Archive for the ‘Helpful Little Bits’ Category

I just read a great post by Mary Ostyn of Owlhaven.  It was all about getting kids to like lots of different foods . . . and about how that can backfire!  I was cheering along with the entire post . . . and weeping for her loss (and the familiarity of it all) at the end.

I started to comment there, then I decided I would just do a mini-post on my take on things.  We do almost everything that the Owlhavens do, and we too have four children who eat a huge variety of foods.  It has been a wonderful blessing to us as parents that our children are able to tactfully try new things when we are a guest in someone’s home or when we are on vacation or when we are trying out a new restaraunt.

First go there and read her ideas, then come back here.  Here are a couple things that we have done to help our children enjoy food:

We do not ask our children to eat a certain number of bites of any given food, but we do ask our kids to try everything . . . every time we serve it.  We have a wide variety of likes, so kids keep seeing foods over and over and over and eventually just decide to like them.

We also have a garden.  Two of our children didn’t like tomatoes for years.  When we started growing them, those kids were hooked.  I remember that joyful summer; we couldn’t keep our kitchen stocked with tomatoes, a great problem to have!  At first those children would only eat “Daddy-tomatoes,” but now they’ll eat just about any tomato that I would eat.

We allow the kids to pick out one thing during a meal with a lot of “weird” foods or a variety of vegetables.  For instance one kid might pick the lima beans out of the pot pie – oh, that might be me; and another might pick out the red peppers.

We also tell the kids that it’s okay not to like certain things.  There are things that I don’t like; as a matter of fact, I probably have more food issues than my kids.  (Deep-seeded issues – don’t ask!)  So while I’ll eat spinach and all manner of veggies, I can’t eat a hot dog (or most any kind of sausage) to save my life.  So as long as the kids are reasonable about their choices, I’m okay with them not liking a few things.

We let the kids see us try (and take time to get used to) new things.  Like I said, I have food issues; it takes me a while to warm up to stuff.  When I first tried Ethiopian food, I was horribly disappointed that I didn’t love it.  I kept going back and trying new things.  Now there are quite a few things that I like, and there’s even a dish on the menu that is new to me that I can’t wait to try next time.  Kids are the same way, and I think it helps them to develop their tastes to know that adults don’t always love everything either.

And finally, as my friend Ellen says, “You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it.”  Our kids know that there are occasions that they just have to eat what is in front of them.  It is rare, but it might just happen that when you are served a burger by your friend’s mom that she might just have put ketchup on it.  It is not the end of the world.  You are not allergic to ketchup, and it’s not worth making a big deal out of it.  We will wipe it off and move on, and by the end of it all you might just like ketchup.  While I know that that sound horribly mean, there are times when it is good for kids to be able to take a deep breath and just eat the food already.


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It’s Monday, and if you’re anything like me, you could use a good jump start for your week.  Here are a couple ideas to get your creative juices flowing for the week:

1.  I ordered a flannel play set to go with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom; I was able to order a set that has the tree, the sun, and capital letters and another set with lower-case letters..  (I ordered here, but rest assured they have NO idea who I am or that I am writing about their product.)  I just got it, and it’s super cute, the lines are well-done, and the felt letters must have been starched or something (they are stiff) which is nice.  Though I am glad I purchased it (for the sake of ease), I totally could have made one of these myself.  As a matter of fact, I have made sets like this in the past.  My kids have a set of felt dolls that lives in the travel supplies, and they love them.

I’m pretty sure you could make a set to go with your child’s favorite book too.

Just print out letters in a simple font (use the outline format to save ink); print them big, about 4 or 5 inches tall.   Pin them onto felt, then snip, snip, snip.  You can use puffy paints from a craft store to draw lines/details onto the felt.  This step takes a little practice.

A set like this would be a great gift for just about any toddler, preschooler, or – depending on the story you chose and the child – even some school-age kids.  You could make sets like this for any number of stories, alphabet books, or counting books.

If you want to make paper dolls, you can use a simple gingerbread man cookie cutter as a pattern for the body.

2.  The other idea is probably not mine, but I have no idea where I got the idea.  I needed some simple thank you cards for Dimples’ birthday.  Here’s what we came up with:

It was very simple.  I got a large piece of construction paper, drew the big “Thank You” in a big marker (you could print it on a 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, though you might have to outline the letters with marker to make them dark enough), then asked Dimples to color it all in.  He did.  I then asked him to hold it up, and I snapped a picture.  A little editing, uploading, and a small fee to one of those online photo places (which had cards on sale at the time), and I’ve got my thank you cards!

You could do one of these with all your kids or your whole family.  Just watch for the sales at the photo place of your choosing!

Have a great Monday!

ps. After writing this, I realized that either of these ideas could sound like endorsements, but I promise neither of them is.  I have never received any reimbursement or goodies from either of these companies.  I’m just sharing ideas with my friends.

