Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday’s Tips and Tricks Party

Everybody like ranch dressing, right?  I’ve always been a Hidden Valley snob, and it had to be made from the mix packet.  I don’t care for their bottled dressing nearly as much (or any other brand’s bottled ranch at all).  All of that was before I realized that Hidden Valley products contain MSG.  I know this from reading the labels, but (oddly) when I went to their website, I could not find any ingredient list.  However, you can view the nutritional labels at Amazon;  the buttermilk ranch packet’s first ingredient is salt, the second is MSG.  It’s a little farther down on the original ranch and the bottled dressing, but it’s still there.

I’m not going to get into the possible evils of MSG, other than to say that it is a neurotoxin, and I avoid it if at all possible.  And so the hunt began for an acceptable Hidden Valley ranch substitute.  I tried several recipes before I finally found one that fit the bill.  Some were downright bad, some were just okay, but this one, IMO, is pretty darn close to Hidden Valley. 

Ranch Dressing II (from allrecipes)

  • 1 cup mayonnaise (I use olive oil mayo)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (I use low fat)
  • 1/2 tsp dried chives
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill weed
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Whisk all together in a large bowl.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.


Made as written, it is the consistency of a dip, and the kids love it with carrots and celery sticks.  Sometimes when I have the dip in the fridge but want dressing, I whisk in some milk to thin it out.  If you want dressing to begin with, use buttermilk in place of the sour cream (use this tip to make “buttermilk”).

It tastes just as good as Hidden Valley, and I know what’s in it…no questionable ingredients.  If I really wanted to be a stickler I’d make my own mayo, as I’m sure that the commercially prepared stuff is hardly health food.  I’ve yet to try that though; perhaps for another Tips post.

Your turn.  Please share your tips with us!

  • share a tip that makes your life easier
  • you must link back to me in your post
  • link to your specific party post, and not your general home page
  • please be polite and visit several other participants and leave a nice comment
  • I will delete entries that don’t link back to me or do not fit the party theme


Linky open until Monday Jan. 31 at 11:59 pm central.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Party Shout Outs

You can link up your knock-offs through Sunday, but today I’m going to highlight the four first-responders.  I host this party on the last Thursday of every month.  That means the next one will be Thursday, February 24.  That gives you four weeks to create your masterpiece!  For that matter, it’s perfectly fine for you to use an old post, as long as you add my link.

Amy from Design-Aholic showed us her Ballard inspired bulletin board.  She and I both had bees in our bonnets this time around!


{Northern Cottage} created a cubby shelf inspired by Pottery Barn’s cubby organizers.  She found this at Goodwill for $1!

 home 007_thumb[3]

Stephanie from Binkies and Briefcases built (as in “hammered-and-nailed”) this adorable table and chair set for her kids, and saved big bucks over PBKids Carolina set.  I’m in awe!


And Lili from Purple Paisley Pinwheels glued together different glass pieces to recreate PB’s Addison Candle Holders.  These would be great to change out seasonally.


Great job, ladies!  Thanks so much for joining.

I’d really like this party to grow…can ya’ll do me a favor and when you see a PB, Ballard or Restoration Hardware knock-off around blogland, let the creator know about the next upcoming party?  Thanks, peeps.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Knock-Off Party!

So, Wednesday morning I realized that my party is today, Thursday, and not Friday as I had been thinking.  I had switched it to Thursday so I could use Friday to highlight your projects.  I hadn’t even started on my project and thought I had at least two days to get it done.

Since that wasn’t the case, I had to start from scratch and get it all done in one day.  I had been perusing the catalogs for weeks, but hadn’t decided on anything for sure.  In light of my new laptop that I got Tuesday night, I decided I needed a tote bag to tote it around in.  Ballard was the logical place to look for inspiration, as they always have several cute bags.

Lo and behold, there was an actual laptop tote on the website!

