Saturday, December 6, 2008

Apparently, I don't hate baking, and Happy Feast of St. Nicolas!

We had some friends over yesterday to decorate gingerbread cookies, and it was a fun-filled morning that was also full of sprinkles, candies, snowy-white frosting. It was one of the mornings where we had so much fun that I forgot to take pictures...sorry about that.

After everyone left, however, I went a little crazy and decorated the remaining cookies to take to church tonight for the kids to enjoy while the adults have a progressive dinner party. You know what? It was fun. I really dreaded it, but I had the best time. I felt so creative and, well, capable. That's not a feeling I usually get from handling a pastry bag. So, here are the results:

Now, why the gingerbread? you may be asking. Today, December 6th, is the Feast of St. Nicolas, and children all over Europe are exchanging gingerbread cookies in honor of the Saint who loved the spicy little morsels so much that he gave them to people wherever he went. In return, St. Nicolas the modern-day legend is filling their shoes with candy and presents. Beware, however, of Père Fouettard (Father Whipper), St. Nick's counterpart who travels with him carrying a bundle of switches for the not-so-nice children. And you thought threatening kids with coal in their stocking was effective!

So...take some time to be generous today! Whether it be cookies or simply your time, St. Nick's legacy is that of giving of oneself to others. Have a great day!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Adventures in Baking

Today I thought I would do something I've never done before--bake dark chocolate cupcakes with a creamy ganache filling in my new Christmas pans. For our church dinner this evening. Where other people would actually be eating them. What could go wrong???

Um, yeah. Apparently things with molten centers should not be inverted too quickly. Or, at all.

At least my little boy enjoyed them.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Let the countdown begin!

It's December 1st! Break out those Advent Calendars!

For our calendar we number slips of paper from 1-25 (I created a table using a pretty Christmas font for ours, but that's just me). We use these slips of paper to celebrate by doing a small activity every day until the 25th. First I choose the numbers for which I know we have something already planned (eg. Christmas Parade on the 13th) I write those activities first. Then, I flip the rest over so that I can't see the numbers and I write a Christmas-themed activity, such as singing a Christmas carol, reading a Christmas story, coloring a Christmas picture, watching a Christmas movie, etc. I try to be as random as possible so that it's a surprise for me, too.

That's what we do--what do you do for your Advent Calendar?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Affording Christmas Part II

This is a tough year for many people, especially considering the holiday season is approaching and many of us are wondering how we can afford to do what we want to do for our loved ones and our communities. A few years ago my husband and I decided that we wanted to be able to relax financially during the holidays, and our first step was to create a Christmas savings account.

Did your Grandmother have one of those "Christmas Club" accounts? Mine did. I remember riding to the bank in her car when she made her deposits, and she explained to me what she was doing. She put a little in each month, and then she would withdraw the money in November or December to use for her Christmas shopping. When my DH and I sat down to discuss our strategy, this idea immediately came to mind. We decided to deposit a set amount immediately each month into a separate savings account that would only be used for holiday expenses. By using a traditional savings account we were able to withdraw anytime we wanted during the year instead of waiting until the crazy shopping days just before Christmas. This enabled me to attend the ornament premiers in July (yes, I am one of those people) and catch discounts and other promotions when they happened. After our first year we decided to also include travel expenses in our savings, so we slightly increased the amount we deposited monthly so there would be no year end surprises with airfare.

Once we know our lump-sum for the year, I create a spreadsheet (a pencil and paper list would be fine, too--I just find I work better if I feel I'm being technical). I make a list of all of the people to whom we will be giving gifts, and I also include things like Christmas Cards, stamps, gift exchanges for work, baking and cooking costs, decorations, unexpected expenses, etc. I divvy up our total amount available and record any gifts or other items we buy. As long as our total costs are less than or equal to our budgeted costs, we're doing pretty well!

Are you unable to divert part of your income to a savings account for the holidays? Here's a tip: Use coupons, but instead of handing them to the cashier take a walk to customer service. They will give you cash back for your coupons. Take that cash and stash it away until you can deposit it.

I realize that I'm publishing this on Black Friday, and many of you could have used this information a long time ago. Just read it today and bookmark it for January 1st! Also, check out last week's post on ways to afford Christmas right now (some of the strategies would be great for padding your savings account, too).

