I may be in a new-to-me house, but the fact remains… the only dishwashers I possess are at the end of my arms.  They are called hands.  And they serve me well.  Honestly, I am not sure what I’d do if I did have a dishwasher.  I have grown so accustomed to hand-washing every grimy dish (with love, of course).

I do some of my best thinking while I do the evening dishes.  If I choose to add music, I also do some of best dancing in front of the sink, much to the embarrassment of my 7-year-old, Peanut (who cocks her head, rolls her eyes, flips her hair at me and darts out of the room).

But on occasion, there arises a beastly baked-on, crusty mess of a pot or pan.  (I have one particular skillet that is a serial offender.  I am not quite sure why I haven’t thrown it out by now.)  These times call for the use of excessive force.  There are plenty of things on the market to combat this sort of thing: all manner of scrubby pads and powerful cleaning agents.  Most of them are okay and work well, but most of us have the tools to get the job done right in our own kitchen without spending any extra cold, hard cash.

All you need:

All Purpose Vinegar Cleaning Solution  (8 oz. warm water with 8 oz. white vinegar in a spray bottle)
1 leftover plastic mesh bag (like the ones used to package oranges or onions)
1 rubber band (optional)
Baking soda (optional:  for the really tough stuff)

1.  Start by spraying the offending gobblety-gook (I am pretty sure that’s a technical term.) with all-purpose vinegar cleaner and let soak for about 5 minutes  (Just enough time for a coffee break…)

(You can read more about the homemade vinegar solution here:  Super Secrets.)

2.   Use the mesh bag as a scrub pad to finish the job!  You can simply wad it up in your hand or use a rubber band to secure into a ball shape for easier scrubbing.

3.  For really tough messes, let the pot sit in the vinegar solution longer and sprinkle with baking soda.  The natural reaction between the vinegar and baking soda will power away stuck-on food, making it easier to scrub away.  Voila!

Do I like my coffee black?  There are other colors?

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Good Intentions.

It still pains me to think of all the awesome things I had planned for this blog during the month of December, but hey… what could a girl do?

I had a laundry list of homemade gifts to make this year (thanks in large part to my new love, Pinterest!).  It was truly a miracle that I was able to finish most of them in time for Christmas.  Amid piles of boxes, we spent several “family nights” putting together many gifts for friends and family.  It was the perfect way to find joy amid the chaos of moving during the holidays and a great stress-reliever for all of us.  

I am somewhat distraught that I did not manage to get pictures of all our craft projects.  It was late Christmas evening, during that drowsy, content, gluttony-induced-near-coma that comes after a perfect day of celebration when I realized that most of my creations were not photographed.  But in that blissful moment, I didn’t seem to care much.  C’est la vie…

 A few of our projects:

Reindeer Root beer  (We used brown pipe cleaners, googly eyes, red pom poms and hot glue to turn cases of IBC root beer into a herd of reindeer.)
Peppermint Cocoa in a Jar  (These turned out amazing.  I will definitely be making more and I will post the recipe and pics!  Could also be a great Valentine’s Day gift…)
Chicken Noodle Soup in a Jar  (I will make more and post this one, too.  A great idea for a gift basket for a sick friend.)
Scarves repurposed from T-shirts  (One of favorite projects from Pinterest!  I gave away all that I made, but I will be posting this one, too.)
Glass ornaments  (We filled glass ball ornaments with all kinds of things:  red feathers, confetti, tulle, glitter, etc.  We used white tulle for the tie to hang them.  We handed these out to dear friends during a night of caroling.  They were beautiful.)

We even managed to eke out most of our traditional goodies, too.  (Another Christmas miracle!)  Although, I didn’t get to post much about them, I added several our of our family favorites for the holidays to the Recipes page.  (Like Grammys’s Sugar Cookies, my great-grandmother’s recipe… to-die-for!)  Some of my favorite party appetizers are up, too, including a great Hot Spinach Dip and Smoky Cheese Ball.

A photographer I am not, but here is our Buche de Noel.

