with it.  I felt I had to get it.  I just had to know their saving secrets.  After all, they have all that land without all the distractions of spending frivolously.  Maybe I could just learn a thing or two.  Maybe we all could.

                          When I got home, I started reading through a few chapters.  Most of what she said--when boiled down to it--was common sense.  Most of her tips that she learned from the Amish are things that we hear all the time: Save!  Buy in Bulk!   Reduce, reuse, and recycle but wait..."repurpose?"

                          Despite all of the common sense- "I've heard that before"- information she dishes out, we have yet to follow by example.  We "Englishers" are caught up in the here-and-now bit.  Why wait when I can have it now?!  We are like children...We want what the television advertises.  We want what our peers have.  We want to be like the rich and famous.  I've got news for you...if you aren't rich and famous, STOP trying to live like you are because you will only find yourself in a heap of debt just like those peers of yours.  Envious of debt?

                          After telling my husband over-and-over again how much I was enjoying this book, he caved.  That night I began from the start and read a couple of chapters to him.  It became our ritual.  After we put the kids down to bed, we would curl up together while I read to him.  

                          It was as if Mrs. Craker was standing in our room sprinkling Amish water on our faces, waking us up to our UNfrugal ways.  She made my husband realize the reason he was so poor at keeping track of finances (which is why I usually did it) was because he didn't want to see the wasted money we were tossing out the window.  He also realized he would have eaten the marshmallow.  

                          One of the chapters, Don't Eat the Marshmallow: Learning Delayed Gratification, briefly discusses the marshmallow study from the 1960s.  Four-year-olds were put in a room with a marshmallow in front of them.  They were told that they could either eat it now or wait till the researcher left and returned.  If they waited,  they could have two marshmallows.  

                          It dawned on my husband that instead of his parents enforcing him to save his allowance, they had actually given him advances to get his quick fix of this toy or that game...something he eventually got tired of just a few weeks later once the newness wore off.  He had never learned the importance of delayed gratification.  He had never learned to save.  Note: We no longer have credit cards and now have savings.  Take that credit card companies!

                          I learned in a later chapter that it was okay to buy second-hand.  I have always had this mentality that everything I want should be brand, spanking new.  Once again, Mrs. Craker's voice swirled off the pages like water splashing me in the face.  I had fallen into a dream-like's the American way to work hard for your money (too hard), watch television and see all the pretty commercials, and run out to spend the money just earned on the brand new X item.  "Oh, but don't you already have an older X item," my little voice inside my head would ask.  Or, the little voice would call out, "Can't you get that item from a second-hand store for much less?"  I agreed with the voice of reasoning many times but didn't act on it.  I couldn't set pride aside to buy someone's cast-off or unwanted.   I mean, what if someone saw me, right?       

                          The Amish's words of wisdom written within those pages warned me that I would not be able to live completely debt free or be able to buy something I wanted in the future if I didn't start saving money here-and-there when I can.  

                          Justin and I sat down with a big sigh after we finished reading the book.  We calculated how much we spent on things we didn't need, how much we spent eating out, how much we spent on new items when we could have gotten it second-hand for less, how much food we probably threw away when it didn't get eaten or used, etc....  It was heart crushing.  A twinge of pain shot through me.  All our dreams could have been achieved many times over.  We might as well just take the paychecks and throw them in the trash.  

                          We made some major changes that day.  Justin pulled himself up by his bootstraps and has taken on the finances with a passionate drive.  I don't even have to do it now for he takes charge and beats me to it.  I shred my immature prideful ways, put on my big girl pants, and now have found so many awesome deals at yard sales, flea markets, and thrift stores.  We don't eat out.  I try to cook everything from home using everything in our fridge, freezer, and pantry before going back to the grocery store to buy more items.  Furthermore, together we are saving money.  Every paycheck that comes in, we set some aside to put in savings.  We already have plans for most of what is already there, but we are hoping one day we will be able to go on our honeymoon...something we didn't do when we got married in 2001.  Not to forget we are trying to save for retirement! 

