Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Silver Jewelry is Pretty

Do you ever find that you need a little gift for someone, say for Mother's Day or a birthday, and you can't spend a lot but still want it to be nice? I've got just the ticket!

Silver Jewelry Club.

Only, it's not actually a club, so there's no joining or fee involved. And the best part is that the jewelry is FREE! Yep, free. You pay $6.99 for shipping...and if you buy a pendant and want to add a necklace chain, it's $4 more. Not too shabby!

I'll tell you honestly that some of the items are really nice, and others are not so much. But that may just be personal preference. And they look a lot bigger online than they do in real life, so keep that in mind. But I've bought a couple pendants and find them to be relatively heavy (which means they don't have that automatic cheap feel to them). The chain is nice too, for $4.

So for $7-11 each, you can buy a couple nice silver jewelry pieces to hide away for those times when you need a last minute gift...I'm thinking these would be great for birthday parties for the 8-15 year old set, friends, sisters, that hard-to-buy-for aunt...take a look at the website and see what you think.

Oh yea, I forgot to mention that there are four items up at one time and they change every 15 minutes. So if you see something you like, buy it...don't wait....or it may be gone when you come back. :)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Virtues of Vinegar

I'll admit it, I typically use Melaleuca products for most of my cleaning. I'm really happy with the products, especially Sol-u-Mel because (among other things) it can get marker out of my carpet. But recently, I discovered the virtues of vinegar. White vinegar, that is. For a long time, I thought vinegar was just a liquid used for cooking. And to be honest, I wasn't really sure what you cooked with vinegar except for coloring hard boiled eggs.

Well guess what?! There are a ton of uses for vinegar, and I'll list a few for you that I personally do....

  • Clean hard wood floors with a vinegar and water mixture. (I keep a spray bottle full of 1/2 water, 1/2 vinegar and use that for everything!)
  • Pour 1/4-1/2 cup of vinegar into the laundry machine during the wash and/or during the rinse cycle to get cleaner, brighter, softer clothes.
  • Spray windows and glass with a vinegar and water mixture and wipe dry.
  • Wipe down counters, stove, oven and kitchen appliances with a vinegar and water mixture.
  • Clean stains out of the microwave with about 1/4 cup of vinegar and a splash of water in a bowl, heat it for a minute or so until it steams, then wipe the inside of the microwave clean.
  • Add 1/2 cup vinegar to the dishwasher in the rinse agent compartment to help remove water spots.
  • Put a cup filled with plain white vinegar on the top rack of an empty dishwasher and run a cycle thru to clean the interior.

What do you use vinegar for at your house? I've love to know more uses....leave me a comment!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Playing with Our Food

My "almost 5" year old daughter loves fun food. She'll eat practically anything if I put it into a bento box. Kabobs of any kind are one of her favorites. Lately though, I've been getting lazy in the creative department...and she seems to be getting more picky about dinner. So, a friend showed me a blog I hadn't seen before with some fun food ideas, and I made hot dog spiders! She liked them so much, she ate two hot dogs worth, and asked for them for lunch the next day. Not only that, she didn't request the usual "dipper" of ketchup or spaghetti sauce. Amazing!

Here's how you make ''s simple (as per the title of this blog, it has to be!)

Hot Dog Spiders

saucepan of water
hot dogs
spaghetti noodles (dry)

Boil the water. Meanwhile, cut up the hot dogs into your preferred size. We like bite size so they are easier to eat as finger food. Break the spaghetti into thirds. Poke several strands of spaghetti thru the hot dog bite. Toss them all into the boiling water, cook until noodles are tender, approximately 8-10 minutes. Drain, cool and eat!

I can totally see doing these for a child's birthday party or playgroup too. And for the record, Mama like them too!

Special thanks to this website for the awesome idea~

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beets...Not Just for Dinner Anymore.

"I was cutting root veggies for tomorrow's dinner and one thing lead to another...."

This is what a friend of mine told me last night. I wasn't sure what to think, until she elaborated. Turns out, she gave herself "lowlights" with a fresh beet. While I wasn't entirely sure what that meant, I assumed it has something to do with coloring her hair. You see, I'm a brunette. Ask me about highlights, and I can explain it, show you old photos from college and give you suggestions for your own color. But lowlights...huh??

"I took the end of the beet and rubbed it on a few strands of hair.....sounds like something you'd do!"

Indeed, it does. I was intrigued and needed to know more.

"Highlight is light, lowlight is darker than your base color."

That was my AH-HA! moment. I got it now. Sounds awesome! And it got me thinking, what could I possibly rub on my own dark brown hair to change the color naturally like that? Aside from juicing lemons and hanging out in the sun (who used Sun-In as a teenager and then claimed that the sun just did that "all on it's own"? admit it, I know you did.) I started looking through the pantry and fridge to see if I had anything might work. Kool-aid? Coffee? Rhubarb? Bananas?