The Buche de Noel cake is one of our favorite treats.  There are many different recipes floating around out there, but this one is the best!  You can find it here on the Recipes page.  Buche de Noel is a French Yule Log cake.  We began this as a family tradition when I was in high school.  My French teacher gave her students this recipe that she learned to love while living in France.  I’m telling you… this is the real deal.  Since my girlies are still young, I love to have them present a birthday cake to Jesus during our Christmas Eve family dinner and this is the cake we choose.  We bake this cake together as a family and for little ones, it truly is amazing every step of the way.  They marvel at how the beating of the egg whites can turn them into fluffy little mountain peaks.  They are equally enthralled by creating a fine winter snow storm as we sift the cake flour.  Not to mention, this delicate cake tastes downright heavenly.

And just for the pure cuteness factor… 

During our move, my two smallest ones raided my treasure trove of scarves and I found my Ladybug playing “Mary & Baby Jesus.”

And then I found my little Lovey doing something similar, only Baby Jesus was now a blonde, with long, golden curls.

I can now see the bottom of my coffee cup, and I believe there is a whole basement full of boxes just dying to be unpacked… Off I go.

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Free Shipping Day!

I live in small town Iowa.   

(Read more about that here:  Going to Town.)  

Outside of Walmart, the farm store and the good ol’ “five and dime,” decent shopping is rather scarce around here.  You have to drive at least a good hour if you’re looking to burn serious cash and I don’t get to the city nearly as often as I’d like.  Consequently, I do a lot of shopping online… especially at Christmas.  (Armies of greedy people make me grumpy.) 

Friday, December 16 marks the 4th annual Free Shipping Day!  Over 2,000 merchants are participating.  A few that caught my eye in are:  Best Buy, Radioshack, Kohl’s, Ulta, Snapfish, Apple Store, Walgreen’s, Ghirardelli Chocolates, Melissa & Doug, Macy’s, Helzberg, and Scheel’s, just to name a few.  

You can check it out here:  Free Shipping Day.

To find more great shipping deals all year-round, check out

If you have Christmas shopping left to do, consider holding off until December 16 to save some extra cash.  (And if it were me, I’d use the extra to go splurge on an afternoon Starbucks…)

BONUS:  More free Christmas music!!!!  Head on over to for the 25 Days of Free Christmas Music event.  (My favorite free song so far is Celtic Woman’s Ave Maria.)

There’s nothing sweeter than a cup of bitter coffee.  ~Rian Aditia
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Holiday Rhythm.

It’s Tuesday.  

After Thanksgiving.  

I am vigorously downing my coffee and still trying to get back into the swing of things.  It’s that time of year when things begin to race at me at a startling pace, but I am determined to remain calm and just enjoy every moment.  I am determined not to burn the candle at both ends this year.  I have a pretty good plan.

Recently my friend commented that I seem amazingly calm considering all that has been heaped onto my plate this year.  I am learning that most of the things I tend to get worked up over, really are not that important (especially when it comes to Christmas) Influence the things you have control over and let God handle the rest.  It’s all anyone can do… and it works.

My little Lovey will only be 2 at Christmas time once.  And I want to savor it.  Peanut and Ladybug are old enough that they will remember the magic of this Christmas well so fostering lasting traditions is high on my priority list.  

Mostly, its about time.  People will make time for what’s most important to them.  And making memories with my sweet family is just that.  Very important.  

I am having an Intentional Christmas.

And it will be orchestrated to the tune of music.  Some of my best Christmas memories are eternally tied to the songs which seemed to be only background music at the time.  I have fond memories of decorating our tree, stringing lights and baking sugar cookies to the the rhythms of my father’s classic Christmas records.  Yeah, that’s right… vinyl.  (Sad to think that my children have no earthly what idea I am talking about.)

I am a sucker for good music.  Especially Christmas music.  And it’s pretty cool when you can get it free.  Not too long ago I posted about‘s free monthly mp3 list. (You can read about it here:  Music To My Ears.)  As Christmas approaches, they are rolling out even more free holiday tunes.  

