Category Archives: Tips & Tricks

Have You Tried Wool Dryer Balls?

Wool dryer balls – the greatest thing to happen to laundry since the invention of the washer and dryer!

Ellie’s Best Wool Dryer Balls

I am a bit of a tree hugger, but I draw the line at sacrificing quality or efficacy when looking for eco-friendly cleaning solutions.  A few years back I went thru a phase of trying every “green” laundry detergent and fabric softener I could find – even making my own.

I discovered it’s not eco-friendly when you have to wash something twice because your all-natural detergent stinks.  And it was rage-inducing when crazy expensive, “green” dryer sheets repeatedly left grease stains all over my clothes.  I can’t use liquid fabric softener because we are on a septic system (and hey, I guarantee you your municipal water supplier doesn’t appreciate you using it either), and dryer sheets have their own drawbacks.

One, they coat the sensors in your dryer with a waxy film.  Unless you wipe the sensor strip(s) down before every load, your dryer can’t tell if your clothes are dry or not.  It then runs waaaay past the point it needs to.  Hard on your clothes and your wallet.  Two, I’m not super keen on coating all my clothes – and thus my body – with all those petrochemicals.

I recently saw an advert for wool dryer balls and thought, “what the heck is that?!”  Never heard of ’em.  A few minutes on “the Googles” told me they are all the rage, and for good reason.  I was skeptical, but I bought a set of 4 to give ’em a whirl, and immediately bought 4 more after using them.

These babies are little woolen miracle balls!

What are they?  Wool dryer balls are tennis ball sized dealios made of felted wool.  You pop them in the dryer with your clothes (4 for a small load, 6 for a medium load and 8 for a large/bulky load).

How do they work?  They tumble around with your clothes, absorbing a bit of moisture, but mostly keeping your clothes tumbling freely.

What’s in it for you?  LOTS!

  • Your clothes will dry faster. The dryer balls keep your clothes from clumping and twisting together.  Free-tumbling clothes dry faster.  Faster is not only cheaper, but it’s better for your clothes because the most wear and tear your clothes receive is in the dryer.
  • Your clothes come out WAY less wrinkled.  Again, this is because your clothes will be tumbling much more freely.  I hate wrinkles and religiously iron, and I can’t believe how much less ironing I’m doing.
  • Your clothes come out softer than with fabric softeners.  Not kidding – baby bunny soft!  Even jeans and towels.
  • They are safe to use on towels and other items that should NEVER be treated with fabric softener.  The balls don’t coat your laundry with anything, so there’s no need to separate out loads by what can and can’t have fabric softener.
  • No need to constantly stop the dryer to untangle stuff.  There’s nothing worse than taking out a set of sheets to find half of them dry and the other half wadded in a damp ball.  Major time waster!  Even our king sized flannel sheets tumble so much better.
  • No need to clean the dryer sensor strips each load to eliminate wax buildup.  Wool dryer balls deposit nothing on your clothes or your dryer.
  • 100% eco friendly and a renewable resource. No petroleum products, no perfumes, no waxes, no trees leveled, no plastic jugs, no greasy goop going into your or your town’s septic system.
  • Way, way cheaper than fabric softener.  These babies last for hundreds of loads.

There are no “downsides” that I can think of.  I was a little concerned they would “beat up” my clothes, but haven’t seen any evidence of that.  I’ve been using them for a few months, so I think I would notice if that was happening.

I was also afraid they would be hard on my dryer or make a ton of noise.  They are very soft and very light.  Yes, you can hear them if you are near the dryer, but they are no way clobbering your machine or making a racket.

I bought Ellie’s Best brand dryer balls, but there are many brands, even some handcrafted ones on Etsy.  And if you are crafty, you can probably whip up some for yourself.  However you get them, GET SOME!  Even if you don’t care about the eco benefits, this is a superior product.  Full stop.

Peace lovelies! E <><

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Quick Tip: DIY FREE Potscrubbers

Every once in awhile two problems collide to solve each other…

Problem one:  I love my hand crocheted washcloths because they are fun to make, easy to clean/sterilize and gentle on my dishes.  They are, however, useless when confronted with a stuck on mess.  I refuse to use plastic scruffies because they are expensive, impossible to sterilize so they quickly get nasty, and fall apart after a couple uses.