I'll have to keep you posted on this one. For now, I think I'll just let my stylist hook me up.

Homemade Taco Seasoning

Yum. Mexican food. One of my favorites...along with Italian, Green, Thai, Chinese, Afghanistan, Sushi....well, you get the idea. Anyway, for those who don't know, our daughter is allergic to milk. And you will likely be surprised to know that almost all commercial taco seasoning packets contain milk or a milk product. Who knew?!? So I set out to create my own taco seasoning and it turns out that not only does a homemade mix taste better, but it's also more affordable and time-saving to keep a jar of this stuff in the pantry. You can alter the recipe below to suit your tastes - more or less of any ingredient will just make it "yours". Enjoy!

And if you want a super easy and delicious recipe in which to test out your homemade taco seasoning mix, try my friend Tracy's Crock Pot Tostadas...and check out her blog at for her Deal of the Day. Sweet!

Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix

1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dried onion flakes
1 tablespoon dried minced garlic
1/2 - 1 cup chili powder (we use 1/2 c.)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin (I love cumin!)
4 teaspoons salt

Put all ingredients into a jar with a tight fitting lid (I like canning jars personally). Shake to mix. Use to taste in whatever recipe you choose - approximately 1/2 cup equals one seasoning packet from the store, but I frequently use less, especially if I add more chili powder to the mix.

Tracy's Crock Pot Tostadas
6 to 10 servings

1 lb ground beef-browned and drained
2 cans refried beans
1 envelope dry taco seasoning mix (or use homemade version above!!)
8 oz can tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
10 tostada shells ( I skip this and use tortilla chips instead)
diced tomatoes
shredded cheddar cheese
black olives
sour cream

Combine ground beef, beans, seasoning, tomato sauce and water in crockpot. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours. Crisp tostada shells (or just use tortilla chips, Fritos, etc.). Spread hot mixture on shells and top with remaining ingredients OR scoop hot mixture onto plate, top w/ remaining ingredients and scoop with chips.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Today is Earth Day, so I thought it would be appropriate to tell you about a "green" effort I've undertaken. At home, we have been increasing our general recycling and trying to use fewer disposable paper products by using rags instead of paper towels for cleaning, cloth napkins instead of paper, glassware instead of plastic, etc. And of course, we traded in the H3 for the Prius (hee hee! sorry honey.) But this past winter, I started a worm compost bin for our preschool.

My friend Sandy, the Green Guru, turned me on to an idea known as Vermicomposting. Her blog is here, and I highly recommend checking her out!

To put it simply, vermicomposting is using worms to convert organic waste into usable compost for the garden. It's really easy to do, fortunately for me because (I hate to admit it) sometimes if new things are hard, I just won't try it. But I'm so glad I did, because (1) kids love worms and (2) it's totally good for the environment.

Want to make your own worm bin? Here's how.....

1) Gather up the following supplies
  • an old plastic storage container (fairly large, like a Rubbermaid tub)
  • a handful of red wiggler worms (from the bait shop or online)
  • a handful of soil
  • some kitchen scraps
  • some newspaper
2) Toss the worms in the tub with the soil and the food, cover them in barely damp newspaper strips and put the lid on. Don't forget to poke holes in the tub's lid for air circulation.

3) Every week or so, add more scraps and newspaper strips as needed. In a few months, you'll have wonderfully rich compost for your garden or houseplants. You'll also have a lot more worms -- they multiply like crazy in there. Happy worms make a lot of babies, so I've heard.

4) Generally, you want to put only raw fruit and vegetable scraps, tea bags, coffee grounds and the like in the bin. Stay away from meats, oils, dairy products, orange rinds and other citrus fruits. Worms also like a weekly eggshell or crushed Tums.

At school, the students give their teachers any leftover scraps from lunches - surprisingly, nobody is "saving" lunches for the worms...just giving them things like brown spots from bananas or the peels or crust from a sandwich. It's very cute. At first, one of the teachers found an escapee on the floor one morning before class. I'm sorry to say, he didn't make it. But I believe that was the only casualty. And we know now that if they try to escape, they are not happy. In this case, a little more newspaper and water did the trick.

I'll be taking home the preschool worm bin for the summer and hopefully keeping them alive and happy. My daughter has a new fascination with worms, and has even created her own mini worm bucket in the garage. She found a new worm today and now there are 7 of them. Plus one leaf and a bunch of dirt...and some grass clippings.

I would also like to state for the record, I will never actually have to touch a worm. I will use a spoon, if necessary. Or have my daughter do it. She will be more than happy to volunteer for worm duty. Actually, maybe I can convince her this is a new pet. Yeah, that way...we won't ever have to get a dog!