Friday, November 21, 2008

Affording Christmas Part I: Finding Money

I love Christmas. I turn into a giggling freak this time each year. I love the atmosphere, the music, the camaraderie...everything. I love it so much that I actually miss it the rest of the year--I visit Christmas shops in July just to get a hit of the Christmas smell. The trouble is that much of what I love at Christmastime involves money, and who really has enough of that?

I'm also one of those crazed gift-givers who actually get a rush from giving other people things. That of course, does cost money, and over the years I've developed some strategies for affording the holidays, particularly the gift-giving part of them.

1. Always look for the promotion. Buying make-up? Is there a free gift available? Buying ornaments from Hallmark? Can you spend $x and get a free stuffed animal or reindeer shaped candle? Headed to Target? They run specials where if you buy $x of a certain brand they will give you a gift card for $x. Look for the freebies out there, and then ask yourself, who might like this? Can I get more for my money?

2. Check your wallet. Did you receive a stack of gift cards last year? Did you use them? Two Christmases ago my husband received a gift card from a men's clothing store. He never used it. I found it and used it to help buy several shirts for him last Christmas, and he was happy to have the shirts regardless of how they were purchased. Gift cards are really hard to wear, so use those bad boys for something a little more practical!

3. Check your mail. In the past week I have received a $10 off a $10 purchase at JC Penny's and a coupon for a free "anything in the store" with any purchase at Bath & Body Works. Um, I'm pretty sure that "free" is a good deal anywhere. Use those coupons, and don't let them expire!

4. Keep the change. Last month alone I accumulated $40 in spare change. Imagine if I had collected change all year...that's quite a few gifts.

5. Fives only, please. I read about this in a magazine once. The writer refused to spend $5 bills. When she received one as change it went straight into a special part of her wallet, and then into savings. I did this for a while, and before too long I had collected nearly $200 in $5's. Add that to the spare change, and you have a great nest egg for Christmas spending!

6. Don't avoid the drug stores. CVS and Walgreens (and probably others--those are just the two we have here) run extremely good sales at this time of year on things you wouldn't expect like toys and decorations. I'm looking at a stack of batteries that I essentially paid nothing for this week and don't even get me started on the amount of candy I got there this month. Their clearance sales are awesome, too. Need some free money to spend there? Transfer a prescription and get a $25 gift card!

So, pull out those seat cushions and see what you can do! Do you have other ideas? I'd love to hear them!

PS: Check back next Friday after you get back from the mall for my family's long-term strategy for affording Christmas, and stay tuned for our evolving philosophy concerning Christmas spending.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Escarg...oh, no, you didn't! or "Them's snails!"

One of my most favorite scenes from Little House on the Prairie was when Mr. Edwards and Charles were eating in a "fancy" restaurant in one of those big cities they always visited for business. They decide to order something really nice, and the waiter suggests the escargots. The men order their "es-car-gots" and when the little morsels arrive at the table, both men are outraged--"Why, them's snails!" they shout as they leave the restaurant in a fury.

I went on a cruise with my husband's family last weekend to celebrate his lovely grandmother's 80th birthday. It was the first cruise for our family of three, and we were told before leaving that we should be prepared for the wonderful food. Guess what? It was wonderful, and there was plenty of it. On the menu for our formal dinner evening I did spy something that always makes me giggle, and well, gag--the incredibly luxurious escargots bourguignon. Them's snails, for us simpletons.

I feel like I have a pretty adventurous pallet, but personally I find a plate of snails, excuse me, escargots, to be one of the most vile dishes I have ever tried to eat. They taste like grass and dirt. What about the delectable garlic butter sauce, you say? Well, I would prefer to eat that on something not disgusting like pasta or vegetables. I may even prefer to eat that on actual grass and dirt rather than consuming an escargot.

So, back to the cruise. I am a Frenchie-Francophile (that means "lover of France" for those of you raising your eyebrows) who has actually lived in France and has been served "escargots done right" and I can imagine no greater punishment than being forced to eat a plate of smelly, once-slimy creatures swimming in fat, garlic, and herbs. My brother-in-law (a very cool guy, by the way) ordered the escargots as his appetizer. He won't eat a fresh tomato, but he will eat a plate of slugs in sauce. I don't get it. Is it the luxe factor? I have a theory on that.

I think it went something like this: Two con men are walking through the woods searching for provisions for their next meal. One looks down at the ground and inspiration strikes. "Hey! Remember how we tricked that emperor into walking around naked? Well, there's plenty of snails here--let's see if we can get the rich people in town to eat them! Get out the garlic butter and herbs!"