My iPod is going to love me.

Here are some of my favorite Christmas songs available at right now:

The Bell Medley (Nice children’s choir version.)

Christmas Time Is Here (Awesome piano.)

Jingle Bells (Nice and jazzy.)

O Holy Night  (Pretty version of the classic song.)

O Little Town Of Bethelehem (A sassy saxophone rendition.)

I fully expect that as December approaches, Amazon will be spreading even more Christmas music love…

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This post is a part of Frugal Tip Tuesday and Simple Lives Thursday.

Talking Turkey.

2 days and counting.  I am entirely giddy for the impending holiday.  The menu is set and grocery lists are made.  This is one of my top two favorite grocery shopping trips of the year (the other being Christmas, of course).

Normally, I would have my Thanksgiving goody shopping done by now, but planning my little Ladybug’s birthday party so late in November really threw me for a loop this year.  

(You can read more about the shindig here:  Pinkalicious.)

I did manage to purchase a turkey and presently the 22-pound bird is already thawing in my refrigerator.  (I know.  BIG bird.)  I don’t know why I don’t make roast turkey all year long… it’s entirely delectable, everyone in the family will actually eat it, and it’s usually quite economical.  Our family can feast for days, turkey freezes well, and I can make a load of turkey stock from the bones. 

I don’t think anyone really sets out to be wasteful and squandering the deliciousness of a Thanksgiving turkey should be completely criminal.  Thus… the list.

My Top Ten Ways to Use Leftover Turkey:

1.  Turkey Sandwiches.  Need I say more?  There is hardly anything better than a sandwich piled high with savory roast turkey.

2.  Salad.  A lettuce salad loaded with fresh veggies (and turkey!) is a light (and delicious) way to atone for Thanksgiving gluttony the next day.

3.  Turkey & Noodles.  Use turkey stock (I like to thicken mine with cornstarch), season and add egg noodles.  Serve over leftover mashed potatoes.  Comfort food at it’s finest.

4.  Turkey Glop.  A friend told me about this idea a few years ago and it’s perfect!  Take all the leftovers:  stuffing, mashed potatoes, turkeys, gravy, corn, green bean casserole, etc and layer it in a casserole dish.  Heat in the oven and voila!  Turkey Glop.

5.  Turkey Enchiladas.  Turkey is a good alternative to almost any chicken recipe.  

6.  Sloppy Joes.  Shred leftover turkey and add your favorite sloppy joe sauce.

7.  Turkey Pot Pie.  One of my favorite comfort foods on a cold day.  Here is my favorite recipe:  Turkey Pot Pie.

8.  Turkey Tetrazzini.  Another of our family favorites.  This recipe from Martha Stewart is incredible and makes enough to freeze some for later:  Turkey Tetrazzini (I swap the chicken for turkey.)

9.  Freeze.  I purchased a 22-pound turkey.  There will be leftovers.  And some cold day in January, I will be thrilled to be feasting on roast turkey that I didn’t have to cook.

And my favorite way to use leftover turkey…

10.  Bill & Tutu.  Bill is my 80-something-year-old, next-door neighbor.  He lives alone.  And he has a teensy, puff ball dog named Tutu.  Come Thanksgiving day (and well into Christmas), he will be showered with our kitchen concoctions.  Always gracious and well-deserving.  We love you, Bill.

One more coffee, and off to the market I go…

Our oak tree hanging on to the last of it’s leaves…

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Heaping.  Mountainous.  Overflowing.  

These are just a few words to describe my ever-growing pile of things to be mended, sewed, or patched.  I actually don’t mind grabbing a pile of such work and planting myself in front of the tv for a couple of hours to catch up.  It’s just that I’ve really let it go this time.

And then there are the socks.  

I am pretty good about using a small, mesh laundry bag (like the ones intended for lingerie) to corral the family socks (especially the little ones!), but no matter how hard I try… there are stragglers.

The ones that don’t match.  The ones that are missing.  The ones that are entirely too worn out, but have a perfectly good mate.  What’s a girl to do?