Do you vermicompost? Are you going to give it a shot? Drop me a comment and let me know! (and check out Sandy's blog for more details on starting your own bin)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Goodwill....Great Deals!

I can smell a bargain a mile away. That's why I knew I had to stop in at the local Goodwill store after yoga class yesterday. See, I've been staking out 2 Coach bags for a while now...watching, waiting, hoping that they would soon go half price. Yesterday, I had the feeling! I went in, checked the color of the week and...YES! It was blue! So I headed to the locked case and asked to see "my" two purses. I bought them both, along with a blue tagged s'mores maker for $4. One purse was $10 and the other was $7.50....success!

What's that? You don't know what the color of the week means? (GASP!) Each item is marked with a price tag which includes a color code. Each Sunday, the sale code color changes, and that means it's HALF OFF. Such a great deal, especially if you can find things that are clearly worth more than the price tag states.

My favorite things to get at Goodwill are Coach bags, wood furniture, and kitchen gadgets like bread machines and juicers. When my daughter was smaller, I frequently would find barely used Hanna Andersson dresses for her as well. For the record, I draw the line at a few items. There are several things I will never buy from a Goodwill store, including shoes for myself, unders, bathing suits and food. That's just me though.

Did you know that Target uses Goodwill to dump all their unsold merchandise? I've seen loads of new-in-box Target furniture and toiletries (yesterday it was mostly hair dye and anti-gas meds).

Really, if you think about it, getting things on sale like this is actually like making money. Don't you agree? :)

Leave me a comment and share your best Goodwill find!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Best. Jam. Ever.

I love making jam. I do not love eating jam. Frankly, I just don't really like fruit so jam never really hits the spot for me. But several years before my Dad died, he taught me how to make and can homemade jam. I have fond memories of he and his girlfriend making jam during the summer and early fall at my grandmother's house in Michigan. The smell of hot fruited sugar can't be beat. And now that my Dad is gone, I cherish those memories more than ever...and continuing the tradition of making jam helps me keep him close.

So yesterday I realized I had a 2.5 lb bag of pie cherries in the outside freezer that I intended to use for jam this winter. Oops. I ended up making a quick batch while my daughter was at a playdate. It only took me 45 minutes to make a batch of the best cherry jam ever. Typically, I'm a certo girl. Certo, for those new to the process, is pectin (which makes the fruit set up into jam, rather than sauce). Certo is a liquid which comes in a pouch, and it's the only thing my Dad would use. But I wanted to make sugar-free jam, and certo requires sugar, lots of sugar. Instead, I deviated from the norm and went with Ball Natural Gel No Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin, in a box...cause it's a powder.

Making jam is really very simple and I'll outline it for you here, in case you want to give it a try. The first time you make jam, you'll be hooked. Trust me.

What you need:
canning jars
lids & rings (must be new)
stock pot
sugar or splenda
lid magnet (a stick with a magnet on it, I'll explain this later)
damp towel

What you do:

PREPARE: Put your jars into the dishwasher and run it with the heated dry cycle. You need to sterilize the jars and keep them hot. Put the lids and rings into a saucepan filled with water and boil them, keeping them on the heat until you're ready to can.

COOK: Next, follow the instructions on your pectin package. They are pretty much all the same, and it involved cooking the prepared fruit (*prepared meaning chopped or crushed, sometimes adding lemon juice) over high heat with sugar, stirring constantly. When the fruit and sugar reaches a rolling boil, add the pectin and cook for 5 minutes or so, depending on the pectin package. A rolling boil is one that you can't stir down.

JAR: Once the timer rings, you'll ladel the hot jam into the hot jars. Take only 2-3 jars out of the dishwasher at a time, fill those, then grab a few more until all the jam is in jars. Wipe off all the edges of the jars with a damp towel so they are clean. Then, take the stick with a magnet on it and grab the lids from the saucepan, place them on top of the jars. Do the same with the rings. Screw the rings on, only as tight as you can using your, not too tight.

SEAL: Here's where things get a little controversial....I pretty much only use what is called the Inversion Method. That's what Dad used, so that's what I use. After the jars have lids and rings, flip them upside down onto a clean towel on the counter. Time it for exactly 5 minutes. No more, no less. FIVE minutes. After 5 minutes is up, flip them right side up. Then, you wait. You'll hopefully hear the "pop" of each lid sealing. Don't touch them or test them out for several hours or you risk accidentally creating a false seal by pressing on the top of the lid. (My husband did this once, he knows better now.)

Now if the jars don't seal, that's when I might do a water-bath. I don't even want to get into the details of a water-bath, it's just a PITA really. It's not hard, but I rarely use it. Some people will tell you that it's not safe to invert for canning. But for over 25 years of eating my Dad's jam and almost 10 years of canning myself, I'm perfectly content with inversion and feel confident that it's safe. And since I never enter contests with my jam, I think I'm fine. (contests usually specifically state you can't use inversion)

So there you have it.
Jam Making & Canning 101.