It couldn't possibly be that someone saw it as a good idea. Who would seriously look down at the ground and say, "Check out the slime trail that thing's leaving! Looks like good eats to me! Quick, get the garlic butter and herbs!"

Oh oui, Somewhere out there is a dead Frenchman who is laughing hysterically saying, "I so wasn't serious about that! You're not really going to eat those are you???" With a French accent, of course.

An actual escargot de bourgogne. (Apparently a homeless escargot.)
This picture was taken in 1998 in the woods near Autun, France in the region of Burgundy.
Amazingly I was able to take this shot without succumbing to the urge to reach down, snatch him up and eat him.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Saving Dinner!

November is Meal Planning Month over at the FlyLady site and it couldn't have come at a better time for us. We have just finished a Once A Month Cooking (OAMC) session and the meals we prepared need to last until after the New Year, so if I don't plan well we may be out of food before Thanksgiving!

My meal planning strategy is facilitated by knowing what is in my freezer. I took the list of meals we prepared at OAMC and I printed a blank calendar from Outlook. I also opened our family calendar to see which nights we would need dinner as well as which nights we might not. I noted any evenings where one or more of us would not be home as that changes my cooking plans, and I recorded anything important on the no-longer-blank calendar. I then tried to complete the meal calendar by assigning dishes to the remaining days. A typical week looks something like this:

  • Monday: Sweet Soy Chicken with Rice
  • Tuesday: Mexican Torta
  • Wednesday: Ekklesia (This is our church's weekly dinner--yay! No cooking!)
  • Thursday: Chicken and Rice Wraps (My husband would night be eating with us that evening due to a meeting, so we would have something easy to prepare in small quantities. These are great just defrosted in the microwave like a burrito!)
  • Friday: Pizza or Spaghetti (We eat this every Friday night and it is not a freezer meal)
  • Saturday: Panko Parmesan Oven-Fried Chicken Salad
  • Sunday: OYO (On Your Own) Night! We eat whatever we want, but it's every man for himself. Usually, this is my cereal for dinner night!)

I write any side dishes or ingredients that I need on the calendar as well as any thawing instructions, then I stick the finished chart on the freezer so that I can see it any time.

If you're new to meal planning and are unsure where to begin, may I also recommend You'll find a link to it on the left side of the page. Leanne Ely publishes a free daily e-newsletter that provides recipes and helpful tips for feeding the family, and if you're interested she also has an enormous selection of freezer recipes for purchase that take minutes to prepare. If you need LOTS of help with meal planning you can purchase a weekly Menu Mailer where she gives you recipes and shopping lists for the entire week. Personally, I have purchased several of her freezer recipe sets including Chicken for the Freezer and Heart Healthy for the Freezer. The Moroccan Chicken with Honey Couscous is a favorite in our OAMC group. (Sorry for the advertisement, but I really do love Ms. Ely's products!)

So, that's what works for us! We eat well and we don't spend as much money at restaurants anymore...what works for you? Check out Crystal's site for more helpful hints!

Thursday, November 6, 2008


We're under quarantine. OK, so it's not as serious as it sounds--my little guy has what the doctor is calling bronchitis and he is contagious, so we are home bound for the rest of the week. It's kind of strange, too. This week and next should have been two of the busiest of the season for us, and suddenly with a fairly high fever and a few coughs, we have nothing to do except dose medicine and drink fluids.

There is another side to this as well--we're supposed to go on a cruise next weekend with my husband's family (pretty much all of them, in celebration of his dear grandmother's 80th birthday), and I'm a little concerned about this change in health. We can't cancel really cancel our reservations, and I'm pretty sure a family of sick people wouldn't be too welcome on the boat. I believe I read a clause in the informative booklet we received that says something like, "Sick people will be left to fend for themselves at the nearest port of call." Yes, I'm paraphrasing a bit, but I do have a feeling that we would be locked in our stateroom before Captain Stubing would allow his ship to become a floating lazaretto. So somehow we have to nurse our son back into health while keeping our own hands clean and germ-free...yikes. I can't even estimate how many times I was on the receiving end of sneezes and coughs today...