Fullscreen capture 1262011 93144 PM.bmp

Off I went to Hobby Lobby, got my supplies, and headed back home.  I tossed the fabric in the washer, then I had to drop Firstborn off at his homeschool PE class and go get my license renewed.  As I was sitting at the DMV, I got a phone call from the school nurse…Skippy was in her office with a fever.  By the time I picked up both boys and finally got home, it was 4:00 pm.  I had visions of being up until 3:00 am getting this done.  Fortunately, it turned out to be pretty quick.

I won’t make this a tutorial; I’m just going to reveal the final product.  Drum roll, please…


I used cotton osnaburg (kind of looks like linen) and lined it with a black gingham that I already  had.  The Ballard bag is made with a padded quilted fabric to help cushion the laptop.  I sandwiched a thin layer of batting between the two fabrics, so mine is also padded.  The Ballard bag has a zipper around three edges; I did not use a zipper, partly because I forgot to get one and partly because I didn’t want to mess with it anyway.

I enlarged the photo of the Ballard bag and printed it out, then used that to cut out my freezer paper stencil.  You can see from the above photo that I didn’t bother with some of the negative space or the number 15 that is on the original.  (I like typography, but for some reason the 15 seemed so random and totally unrelated.)

IMG_7542 After you peel off the freezer paper, you get a sharp, almost screen-printed image.  Cool!

My little netbook fits neatly inside.


I even put a divider inside so my cord and mouse (I avoid touchpads when possible) have their own spot.


I can’t wait to see your knock-offs! 

Here are the rules:

  • your knock-off entry must be made by you
  • it must inspired by Pottery Barn, Ballard Designs, or Restoration Hardware
  • you must include a picture of the original item from the catalog so we can compare
  • it must be a specific comparable item, like my lamp shade, and not just a “this kind of has the PB look to it”
  • you must link back to me in your post, preferably using my button code, which you can get in my right side column
  • link to your specific party post, and not your general home page
  • please be polite and visit several other participants and leave a nice comment

If you need more details, see this post.  Though I hate to do it, any entry that does not follow the rules will be deleted. I plan to do a highlight post on Friday, but I’ll leave the linky open all weekend for any stragglers. 

Whining Pays Off

{Oh. My. Word!  I've been thinking all along that the Knock-Off Party is this Friday, until I just looked at my sidebar and saw that it is tomorrow!  I am so not ready!  I guess I'll be coming up with something really quickly today.  I hope some of you are more on the ball than me.}
 PB, Restoration Hardware, Ballad Knock-Off Party is tomorrow....I hope you'll join!

I had a different post planned for today, and was sitting down to the desktop computer to type it out.  As I once again tried to figure out the vagaries of Linux and was once again failing, my frustration level was mounting.  Trying to keep my voice and tone calm, I asked Craig if he could please help me.  Again.

It’s usually about 2 minutes into this process that my voice start rising and steam starts coming out of my ears and Craig gets equally frustrated that I’m so impatient.  It was at this point tonight that I said  “why don’t you just get me a laptop for my birthday?”.  After all, the big 4-0 is coming up on Sunday.  Still, I wasn’t really serious, as we just don’t spend that kind of money on birthdays.

I guess my dear husband was at the breaking point, because he blurted out “I did!”.  Guess what I did then.  I started crying, partly because I was sorry that I had more or less compelled him to spoil his surprise, and partly because though he has given me some wonderful gifts in our 18 years of marriage, I don’t think he has ever once been able to surprise me.  I never peeked, but somehow or other I always knew.  This would have been the first time, because I definitely would have been surprised to open a laptop on my birthday.

Not only that, but he has secretly been working on setting it all up for me, so that it would be ready for me to turn it on and go.  So tonight I’m sitting here typing on my new MSI Wind Netbook.  It’s super tiny, about 11”x7”, and really cool.

Fullscreen capture 1252011 103646 PM.bmp

I’ve got Picasa back, and I’m using Windows Live Writer.  Hallelujah!
I’m not sure what the moral of this story is.  Certainly not that whining will get you everything.  Maybe it’s just that I should be more patient.  Maybe it’s that I have the most awesome husband in the world…but I already knew that.

I love you, babe, and not just because you got me a computer, but because you constantly make sacrifices to try to make me happy and make my life easier.