Problem two:  I am on a mission to reduce the amount of plastic in my life.  I am obsessive about recycling, and I hate it when something plastic has to go in the trash.  So, a few years ago when I started buying shallots in 1lb bags at my warehouse club, I hated throwing out the rather substantial plastic bag they come in (the purple netting above).

Then inspiration struck…

Those plastic netting bags are the PERFECT substitute for a plastic scruffie!

You can fold them into whatever size square you need.  I sometimes insert my washcloth into the bag to create a combo scrubby-washcloth.

When you are done, they unfold completely to quickly and easily clean in soapy water.  They dry practically instantly so NO opportunity for germs, bacteria, mold, etc. to grow!

If I use them on something particularly germy or greasy, I just toss them.  I keep a little bag of them under the sink and grab one whenever I need a bit of scrubbing power.  All kinds of things come in these plastic mesh bags – garlic, citrus fruits, avocados, onions, etc..  I bet you throw out at least one of these a week.

I just LOVE finding a way to reuse something that would otherwise end up in the trash!  Enjoy…  E <><

Why You Should Never Shop Online Without Honey

A few weeks ago one of my fave home decor bloggers posted a video about how she uses the shopping app/browser extension, Honey.  I do a huge % of my shopping online so quick like a bunny I signed up (free) and added the extension to my Chrome browser.  Cha-ching!  This thing rocks!

What does Honey do?

Basically as you are shopping online, you can click on the Honey button on your browser and Honey will search for any coupon codes, deals, better values, etc.  On Amazon, Honey is integrated into the product page so the info it generates is right there for you to see.

For example, if you are on Amazon, it will tell you if you are looking at the best deal for that item.  It will also show you if and how the price has fluctuated in the last 60 days or so.  If you don’t need something right away, you can “Droplist” the item, set a target price and Honey will e-mail you if your item hits that price. You guys know that Amazon is like the stock market, with the prices zinging up and down daily, right?

If you are shopping online at a store like Target, you can click on the Honey extension button and it will search for Target online coupon codes for you and display them in a sidebar.  I’m sure you’ve tried online coupon code search sites before (I sure have) and found them to be useless.  The codes RARELY work, and it’s just a huge waste of time. Well, I’ve had amazing luck with the codes I’ve found using Honey, and it takes you zero time for any codes to helpfully pop right up – you don’t need to go to another site, do a search, blah blah blah.

Of course, you can sign up to be inundated with “sales of the day” spams from every vendor you shop with so you can research and keep track of all the coupon codes & sales yourself.  If you have that much time on your hands, you need to rethink how you spend your days.  I have also tried other services that let you know when prices on items drop, but they were so slow – by the time they emailed me, that price was days old and long gone, and they were so complicated to set up!  Honey is quick and easy to use.  Gaah, I love it!

Here’s how I’ve used Honey in the past week and my results:

  • Droplist Feature: Last week I was looking to buy a cast iron pan on Amazon.  It was selling for $25, but Honey showed me that the price frequently dipped to $19 for one day flash sales.  Rather than me having to remember to check Amazon every day for the price of the pan, I Droplisted it.  Honey e-mailed me Saturday that the price had dropped, and boom – pan ordered for $19.
  • Best Deal Feature:  A few days before that I was looking to buy some reusable silicone quart freezer bags.  I did my usual Amazon search and picked what came up as the best price (sorting price from lowest to highest).  Now, I’m sure you know that when you look at an item on Amazon you can click the link that shows you all the sellers of that item, both new and used, so you can find the best price.  The seller I was at showed the best price.  I checked Honey, and it found me another seller on Amazon, with Prime shipping, that sold the same bags for $3 less, which was an 18% savings.  Go figure.
  • Coupon Code Feature:  Today I sat down to renew all my magazine subscriptions, which I try to get through MagazineStore.com (they always have great deals – you just have to remember to turn off auto-renew and manually renew your subscriptions each year to keep getting those super low rates).  Okay, so I was ordering 5 magazines, and Honey found me online coupon codes that gave me 50% off each one of them, for a savings of $22.50! [Yeah, you read that right – I got a year of Martha Stewart Living, Allrecipes, Good Housekeeping, Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated for $22.50 total – plus a bonus year of Rachael Ray Everyday for $3! 6 mags for $25.50 – that’s why I love that site!!!]