Donna lent us this book, and it has come in quite handy!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Toys We Love--Maple Landmark

I absolutely love the Maple Landmark company in Vermont! They make classic wooden toys and home decor along with a slew of other neat gifts. Their products are American-Made and guaranteed safe for our little ones.

This year we are giving our son a Midget Train set and a few Scoots. Who could resist a train that's called the "Chocolate Pudding Train?"

Midget Train

Fire Truck and Police Car Scoots

We are also giving our son and our nephew one of their Semi-Trucks. Being a Kentucky girl, I fell in love with this one as soon as I saw it!

What on your Christmas list this year? Check out Rocks in My Dryer for other great toy ideas!

Monday, November 3, 2008

'Tis the Season to GIVE!

A few days ago we received the annual holiday newsletter from our local charitable organization, and in it was a reminder about the beginning of their food drive as well as an article about their "Giving Tree"-type campaign. Usually I read the newsletter and then throw it away, but this issue I kept. I looked at the list of food items and then I looked at the pile of coupons on my dining room table, many of them for great products that my family just doesn't use. I decided then and there to challenge myself this year: I'm going to give as much as possible to those two campaigns while spending as little as possible (so that I can give more).

Before I continue, please hear me--I'm not writing this for any reason other than 1) to hold myself accountable, 2) to hopefully get some great ideas from you on how to accomplish this goal, and 3) to possibly inspire you to join me in giving. That being said...

Yesterday I started my quest by getting FREE Crest Pro-Health toothpaste at CVS. With my coupons I actually earned $1 on the purchase. Toothpaste is not quite food and really isn't a great Christmas gift, but I had to start somewhere. I then went to Walgreens where I acquired two boxes of Celestial Seasonings tea for FREE--They were 2 for $3. The Walgreens Easy Saver Rebate book has a coupon for $1 off of 2 boxes and I had 2 $1 off 1 box coupons from a previous Sunday paper. Those are considered food donations, so I'm on my way!

So, if you see any deals, let me know! And if you want to post your ideas for helping your community, please leave comments! I don't have to tell you that many people are feeling the crunch this year with recent economic events. If we can give of ourselves, our time, our abilities, our talents, maybe we can show others the Light that is the Truth of this season...

Happy Giving!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Little Photographer

My two-year-old took these "pickers" (that's what he calls them). I think I'm gonna let him do the photography for my blog from now on!

Impression: Mommy and Daddy

Impression: Nana

View from the Back Seat

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


When my mom said she was worried she wouldn't be able to finish my son and nephew's birthday cake last week, I must admit I was pretty excited. I yanked my sprinkles out of my suitcase and exclaimed, "We can make cupcakes!"

I've been waiting for an opportunity to make cupcakes for weeks since Pam made her beautiful ones for our sons' party. Hers were topped with vibrantly-colored frosting and the kids decorated them with sprinkles. They were yummy, too.

Pam's Cupcakes

My sister Tara and I went to work, and here are the results (Tara was the bug sculptor--I'm better at sprinkling things!):

Fall Sprinkles

Pumpkin and Leaves
(I desperately wanted to make this one when
I saw it on the cover of a magazine)

Spider on a Web

Mommy Spider and Babies

This was an accident, and we laughed hysterically about it.
I think we'll call it, "Take that, you very hungry caterpillar!"

Friday, October 17, 2008

Oh, nuts...

Have you ever seen a real walnut? One that's still on the tree or has just fallen off? It looks very different from what you find on the grocery store shelf.

I'm sure there is a philosophical blog article I could write about the lesson to be learned on inner beauty when beholding the walnut (yada, yada, yada), and feel free to leave your own ideas in the comments section, but honestly, I just thought they looked kind of funny and interesting and I wanted to show you.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fall Fun

We're in western Kentucky this week visiting family, and today was full of fall fun. This morning I awoke (a little too early--my internal clock is still set to Eastern Time) to see the sun creeping through the back yard.

The leaves are ready to change, and some of them are already turning beautiful shades of red and yellow.

We visited a farm today where we went on a hayride...

picked apples...

played in a sandbox full of corn...

explored a pumpkin patch...

and gathered walnuts.

Today's fun was a welcome change from yesterday's fast food and interstate driving!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Snack Time!

We're on the road this week, and in our car, the choice of snacks is almost as important as the gasoline in the tank. (I guess that's a bit of a metaphor, too.)