I’m a happy computer camper, and a blessed wife!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars

The other night I was wanting something sweet, and the pantry was pretty much bare.  For whatever reason, I wanted some peanut butter chocolate chip bars, even though to my knowledge I'd never had them before.  I was sure there had to be a recipe out there, though.

I decided to use this one from the San Francisco Examiner.

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 1 1/4 cup AP flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup toasted and chopped nuts
  • 6 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Grease and flour a 13x9x2 baking dish.
  3. Cream the sugars, butter and peanut butter.
  4. Beat in the egg and water and vanilla.
  5. Mix in the flour, soda and salt on a low speed, scraping down the bowl.
  6. Fold in the nuts and chocolate chips.
  7. Spread the batter evenly in the baking dish.
  8. Bake until golden brown (approximately 20 to 25 minutes).
  9. Cool before cutting into bars.
I just realized that I did not add the vanilla, because the original directions did not have that step (I added it for you).

This was quick and easy to mix up (especially since I used my Christmas stand mixer!).  It didn't seem like there was enough of it to fill a 9x13 pan, and I was wondering if that was a mistake.  It was also a pretty stiff dough, and kind of hard to spread, but I did get it in the 9x13 and they baked up just fine.  Next time I might try adding a little milk or something to thin it out a bit.  If you wanted them to be thicker than about 3/4 inch, I imagine you could use a 9x9 pan and adjust the baking time.

Here's where I would normally put a photo.  Unfortunately, I can't.  Remember when I said we had Windows back?  That only lasted about a day.  I'm forced to work with Linux, which seems to require a different procedure about every 3rd time you want to do something.  Tonight, I can't figure out how it wants me to upload a photo.  Craig is already in bed, otherwise I'd risk the wrath of his tech support alter-ego, and ask him to show me how to do it.  Again.

Since I can't, I'll just have to grind my teeth in frustration.  Luckily, I can stuff a yummy peanut butter chocolate chip bar in my mouth so at least the wear and tear on my teeth will not be in vain!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Monday's Tips and Tricks Party

My family uses the library a lot.  We have a branch just 1/2 mile away, and we often pop in for books, magazines, or videos.  In addition, whenever I come across a book I'm interested in, I go to the library's website and see if they have it; if they do, I put in a request for it, and they email me when it's available.

What this means is that at any given time, I can have anywhere from 20-40 items out on my card, with 5 or 6 different due dates.  About the only way to keep on top of them all is to check the website every single day.  Somehow, I just can't remember to do that, which means that I often have fines.

Here's where the tip comes in:  Library Elf.  Have you heard of it?  If your library system is a participant, you register your card and Library Elf will email you when you have an item coming due in the next few days.  That gives you time to either return it or renew it so you don't accrue fines.

Unfortunately for me, my current system does not participate!  But I used it before we moved here from a neighboring county, and it save me a lot of fines.  At that time it was totally free.  Now I noticed that, while you can still get free basic service, there is a yearly fee for "premium" service ($12/one card, $20 multiple cards).  For my purposes, I think the basic would be enough, but even if I decided to pay for the upgrade, it would still be less than I currently pay in fines per year.

Check here to see if your library system participates.

Please share your tips with us!
  • share a tip that makes your life easier
  • you must link back to me in your post
  • link to your specific party post, and not your general home page
  • please be polite and visit several other participants and leave a nice comment
  • I will delete entries that don’t link back to me or do not fit the party theme
Linky open until Monday Jan. 24 at 11:59 pm central.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Harrowing Day

We've got another snow day today!  I think this is the snowiest winter we've had in a while.  I'm actually looking forward to having a laid-back day.  I need to recoup from yesterday.

Yesterday I spent six hours in the doctor's office and the emergency room with Pinkerbelle.  It really didn't seem like it was going to be that big of a deal.  A couple of weeks ago, she smashed her finger in the car door.  Eventually, it got infected and just wasn't getting better.  So yesterday, I took her to the doctor, who took one look and sent us directly to the emergency room.