                          There are sooo many other great ideas, tips, and words of wisdom either not known or ignored within Lorilee Craker's Money Secrets of the Amish.  I would love to share all that I learned, but I don't want to give too much away.  Go get it!  You won't be sorry you did.   
                          Click the image if you want to purchase it.    

                          Note*** Lorilee Craker did not pay me to promote her book.  I simply love it and wanted to share.  

                          Saturday, August 27, 2011


                          I look up and down my street.  Most of my neighbors pride themselves in their door displays.  Each season (some every month) put up a different, festive wreath to adorn their door.  I sadly look at my own door and frown by my lack of circular floral accent.  I have only one wreath that I proudly display during the month of month...while during the other eleven, my door remains bare.  Oh, and I should mention the wreath I had - though I was proud to display but only for the fact that I actually had one - was depressingly metal.  Yes, metal.  Not at all full and luscious with greenery.  :(  

                          Call me cheap, call me frugal, call me what you want, but I just couldn't see myself parting with thirty or forty dollars per wreath.  So my door has sat bare for the past three and a half years (minus the three December months) that we have lived in this house.  Until now!

                          Yard sale alert!  Yard sale alert!  I traveled house to house anxiously awaiting some spectacular deal to call my name.  But after a couple of busts, I was about to call it quits for the day.  I was hot, sweaty, tired, and frustrated.  I pulled up to my last yard sale giving it one last shot before I was to head home.  I almost didn't even want to get out of the car, but I pushed forward anyway...or rather my husband pushed me.   

                          I strode forward, shuffling my feet like a child, towards their backyard where they had their display of unwanted items.  I took a deep sigh, slowly lifting my eyes to the vast array of cast-offs.  Just there in front was a table full of Christmas decor and a Christmas wreath!  Oh, but not just any Christmas wreath.  No, this was a full, luscious, gorgeous greenery-filled wreath!  

                          All sounds drowned out as I envisioned family coming for visits during December and having to knock on the door that displayed this beautiful wreath.  Smells of cookies, ham, and sweet potato casserole wafting from the kitchen as Christmas music was playing in the background.  I bounced to the door all excited to greet the guests who waited on the other side with my beautiful wreath.  
                          "Isn't that lovely," some woman said across the table from me; bringing my dream to a halt.  I could see her eyeing it, waiting for me to put it down so she could snatch it right up.  Sorry Missy, but I was not about to put it down.  This wreath kicked my metal wreath's butt to the curb.  

                          "Yes, yes it is" I said with a smile as I put it neatly under my arm.  I needed to get away from this googly-eyed lady drooling over my wreath.  I began my getaway from the table when suddenly my foot kicked a box from just underneath.  My eyes widened with glee as I spotted an entire box full of all different sorts of wreaths!  Now I was all googly-eyed, drooling at the thought, "My door is never to be bare again."   I gently turned over and lifted every wreath, taking all the colors in with delight. 

                          I decided upon two more.  I figured I could put one up now for autumn, use the Christmas one for winter, and the other could be used for both spring and summer.  I wasn't sure of the price since on the actual wreaths there were stickers claiming: $10, $12, and $15, but the box had $5 written on it.  Either way it didn't matter.  I was going to get them.  I figured thirty to forty dollars for  three wreaths was still a great price.  

                          I balanced two on my arm and I hobbled forward, balancing one on my knee as I called my husband to help me get to the seller.  The seller did all she could to stifle a laugh when she saw me.  When ready to pay, I nearly fell over with shock when I was told $9 for all the wreaths.  What?!  Really?!  You got a, I got the deal.  Now I was the one laughing.  

                          my autumn wreath
                          One of those wreaths casts its beautiful autumn appeal on my door right now.  Want to come over and see it?  Okay, never mind.  You can just look at the picture to see.  