So this week alone this app has saved me $31.50 on stuff I would have happily paid full price for because I had no way to know there were coupon codes/flash sales out there.

  1. $6 on cast iron pan
  2. $3 on silicone bags
  3. $22.50 on magazine subscriptions (actually I saved $37.50 because Cooks Illustrated had sent me a renewal bill for $40 for the year, but I paid $25 thru Magazine store, minus the 50% off from using Honey)

Honey probably does other things that you can find out about if you check out their site, which I highly recommend you do!

Blessings, E <><

***I did not receive any compensation for recommending these products or services***

 

10 Ways to Make (and Keep) the Holidays Happy

A little Christmas Cheer in the kitchen

The Holidays (and by that I mean Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years) really are “the most wonderful time of the year”.  But more often than not they are a festival of stress, anxiety, debt, busyness and self-inflicted drama.

I understand why the Holidays can be lonely times, or sad when someone close has passed away or there has been some kind of family division.  There’s no quick fix for family drama or shortcuts to work through grief.  But the rest of that stuff is firmly in your control regardless of your circumstances.

Would you love to experience the holidays as a time of kindness, gratitude, reflecting on your spiritual blessings, expressing love and appreciation to the people you are blessed to have in your life, and of course the enjoying the FOOD, the fun decor and the tunes?  The holidays used to bring on so dang much stress and sometimes even anger for me.  But I’ve set some boundaries and created habits and traditions that help me genuinely enjoy this time of year.  And you can too!

Here are ten tips for adding peace, joy and fun to your Holidays while keeping the Grinches, Scrooges and Abominable Snow Bumbles at bay….

One – Crank the tunes early and often

I love love love Christmas music of all kinds and have a huge collection of CDs.  Last year I discovered the wonderland that is Pandora Christmas themed stations!  I have the best Christmas dance parties in my kitchen salsa-ing to all the stations that start with “Navidad”.  I’m not a fan of Country music, but the Classic Country Christmas channel is a HOOT!  Chill Holiday, Christmas Choral Classics, Christmas Traditional, Classical Christmas, Holiday Instrumentals, Jazz Holidays and Peaceful Holidays are all great.  Major bonus points if you sing along!

And as much as I love the fun secular Christmas music (is that an oxymoron?) I do have several playlists of Christian, or “traditional Choral” Christmas music to keep in mind that this is a joyous, miraculous, wonderful time because God came as baby in a manger and gave Himself to us!

Two – Bake Something “Traditional”

Foods – smells and tastes – are very powerful memory triggers.  When my mum died, one of the things I chose to keep were her handwritten recipe cards for our family’s traditional Christmas cookies.  I actually don’t do a super lot of baking for Christmas anymore so the old recipes don’t get made every year.  But when I do spend a day making my Grammy’s cut out butter cookies, the smell just says CHRISTMAS and makes my heart happy!  And that first delicious nibble reminds me of sneaking into the cookie tin and looking for (a) a Christmas tree shaped one (duh, they were the biggest!) and (b) an extra thick one!  I’m sure you have one old recipe you haven’t made in years that would bring back happy memories.  And lucky you if you have an older person in your life who would love to make it with you or show you how to make your family’s special treat that you never learned to make.

Three – Do Something Kind for a Stranger

One of the highlights of the Holidays for me is putting together my Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  Every year I do boxes for 10-14 year old boys.  A few years ago a friend who volunteers with Samaritan’s Purse told me that the older boys are underserved.  They often get handed a box intended for a little boy (or even girl) because most people like to buy for the littles and there just aren’t enough boxes for the older kids.  I encourage you to not only participate in this amazing outreach, but do a box for the older kids!  If that’s not your cuppa, there are lots of opportunities to give to others this time of year, and doing something kind is a major joy booster and perspective changer.