In fact, it really was a minor procedure, but it sure seemed like a big deal.  At the ER, they took x-rays to make sure there wasn't a fracture (there wasn't) and then a team of five (!) professionals came into the room.  They hooked her up to monitors...

(A couple of people have mentioned her red fingers; I should clarify that what you see in the photo is actually iodine.  It's the tip of her index finger that is a mess.)

...and administered nitrous oxide (which did not make her laugh, but more or less knocked her out)...

And then they lanced and drained the wound (ugh!).

They gave her a popsicle for being a trooper.  They did not have treats for moms who manage to keep it together through the procedure.  Of course, because I'm not good with this kind of thing, I had Craig meet us there, so I did have a support system.

Let me just say how profoundly grateful I am that our children are healthy and this was only our second trip to the ER ever in 13 years of parenthood, and that hospitals in general are foreign to us.  We are blessed.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Thrift Store, and a Math Lesson

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you may have noticed that I haven't been talking about my thrift stores adventures nearly as much as I was.  I have indeed cut way back on thrifting, although I do still enjoy a trip now and then.

Last week I was out by the Salvation Army, which is far enough away that I do make a special stop if I happen to be in the area.  My total came to about $7, and can you believe that I had second thoughts as I handed over the cash?  I was thinking "why am I spending $7 on a bunch of stuff I don't need?".  Clearly, I'm out of practice!

The "cashew" jar was $1.39, and I buy these types of jars for pantry storage.  They don't all match; some are cracker jars with the screw-on lids, some are the latch-top canning jars, but I think they look good together anyway.  And since I've found them all at thrift stores for around $1 each, they're a bargain.

I also finally found an old aqua pint-size Ball jar for my soap dispenser.  Since all the lids fit all the jars, I just switched it out.  It was pretty cute before, but I really love it now!

Now the Speed-o-Weave really caught my eye!  I had never seen the loom before, but I sure remembered the the placemats and other things that were made with it from the '70s.  Dig that crazy vest!  I think my older sister may have had one of those.

Still, the main reason I bought it was because I thought it was nine cents; this store often has odd pricing so it didn't seem too strange.  It turned out to be 99 cents, but can you see what I saw?  The second 9 looked like a cent sign when I first looked at it, and since incorrect decimal placement is common these days, I didn't think anything of it.

That's a pet peeve of mine, actually.  I see it all the time.  {Decimal-nine-cent sign} actually means nine-tenths of one cent, not 9 cents.  {Decimal-75-cent sign} means 75 one-hundredths of a penny, not 75 cents.  If you are going to use the cent sign, you should not use the decimal.


  • 99c (99 cents)
  • $.99 (also 99 cents, or 99 one-hundredths of a dollar)
  • .99c (means 99 one-hundredths of a penny, because the cent sign is used.  Unless someone is going to give you change for your penny, this is incorrect)
But I digress.

I thought it would be fun for Pinkerbelle and I to try the loom.  I'll be sure to show you our creations if it works out.  Tomorrow, I plan to hit another thrift store to look for that red purse.  Thanks for all your kind words the other day about my mid-life crisis.  If I were a man, I'd be looking for a red convertible!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Organizational Inspiration

Despite having written myself a list of goals for the year, I have yet to start on anything.  I decided to review some of my better organizational projects over the past couple of years in the hopes that it would motivate me.

Summer 2009:  I took my pantry from A to B, and then when I decided the wicker baskets weren't working, from B to C.  Today it still pretty much looks like C, and just occasionally needs a little tidying up.

Fall 2009:  my master bathroom vanity area goes from A to B when Craig and my dad turn my vision into a reality and make medicine cabinets for me from leftover kitchen cabinet doors.

January 2010:  the computer desk gets cleaned up and all the paraphernalia hidden away behind a simple fabric curtain.

March 2010:  my kitchen cabinets get a little more user-friendly when Craig makes me a second pull-out shelf on the top.

December 2010:  I created safe ornament storage with plastic cups.