                          Oh, and as for that googly-eyed lady...she found another wreath exactly the same inside that box of wreath treasures.  Lucky for us, there were two of each.  :)  

                          Coffee Table, End Table, Bed, Wall Decor and More...

                          Ka-ching!  I woke up this morning determined to find a hidden treasure among someone's trash. Not literally trash, their unwanted yard sale items.  Always remember...someone's trash may be your treasure!  Today, I found quite a bit of treasure. 

                          I have been looking for some wall decor for our bathroom.  Guess what...the very first house with a yard sale had two floral wall plaques.  Originally these are sold for $70 each retail.  Apparently the discounted store had marked them at $30 each.  The sticker was still on the back, so I peeked.  I paid $4 for the pair.  Seriously.  That is a savings of 97% retail / 93% discounted.  

                          I found this large wall hanging later for $15.

                          While there, I saw a pretty, cherry end table.  I was about to pay forty dollars for it when I second guessed myself and decided to leave. " I'll come back for it if I don't find anything else," I told myself.  So, I kept my forty dollars and left.

                          Our last yard sale before heading to the flea market was a surprise.  There was a beautiful, shabby chic twin bed.  It was perfect for my daughter's room.  I had planned on redoing her room soon anyway.  Out of curiosity I asked the lady for the price.  "Eight dollars," she replied barely visible from behind the table of clothes.  "I'm sorry.  What was that?" I asked slightly puzzled I heard her incorrectly.  She said it again this time more clearly, "eight dollars."  I wanted to squeal with delight.  Could she be crazy?!  I swirled around to find my husband's eyes.  I was planning on giving him the get it-get it now before she changes her mind look, when I saw he was already on the same path I was.  He ended up paying $10...the $8 for the bed plus $2 for delivery since we don't have a truck.  The picture to the right is my daughter's new bed minus the new paint and decoration as I will save that task for a later day.

                          Off to the flea market we go!  Not even 10 yards of perusing and I see this coffee table.  It was perfect for our living room.  I asked the price and was rewarded.  She said for the coffee table and end table the total was $30 for the pair.  Glancing to my left, I noticed the end table; a perfect match.  I hadn't even seen it for I was so entranced by the coffee table.  SOLD!  $30 for the pair!!!!  I'm glad I didn't spend forty for the one end table.  

                          It did have a few scratches, but I have my trusty brown marker.  No one will ever notice the few scratches now.  I simply colored over the scratches, waited a few seconds, and wiped it off with an old, dry washcloth.  They look brand new and like we spent hundreds of dollars.  Her trash was definitely a treasure! 

                          Thursday, August 25, 2011

                          Reward System

                          Remember being in school when you were younger?  So much is expected of kids: homework, classwork, tests, papers, chores when they are done with school...On top of all that, they are further expected to do their best and get good grades.  I'm no different.  I expect the same out of my homeschooling offspring.

                          Most kids start the school year (when they are young) excited!  They can't wait to join the rest of society's school children.  Though, over time, the whining begins.  The same child no longer wants to go to school and begins making excuses.  Their grades drop and they lack motivation.  What stems the kids' slow decent into having disregard for the importance of education?

                          Think of your job...every day you go to work and do the same thing day in and day out.  Do you enjoy it?  You would if your employer has a reward system in place.  

                          Think of yourself as your child's employer.  Stop pointing out all the mistakes while ignoring the good deeds.  Kids try so hard to please everyone.  We can correct their bad behavior and mistakes, but let's let them know their hard work on the things they do put forth the effort don't go unnoticed either.  Below you will find several reward systems I have in place within our home school.

                          • Every day that my children behave (three strike rule) they get a sticker on their chart for that day and get to pick something from the treat basket.  The treat basket is filled with a mixture of pencils, bookmarks, erasers, stickers, Tootsie RollsStarburst candiesSilly Bands, etc...  