Four – Start a New Tradition

Holiday traditions are wonderful until they’re not.  Things change – the kids grow up, you move, your financial circumstances change, you aren’t so mobile anymore.  It’s hard when a beloved Christmas tradition ends.  But hey, that just means there’s now space in your life for something new!  A couple years ago the man and I started a new Thanksgiving tradition that we could not enjoy more.  Instead of participating in the scary drama of Black Friday, we take a relaxing drive up north of Winston Salem where we stop at a Christmas shop and pick out our new Old World Christmas ornaments for the year.  Then we head to Pilot Mtn State Park for a picnic lunch and a couple hours of hiking, after which we plunk ourselves on the edge of the mtn and share a big slab of Chocolate Bourbon Pecan pie.  On the way home we hit a local BBQ joint or brew pub.  Best. day. ever. and it starts the whole Christmas season off on a wonderfully relaxed, connected-to-each-other vibe.  There is nothing on sale anywhere that I want more than savoring this view while sharing a slab of pie with my sweet man!

Five – Say “No” to Something You Don’t Really Want to Do

Wake up your inner toddler and just say NO!  Hate traveling over the holidays?  Don’t!  Dread your spouse’s holiday office bash more than a root canal?  Pass it up.  Tired of participating in a budget busting “I have to spend $100 each on 20 relatives” gift grab?  Float the idea of scaling it back – I’ll bet you aren’t alone!  It’ll be weird at first, but that weird feeling is a little something called peace.  Now, I’m not talking about digging your heels into your comfort zone and never doing anything “hard” or sucking it up when you genuinely have to (see that office holiday bash).  I’m talking about something that is casting a pall of dread over your life and your enjoyment of the holidays that really could be eliminated by having one big boy or girl conversation and letting it go.

Bonus tip:  Have you been invited to something you don’t want to attend but you don’t have a good “excuse”?  News flash – the fact you don’t want to attend is all the “excuse” you need.  Simply rsvp el pronto with a sweet “Thank you so much for including us on the invite list!  (hey, it IS nice to be invited!) Unfortunately we won’t be able to attend.  Thanks again for thinking of us and I hope your (blank) is a great success!”

Six – Take a Drive to See Some Lights

At least once a season I fill a few travel mugs with peppermint hot cocoa and the man and I hit the road for some Christmas cheer. For 2 servings of the yummiest cocoa ever: heat 2 cups whole milk to simmering; add Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips to taste (about 1/3 cup) a teeny-tiny pinch of salt (yes, to balance the sweet) & whisk till the chips melt.  Whisk in ONE drop of peppermint oil (2 if you have a cold and need to blast your sinuses out).  Jump in your car, put on some Christmas tunes and drive around your area.  After a few years we’ve learned which neighborhoods and specific homes always do a bang up job.  So fun and FREE!  Bonus points if you pack a few friends in the car to sing carols and ooh-and-ah together.  Repeat as needed.

Seven – Cut Yourself (and Everyone Else) Some Slack

Have a seat, because Auntie Elizabeth is gonna tell you some “truth in love”.  Your unreasonable expectations need to go on a Christmas vacation and never come back.  Seriously.  If you are trying to force your home and family into living out a Hallmark Christmas movie, you are in for some inevitable disappointment.  Your home & decorations don’t look like the ones in Martha Stewart Living or your favorite decor blogs?  Well, neither does anyone else’s, so get over it!  Make a list of 10 cookies you want to bake, then bake THREE.  Pick out 10 activities/parties you’d like to attend, and go to FIVE.  Just scale “it” back and really savor the few things you choose – and your free time.  You get the idea.

Eight – Break out the Christmas movies, shows & books

Christmas would not be Christmas for us without Charlie Brown, Frosty, Rudolph, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Tis the Season to be Smurfy, T’was the Night Before Christmas, The Year Without a Santa Claus (Snow Miser!), Elf & The Grinch (both hilarious!), Holiday Inn, Christmas Carol (the one with George C Scott – I cry EVERY time at the end), Polar Express (okay I’ll give you that the hobo is scary-creepy) and my numero uno, I’ve-watched-it-every-Christmas-Eve-of-my-life (!) favorite:  White Christmas (and every year I yell at the tv, “for *@#&^ sake Betty, just tell Bob why you’re mad at him!!!”).

This year I bought a bunch of children’s Christmas books (and even a Hannukah story!) to keep on the coffee table.  I’ve really enjoyed reading and savoring the illustrations to Charlie Brown, the Grinch, etc.

One Warning:  last year I overheard two ladies talking about how much they liked “Nestor the Christmas Donkey”.  I’d never seen it but I had it in one of my Christmas Special DVD collections.  Well, DO NOT WATCH THIS SHOW!  Unless of course you like being punched in the gut with soul crushing sadness by a Christmas show!  Gahhhh!