Hmmm, maybe that should have been the title for this post.....

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Homemade Laundry Soap

More homemade stuff today, this time it's laundry soap. Eventually I'll add pictures, but for now just imagine in your mind what these things look like. Thanks.

So, everyone uses laundry soap. And it's not cheap. Or if it is cheap, it doesn't clean very well in my experience. As an alternative, I decided to try a homemade "recipe" for laundry soap that a bunch of my friends are using...and it turns out that I really love it! It's easy to make, very economical and, since you only use one-two tablespoons per load, it saves me time in the long run because I don't have to continuously buy laundry soap.

Here's the basic recipe below with instructions. I keep mine in an old coffee can. It's plastic, so maybe it's more of a coffee tub. None-the-less, it's there, and it lasts a long time. You can use the aforementioned pure essential oils from your sugar scrub recipe too if you want to fragrance it up a bit. See, now that's thrifty! I don't, personally, because I like it just the way it is. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Oh, and one tip is that you'll need a grater. Specifically, I recommend a microplane. Trust. Without one, if you're anything like me, you'll cut your knuckles up during the assembly process. Microplane is the way to go, it gets a finer grate AND it's safer. :)

Basic Homemade Laundry Soap

one bar Fels-Naptha (found in the laundry section, it's a bar of soap for laundry not bodies)
one box of Arm & Hammer washing soda (not baking soda, not laundry detergent, "washing soda" - it's a powder, also found in the laundry isle)
one box of Borax powder (guess where this is...yep, laundry isle)

Grate fels bar with a microplane. If you use a regular box grater, please be careful and use the smallest grate you can. Add one cup each of the Borax and the Arm & Hammer washing soda. If you have lots of stains, you can add an additional 1/2 cup of the Borax for added cleaning power. Mix and store in a container with a lid.

To use:
Add one to two tablespoons to each wash load. Add essential oil if you like.

Obviously, this recipe is for a powder soap. Historically, I never liked using powders, but this soap has changed my mind. I love it. You will too. Believe me. Have I ever steered you wrong?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sugar Scrub

I like to make things from scratch. I think it's that feeling of accomplishment that gets me hooked. It could also be the fact that I'm cheap. Yea, thrifty is a better word. In any case, if I can make something homemade that equals or is better than store-bought, then I'm all over it.

So right now, my thing is sugar scrub. I adore a good sugar scrub. I also find them exceedingly necessary during dry skin weather. Before I shave my legs, I use my sugar scrub to exfoliate and then I don't get those itchy, red bumps all over the place. Plus, sugar scrubs smell so nice, they make me smile!

Recently I realized that I was paying way, way too much for a sugar scrub. Because really, how hard is it to make a sugar scrub?? Not hard at all! Here's my recipe below. You can get creative and adjust not only the ingredients (change up the oil or fragrance) but also the measurements. It's all up to you. Enjoy!

Basic Sugar Scrub

oil -I use sweet almond oil with a touch of olive oil
sugar - I use white sugar, but sometimes do half white and half brown....divine!
fragrance - I believe 100% pure essential oils work best, make sure you use one that is meant for the body, not a room freshener. I really like Young Living brand oils, they are therapeutic grade.

Find a container to hold your sugar scrub. Tupperware is good, or a glass jar with a secure lid. Just realize that you'll be slippery and wet when you use it, so glass might not be the best choice if you're slightly clumsy. Add as much sugar as you want to the container (start with one cup), then pour in some oil (start with 1/4 cup) and mix until you have the consistency of wet sand. Next add a couple drops of essential oil fragrance. If you like it stronger, add more.

Voila, sugar scrub!

Pamper yourself with a daily or weekly sugar scrub. You, and your skin, deserve it.

(I've had a special request so tomorow, I'll share my homemade laundry soap recipe. It's easy and economical, plus it cleans big time.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009


In yoga, the word namaste is said to mean "The light within me honors the light within you.". As an aspiring yogi, I want to welcome you to my blog! Simply Claudine is my attempt at journaling things I find interesting or useful or just plain cool, from homemade laundry soap to delicious recipes to shopping bargains...and everything in between.

First things first, I want to acknowledge that yes, if all my friends were to jump off a bridge, it is quite possible that I too would jump off said bridge. Why? Because I love my friends. I trust my friends. And if they all jump, there must be a good reason. So it stands to reason that since practically everyone I know has a blog, I need one too. In my defense, I do have a dozen full journals in my closet from my high school and college days, so writing to myself and documenting my existence is not a completely new concept for me. Blogging just makes things a little more public.

So... read on my friends, the best is yet to come!