                          • At the end of the week, if the kids have stickers for every day of that week, they get one school dollar to use or save (downloaded from this site).  This aids in teaching delayed gratification and sets your child up for building savings later in life.  With the school dollars, they can buy any number of things, but each item has a different value.  Items range from $1 to $4.  This encourages kids to try to save for at least a month if they want something from the $4 dollar bag of goodies.
                          • After the sticker chart is complete, if they have stickers for every day of the entire week, I give them a certificate.  We hang the certificate on the wall in the classroom.  They like to see how many they can get before the school year is up.
                          • My children also get pencils, star stickers, or star certificates when I see improvement in grades or behavior.  Sometimes just out of the blue I give it to them to make them feel special.  I may reward for a kind act.
                          I hope these reward ideas help.  Let me know what you think of them or give me some examples of what you do to reward your child. 

                          White Bread

                          Mmmm.  Can you smell that?  The smell of fresh bread coming out of the oven has such a heavenly scent.  I get so giddy pulling them out of the bread pans, seeing the nicely rounded tops and realizing I created a successful loaf.  

                          In all honesty, I don't buy store bread loaves anymore.  I just can't.  After making such tasty and beautiful bread that my family loves, how could I?

                          Most are afraid of even trying to make bread.  Don't be so hesitant to try making this one.  You won't regret this thanks to the easy-to-follow recipe from my favorite Amish and Mennonite cookbook  by Good and Pellman.  While the recipe is below->click the pic to buy the book for more scrumptious recipes

                          • 1 pkg (2 1/4 tsp) yeast
                          • 1/2 cup warm water
                          • 1/3 cup sugar
                          • 2 tsp salt
                          • 2 cups warm water
                          • 2 1/2 Tbsp melted shortening
                          • 6-7 cups flour
                          1. Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water.  
                          2. In large bowl combine sugar, salt, water, and shortening.  
                          3. Add yeast mixture and stir.
                          4. Gradually add flour to form a soft dough.  
                          5. Turn onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.
                          6. Place in a greased bowl.
                          7. Cover and let rise about 2 hours.
                          8. Punch dough down and turn back out onto the floured surface.
                          9. Divide into 2 portions and form loaf shapes.  (I usually knead each half before forming loaf shapes)
                          10. Place in greased bread pans.
                          11. Let rise until higher than pans...about 2 hours.
                          12. Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes.
                          13. After bread has cooled for 10 minutes, remove bread from pans and allow to cool further on a wire rack.
                          14. Enjoy!

                          Apple Pie

                          Apple Pie Recipe
                          Of all the American dishes, apple pie (in my opinion) gives me the loving comfort of home.  The flaky but yet still soft crust, the sweet-bitter apples, the delicious...Oh I better stop.  My mouth is watering.  I think after I post this I just may need to go make one.  While I do, you can read over the recipe.  I bet you will want to make one soon, too.
                          • 2 3/4 cups flour
                          • 3/4 cup butter or margarine
                          • 8-10 Tbsp ice, cold water 
                          • 2 lbs sliced apples
                          • 6 Tbsp sugar
                          • 1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
                          • very fine slices of butter

                          1. Place the flour in a large bowl and cut the margarine into it with a pastry cutter till it resembles bread crumbs.
                          2. Add the water 2 Tbsps at a time, mixing with a knife until the mixture just begins to hold together.
                          3. Using your hands, gather the mixture together in a ball beside the bowl.
                          4. Wrap the pastry dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
                          5. Put dough on a floured surface and cut in half.  
                          6. Flatten one half into a circle large enough to set in a pie dish with edges hanging over. *It is easier to put dough in pie dish by folding in half and then in half again--like a wedge--then unfold once it is resting in the pie dish.
                          7. Preheat oven to 425.
                          8. Toss apple slices, sugar, and cornstarch in a bowl.
                          9. Dump apple mixture into the dough lined pie dish and top with slices of butter.
                          10. Roll out the other half of the dough the same as the first.
                          11. Place on top of apple mixture, pressing edges to close the dough.
                          12. Using a knife, cut excess dough from around the pie dish.
                          13. Flute the edges with your fingers to give a pretty appearance.
                          14. Cut a 1/2 inch steam hole in the center.
                          15. Use left over trimmings to make decorative shapes and arrange on top of the pie, leaving the steam hole open.
                          16. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350 and bake for 30-35 minutes.  
                          17. Enjoy!