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On My Own

I’m (finally) leaving a season of life in which Handsome has spent quite a few nights away from home and heading into a season where my dear husband is going to be at home more (or so he says).

Because this blog is part “let’s remember” and part “here’s a fun idea!” I thought I would post some of my favorite coping mechanisms for the times when Daddy is gone for the evening…leaving me at home with the kids.

  • Baths – long ones.  The kids play; I read a magazine.
  • Chicken Nuggets and Fries or spaghetti pizza (thought I had that recipe here, but I guess I’ll have to post it Monday).  The kids get a meal they love that is easy and that I don’t normally fix…and I get either leftovers (if there’s something leftover that I like) or something a little special that I have bought for myself.
  • Movie night.  We don’t watch a lot of tv, so the kids love having movie night…and I even let them eat popcorn while sitting on the couch!
  • Taking dinner to Dad.  It’s never easy, but sometimes when Dad is at work but has a few minutes to spare, we’ll pick up dinner and take it to him.  The kids love to see him, I love the excuse for a easy meal, we all eat there – sparing me a post-dinner mess, and it usually gets us home just in time for showers and bedtime.
  • Call in the reinforcements:  Sometimes I’ll have a friend over after the kids are in bed – gives me something to look forward to!  Sometimes we visit my parents.  Sometimes we just meet friends – or go alone – for ice cream.
  • Plan something I’ll enjoy.  I often make a mental list of all the things that I’ll do while Handsome is away for an evening; they are all usually things that have been on my to-do list for a while.  Often I toss my mental list and decide to surf the internet, looking for craft ideas, or do nothing worthwhile.

Handsome is off all weekend this weekend…so we’ll be having lots of fun – hope you do too!

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Been sick since some time last week.

Tired of being sick.

Today I let the kids watch so much television that I don’t even know how many hours it was!

But then I mustered the energy to make them some homemade play-dough.  I’ve been wanting to try this recipe since last fall, when I got it from a mailer from our local children’s museum.  It was a bit out of season, but it was fun…and the only thing I have smelled in about six or seven days.


Pumpkin Pie Play Clay

1 cup flour

1/2 cup salt

2 tsp. cream of tartar

4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice*

1 cup water

1 1/2 tbsp. oil

orange food color

Combine dry ingredients in large saucepan.  Mix wet ingredients in a separate container.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until smooth.  Cook mixture, while stirring, over medium heat until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the pan.  (Mine looked really lumpy and gross, and I thought it was not going to turn out…then voila!  It just sort of formed a ball and it was done.)  It will begin to form a ball.  Remove from heat and allow the play dough to cool.  Knead the dough until it is soft and smooth.  You can add more of the pumpkin pie spice while kneading, if you like a stronger scent.

*The recipe I have actually says 4 Tbsp. of pumpkin pie spice.  I used that much, all the while thinking, “Gee, this seems like a lot.”  But in my less-than-stellar/sick state of mind, I didn’t think fast enough to do anything about it.  Duh.  Anyway, my dough turned out looking like, um,…poo, and it smelled really strong.  I know, because I could smell it…and I haven’t smelled or tasted anything for a week.  So I think next time I will try 4 teaspoons of spice; perhaps that way we won’t be able to smell the stuff ALL over the house, and the orange color will actually show up.


This dough makes a really nice consistency that wasn’t crumbly.  It kept the kids busy for almost an hour, and because of the oil will save for another day.


I’m going to put this in the “Good To Eat” category, though it really, really isn’t.  I simply want to be able to find it, and I know I’ll look for it with the recipes on the blog!

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So, I need some ideas:

I love to send people cards or fun little gifts for their birthdays.  One year (about a billion years ago, before the post office got all uppity about things being perfectly flat) I figured out that I could mail a little pad of post it notes to my friends for the price of a first class stamp.  That year all of my friends got cute sticky note pads (with a Happy Birthday note on the front page) for their birthday instead of cards.  I spent less than I would have for cards, and they got something cute and practical.  Everyone seemed to like the twist.

Fast forward a lot of a couple years.  I need something fun to send to kids for their birthdays.  We have lots of long distance friends (a “bonus” of military life) and long distance cousins.  Some of them we send gifts to; most we just send a card or some sort of little fun thing.  This year it seems that I’m out of ideas.  So what can we send all of our friends and cousins instead of cards??? FYI – most of the kids are in the 3 yo to 7 yo range.  It needs to be something flat.  It can be a cute homemade card idea or a tiny gift idea or anything that will be fun for kids to open on their birthdays.

Any ideas are appreciated!

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A couple years ago while I was at our neighbors’ house for a playdate I noticed a little homemade book.  Upon further inspection I realized that it was actually a letter book that was made especially for one of the boys in the family.  It was so sweet; each page featured a letter and a picture of the child with something or someone whose name started with that letter.

