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Archive for the ‘Helpful Little Bits’ Category

For this Works for Me Wednesday, I just have a quick idea:

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I saw this idea in a Martha Stewart Christmas magazine lots of years ago, so it’s not really my idea…but I thought it worth sharing, because it’s SO easy and cheap!  I used ribbon that I bought in the dollar bin at Michael’s.  I folded the ends in half and cut it at an angle, so the end of it looks nice.  I also used a bit of clear fingernail polish on the ends to keep them from fraying.  To hang the ribbons, I simply hammered two flat-headed push pins into the top of the door. We hang our ribbons on our coat closet, so we see them often.

I just happened to find some round paperclips that I use to hang the cards, but you could use regular paperclips or the cute little rectangular-shaped ones.

At the beginning of the season, when we have just a few cards, I spread them all out.  By the end of the season, when there are sometimes 75 cards hanging on the ribbons, I can smash them together a bit more to get them all on!

Thanks, Shannon for doing Works For Me Wednesday every week!

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Way back in October (which seems like a billion years ago and yesterday all at the same time) I had the privilege of helping a friend by showing up at her party with the cupcakes for the shindig.  I love to bake, and I love to decorate things…so I was so excited that she asked.  I spent weeks (well, weeks of two minutes here, one minute there) planning what I was going to make.  Then I made three different types of cupcakes and decorated each differently – bats on big, yellow full moons, eyeballs, and something else I can’t remember right now (remember what I said about it being a billion years ago?).  Everyone said they looked so great, and the kids gobbled them up!

But I forgot to take a single picture of them.

I was thrilled when the same friend called recently and invited us to their Christmas party, and this time I asked if I could help by bringing the cupcakes.  This time I didn’t have nearly as much time to plan, but it all came together nicely (if I do say so myself)…and this time I remembered my camera, so I’m going to share my cupcakes with you!  The best party (and the reason that I am sharing them) is that they were super, duper easy!  Nothing I did was really time-consuming or took a lot of artistic talent.  I’m pretty sure that with some instruction and a guiding hand my kids could have made these.  So grab a box of cake mix (or three), and have fun!

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double dark chocolate cupcakes with peppermint icing

These were the first ones that I knew I wanted to make for sure – dark chocolate cake with mini chocolate chips mixed in – topped with peppermint cream cheese icing.  For the icing I simply crushed up some soft peppermint candies (I was going to use candy canes, but I found this stuff at Hobby Lobby that is soft like butter mints and oh, so yummy!  I put it in a zipper baggie, stuck that inside a section of the newspaper – just to hold in the bits that inevitably come flying out of the holes that get made in the bag – and took all my holiday stress out on the baggie with my husband’s hammer.), stirred them into the icing with a tiny bit of peppermint extract and added a few extra peppermint candy crumbles to the top.  The pink color came naturally from the peppermint candy though I was fully prepared to add a drop of red food dye if needed.  These were my favorite in the taste category, yet there were more of these left at the party than the others.

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Yellow cake with chocolate ganache and holly leaves

These were fun to do!  I was going to use white icing, and I think they would be really pretty that way.  In the end I decided that my selection needed more variety, so I used a chocolate ganache.  It sounds hard, but chocolate ganache is super easy to make; it’s simply a mixture of cream (or half and half, since that’s what I had in my fridge at the last minute when I decided to make ganache instead of white icing), chocolate, and sometimes a bit of butter or flavoring.  You can find lots of recipes online.  Once I made my ganache, I allowed it to cool, then dipped each cupcake in it instead of spreading it.  Some of the ganache dripped down the sides, but no one seemed to mind.  I put these in the fridge to set for a bit, since I was in a bit of a hurry and using half and half instead of cream resulted in a softer textured ganache.  Then I stuck the holly leaves and berries on top.