                          Wednesday, August 24, 2011

                          Lavender and Sage Bath Salts

                          Making bath salts is easy.  Anyone can do this.  Above is a picture of Lavender & Sage Bath Salts I made for a sick friend.  Whether you are sick or not, soaking in a hot tub with a relaxing aromatic blend rising from the steam of the water will relieve stress and soothe the mind.


                          • 1/4 cup of sea salt
                          • 2 tsp baking soda (softens the water and skin)
                          • 2 tsp regular salt (holds the oils and color better)
                          • a few drops of lavender oil
                          • a few drops of sage oil
                          • a few drops of soap grade coloring
                          1. In a bowl, mix the regular salt, baking soda, oils, and coloring.  
                          2. Add sea salt and mix.  
                          3. *You may need to add a few drops more of the oils and coloring to incorporate with the sea salt.
                          4. Put in a container to store.
                          5. That's it!  Pretty easy huh?  =)
                          Note: Try it with other oils or coloring.  Opt for citrus scents or peppermint to awaken your senses.  Have fun with it!

                          School Lunch Savings

                          The school year is underway.  While I home school, many of my friends send their children to either private or public schools.  Everyday these parents entrust the learning, safety, and health of their beloved offspring in the hands of someone else.  While my opinion on education and safety within these institutions remain intact, I will reserve that for another day.  

                          At this moment, I want to discuss nutrition and cost.  A regular lunch averages at about $2.25 per day.  At the end of the week, that tallies up to $11.25.  Total cost by the end of the school year is $405.00 (based on 5 days week/36 weeks in a school year).  Let me repeat that...$405.00 for 180 days worth of meals.   

                          I know we as moms can make one lunch meal for less than $2.25 a day.  I make meals for the entire family sometimes that cost less than $5.00 for the four of us - and we sometimes have leftovers! =)  No, I'm not asking you to buy those grocery store, prepackaged kid meals.  Who wants to eat that?  Okay, I take it back.  Your child may ask for them, so let me rephrase...Who wants to FEED that to their kids?  They are small servings, certainly not enough to fill the belly.  Furthermore, they are loaded with preservatives and fat.  Yuck!

                          I understand that some moms may not have time to make their children's lunch, but on days you do have time, you could put most of that money back in your pocket.  And guess what?  It won't come in those prepackaged meals now served at the school!  Yep!  You heard me.  The local schools here are now serving up prepackaged meals.  Remember that teacher, Mrs. Q, who started a blog discussing all the crap they were serving the kids?  Well, that nightmare has arrived here and soon to arrive where you are unless changes are made.  

                          So, for $2.25 you get a frozen, packaged, trash-creating, unhealthy, lacking in variety meal.  Yay for the school district!  They saved money, created more pollution, and upped your child's risk of obesity and diabetes in the future.  

                          "Food for Thought" that is what the packages say on the side...hmmm I'm thinking something about 'em alright.  Here is what I'm thinking now...What ever happened to freshly cooked meals?  What ever happened to cartoon-covered metal lunchboxes filled with peanut butter sandwiches, fruit, vegetable sticks, and the occasional treat thrown in there with an attached love note from Mom?  

                          Didn't I say something about changes?  Here it make the change.  Stop buying that stuff (yes, I called it stuff--what else could it be called).  Start packing healthy meals for your child to take to school.  And, contact your local school district about a better choice of lunch menus.  Schools shouldn't cut corners on what might be the most important meal of the day for some students. If it comes in a package and has a paragraph list of ingredients, it isn't natural.  Don't buy it.  

                          Save your child's future in health, Save your money, and toss in a love note when you make their meals.  

                          I'm off my soapbox----for now.