Nine – Go to a Local Christmas Parade, Pageant, Musical, etc.

It’s the sweet, simple things enjoyed with friends and loved ones that make the Holidays special.  Last year we were in Florida for part of Dec and got to see the Christmas Golf Cart Parade my sister’s neighborhood puts on.  People deck out their golf carts with Christmas decor and tour around the development.  Unfortunately many of them are also hucking hard candies at you, so you gotta be ready to duck. But we LOVED it!  I am so bummed we won’t be there for that this year! Our church does a service of Bible readings and carols where people in our church form a “once a year” orchestra.  Is it the Philharmonic? No.  Is it GREAT?  Yes!  Go to a Christmas play or concert, or a Church Cantata.  Everything now is so bloody “extra” we’ve forgotten how to enjoy the simple pleasure of our friends and neighbors sharing their gifts and talents with us.

Ten – Have Friends and Neighbors Over for an Impromptu Cocktail or Dessert “Potluck”

Do you want to have some peeps over but faint at the idea of orchestrating a full on dinner or cocktail party at this time of year?  Here’s a great way to do it easy-peasy that works all year.  We are blessed to currently live in a neighborhood where we enjoy getting together for a few drinks and a chat.  When the mood hits I send out an e-mail inviting everyone over either that day or the next (remember, this is supposed to be low-key and impromptu, so no planning ahead!).  I make an app or two and provide a batch of cocktails or some wine.  Everyone else brings more appetizers and the guys are always good for a cooler of beers.  In the summer we sit out on the porch and when it’s cooler we’ve sat around the fire table sipping hot cider spiked with Bourbon.  Your house is never going to look prettier than it does decked out for Christmas, so what a great time to invite a few folks over for a super low-key soiree.  Since most people do lots of baking (or at least a lot of buying!) for the holidays you could easily put together a quick appetizer and Christmas sweets potluck and enjoy a relaxed evening with people you want to fellowship with.

Eleven – Bonus Tip: Don’t Even Think About Going Into Debt for Christmas.

Do not do this!  The Bible is not kidding when it says “better a little with fear of the LORD than a great fortune with anxiety” Prov 15:6.  Make peace with and be thankful for what you and your family can afford (see #7 above) and give your loved ones the precious gift of honesty, peace of mind and a good life lesson in financial stewardship.  There are a million and one things to do and give for Christmas that cost nothing or very little.  Will your 12 yr old melt down when she doesn’t get the iPhone X?  Well she needs to have a seat and get woke.  Going into debt over Christmas is a bullet train to Miserytown, population: you.

I hope I’ve given you a few ideas to help keep this season a time of “great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:11)  Please feel free to share in the comments ways you keep things joyful in your home!

Holiday Decorating Tips

I REALLY love decorating my home for the seasons and holidays.  Over the years I’ve developed a system that makes it easy and fun and hopefully keeps things looking fresh and festive.  Here are some tips to get your holiday decorating going:

Keep Your Stuff Organized

If you don’t know where stuff is or it’s hard to get to, the whole process is just frustrating and “unfun”.  Have separate, labeled, clear plastic bins for each holiday or season.  Using clear bins is essential so you can quickly see what is in each bin without having to open or rifle through it.  Keep your eye out for sales – Walmart and Target often have storage bins on deep discount.

Bonus tip:  if your closet space is tight and you find a magical arrangement that gets the most stuff in there – take pictures!  When you start taking boxes out to use them, you will never remember how they go back in!  Don’t ask how I know that…

Clear Bins are key – you can see what is inside without having to open or empty the bins

In each bin keep a list of its contents – putting things away goes so much faster when you know what fits in each box!

Store your collections together.  I am obsessed with trees and I keep them all in one big bin.  This way, when I put out my arrangements I don’t waste time looking for a specific tree and I’m never surprised by a random tree that I now need to rework a vignette to include.

My trusty work table with the “Trees” bin unpacked and the rest of the bins ready to be unpacked. I DID say I’m obsessed with trees, didn’t I?