Here's our list of munchies for this trip:

Trail Mix made with freeze-dried fruit from Just Tomatoes
Sun Chips
Juice Boxes
Pizza-Flavored Gold Fish Crackers
Triscuits Thin Crisps
Candy Corn (Mommy Emergency Food)
Marshmallows (Toddler Emergency Food)

What do you like to eat when you travel?

I should be arriving at my destination later today, so be sure to check my blog this week as I hope to blog from the road!

Monday, October 13, 2008

On the road...

Today my son and I are beginning a journey across four states to visit our family in western Kentucky. I learned a few trips ago that I travel much better by car when I have good audio books in the CD player. This time we are going to have a Nicholas Sparks marathon:

True Believer
At First Sight
The Guardian

What do you listen to when you travel?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Just Too Good...

I'm blogging right now to get away from the box sitting in my kitchen. I ordered an assortment of freeze-dried fruits and veggies from Just Tomatoes, and it finally arrived today. I was expecting something good, but I had no idea how addictive it would be...

I heard about these in my favorite toddler cookbook, The Toddler Cafe, by Jennifer Carden. She uses them in homemade trail mix and I decided to give it a try. We're going on a fairly long road trip in a few days, so we need snacks and I would prefer that they be somewhat healthy.

I ordered the following: Just Cherries (WOW), Just Grapes (thankfully not as good as I'd hoped, but good enough to eat them all anyway), Just Veggies (corn, peas, peppers, tomatoes, and delicious), Just Strawberries (just like the kind you pick out of cereal), Just Raspberries, Just Blueberries, and Just Blackberries. The first four came in little easy-to-open bins, and they are what I'm having a hard time avoiding. My son is, too--my two-year-old keeps circling the table saying, "Box, box, please, please!" He really likes the cherries. So do I.

The last three on the list came in non-resealable plastic bags because I ordered smaller quantities of them, and that is the only thing keeping them from being devoured--my perfectionism will only allow me to open a non-reclosable bag at the perfect time so that they can be enjoyed perfectly. At least it's working for me in this case.

So, do I recommend Just Tomatoes? YES, particularly if you live near me and we can order together. The more you order, the cheaper the unit price, and if you order more than $100, shipping is free. Any takers??? Please???

OK, I've gotta go. My son just nabbed the strawberries and he's waving them in front of's healthy, right?????

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pumpkin Muffins

It's October 1st, and in our house that means it's also time for pumpkins! I tried this muffin recipe for breakfast today--I had some new silicone muffin pans that were just begging for something yummy! (The recipe is courtesy of King Arthur Flour--if you love their flour, visit their site. They have tons of great recipes!)

(Note: I opted to use only the whole wheat flour for these muffins, and they were great!)

Pumpkin Leaf Muffins

These muffins can be baked in our autumn leaf molds for a special seasonal touch, or as a regular muffin. You can customize their flavor with grated carrots, raisins, oatmeal, or 3/4 cup chocolate chips, chopped nuts or apples, or cinnamon chips.

On their own, they're wonderful with a dab of Maple Cinnamon Butter (recipe follows).

1 cup (8 ounces) pumpkin (about 1/2 of a 15 ounce can)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (4 ounces) packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons (2 5/8 ounces) vegetable oil
1 tablespoon molasses
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
1/2 cup (4 ounces) milk
1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose or King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a large bowl whisk together the pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, oil, molasses, salt, spices, and milk. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and baking soda together. Add all at once to the wet ingredients and mix until all ingredients are well combined. Drop about 3 tablespoons (or a scant quarter cup) of the batter into the greased leaf molds, or the wells of a prepared muffin pan. Bake for 16-18 minutes, until firm to the touch for leaf molds; 18 to 20 minutes for regular muffins. Yield: 16 to 18 leaf shaped muffins, or 12 regular muffins.

Maple Cinnamon Butter

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) butter
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) brown sugar

Beat all the ingredients together until the mixture is smooth. Serve with Pumpkin Muffins.

**Here are the pics of my finished muffins. I actually like the leaf-shaped ones the best!**

In the Kitchen--Organization

What I find to be the biggest hurdle to organizing my kitchen is not the cubic footage of the cabinets, but the surface area available in the cabinets.