Linking to

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Monday's Tips and Tricks Party

Okay, everybody, I've decided to open up the Monday party to any kind of tips, not just money-saving, in the hopes that more of you will be able to participate.  Kind of like that other party that has been around for a while and is on Wednesdays that I used to participate in until it got so large that it was hardly worth it.  I'm not discouraging you from taking part in that party, and I'm certainly not trying to overtake the throne that party sits on; I'm just offering a smaller venue for your brilliant ideas.  Sometimes it's easier to get noticed in a smaller crowd.

Here's my tip for today:

You know how plastic can get stained, and even the dishwasher doesn't totally get it out?  I have a couple of white plastic cutting boards that often get stained when I cut fruit or veggies on them.  I also have some white plastic mixing bowls that can be stained by a fruit salad, or from the popcorn seasoning my son likes to use.

At some point, I got the idea to spray these items with a household cleaner with bleach right before I pop them in the dishwasher (I just use Walmart's brand).

They come out sparkling, snowy white!  It also gives me extra peace of mind when I've used a cutting board for meat.  (To be fair, the top photo is rinsed but hasn't been through the dishwasher, so it wouldn't be quite that bad if it had gone through without the bleach spray, but the stain would still be visible.)

I'll work on getting code for my new button.  For now

  • share a tip that makes your life easier
  • you must link back to me in your post
  • link to your specific party post, and not your general home page
  • please be polite and visit several other participants and leave a nice comment
  • I will delete entries that don’t link back to me or do not fit the party theme
Linky open until Monday Jan. 17 at 11:59 pm central.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I Think I'm Having a Midlife Crisis

I'm a pretty unassuming person. As a child I was painfully shy. I had friends, but the other person had to make the first move. I don't like making phone calls if I don't know the person on the other end. I've never been one to wear anything too colorful or flashy, because the last thing I want to do is attract attention to myself.

But guess what. This month I will turn 40. Forty! Now I know that for a bunch of you, your mental image of me just got a lot older. To that I say, just you wait. When you hit 40 (and it will happen faster than you can imagine), you will wonder how it was that you ever thought 40 was old. I don't "feel" 40, and neither will you.

So, where am I going with all this? As I get older (notice I didn't say "old"...even a baby is "getting older") I'm getting tired of being drab. Do I suddenly want everyone to look at me? No. But if they happen to see me, I want to look good.

Currently, I carry a plain brown purse. No more!  I'm going to be on the lookout for a red one, or maybe something even further out of my comfort zone, like yellow (both of these are from Target).

I put on makeup nearly every single day, but I use a very light hand.  This is me in full daytime makeup, and you can hardly even tell, except for the fact that I would look like I had no eyelashes without mascara.

Other than mascara, the only other eye makeup I use is a little liner.  I haven't used eye shadow in years.  But why not?  I think I'll experiment with a bit of a daytime smoky eye, like Leighton Meester is wearing here.  She still looks fresh and natural, just with a little extra oomph.

The jewelry I wear on a daily basis are my wedding rings and a pair of my small selection of pretty tame earrings.  Occasionally I will wear a thin chain necklace with a small pendant.  Perhaps I'll start making more of a statement with my jewelry.  Maybe not quite so many pieces at once as this Silpada model, but even twice as much and twice as big as I wear now would be branching out for me.

Shoes.  Again, it's mostly brown or black.  Last year, I did get some cute pairs from Kmart, but the only ones I wear regularly, in warmer weather,  are the animal print (the orange and green ones turned out to be not that comfy).  I love the cheetah print ones, but they're not going to last forever.

For me to be able to wear heels would take some major balance training and perhaps some physical therapy.  Maybe I should make that a goal this year.  Meanwhile, I could find something cute, like these purple linen or red ballet flats (though I certainly would not wear the red ones and carry the red bag at the same time--I do watch What Not to Wear!).

Maybe I need to try different accessories, like scarves.

Any tips for me on how to up my style quotient without getting too wild?  Keep in mind where I'm starting from.

FYI:  Monday's Tips party will be for any kind of tips or tricks, not just money-saving.  Pretty much anything goes.  Please join us!