Clear the Decks and Create Space to Work

One of the best things I’ve done to make seasonal decorating easier is buy an adjustable, folding table from Costco (see above).  It easily slips in the closet when not in use, but it gives me a great place to plop stuff as I unpack without worrying about scratching my dining or coffee tables.  And it adjusts to a comfortable height to work from (bending over a coffee table to pick out tree ornaments is no bueno on a middle aged back).

When decorating a space completely clear off the area you are working on (you can see above my mantle is ready for its Christmas gussying).  This is a great chance to take a damp cloth to all your everyday tchochkes and give your shelves, etc. a good wipedown.  It also gives your eye space to imagine a new arrangement.  If you leave a big picture or object in place you will be “working around” it and you might not get to the best arrangement.

bonus tip:  I no longer hang anything on the wall over my mantle.  I place large objects like pictures and mirrors on the mantle and lean them into the wall.  This way, I can take everything off and I don’t have some clashing painting looming over my holiday mantle, or a hole in the wall I need to disguise when I take it down!

Shake Things Up

It’s easy to fall into a rut of “tree goes here, baby Jesus goes here, advent calendar goes here” but fight that urge!  Your old favorites can seem new and fresh if you use them differently each year.  I always do a slim tree in the kitchen decorated simply with food themed Old World Christmas ornaments.  Last year I swapped in a new white tree and wow!  My ornament collection popped right out and the whole thing looked so much better in my white kitchen!

Do you have a “village” collection that always gets plopped out in the same location in the same layout?  C’mon!  That thing is a giant Fisher Price playset begging to be played with! I have a large collection of Snow Village and I move it all over the house.  Last year I didn’t use the houses at all – I created mini vignettes with my people, cars, trees, etc. on silver serving platters and placed them around the house.  That was so FUN!

Here are a few snaps to show how things have moved around our house the past few Christmases –

Dining room buffet 2014

 

Dining Room Buffet 2015 – as you can see a fabulous mirror from Ikea joined our family in 2015

 

Several years saw parts of the Snow Village on the mantle or the hearth.  Wow – that ugly brick really needs to be painted… : (

 

 

Items from previous year’s dining room decor sparkle on the 2015 mantle

 

2016 Mantle – I swapped out the Merry Christmas sign and the creches and this display worked through January

 

A few Easter and Halloween looks –

Easter tree in the Kitchen – which had just done duty for Christmas in the front hall with little glass Cardinals clipped to its branches

 

Easter Mantle – I found those “chocolate rabbits” last year and went to heaven!

 

Easter Mantel

 

Easter Dining Buffet

 

Halloween mantle 2015.  See? the permanent art on the wall is CLASHY!

 

Halloween Mantle 2016

 

Halloween Dining Buffet 2017

 

Hall Bench 2017 – I put up the leaves in Sept and the Happy Halloween blocks in Oct

 

Halloween Mantle 2017

Spread the Love

Put little pops of joy everywhere, especially places that are “just for you”.  Sure you hope friends and visitors enjoy your decor, but at the heart, your holiday and seasonal decor is for you and your family to enjoy.  A Christmas tree in your bedroom seems luxurious, but can be had on the cheap.  Walmart, Target, Michael’s and Hobby Lobby all ofter a few inexpensive prelit trees – you just have to jump on it early in the season.  I also collect mini creches and I always keep a few over my kitchen sink – a bit of cheer while doing the dishes!

Swap out your kitchen linens, coffee mugs, hand soaps, salt & peppers, etc. for seasonal ones.  These little touches make “everyday life” more fun.  I have a large collection of holiday coffee mugs that I love, love, love, and I swear coffee tastes better in a mug that tickles my soul.  HomeGoods and TJMaxx are your friends if you want to score some great holiday mugs, bowls and serving pieces dirt cheap.

Two of my fave Easter mugs. Those cotton tails slay me every year!

You don’t have to gut your home of all your “everyday” decor to make it look festive or seasonal.  Adding a bit of Christmas greenery to your existing displays or a few fairy lights here and there makes a world of difference.  Swapping out one little thing makes everything else look fresh and seasonal…

I swapped in a bunny catchall on my nightstand for Spring/Easter

 

a shelf gets a bit of Easter cheer by popping in a painted egg that matches the items that normally live there

 

Edit, Edit, Edit!

