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Tuesday, January 29th 2008

7:11 AM

Amazing Kitchen Math

1 3 pound beef roast ($5), divided into two, added to two crockpots equals: * 6 individually portioned tupperware containers of Beef Stew with Dumplings (minus one bowlful that fell into my bowl and was eaten...) * 6 individually portioned tupperware containers of Shredded Beef in BBQ Sauce It also equals one full freezer of Freezer Pleasers, 6 insta-meals for my husband and I, or 12 days worth of grab-and-go homecooked meals for him to take to work. The Beef Stew is ready to eat as-is, and with only two slices of bread (attached to each container), the Shredded Beef transforms into delish BBQ sandwiches. Not bad for a hunk of meat, if you ask me. Yes, I know there's only 5 containers of Beef Stew in this picture... I couldn't get to take a picture until after my husband came home, which is when one container mysteriously vanished... Spooky.
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Sunday, January 27th 2008

7:05 AM

Sit, Breathe, Relax, and Smile

Christmas is always something of a blowout for my family, and I'm ashamed to admit that I've yet to find a place for all the sweet little odds and ends and trinkets bestowed upon me by loving friends and family. This is unfortunate, since my mother gave me quite a few knick-knacks by "Nature's Sketchbook," including this Guest's Greeting Frame, which is a small frame with a little greeting, flanked by flowerpots, a nesting bird, and a birdhouse. I was really happy to get it, since I'm redoing my guestroom, and I think it contains the perfect little welcome message I'd like guests to see when they tuck in for the night. As luck always has it, on Saturday (in the midst of my organizing, cleaning, sorting, and putting away, we got an unexpected call from a friend, saying he was going to stop by and hang out with us for the day. I proceeded to become a cleaning tornado, picking up this and that, finding temporary homes for all the stuff I had out and was trying to organize. Thinking that my Guest's Greeting Frame wouldn't be seen in the guestroom, I decided to put it in the guest bathroom, on the intelligent guess that it would be seen by our guest and maybe bring a smile. Sure enough, after many hours of eating, drinking, movies, and video games, our guest excused himself to the restroom. While I was doing some straightening up and my husband was frantically trying to get Mario to beat the third level boss on Wii's "Paper Mario," we heard an absolute explosion of laughter from the bathroom... When he came out, our guest took my hand and led me to the bathroom, and pointed at my Guest's Greeting Frame, and then broke off into hysterics. I looked at him like he was nuts, and then I stopped to re-read the message in the frame. Suddenly, it came to me why he found it's placement in the bathroom so uproariously funny, and why maybe why it probably doesn't belong in the bathroom. The message written in the frame is: "Stop a minute, rest awhile. Sit... breathe... relax... and smile." Once I got beyond the initial mortification of poor design placement, I also thought it was absolutely hilarious. It did bring a smile, which is what I wanted... That said, the frame is now happily situated in my guestroom. It's a great message for drifting off to sleep, probably best suited for bedsides and not bathrooms.
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Friday, January 25th 2008

8:18 PM

Favorite Ingredients Friday: Superbowl Edition

So, one of the blogs I read religiously, Overwhelmed With Joy, does a "Favorite Ingredients Friday" group share. I'm delighted to be able to participate in it for the first time! This week, the theme is all about the Superbowl, so I figured I'd share my trademark Spinach Artichoke Dip recipe. Ok, so maybe it's not trademarked, and maybe it's not even mine (I got it from Betty Crocker), but it's just so delish, it's become something of my party signature. I'm thrilled to share it with you guys!
Spinach Artichoke Dip 1/2 Cup Mayonnaise 1/2 Cup grated Parmesan Cheese (the type from a shaker is yummy) 1 or 2 Medium Green Onions, chopped (or up to 1/4-1/2 cup regular onion) 1 to 3 Cloves Garlic, Chopped 1 Can (14 oz) Artichoke Hearts, well drained and coarsely chopped 5 oz Frozen Chopped Spinach, thawed and squeezed, very well drained Preheat the oven to 350. Mix mayonnaise and cheese in a small bowl. Stir in onion, garlic, artichoke hearts, and spinach. Top with more Parmesan Cheese and Cayenne Pepper for extra taste. Spoon into 1-quart casserole. Cover and bake 20 to 25 minutes or until hot. Serve warm with crackers, Melba toast, rye bread, chips, or garlic bread.
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Friday, January 25th 2008