(Read more on laundry shenanigans here:  Laundry Quandry.)
If the sock is not too worn, it makes perfect sense to stitch it up.  It takes about 10 seconds and it’s good as new.  I am careful to make the seam on the outside of the sock or my girls will complain of discomfort. 
In the old days, women would mend holes in the toes of socks indefinitely.  Consequently, the sock would become shorter and shorter and continually be handed down to the next child in line!  I do this, too.  They also did something similar with sheets.  When bed sheets became worn in the middle, they would cut them down the center and sew the outsides of the sheets together to make a new “middle.”  Ingenious.  
Eventually a good sock gets so worn out that it is impossible to mend and seems of no use at all.  Nonsense.  This is when our socks get a second life in the rag drawer.  I love using old socks to clean with.  Turn the sock inside out to use the warm, fuzzy side for maximum scrubbing power.  You can even wear the sock like a glove.  (Great for those really disgusting jobs that you will inevitably encounter when you have kids!)

Back to the kitchen for coffee round 2.  Perhaps I will get to my sewing today.  Perhaps not.  Either way, there will be coffee.  
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Music to my ears.

“Mama, put on your listen ears.”

At first, I wasn’t sure what she was trying to say.  Then, my loveable 2-year-old brought me the earbuds from my iPod.  She wanted to listen to music.  (Consequently, as a family, we now affectionately refer to all listening devices as “listen ears.”)

As a musician, it thrills my soul for my young girls to have an appreciation for good music.  And in our family our tastes are very broad.  You name it, we probably listen to it at some point.

My sweet girls love their Bieber (gag) however, they often beg me to turn on Ella Fitzgerald, Beethoven, and Bing Crosby.  And oh, how we dance.

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen (like most mothers, I suspect) and it’s often quiet and tiresome.  Good listening is a must.  (Old time radio shows are my guilty pleasure.)  If I am not careful, I would spend good wages on too much music.  

Thank God for Amazon!  Each month, they come out with a new selection of free mp3 albums(Yes!)  Currently there are 11 pages worth of free albums.  There are some real gems hidden in those pages.  Over the course of the last year, I have acquired some really great stuff from here!

Some of my favorites currently available for free:

Chacra World Music Holiday Sampler
Native American Flute Lullabies
Allegro Classical Fall 2011 Sampler
Cedarmont Kids Sampler for Moms
The Wiggles Summer 2011 Sampler also had a great selection of featured albums available for download for only $5.00 (Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me is on this list for November!) 

One more great free resource can be found at  The Chronicles of Narnia books by C.S. Lewis audiobooks are available for FREE download!  Check it out here.

Now it’s back to my coffee.  The Christmas music is on… and the homemade cinnamon rolls are fresh out of the oven.  It’s gonna be a good day.

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Double dose.

Some days you just need more.  

More help.  More time.  More coffee. 

Mama said there would be days like this.  And these are the days for simple, healthy meals like this recipe for Coffee Cornmeal.

“Eating Well For Only $2 A Day”  looks like a fabulous addition to my cookbook shelf.  I have not yet ordered it, but judging from the 9-page-preview available on the book’s website, its going to be pretty amazing.  Definitely worth checking out! (Good Christmas gift idea???)

I love the premise behind this book.  Eat Well.  Save money.  Simple as that. 

“Coffee lovers rejoice! Your dream has now become a reality – you can have your coffee IN your breakfast…alongside a cup of coffee. Double the dose.”
The following recipe is taken from Eating Well For Only $2 A Day, a food budgeting book that teaches people how to do precisely that…spend only $2 a day on food! It provides the tips and principles necessary to show anyone how to save some serious money without relying on coupons and includes over 150 inexpensive and delicious recipes like the Coffee Cornmeal dish provided. You can see a preview of the book at Enjoy! 