I just made one for Dimples for his third birthday.

It seems that it is his favorite gift!  He just loves to look through his book and squeals in delight at the pictures of himself and the people he loves.  He is not in every picture, but each page features a letter and something or someone familiar that begins with that letter.

I used Snapfish (who has no idea that I am writing anything about them) to make my book; I actually got it cheap during a special.  Here are a couple pictures:



I am happy with the book I made, though I am sure that my neighbor’s book is much sturdier.  She used printed pictures, put them on index cards, then had the index cards laminated.  To bind them, she simply punched a hole in one corner and put all the cards on a ring.  Laminating at an office store is often very thick and sturdy but can be relatively expensive.  Most office stores will bind a book with a plastic binding or a spiral for a few dollars more.  You could also go to your local teacher store and ask if they do laminating.  It will probably be a more reasonable price, but it probably won’t be as thick/sturdy.

This has been a perfect gift for our three year old, but I think if it was well-done it would be a great gift for a four year old as well.

Happy bookmaking and thanks to Shannon at Rocks in My Dryer who faithfully hosts Works for Me Wednesday!

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It’s Wednesday again, so here goes with the Works For Me Wednesday post!

I strive to give my family whole grains, lots of vegetables, fresh fruits, lean meats, and so much more.  I put a lot of time into our food preparation…except when I don’t/can’t/won’t.  Then I dig through the recipe box until I find one of those trusted recipes that I can do with my eyes shut.  Here are two of them – just because it’s January. and cold.

Super Easy Pot Pie

Some Frozen Veggies (more details below)
Some chicken, diced or shredded (more details below)
1 can cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup
grated cheese (optional)
1 refrigerated pie crust (I use the kind that comes rolled into a tube, not in the pan.  They usually come two to a box, so one box will make two pot pies.)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

I usually get out just about every frozen vegetable that I have in the freezer – corn, carrots, peas, green beans, and who knows what else!  (You can also add hash browns or potatoes that have been boiled and diced.)  Dump a bit of each of the vegetables into a microwavable/oven-able casserole dish (I have a round one with tall sides that says 2.5 liters on it, but depending on the size of your family you could use a pie plate or a larger dish.  If your dish is a 9×13, you will have to use both pie crusts to cover it.) until the dish is about half full and there are enough veggies for your family to eat.  (You could also use a frozen vegetable mix, but I find we like the variety that comes with mixing various vegetables.)  Microwave these vegetables until they are thawed just enough to make stirring easy.

Add chicken that has been cut into small pieces.  (I usually have some of this chicken in my freezer that I use.  Sometimes I add a lot; sometimes I add hardly any at all, and sometimes I just don’t add any.  It’s up to your whims!)

Add entire can of soup.

If desired, add a bit (very scientific, huh! – I probably use about a cup.) of shredded cheese – cojack or cheddar is our favorite, but you should use your favorite.

Stir vegetables, chicken, soup, and cheese in casserole dish until well combined.

Cover vegetable mixture with pie crust.  If there is extra crust, simply fold the edges back over the pot pie loosely.  You can make a pretty edge, if you want to; I usually just leave it rolled back over, and it comes out pretty enough for the family to devour promptly.  Cut a few 1″ slits in the pie crust.

Bake in 400 degree oven until pie crust is done and middle of veggie mixture is bubbly.  (If your crust gets too brown, you can cover it loosely with foil or turn the oven down just a bit.)

I’m sorry that this recipe is vague; that’s just how I make it though.  It literally changes every time I make it, and that is why I love it.  I can use whatever I have in the kitchen, need to use up, or feel in the mood to eat.

I thought everyone had this next recipe, but recently I found out that my neighbor has never tried it.  So I’m make it for her and sharing it with you in hopes that every last person on earth will have the opportunity to try this wonderful and easy soup!

Taco Soup

Brown 1 pound ground beef and one large onion.


1 can pinto beans
1 can hominy (I omit.)
1 can cream-style corn
1 can niblet corn (I use frozen plus just a bit of water.)
1 or 2 cans Ro-tel Tomatoes
1 can stewed tomatoes – chopped
1 package taco seasoning mix
1 package ranch style dressing mix

(If your soup is not liquid-y enough, you can add just a bit of water.  I often rinse out the cans with just a splash of water and add that to the pot.  It will turn out to be a fairly thick soup after simmering.)

Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve with Fritos and grated cheese.  (Or if you are my husband, serve with corn muffins.)

(This is a tasty soup that hides vegetable well.  I have also been known to add a can of black or kidney beans.)

I hope I haven’t scared you away with my really-yummy-but-oh-so-sketchy recipes!  Happy cooking…and eating!  And stay warm!  And visit Rocks In My Dryer for more great ideas!

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


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!


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.


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.


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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