10:03 AM

The Liberal Heaving of F Bombs

I've noticed lately that a word that I haven't heard in years is making a resurgence this 2008. It's an F word that no woman ever wants to hear or have her name and/or image associated with. That F word would be, of course, "Frump." I've heard all sorts of phrases... Fight the Frump, Dump the Frump, Friends Don't Let Friends Do Frump, even my best friend called his boyfriend a Frump a week or so ago. I've even heard women bestowing upon themselves the title of Frump. I'm going to chalk it up to the new year, or maybe just a whole bunch of people going on midlife crisis at the same time, but "Frump" seems to be on every body's lips.

But dear Ladies of Stepford, you can achieve a look that has you put together, "hip looking," without being a Frump. Frugal living doesn't confine one to non-name brands or prevent you from spending money on yourself. It really can be done, with only a little bit of effort and careful planning.

Here are some tips that I live by:

1. Coupons are your best friends. DealCatcher.com and CouponMountain.com are great for coupons for everything from Victoria's Secret to Bath and Body works. All of the face wash, hand cream, and lotion I use is from Bath and Body works, and I've only spent about $50 there my whole life. They have great sales, and even better coupons available online-only. If you shop during January and July, you will hit their semi-annual clearance sale, where soaps and lotions can be as much as 75% off, and they give away free samples galore.

2. Drug stores usually have some awesome coupons in their fliers, and online. CVS is my go-to store for many beauty products. They allow me to combine coupons on cosmetics, and I get rebates using my CVS cards. I can often purchase name brand skincare products, such as Olay, Loreal, and Revlon, for up to 90% off... Even free. Grocery stores that double coupons are also an unexpected source of great skincare deals.

3. You can buy the basics from places like Wal*Mart, Target, and Kohls and then dress them up to look "hip" and "edgy." Frankly, I like buying the basic ladies fitted tees, tank tops, button up front dress shirts, and sweaters and then updating them with accessories like belts, jewelry, and scarves. That way, I avoid expensive trends, and I avoid having a wardrobe that becomes outdated when a fad passes.

4. When buying cosmetics and/or haircare products, be aware of the amount you use each time you use it and how long it lasts. Often times, products that seem expensive will turn out to be a better investment in the long haul. Example, I buy a product for my hair that leaves it smooth, shiny, frizz and tangle free. It makes my hair look like a super model's hair. But I didn't buy it for the longest time because only 2 ounces of the stuff cost $10.50. However, when I found a 50% off coupon and finally bought it, I realized I only needed 3 drops of the stuff each time I used it. So it turned out that little $10.50 bottle lasts for more than a year, even using it a couple times a week on my longer-than-shoulder length hair, and it doesn't spoil or expire (meaning I don't have to rush to use it). I ended up making an investment in my beauty for a seemingly expensive bottle of hair goop that actually only costs about $.87 a month to use, if it lasts only a year.

5. You can't redo your entire wardrobe, skincare line, makeup products, and hair care products in a week, or even a month. You'll go broke. Slowly and over time, taking advantage of sales and clearances, you can add in items to replace outdated items you already own. If you even just buy 2 shirts on clearance a month, you'll have almost a full week's new clothes in under 6 months. That's far easier for the wallet than a total redo in a week.

The thing to remember is that looking good is an investment. Set aside a few bucks a month specifically devoted to something for your beauty needs. I know some say it's a frivolous waste of money, but really, investing a little time and money in our appearances reaps so many rewards. We boost our confidence in how we look and feel, we leave positive and lasting impressions on others, we teach the younger ones around us the importance of good grooming and remaining in style and relevant without blowing hundreds of dollars on name brands which could be out of style in a month... And let's face it, husbands like their wives when they look good, and not just for the "hey, my wife is hot!" factor. Lots like the boost in confidence they see in their wives, while others appreciate it that even after years together you still care about how you look to him, some like seeing their spouse in a new way... And, Ok, they "hey everybody, my wife is hot!" factor doesn't hurt either.