Coffee Cornmeal

Yield: 4 Servings

1 1/3 cups Cornmeal $0.21
1 1/3 cups Cold Water $0.00
3 cups Hot Coffee $0.07
4 tsp Margarine $0.03
6 Tbsp Sugar $0.09
1 tsp Salt $0.00
4 Tbsp Cream $0.22

Total: $0.62 ($0.15 Per Serving)

1. Combine the cold water and cornmeal in a small bowl and mix until the lumps are gone.
2. Heat the coffee and salt in a medium saucepan on med/low heat until it’s near boiling.
3. Add the cornmeal and cook about 3 minutes until thickened, stirring frequently.
4. Add the margarine, sugar, and cream and mix well.
5. Enjoy!

(Note:  I have included the original recipe, but I substitute butter for margarine.  That’s just how I roll.)

Read a Guest Post by co-author, Chris Tecmire at Premeditated Leftovers.
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Beauty begins in the kitchen.

 “Mom, your dancing is weird, but I still think you’re pretty.”
Out of the mouths of babes, am I right?  That’s what I heard from my little 4-year-old recently as I was fixing breakfast (and preparing my daily joe) to the tune of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.  She’s my diplomatic child.  Always sweetening the facts of life.  Apparently, my old high school show choir moves just aren’t cutting it anymore.  (My oldest princess said something similar about my super cool moves last week:  Upside Down and Sideways.  What gives?)
But she still thinks I am pretty.  Whew!  Perhaps I’m doing something right…
I used to think I had sensitive skin.  But once I became aware of all the chemicals that I was using on my skin (face wash, moisturizers, lotions, shampoo, conditioner, etc.), I realized that perhaps I was instigating my own skin problems.
After doing a little research, I found some super (and simple!) alternatives that were better for my skin than many expensive serums and potions and get this… infinitely cheaper(And who isn’t trying save a buck these days?)  Most of the ingredients can be found in my own kitchen at any given time and my skin has never looked or felt better (My Sadie agrees, so it must be true.)
Here are a few of the essentials in my beauty regimen:
Puffy Eye Potion
Drink 1 – 2 cups of coffee each day!   (There is a method to my madness… and yes, I had to go there.)
Caffeine from coffee is considered to be a blood vessel constrictor.  It reduces dark eye circles and puffy eyes.  No joke.  It’s also believed to aid in rosacea!
Gentle Facial Scrub
1/2 c. powdered goat’s milk (Available at most health food stores or online.  I use the Meyenberg brand.)
1/2 c. baby oatmeal (I like to use organic.) or 1/2 c. oatmeal
If using regular oatmeal, process in a blender or food processor until very fine. I like to use the baby oatmeal because I can skip a step!  Store in an airtight container (recycled glass jars are pretty and perfect!). 
To cleanse face, sprinkle a small amount of powder into the palm of your hand and mix into a paste with warm water. Massage onto face and rinse.
Goat’s milk and the extra fat it contains is great for your skin.  (Probably the only time you will ever hear that extra fat is a good thing.)  Most powdered cow’s milk is fat-free so it is not as nourishing for your skin.  This is a natural, gentle exfoliant and perfect moisturizer.
Honey Refresher
Apply 1 – 2 drops of honey onto a wet palm and massage onto face. Do not rinse. Pat dry. 
I love the way this makes my skin glow!  It’s not as bad as it sounds.  If your fingers and palm are wet, your face will not be sticky.  Honey helps fight aging and plumps up fine lines.  Can’t argue with that!
Honey is also a great treatment for razor burn! 

A baby food jar is perfect for storing the right amount in your bathroom.
Olive Oil Moisturizer & Eye Makeup Remover
Place 2 – 3 drops of extra-virgin, organic olive oil onto your palm. Rub palms together and pat face gently.
Don’t worry!  You won’t feel greasy… if you do, use less the next time.  I dip 2 fingers into the oil and gently massage into my fingers on both hands before patting onto my face.  
Can be used as a rich cuticle oil and to moisturize hands, too!
Olive oil is also the perfect, natural way to remove eye makeup.  Apply with a cotton ball.  It’s that simple.
Olive oil is packed with nutrients that moisturize the skin without blocking pores and also fights premature aging. 
A baby food jar is also a great way to store olive oil in your bathroom.
Baking Soda Exfoliator
To exfoliate the face, place a quarter-size amount of baking soda in the palm of your hand.  Add just enough warm water to make a paste.  Gently apply all over face and rinse.  Use 1 – 2 times each week for a youthful glow.
Body Scrub

1 c. olive oil or almond oil  (Jojoba or grapeseed work well, too.)