                          Tuesday, August 23, 2011

                          Make Yogurt at Home

                          My family enjoys eating yogurt.  I like that they want to eat it, but buying high quality, organic yogurt can be costly.  How about a simple, easy yogurt recipe you can make in your crock pot?  You betcha!

                          • 8 cups of raw or whole milk
                          • 1/4-1/2 cup sugar
                          • 1/2 cup organic, live cultured yogurt (or 1/2 cup saved yogurt from a previous batch)
                          • 2 tsp pectin (optional)
                          1. Set your crockpot to low and heat the milk and sugar to 110 for 2 1/2 hours, covered.  Make sure the temp does not rise above 110!
                          2. Cut your crockpot off and let sit for 3 hours.
                          3. Scoop out 2 cups of the milk and whisk the 1/2 cup yogurt into the 2 cups of milk. (Also add the pectin at this point if you are going to use it)
                          4. Pour back into the milk and stir all together.
                          5. Now pour milk mixture into large mason jars and put in an insulated bag and/or wrap in towels to keep the heat inside.
                          6. The next morning or after 8 hours, whisk the yogurt within the jars. *Whey will have risen to the top.
                          7. Refrigerate for 12-24 hours or if you just can't wait, dig right in.
                          8. The yogurt will last up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
                          9. Enjoy!
                          For a thicker, more Greek-like yogurt, strain through a cheesecloth after allowing it to sit overnight.  Save the whey to use in other cooking recipes for added protein benefits.

                          If Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, where do children come from?

                          We hear it all the time; the differences between men and women can't be ignored.  They say "Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus" to portray that we are alien to one another...our brains work on different wavelengths.  

                          Men are more rugged in nature.  They let it all hang out as they strut themselves so proudly about, "peacocking," or showing off, when they get the chance.  They express their emotions with ferocity and aggression or through dominance of some sort.  I'm not saying all men are this way.  My own husband, though he may strut around, still has a soft side, but he also has that male dominance that I think is just naturally born into men.  If it wasn't born into them, they learn it through their peers or father.  In turn, they strive to reach for acceptance of other men by following the examples laid out.  Men want to be remembered by what they have accomplished.

                          Women are more sensitive in nature.  We are usually limited with what we are feeling; being cautious and reserved with our thoughts.  Yet while we may not share openly our feelings, we tend to wear them on our sleeve.  Let me explain this better...most women will not say they are upset, but you can't hide the tears that spring to the eyes.  We can talk all day long about everything else going on in our lives but hold back on personal details.  We leave the other person guessing or completely unaware.  I figure we do this because we just want to be loved.  We are afraid of sharing our innermost thoughts in fear of causing disappointment or casting our loved ones out like a plague.  Women want to be remembered by how much they loved and were loved in return.

                          So, this brings me to ask If Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, where do children come from?  It is a silly question when you think about it.  We should respond with the notion that they are a combination of the two.  They usually (or they should!) look like a combination of both parents, but do they act as such?  If so, when do they start becoming more Men vs. Women / Mars vs. Venus?    

                          Zach, my eldest is so timid.  He is more reserved than I.  If I could get a glimpse into his thoughts, I'm sure to be amazed.  He doesn't say much but his actions speak so much louder than his words.  He is always building something, working away in his room creating something new and different than before.  When he isn't putting together robots or whatnot, he is writing stories, making movies, or just lost in thought.  I always wonder what he is thinking.  Occasionally I ask, but mostly I leave him to dream his thoughts in peace.  Oh, and his room (when he isn't playing) is spotless!  I never have to ask him to clean his room.  Awesome, right?!  If he keeps it up he is going to make some woman very happy one day.  