Don’t be afraid to say goodbye to things that don’t bring you joy.  Some things are classics you use forever, but many things wear out or just start looking dated and sad.  That’s okay – give it a mental hug, thank it for making your home festive in the past and pass it on to someone else (or toss it if it’s just gotten tatty).  Nothing sucks the joy out of your holiday decorating like a few things you feel “obligated” to put out but just don’t like.  Why do that to yourself???  And this goes triple-double for stuff people have given you.  If you don’t like it or it doesn’t “go” with your stuff, give it away!!!

I do a “gut check” every year as I unpack everything and again as I put stuff away.  If I’m not excited about putting something up, it goes in the giveaway bin.  And after the season if I feel something has “run its course” it goes in the giveaway bin, not back in storage!!!

Bonus tip:  Don’t give people decor gifts.  Just don’t.  The chance of your picking out something they will love and that will work for them is nil.  Most people will feel obligated to use your gift, so you’ve just given someone the gift of guilt and unhappiness.  Probably not what you meant to do.

Keep tweaking till it sings.  Don’t knock yourself out trying to get it all perfect in one pass.  If something looks off with a display and I can’t figure out why, I walk away from it.  I let it sit for awhile and look at it from different angles and in different light.  I keep moving things around, adding (and probably more helpful) subtracting things until I love it.  Don’t get frustrated – decorating is a creative way to celebrate the seasons and holidays.  It’s not a competition and you shouldn’t be doing it to impress others.

Build your collection of decor items slowly and thoughtfully.  Don’t buy something just because it’s cheap or it “goes”.  Empty space is far better than space filled with “meh” stuff you don’t really love.  A house full of “meh” is sad and you will feel that.  If you are not palpably excited to bring something home, leave it in the store and your $ in your wallet.

So how about you?  What’s one thing you can display differently this year?  What needs to be bid a fond adieu from your collection?  I hope I’ve given you some tips you can put into practice this Christmas and throughout the coming year!

Homemade Remineralizing Mouthwash

I am a bit of a stickler for oral hygiene.  Hand to God – I floss religiously! My dentist loves me!  But there is one thing he would like me to do that I just can’t get down with – swishing with some iteration of Listerine every day.  That stuff is excruciating!!! I dunno, pain is our bodies’ way of saying “yeah, not so much” so I’m just not keen on lighting my mouth on fire twice a day in the name of oral heath.

Due to a steady childhood diet of antibiotics to treat chronic ear infections, my husband’s adult teeth have especially vulnerable enamel.  He is the king of good oral hygiene and still faces a lot of challenges with his teeth.  Lately we have been thinking that all of this brushing, flossing, water piking, prescription pastes and rinses, etc. might be helping to stave off decay (though not very well!), but they aren’t really doing anything to promote health.  There is a big difference between eradicating or warding off disease and actually promoting health, right?

So I decided to look into more holistic approaches to having healthy teeth and gums. One of the first things I noticed was tons of people going on about homemade remineralizing mouth rinses.  Pretty much all of them contain calcium carbonate, trace minerals and purified water.  The variations come in how you sweeten it (if at all) and the essential oils you use for flavor and for their antibacterial/antifungal properties.

What the heck is a remineralizing mouthwash, and why should you use one?  Simple. We eat and drink a lot of acidic, sugary things that are no bueno for our teeth.  They create a plaque promoting environment in our mouths, and we end up with fur coated teeth by the end of the day.  A remineralizing rinse is a safe, all-natural liquid that bathes your teeth in a gentle, good-for-them, mineral-rich, neutralizing and quite tasty solution.

Can I say how much I LOVE this stuff???  It’s good for your teeth and gums, tastes amazing, leaves your mouth fresh and clean and doesn’t in the least bit hurt (unless you overdo it with the cinnamon oil – yikes!).  My husband and I both like how fresh it leaves our mouths feeling and tasting, and we’ve both noticed that our teeth are less “fuzzy” at the end of the day.  Plus, everything in it is natural, inexpensive, easy to find and can be used for other things around the house and kitchen.  You could actually swallow the stuff and it won’t make you sick – try that with Listerine.  Uh, don’t swallow it tho, because gross – you’re using it to flush the yuckies from your mouth!