1/2 c. sea or kosher salt  (You can also use sugar, which is gentler for sensitive skin.)
5 – 15 drops of essential oils  (I like lavendar & vanilla or peppermint & orange.)
Add salt or sugar first, then mix in the oil. The mixture should be moist enough to clump together, but not overly oily. Then add essential oils. Its fun to experiment with new combinations! Store in a plastic or glass jar. Use all over 1 – 2 times a week in the shower.
This scrub improves circulation and exfoliates, leaving skin soft and smooth.
Nourishing Hair Care
To shampoo and cleanse the hair:
Add about 1 tablespoon baking soda and stir mix in about 1 cup warm water.  You can tweak the measurements to your own preference.  Those with curly or thick hair might need a bit more baking soda.  Fine, straight hair might need less.
Apply to wet hair, starting at the scalp and working throughout hair.  After a few minutes, rinse.  
Baking soda is very gentle, has a weak alkaline and clarifies without building up. 
To condition and detangle:
Add 1 tablespoon to once cup water and mix well.  Apply to hair focusing on the ends.  Leave in for about a minute and rinse.
Apple cider vinegar detangles, seals the hair cuticles, and balances the the hair’s ph level.
I admit that I was not brave enough to try this for a long time, but once I did I was astonished at the results.  This treatment is also great for color-treated hair.  I have found that it keeps my highlights looking vibrant and fresh.
Give the Gift of Natural Beauty
When prettied up in an attractive container or jar, these recipes make fabulous gifts.  I have given the scrubs and facial care many times for Christmas and birthdays!  I like to make personalized labels or tags and embellish with ribbons, raffia, and vintage buttons.  So many possibilities!
Happy Thursday!
Back to the coffee… and working on my puffy tired eyes for the rest of the day.
“Your beauty, within and without, is absolute, dear lover, close companion.”
Song of Solomon 7.6 (MSG)
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Season of change.

It is nearly the middle of October, yet the cool, fall temperatures remain elusive here in the Heartland.  At this point, I desire little more than to be drowning in a warm, oversized sweater with a hot cup of coffee in one hand and a cozy book in the other.

“Autumn, you are late to your own party.  The trees are already colored for you…”

I adore the season of change.  I love the winding down of the year.  I welcome the vibrant colors.  Now, if it could just be colder

This time of year also awakens in me a sense of renewal, inviting me to purge my house, my closet… my life!  Almost like spring cleaning.  But not.  Knowing full well that I will likely be spending a lot more time in my house with winter coming on, it seems a good time to get things in order.

So I’ve started by changing batteries.  LOTS of batteries.  Funny how you can give a something new life just by changing the batteries.  (Yes, even for Dead-Batty-Dora!)  After lying unnoticed in a dark corner for months, suddenly, Baby Alive is beloved again.  A flashlight stands ready to serve.  An old clock is again useful. 

Generally, I use rechargable batteries.  Especially AAs, because those seem to be most popular these days.  Often times, though, we still have the other kind laying around and I have decided to get the most out of every single one. 

A “dead” battery may not have enough juice to power a camera or get Elmo to giggling, but its probably not truly dead.  I toss spent batteries into an old shoe box marked “Clock Batteries.”  Clocks require very little power to run and will run for a long time on a supposedly dead battery I have pulled out of an old toy.  Batteries cost good money so make ’em count ’til the last drop!

So while I anticipate the true arrival of fall, I pour another cup, fall wardrobe at the ready, and I smile…

Do I like my coffee black? There are other colors? 
This post is a part of the Frugal Tuesday Tip.

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