I add shelving layers whenever possible to my cabinets (it is much easier to remove plates, bowls, and glasses this way):

I organized my bake ware and cookware in one cabinet using two chrome adjustable shelves:

My laundry area is actually a closet in my kitchen with the plastic-coated wire rack style of shelving. Before, I had to stack everything, and it always ended in an avalanche of foil and plastic containers. I took some pieces of the cubic closet organizer I have in another room and repurposed it to hold my boxes. (Instead of using the clips that came with organizer for the shelves in the middle I used cable ties to hold everything together.)

(By the way--I'm not a Ziploc hoarder nor am I an employee of the Ziploc company! I'm storing all of those bags for our Once A Month Cooking group!)

This is what works for me! How do you organize your kitchen?

Check out other ideas at Rocks in My Dryer!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Making the Holidays Last

I love this time of year--from Labor Day until New Year's Eve, I am on Cloud 9. I love the holiday displays (and by holidays, I mean Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's) and the holiday foods--a little too much! I could easily celebrate everything all at once before October even begins, so I've come up with some rules for myself to keep me from going overboard.

1. September is apple and birthday month.

2. No candy corn or pumpkin-flavored anything until October 1st. I love pumpkin (especially in pancakes), but I stop eating it before summer begins so that I'm really craving it by the time the season gets here!

3. We decorate with pumpkins after October 1st. I don't decorate much for Halloween, so these are the precursors to our Thanksgiving decorations.

4. November 1st is the first day of Thanksgiving decorations. We add harvest-y things to the pumpkins that are already there. Candy corn is finished for the season on this day, also.

5. Christmas officially debuts in our home on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The decorations are set, and we prepare our Advent calendar. We give ourselves from that Friday until December 1st to finish our preparations so that we can enjoy the entire month of December.

6. I'm not a big fan of Black Friday shopping, but I do seek out a Starbucks after the crowds have dispersed a little to get my first Peppermint Mocha of the season.

7. December 1st is the first day we open our Advent Calendar, and we open a door every day until Christmas. Christmas candy is allowed as well as cookies, cakes, boiled custard and eggnog, and anything else our little hearts desire (applying the rule of moderation, of course!).

How do you make the seasons and holidays count?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Doing the hard work so you don't have to...

I just peeled the paper from a gazillion crayons to make molded crayons for the goody bags at my son's birthday party, and I thought I would give you a few tips on how to do it more efficiently! (I was pretty slow getting started, but once I figured out a few things it was smooth peeling!)

1. If you enjoy mundane and agonizingly slow tasks, then by all means scrape that paper with your fingernail (this also gives your fingernails a nice multi-colored hue--saves money on nail polish, I guess). I took an Exacto knife and cut a line lengthwise in the paper. For many of the colors, the paper will then come right off. (Unfortunately the tip of my finger also nearly came right off--be careful!)

2. For some reason there are colors that really like to keep their paper. In my experience, the more yellow in the color, the more modest the crayon. The deeper purples and blues also had disrobing issues. This led me to tip number...

3. Stick them in the freezer. After other failed attempts at skinning the stubborn ones, I cut the slit in the paper, popped the bag of unpeeled crayons in the freezer, and waited. Once they were nice and chilly, I took them out, and guess what? The paper practically fell off of them!

Happy peeling!

Oh, goody!

When it comes to birthday parties, my favorite part is making the treat bags for our guests. My little guy turned two today, and here's what I did for the goody bags for his party:

I like to go heavier on the non-candy items, so this year we used party bubbles, a punching balloon (I saw these at the store and had so many fun memories of birthday parties gone by--I just had to get them!), molded crayons, a Halloween package of Teddy Grahams or Ritz Bitz, and a Dum Dum sucker. (It is really nice to have his party so near Halloween--we're able to get some neat things in the perfect sized packages!)

Of everything I put in the bags, the molded crayons are my favorite. Through trial and error I learned some pretty nifty tricks for preparing the crayons a little more efficiently, and they looked so pretty sitting in their little stacks getting ready to be bagged...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

If only I had known this sooner!

As you know, I am a bit of a coupon junkie. I'm learning a little bit every day about how to make saving money work for me, and there are several things I wish I had known sooner!

1. You can use a Buy One Get One Free coupon on a Buy One Get One Free sale to get both items free. Don't spend time trying to rationalize this--you'll go crazy. Just go with it.