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Thursday, January 24th 2008

1:30 PM

Man's Best Friend

If dogs could talk, it would take a lot of the fun out of owning one.
~ Andrew A. Rooney

As most of you know, I have a husband and a dog. I really do love both of them very much and I would highly recommend to anybody considering dogs or husbands to really give it serious thought because both are great to have around the house. And really, owning a dog and having a husband really have some shocking similarities. Both enjoy cuddling, most conflicts can be resolved with food, when you lock them in the house all day alone they’re overjoyed when you come back, they are (when left to their own devices) more than happy to crowd you in the bed, and both create unique little messes simply by existing in the house for hours a day. While most of the listed qualities make husbands and dogs more enduring in our hearts, the last example does create a headache or two. Though I will say quite thankfully, the messes that each leave are vastly different. I highly doubt the dog will have much occasion to leave his socks in little balls at the foot of the bed, and I would be truly shocked and horrified if I came home to a mess on the carpet left by my husband not quite being able to make it outside to relieve himself.

Every day, my dog leaves so much hair around the house, I have a hard time figuring out just how he’s not totally naked.  And I vacuum several times a week, and I think with the amount of dog hair I dust off of every flat surface of our house, pick out of the couch, and scrape off the carpet, I could probably knit a whole new dog.  When I was sick with the flu and didn’t vacuume for a week, we quite literally had doghair tumbleweeds rolling through our kitchen.  I love my dog, but sometimes I wonder if he intentionally goes about sprinkling hair that he collects from other dogs while out at the dog park around the house while I’m out grocery shopping or while I’m at the gym.  It’s amazing, especially since 20 hours a day he’s fast asleep on the floor, which common sense would dictate would mean he’s not finding time to explode hair all over the living room.

Thankfully, I’ve come up with some ways to make the house that’s mostly wall-to-wall dark blue carpet not look like the bottom of a kennel, and it doesn’t involve shaving the dog:

**  Regular vaccuming is a must.  Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I do a vacuum of the high traffic areas of our house.  Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday I use a Carpet Flick or Carpet Sweeper in the main part of the house, hitting only his favorite sleeping spots (under the Dining Room table, for example).  A Dust Buster works miracles on the tumbleweeds of fir that seem to migrate to the non-carpeted rooms of the house (like the Kitchen and Bathroom).

**  If you have a vaccum like mine, it doesn’t quite get all the way to the wall.  Incidentally, this is the spot that seems to collect the most dog hair.  Using a hand broom and dustpan (whisk broom, whatever you want to call it) to kind of comb up the carpet along the edges of the room and in corners works miracles.  I personally prefer the plastic hand brooms over the straw ones because that little bit of static it generates grabs up some of the smaller, finer hairs.

**  My dog isn’t allowed on the couch, which means he’s only on it when we’re not looking…  Pretty much anytime we leave the house.  The dog hair just sticks to couches and chairs.  Put on a set of rubber gloves (like the kind you use when you’re washing dishes…  The ones with textured fingers and palms are the best), and run your hands over the couch.  You’ll literally peel the dog hair off the couch.  Even those hairs that get embedded in the cloth.

**  I use my homemade Frebreeze mixture and spray it on the couch, bed, and high traffic areas of the rug.  It reduces the static that makes cleaning dog hair that much harder.  I also rub down the dog with used dryer sheets to collect some of his hair, and to help de-static the dog.  In winter, he gets zapped more than a kid wearing slipper pjs.

**  When it comes down to it, taking the dog out and brushing him or her down regularly makes a big difference.  Just spend 3 minutes a day giving the dog a good brush down, and leave the hair outside for the birds.  Around here, the birds will take the dog hair to line their nests, so I chuck all the dog hair I can out there.  Maybe that’s why our property is home to so many nesting robins, chickadees, swallows, sparrows, and wrens… 

 To those of you looking for tips on how to share a bed with both a husband and a dog… I can’t help you there. Every night, I sleep in the fetal position in my 2 square feet of bed, flanked by snoring husband and twitching dog. I’m obviously no authority in that department.

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Monday, January 21st 2008

8:40 AM

Monday: I'm Just Not That Into You.

Well ladies, it's Monday again.  It seems like every week at about this time, it's a Monday.  I think it's safe to say that I'm not the only one who's not a fan of Mondays. 