                          Caitlin, my youngest is the complete opposite!  She is open with everyone and will not hesitate to tell you how she feels or what she is thinking.  She is determined to get what she wants, and with Daddy wrapped around her little finger, she usually does.  Furthermore, she is always in trouble for having a messy room.  I can barely walk in her room before stepping on something.  It takes her five minutes to destroy a room that took her an hour to clean.  But what do I find mostly on her floors?  Dress up clothes and books.  She loves to pretend she is all grown up...usually begging to wear make-up.  While that will have to wait, her other passion does not.  She loves to read.  Thank goodness!  She can be found sitting somewhere in the house with a book in hand.  She can't seem to get enough.  Most kids would rather get a new video game, but she would much rather have a new book (preferably a "girly book").  While I enjoy indulging her book wish list, the problem is getting her to put it back where it goes.  "Books go on the shelf, Caitlin"  If I had a nickle for every time I've said those words....

                          Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is my son and daughter fit the mold perfectly, each physically resembling the two of us--a perfect combination.  Right now, I'd say they are pretty much a combination in personality as well.  So, when does it change?  When should I expect my little, sweet boy to start strutting around, claiming he is from Mars?  When should I expect my princess of a daughter to start hiding her feelings from me, calling Venus her home?  Can I wish for it to not happen?  I'd rather they just stay here...down to Earth.

                          Wait...I hear Justin and Zach talking about hunting --or rather "hunt'n".   Oh, it is too late!  [hand flies to the forehead with dramatic flare]  I gasp as I watch my son slowly turn into a martian.

                          Monday, August 22, 2011

                          My obsession with vinegar

                          I buy vinegar like it is going out of style.  Why?  Because I use it for almost everything.  Literally!  Check out some of the frugal tips with vinegar below.  You might be surprised.
                          In the Kitchen
                          1. Clean your coffee pot and coffee maker by running a mixture of 1 part vinegar and 2 parts water through as you would if you were making coffee.  This gets rid of hard water buildup.   It needn't be said that you do this without a filter and coffee grounds. :)  Just rinse through with fresh water afterwards.
                          2. In keeping with the removal of hard water stains, soaking a cloth in vinegar and laying it across the area where there is build up will help get rid of it.
                          3. I never use rinse agents in my dishwasher.  I just can't see spending more money on a product when vinegar can get the job done for less.
                          4. Clean pewter, copper, and brass with 1 tsp salt and 1 cup vinegar.  My kids love shining up old pennies by soaking them in the salt-vinegar solution!
                          5. Unclog a drain by pouring a handful of baking soda down the drain and 1/2 cup vinegar.  Rinse with boiling water.  (My second love is baking soda)
                          6. Freshen and get rid of unwanted smells by cleaning trashcans, disposal, sink, etc...with vinegar.
                          7. Out of buttermilk?  Mix 1 Tblsp vinegar with 1 cup of milk.  Let it stand 5 minutes before using.
                          In the Laundry
                          1. Brighten your laundry and get rid of lint with 1/2 cup vinegar in the rinse cycle.  I promise your clothes will not smell like vinegar.  
                          2. Remove perspiration stains by rubbing and/or soaking with vinegar.
                          Health & Beauty
                          1. Relieve itching or stinging from insect bites by applying a cotton ball dipped in vinegar.
                          2. Relieve sunburn by applying vinegar.  I like to put it in a spray bottle.
                          3. After washing your hair, rinse with vinegar to remove build up.  After rinsing it out with water, I promise your hair will not smell like vinegar.  (You can use baking soda to wash your hair to get soft, oil free hair prior to rinsing with vinegar).
                          4. Vinegar helps soothe sore throats with gargling.
                          1. Deter ants by spraying vinegar.
                          2. Eliminate animal odors by cleaning with vinegar.
                          3. Substitute weed killer with vinegar.  
                          4. Clean windows by spraying with vinegar and wiping clean.
                          5. Mop your floors with a mixture of 4 parts water, 1 part vinegar, and a few drops of liquid soap.
                          6. Prolong the life of cut flowers by adding 2 Tblsp of vinegar to the water vase.
                          7. Clean around toilets by spraying vinegar instead of harsh chemicals.
                          The list can go on and on.  If you have any ideas you would like to share, feel free to comment below.