For the holly leaves I used spearmint leaf candy, the stuff that is like gum drops but in the shape of leaves.  I was just going to use them as they were, but I decided that I wanted a more authentic holly leaf shape…so I tossed some granulated sugar  on the counter and rolled them out flat.  Then, if I could have found my cookie cutter, I would have been able to cut them out in no time flat…but since my little holly leaf cookie cutter is hiding, I had to cut them by hand.  It wasn’t bad, though I did have to rinse my knife off several times.  Once the leaf shapes were cut, I dipped the edges in the extra sugar, and they were done.  I used red hots for the berries.

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funfetti cupcakes with vanilla frosting and fondant snowflakes

These were simple and fun to make.  A kids’ favorite cake mix, my favorite vanilla frosting mix (thanks, Wilton!), and some fondant snowflakes with edible glitter.  I had the edible glitter left over from a recent birthday cake, so I was glad to find a purpose for it.  I was originally going to use icing and pipe (draw) the snowflakes on, but my sister talked me into trying to use fondant.  It was SO much fun!  I used a coupon and got a box of it ready-made at the craft store.  I rolled it out on a powdered sugar-covered counter top, then cut the snowflakes out using a cookie cutter.  To help the glitter stick, I used a pastry brush (could have used my finger or a small, clean paintbrush) to dab on a tiny bit of water then sprinkled with glitter.  I set them on waxed paper to dry overnight.  The next day one did break when I pulled it up, but out of forty or so that’s not too bad!  I loved that I was able to make the snowflakes the day ahead, so the assembly of these cupcakes went really fast the day of the party!

As a matter of fact, I did almost everything the day ahead.  The only thing I did on the day of the party was make the cupcakes and that last-minute fondant and assemble.

Hope you enjoy these, and head back to Rocks In My Dryer for more great Works For Me Wednesday ideas!

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For those of you who actually read yesterday’s post and were waiting for today’s edition, I apologize; I’ll share more of my secret tomorrow!  I just had to participate in Works For Me Wednesday!

I know it sounds a little crazy, but I plan our family menu for a whole month at a time.  In the last few years I’ve had several friends ask me how exactly I do that and why, so I thought I would go ahead and chronicle it here.  I’ve debated whether or not it falls into the kitchen organization theme of today’s WFMW; I decided that it did, because shopping monthly helps me keep my pantry under control!  I find I don’t accumulate as much junk in my pantry, because I don’t have as many opportunities to buy things that I won’t use!

First, I am sure that I save a ton of money by shopping for a whole month at once.  While I do head to the grocery once a week for milk, produce, and the occasional loaf of bread, I only shop the isles once a month.  During my weekly trips, I usually only have work around the edge of the store – most stores have produce and dairy on the perimeter of the store and everything else in the isles in the middle.  By skipping the isles I skip tons of temptation!

Second, planning for a month at once means I only have to plan once a month.  I hate trying to figure out what we’re having for dinner, and I hate having to dig through the pantry to see what we have.  I only have to do it twelve times a year!

Now before you go all crazy on me.  Let me explain!

I don’t actually plan out what we will eat every night of the month.  I don’t always stick to the menu.  I’m not a food-nazi; I do the monthly menu so that we can enjoy dinner more.

Here’s how I do it:

Each month we sit down and I start a menu on one side of a piece of paper.  I usually do it at dinner, so I can get help.  I always start the list with “pizza – 3/4,” and “breakfast – 1.”  We eat pizza three or four times and breakfast (pancakes or waffles, turkey bacon, and/or eggs, and or smoothies) once just about every month.  I also write down anything from last month’s menu that hasn’t gotten made and still sounds good; if something on last month’s menu doesn’t sound good, sometimes I figure out what else I can make with those ingredients and write that on the list.

Then everyone gives me their requests for the month.  I’m always surprised that the kids come up with some really creative and nutritious ideas.  And when they don’t, and they all request something that is less healthy that what I find ideal, it’s okay.  I can spread those requests out over the month…or just leave them on the list long enough that they forget.  ;)

I’ll finish off the meal list with menu items that either use up things left in our pantry or things that sound good to me.