Part of the reason I hate Mondays is because during the weekend, I don't do any cleaning aside from my morning and evening routines.  As a result, some Mondays I'm greeted by the catastrophe that is my house.  The logical solution would be to, of course, do some cleaning over the weekend, but gosh darn it...  I'm just too lazy.  So Mondays, I'm all about the cleaning that is thorough, effective, and most of all, quick.  That's why I'm very glad that Mondays are Kitchen Day in my cleaning schedule.  Because we're there in it all the time, we're kind of forced to keep it moderately clean, making it quicker to clean on the days where I have to clean it.  All things being equal, I can completely clean my kitchen in about 10-15 minutes, from top to bottom.  20 if Mr. Stepford did the cooking all weekend.  Really, I don't devote more than an hour a day to cleaning my house. 

Impossible, you say?  Well, watch this:

Kitchen Cleaning Routine

Fill a bowl of water with lime juice and water, microwave for 2-3 minutes

While microwaving water, fill up both sides of sink with hot, soapy water, about 4 inches worth

With a broom, knock down cobwebs from ceiling, working clockwise around the room

With a microfiber cloth that's dampened with some of the hot, soapy water, wipe down spots on upper cabinets (again working clockwise around the room)

With same microwiber cloth, wipe spots and stains off the wall and tile backsplashes that are above the counters.  Wipe any appliance you come across as you go by (excluding stove, fridge, microwave...  Just hit things like mixers, decorative knick-knacks, toaster ovens, etc).  You're still going clockwise, right?

Wipe off spots on lower cabinets, and wipe down the space between the bottom of the cabinets and the floor.  I don't have to tell you to keep going clockwise...

Now, with a new microfiber rag, open up the microwave and wipe it clean, cleaning the ceiling of the microwave first, then back, sides, and finally bottom and door.  Clean out around the door seal too.

Time to hit the stove...  Using the same cloth you cleaned the microwave with (unless it's nasty, then get a new cloth), wipe it down with the soapy sink water.  Don't forget to clean the top of the oven door, the sides of the oven door, and the drip pans.

Counter time!  Spray a fresh microfiber cloth with a vinegar and water spray, or a glass cleaner with disinfectant in it (yes, there is such a thing), and wipe down all of the counters, working clockwise, and wiping down the top and sides of the microwave, oven, and sink as you go.

Finally, with the hot soapy water, scrub the sink, rinse, spray and wipe/buff with glass cleaner, and...  If you feel like it, wipe the insides of the sink with baby oil to prevent stains and water marks (and make it super shiny). 

Ta da!

It sounds like a lot, but really once you've done it a few times, you can crank right through the routine.  There are just three key things to remember:

1.  You're not cleaning to make things perfect, you're cleaning to make things better than they were before you started.

2.  Cleaning is an investment...  The more you clean, the easier it will become.  So the first time you do the routine, it might take you 30 minutes, but as you clean over and over, there will be less to clean.

3.  Clean only what needs to be cleaned.  If it doesn't need to be cleaned, don't waste your time.  If your cabinets all look great, except for a couple spots from where you dropped tomato sauce, then just clean those spots.  No need to clean the whole thing every time you clean.  By cleaning only what needs cleaning, you save yourself a ton of time and energy...  There are, of course, exceptions to this rule...  Such as when something needs to be disinfected.  Your toilet and counters might look clean, but I'd give them a wipe with the ol' disinfectant anyway. 

So, enough of that.  I made some Banana Bread, and it's time to eat.  LOL!

Until next time!


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Tuesday, January 15th 2008

2:04 PM

Back From Break in B&B

Hello again, ladies! 

Mr. Stepford and I took some time out for just the two of us to visit the world beyond Stepford.  Mr. Stepford and I will be making that transition from Mr. and Mrs. (plus dog) to Mr. and Mrs. (plus dog) who're trying for Baby.  To commemorate the occasion, we decided to spend the weekend tucked away in the woods, in a positively beautiful Bed and Breakfast.  After all, when we concieve Baby Stepford, it's not likely we'll be able to pack up and run off for a weekend, so we might as well enjoy the freedom now. 

I promise, tomorrow I'll get back into the swing of things and make my regular postings.  Today, with two huge suitcases that need unpacking, and the dinner hour looming ever nearer, I can't bring myself to find the time to focus enough to drill out a blog entry. 

Thank goodness for freezer pleaser meals, eh ladies? 

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