Make Dinner Count: Turn Meal Time into a Positive Family Experience

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

As a single mother with three small children at home, dinner used to feel like a lot of work. My three kids often met my efforts with something like this: “I don’t want green beans again. She got the pink bowl yesterday and it’s my turn. She stole my napkin. I’m not hungry. Why can’t I put my feet on the table? It’s not fair.”

It started to feel easier to feed them all a bowl of granola and eat a peanut butter sandwich by myself after they all went to bed.

I never felt good about it. I know that families that eat together are healthier, happier, and more connected. When I realized that my children were missing those special family meals, I decided to change my attitude about dinner.

(I wrote this article for Mom it Forward. Read the whole post and comment on Mom it Forward . . .)

Thanksgiving Recap: Keeping it Simple

Monday, November 28, 2011

The week of Thanksgiving I wanted to get to the store to buy table decorations for the big dinner - napkin rings, centerpieces, etc.  But with all that had to be done before the holiday, I never made it to the store.  I had no choice but to use what I could find around the house.

Mason jars, rocks, candles, a roll of jute, and a piece of unhemmed fabric from the clearance shelf at the fabric store (purchased ages ago).  It turned out to be a lovely table though not a penny was spent.  Again and again I have to remind myself that simple and homemade are almost always the answer.

And dear friends, family, and so much homemade goodness made it a pretty wonderful day too!  I hope your holiday was filled light and love and laughter, and gratitude for all you hold dear.

Dutch Apple Mini Pies: Simplifying Holiday Desserts

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When it comes to Thanksgiving, I am all about the pies.   I enjoy the turkey and I look forward to the stuffing.  I live for the pies!  But if pies are the best part of the holiday meal, they are also the most daunting.

With pumpkin, apple, and pecan pies on the menu for fifteen hungry guests this year, I am determined to simplify just a little bit.  After all, it won't be a very memorable holiday if I spend the entire day in the kitchen.  These Dutch Apple Mini Pies, baked in a mini-muffin pan, cut cooking and prep time in half without sacrificing a bit of the beloved pie taste. 

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes: Delicious Holiday Side Dish

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I am in the process of finalizing our Thanksgiving menu.  While we have some tried and true recipes that have earned their place in the traditional meal, I still like to experiment and add a few new dishes to the menu.  This week I am testing recipes before I serve them to our holiday guests.

I recently received a copy of the limited-edition Philadelphia cookbook, Cooking with Pheeling, and it came just in time!  It is full of delicious recipes ideal for holiday entertaining and weeknight meals.  I knew just what to look for when I opened it. One thing my family doesn't have is a favorite sweet potato recipe on our holiday menu.  Last year, I experimented and while I wouldn't say our sweet potato tamales were terrible, no one was asking for seconds.  This year, I tested a recipe from the new cookbook that is sure to be a winner!

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

(from Cooking with Pheeling)


2 large sweet potatoes (1.5 lbs)
2 oz. Philadelphia Cooking Creme, or Neufchatel Cheese
2 tablespoons fat free milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped pecans


Heat oven to 425 degrees F

Cut potatoes lengthwise in half; place, cut side down, in foil-lined pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until tender.
Scoop out centers of potatoes into bowl, leaving 1/4-inch-thick shells. Add cooking creme, milk, sugar, and cinnamon to potato flesh, mash until well blended.  (Note: The cooking creme is creamier than cream cheese/Neufchatel and easier to measure, mix, and melt).

Fill shells with potato mixture, top with nuts. Bake 8 minutes or until potatoes are heated through and nuts are toasted.

Approximately 4 servings


$50 Sams Club Gift Card (one winner) + A free limited-edition Philadelphia Cookbook for everyone!

Honk if you hate Christmas in November (I don't)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I keep hearing complaints about Christmas arriving too early.  What?  We are talking about the same holiday, right?  That season of light and peace?  The holiday that inspires goodwill to all men and the joy of giving?   Can this really arrive too early?  

If you are cursing Christmas, well then I am pretty sure we are not talking about the same holiday.  If hearing a holiday song in November, or seeing a string of lights before Thanksgiving has you rolling your eyes and muttering on your facebook wall, then you might be confused. 

Christmas isn't hours of shopping or decorating.  It isn't a big credit card bill.  It isn't a to do list.  It isn't a load of baked goods, or party invites, or even familial obligations.  

Christmas is a time of remembering.  Remember the comfort of bringing the light and warmth indoors this time of year.  Remember to give thanks for your blessings, great and small.  Remember how it feels to share a bit of light and warmth with someone else.  Remember the joy of traditions, the awe and excitement of waiting for good things to come. 

Remember the birth.  Remember the message: "My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you."

It's never too early to remember. 

Get Organized By Paying Attention

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I am becoming increasingly convinced that being successful in life (not to mention happy) is largely dependent on good organization skills.  This unoriginal light bulb moment happened for me last week when I hung up a key hook by the door.  It was simple move, but one of great significance for me.
Do you know how much time I have spent searching for my keys?  I am glad no one has been tallying the minutes because to know exactly how much time I have wasted would be too depressing.  It happened multiple times a day, almost every single day.  Not too long ago I even left my keys in the front door overnight.

But the funny thing is that I didn't realize how much time I was wasting until I hung up the key hook.  Sure, it was inconvenient to search for keys every time we were heading out, but it didn't seem like that big of a deal.  After I hung up the key hook, I noticed a big change.  It was so much easier to get out the door because I didn't have to plan on 10 or 15 minutes of hide and seek before we could leave.   This got me thinking about other areas in my life that could use a bit more organization.

In order to identify where else in my life I might need some refreshing, some organization, some better time management, I carried around a notebook for a few days.  I wrote everything down - what time I got up, what I ate, where I went, everything I did and how long it took to do it.   The results were surprising to say the least!

Make Your Own Liquid Dishwasher Detergent

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

While I understand and appreciate the merits of handwashing dishes, I am completely dependent on my dishwasher.  I like to think that someday, when I have that farm and big country kitchen and maybe a few more helping hands, I'll be able to keep up with the dishes without the help of a machine.  But for now, the dishwasher is my very best friend.

But appliance friendship aside, I still want to keep my kitchen free from chemicals.  The most affordable dishwasher detergents are full of additives and harsh chemicals.  The more people-earth friendly detergents were taking a toll on my budget.   So I researched a bit, experimented a bit more, and I have finally found a recipe for Homemade Liquid Dishwasher Detergent that works!

The ingredients are all earth friendly and family friendly and very inexpensive.  Castile soap, a biodegradable olive oil based soap, is available at most stores with the cleaning supplies.  I buy mine online here or refill bottles at my local co-op.  I also use essential oils from doTERRA because they are the safest and purest oils I have been able to find.  All the other ingredients are probably already in your pantry. 

Liquid Dishwasher Detergent


2 cups liquid castile soap (such as Dr. Bronners)
1/3 cup water
2/3 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 drops essential oil (I recommend doTERRA's Peppermint oil or doTERRA's Lemon oil)

Combine all ingredients in a glass or stainless steel container (essential oils can breakdown plastic) that seals tightly.  Shake until thoroughly mixed.  Use approximately 2 to 3 tablespoons of detergent (dependent upon size and make of your dishwasher) per load.  Shake thoroughly before each use.

This dishwasher solution fits well with my budget. I also can feel really good about what goes into my dishwasher and what comes out too! The essential oils and the vinegar, which are naturally antimicrobial and antiseptic, ensure that my dishes are safely cleaned. I love knowing exactly what goes into my cleaning products - especially when we're eating off those dishes!   

Have you tried making your own detergents and cleaning products?
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