Finally, at the bottom of the menu I make a little area for special events.  Are we providing snacks for our prayer group or having a game night at our house or taking a meal to friends?

Then on the back of the piece of paper I write the grocery list.  I make the grocery list directly from the menu.  (Examples:  If Chicken Pot Pie is on the list, I’ll walk around the kitchen/pantry to make sure we have everything we need to make it.  Anything that we don’t have goes on the list.  If the item is something that has fresh ingredients, I’ll note that on the list – I don’t buy all of those ingredients at once.  I save some of those for the weekly trips.  So I might circle “vegetable stir fry,” put the rice on the monthly list, but wait until week four to buy the fresh veggies, so they don’t spoil before we can eat them.)

Then I go shopping.  One really, really full cart will feed all six of us for a month, not including all of those fresh things I’ll buy weekly.

Once I’ve done the shopping, I post my menu in the kitchen.

And here’s the good part:  Each night I have a list of things to choose from; I know that I have the items in the house for each of those dishes!  Then each night as I fix and serve a dish from the menu, I simply cross it off.

I’m sure you’re wondering what do I do when I get to the end of the month and don’t want to make the last few things on the menu.  Well, that does happen, but after doing this for years, I’ve learned to plan more realistically.  Though sometimes I just use those ingredients to make something else.  Here’s a couple tips to keep it practical:

-Our menu almost always includes the following:  Pizza-4, breakfast-1, fish-4, something Mexican once or twice/month, and something Italian once or twice a month.  In the summer, we have lots of grilled food; in the winter I make soup a lot.  Think about the things that you eat over and over; those are a great place to start planning your monthly menu.

-I usually only plan for about 20 meals/month.  We have at least 4 leftover nights per month, and we go out to eat about once a week.  The other 2 or three meals might be stuff that is made with whatever is left in the pantry or a craving that I had mid-month. (But even if I dash through the store to pick the ingredients for one meal, it’s not like I am shopping for a whole week.  I find I can be relatively more restrained.)

-Each month I try out a new recipe or two but no more.  I also make sure that my menu includes a good mix of things that are easy to fix, things that take a bit more time, and things that can be made in the crock pot (oh that blessed machine!)

-Finally, don’t forget to look in your pantry to see what needs to be used up when you make your menu!

I hope you find this helpful.  I know it all sounds a bit overwhelming, but it’s completely do-able.  In the long run, it really is less work, not more!

For bunches more great tips, head over to Shannon’s place at Rocks In My Dryer.  She hosts Works For Me Wednesday every week, and it’s great!

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You might remember a few weeks ago I turned a whole load of white laundry pink, including a couple of my really nice white master bathroom towels.  Well, one of you brilliant folks suggested that I try the Rit Color Remover.  It took some hunting, but a certain place (that I really dislike visiting) that begins with Wal and ends in Mart came through for me…and for a dollar fifty two (or some such) I have my sparkling whites back.  I’ve actually had the color remover for at least a week, and I just kept putting it off, thinking that since it was my last resort I just hated to use it and see it fail.  Well, today I finally got around to it…and girls!, this stuff works miracles!  My pinks had been washed and dried (though I was drying them on low heat until they were just barely dry, trying not to set in that color) a few times, but the color came out!  WooHooo!

My other breakthrough for the day was not nearly so life altering, but it sure did put a smile on my face.  Today I had to take all four of my beasties children to the land of torture grocery store.  While they didn’t do anything really bad, it was one of those times that I was so very glad when I put that last thing in my cart and said, “Let’s get out of here.”  Then all the lines were long, and I wanted to cry.  Instead of crying I focused all of my energies on choosing a kind of candy and getting it into the cart with none of my extra eyes seeing.  And I did!  I managed to buy myself a treat without anyone noticing…and I ate it all myself without anyone noticing that either!  And, thanks to that sugar rush, I made it all the way home tear free!

Hallelujah!!!