Here are the ingredients you’ll need:

  • Calcium carbonate powder – this is just the powder form of calcium many of us take in our daily supplements.  Apparently you can also use it to make your own chalk paint!  You can find this online or in a vitamin store, and it’s very inexpensive.
  • ConcenTrace Trace Mineral Drops – this actually is a daily mineral supplement, made from water in the Great Salt Lake.  You can add it to juice or your smoothie, and some people add it to RO water to improve the taste.  I got mine on Amazon.
  • Xylitol – this is a natural sugar alcohol.  It is used in toothpaste, sugar free gum, etc. and it’s actually good for your teeth because it starves the bacteria in your mouth.  You can also use it to sweeten food or drinks, but I have read that you need to limit you daily intake to under 9 tsp. or it can have a laxative effect.  It tastes like “less sweet” sugar with no chemical or other off taste.  I like it in my iced tea!
  • Food-Grade Essential Oils – this is important – you need to use oils that are meant to flavor FOOD not make candles or perfume!  Lorann Peppermint and Cinnamon oils are fabulous (and extremely potent), and I’m a huge fan Boyajian citrus oils.  They can all be found at King Arthur, Sur la Table or Amazon.  At a minimum you need to have some peppermint or cinnamon oil in there for their antibacterial/antifungal properties.  Citrus oils are a flavor bonus.
  • Purified water – I use water from my Zero Water pitcher, but you can use RO or bottled as well.

Here’s how to make a batch:

In a clean, small jar with a tight fitting lid, combine

  1. 1 cup purified water
  2. 1 tsp. calcium carbonate powder
  3. 1 tsp xylitol (more or less to taste), optional but beneficial
  4. 8 drops ConcenTrace trace mineral drops
  5. Essential oils – my fave combos are: Cinnamint – 5 drops peppermint + 3 drops cinnamon; Cinnamon-Orange – 3 drops cinnamon + 5 drops orange;  and Lemon-Mint – 5 drops peppermint + 5 drops lemon.  *Tip:  cinnamon oil is POWERFUL, so go easy on that one unless you’re a big fan of fireballs!

Shake well every time you use it to distribute the oils and the calcium which will settle to the bottom, and swish a Tbsp in your mouth after you brush your teeth.  I also like to swish a bit after drinking coffee or tea.  Enjoy!

Not gonna lie – I get a kick out of repurposing this wee little vodka bottle for my mouthwash. It looks so cheeky sitting on my bathroom counter!

Coffee Reheating Hack

Coffee has a profoundly special place in my life.  If I saw irrefutable proof that coffee shortened your life by many years, I’d be like “see you soon, Jesus!”  Yep, I’m one of those crazies who buys fancy beans, grinds ’em herself in a fancy burr grinder, and brews it all up in fancy ways that use precise combos of time and temperature to get the best cuppa I can.  I even have a way-too-big (not really) collection of seasonally appropriate coffee mugs, because TRUTH coffee tastes better in a cute cup!

These are a few of my Easter mugs – that cotton tail kills me!

Sadly, I am also an easily distracted piddler who always abandons said perfect cuppa long before it’s finished.  For many reasons I hate thermal mugs, so it’s off to the microwave.  But, haven’t you noticed that a cup of coffee reheated in the micro tastes, um, well, gross?  To me it just gets burnt and flat tasting, which is hella disappointing considering the drama I go thru to make that cup!

I was pondering why that happens and it hit me.  Coffee is pretty sensitive.  It has to be brewed at very precise temperatures – too low and you’re losing out on flavor compounds and body, too high and you may as well drink charcoal water.  What if, when I’m reheating my cuppa in the micro, I’m overheating it and torching the flavor? BINGO!

I tried reheating my coffee at 40% power for the shortest amount of time necessary to get it drinkably hot.  Et voila!  That gently reheated coffee tastes exactly like it did when I first poured it, not like nasty ol’ burnt leftover coffee.  Here’s what I do:

  • heat the coffee at 40% for 30 seconds – STIR!  The microwave doesn’t heat your items evenly so stirring prevents flavor ruining scorched areas.
  • Repeat for 20-30 second intervals till your coffee is the temp you like.  Try it – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
  • Bonus tip:  if you’re not brewing your coffee into a thermal carafe, the minute your coffee finishes brewing TURN THE MACHINE OFF!  No good comes from leaving coffee on a scorching hotplate for any length of time.  You’re better than that!

Happy coffee drinking, friends!

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