2. Some stores allow you to use a store coupon AND a manufacturer's coupon at the same time for the same item. Recently I purchased two bags of Bird's Eye Steam Fresh Vegetables. Each was priced $1.79. They were on sale for 50% off, therefore I got two for $1.79. I had a manufacturer's coupon for $1.00 off of two bags, thus my price went down to $.79 for two. I also had a store coupon for $.55 off of two bags, thus the price went down to $.24 for two bags. That's $.12 a bag!

3. Some stores allow you to use two coupons on a Buy One Get One Free sale. Olive Oil this week was BOGO for $11.99. I had two coupons for $1.00 off of each bottle, thus my final price for two 32 oz. bottles of olive oil was $9.99--that's only $4.99 for each bottle (that was originally $11.99)!

4. Stores will gladly answer your coupon questions! If you feel hesitant about a deal, call the store first and ask anonymously. I've even called corporate offices and said, "I have a coupon question." They are happy to have you as a customer, and they will tell you what you need to know so that you can avoid any hassles when you get to the store.

There is so much to learn about coupons and rebates that I couldn't possibly fit it all into one article, but this is a good foot in the door to saving tons of money on groceries. Do you have any money-saving tips? I would love to hear them! What works for you?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Doing Laundry MY Way

Laundry...why does it have to be so much trouble? It always piles up while I wait to have a full load of a certain color, and by that time everything is dirty and we're digging through laundry baskets for something to wear!

So, I made up my mind to do one load a day. I was still sorting colors and separating the towels and the kitchen towels, and it worked for a while. The problem was, there were still all of these laundry baskets sitting around, and if I missed a day, yikes! Everything overflowed!

Well, I've started doing laundry my way, and I'm much happier because of it. We put our clothes directly into the washing machine like it is a laundry basket ("shouting out" stains as we go), and in the morning I start the wash. Once the load is all washed, dried, and folded, we start over again. I wash everything together. Even a towel gets thrown in from time to time, and guess what? Nothing happens. I've always been under the impression that the world would stop turning if towels were washed with dress shirts, but so far there have been no galactic abnormalities of which I am aware.

I have also simplified what I use in the wash. I use a detergent with color-safe bleach already added, and I only use white vinegar as a fabric softener. This way everything gets "bleached" and it doesn't matter if a shirt that requires fabric softener is washed with a pair of pants that forbids the use of fabric softener. So far, no problems there, either!

It works for me! Do you have any deep, dark laundry secrets?

Be sure to check out Rocks in My Dryer for more Works for Me Wednesday articles!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Caramel Apple Tartlettes

Apple season is coming, and here is the "fruit" of my labor from a recent kitchen experiment!

Caramel Apple Tartlettes

1 prepared, unbaked pie crust, rolled flat (I used a pre-made crust that comes already rolled--keep it simple!)
2 medium, tart apples
1-2 T butter, melted
2-3 T caramel ice cream topping (or your favorite caramel sauce), warmed and fluid

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. Set them aside for the moment.

On a floured surface, roll the pie crust and press any tears to mend them. Use an apple-shaped cookie cutter to make around 12-14 pie crust apples (my son helped with this). Brush them with the melted butter, then sprinkle them with a dusting of cinnamon.

Arrange the thinly sliced apples on the apple shaped pie dough pieces. (I tried to arrange them so that they gave the apple shapes a 3-D appearance) Sprinkle them again with just a dusting of cinnamon. Take the caramel, and using a spoon, fork, or small sandwich bag, zig-zag the caramel over the apples.

Bake the tartlettes at 350 degrees for 11-13 minutes. Check on them when you begin to smell the cinnamon emanating from your kitchen. When they are done, the crust will be baked and the caramel will have oozed over the apples. The apples should be tender. Remove them from the pan to cool, and be careful with small children--the caramel will be VERY hot for a few minutes.

We devoured these straight from the cookie sheet, but they would be wonderful served as a garnish for ice cream.

What is your favorite recipe that uses apples?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Isn't art supposed to be messy?

I was perusing the art supplies at our local Supercenter the other day, and I noticed the growing number of "mess-free" items for sale. The markers that only work on special paper have been on the market for a while, but that day I saw "mess-free" fingerpaint. Wait a minute--isn't that going too far?

I mean, isn't art supposed to be messy? Look at the masterworks of the greatest artists of all time--can you imagine what Monet's Nymphéas would look like if his mother had given him "mess-free" art supplies to play with? I bet Van Gogh made a huge mess before he was done with Starry Night.

I'm not an expert, but many of you are--what do you think? Are clean hands really worth it?