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So here’s the scoop on yesterday’s post:

I was at the local Stuff Mart a couple days ago.  While I stood at the customer service desk (returning an unopened item, I might add) another lady was returning the mascara that I spoke of.  She had the package, though it was obviously opened; she very clearly stated that she had used it, but she was returning it because she didn’t like it.

I was sort of surprised, because I wouldn’t return an item that I had opened and used and could not be sold again – unless it was somehow defective.  I (like the rest of you who won’t stand in line) would either just toss it in the trash or stash it somewhere out of sight.  I don’t use mascara (’cause it makes my eyes burn until I want to pluck them out!), but I have bought a whole long list of other cosmetics, soaps, lotions, and such that have fallen into this category…so I was a bit intrigued by this woman’s policy, and for just a second I thought that perhaps I had been losing money for way too long.

In the end, I had to leave, lest my spy-ing become obvious…as I was walking away the customer service rep. was saying something about having trouble taking the product back (though it sounded like he was going to do it.)

And I just thought I’d ask all of you trusty folks what you think about returning used stuff that you didn’t like.  Thanks for your opinions!  I think I will stick to my old policy of stashing it in a drawer, but I appreciated hearing your thoughts!

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Brushing toddler teeth: fun the first time or two, not so much after that. Two times a day – at least.

When we were learning to brush our first child’s teeth a million years ago, we stumbled across a little trick that helps get the pearly whites brushed with little fuss!

Sit or stand with your child facing you.

Start by having your child say “Ahhhh!” {Like the sound you make at the doctor.} You make the sound and have your child repeat it. When your child opens up, brush away. Start with a short, “Ahhh!”, then have your child say “Ahhh!” longer and longer each day until he or she is used to opening wide long enough for you to get the whole job done.

When you get all of the inside bit brushed, have your child say, “Eeeeeee!” with his teeth clenched. Then you can brush the front teeth.

Sometimes we vary this little game by, “Ahhh”-ing in different pitches to see if the little one with follow along. Dimples loves this, and is really good and repeating the exact pitch back to me!

As always, don’t forget to check out Works For Me Wednesday at Rocks in My Dryer!

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Last year, I mentioned that my strategy for beating away the summer boredom was to keep a schedule (many more helpful ideas in that post). I wasn’t so sure how it would work, but it did – it worked so very well. Then I had two children; now I have four…so this summer is again a testing ground of sorts.

We did so much stuff last summer, and it was all great fun. I hated to see the summer come to an end and practically begged my eldest to let me homeschool her. She would have none of it.

One of the things that worked particularly well was our Field Trip Fridays. I have a group of friends (five of us usually, but others join in occasionally) that agreed to visit a new spot every Friday. We set up a private blog and posted about plans there. We shared coupons and packed picnics at every chance we had, so many of our field trips were very reasonably priced.

Some of the days were simple playdate/picnic adventures. Some were much more elaborate, like the day we went to the water park. (I’ll be hiring a teen to help me with that field trip this year!) Here’s a few ideas for you: local art museum, botanical gardens, swimming, Are there any farms in your area – go visit the animals or pick fruit, a local children’s museum, discount movies at theaters or a movie day in someone’s home, indoor bounce centers (there are places that have those giant inflatable things that your kids can jump on in air conditioned bliss!), nature hikes, practice manners and take your kids to a nicer restaurant for lunch, the zoo, ice skating, factory tours, …and there’s so much more out there to do!

The other thing that worked well was to have a daily routine. Kids like predictability, and no one is going to have fun if the kids are tired or hungry; use that to your advantage. Have them get up at a decent time, get ready for the day, practice anything that needs practicing (here it’s piano and phonics this summer), and do a couple chores to start out each day. I am also hoping to get a simple devotion in each morning, but that so far I’ve been struggling to fit it in before nap time. We do all different things each day of the week, but unless we are on a field trip, we have lunch and rest time about the same time each day. It keeps us all well fueled for all the fun!

I hope your summer is blessed and loads of fun – in the meantime join me in reading everyone’s great Works for Me Wednesday ideas at Rocks In My Dryer!

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