Wednesday, July 30, 2014

No More Baby Deaths in Hot Cars!

We have so much technology today, that allowing any small child cook to death in an overheated car is simply inexcusable.  And no, I'm not blaming forgetful parents - what I am saying is that we already have the technology to prevent these tragedies. I am suggesting a simple car seat innovation that will save lives. If you are reading this, please please share this blog post with everyone you know, especially car seat manufacturers. Together, perhaps someday we can save a baby's life.

If you are not aware, forgotten baby syndrome is a horrible event. A distracted caregiver forgets that the young child is in the back seat and is left in the hot car, sometimes for hours. Often the child is literally cooked to death.

I have an idea to prevent this - a car seat that has a weight sensor in the seating area and has emergency cell phone/GPS capabilities.  The car seat will automatically call multiple emergency numbers that the parents pre-program if the weight is not removed from the seat within 5 minutes once the car stops moving. If the weight is not removed from the seat within 10 minutes, the seat calls 911 with its GPS location. This could save babies' lives.

In addition,  The emergency phone calls could be prevented if the parent manually deactivates the car seat once the car stops moving - I know that on nice days, I often let the baby finish her nap in the car as I sit in the driver's seat, reading.

Also, the car seat could also call/text the parents when batteries are low or need recharging.

As a safety precaution due to cell phone radiation, the cell phone capabilities could be placed within the base of the seat, as far from the baby's head as possible. The cell technology (not the weight/motion sensing technology) would automatically go into "airplane mode" to conserve battery life while the car seat is in motion. This will further protect baby from cell phone radiation. The cell phone would only search for signal once the car's motion has stopped for at least 4 minutes.

All car seats would need is a weight sensor and cell capabilities. We have the technology. Why are we not making these?

If you like this idea, PLEASE CLICK THIS LINK to vote on it at the Fisher Price website. Voting is free, and if it gains enough popularity, Fisher Price will consider putting it into production!

Please share this post widely.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Slow Cooker Chicken Ranch Pesto

Here's another recipe that is painless, quick and easy. Perfect for the days when you have small people crying and attached to each leg while you're trying to cook dinner.

The original recipe is by Picky Palate and you can find it here. However, like all things, I modified it to suit my family's tastes.

Instead of using chicken thighs, I use 3 large chicken breasts. It seems like we get a bigger bang for the buck that way.

I really like Classico Traditional Basil Pesto. As for the ranch powder mix, I just get whatever is cheapest, usually Hidden Valley.

Here's the recipe:

  • 3ish large boneless skinless chicken breasts (more or less, depending on your needs)
  • 6 ounce jar of Classico Traditional Basil Pesto
  • 1 package Ranch dressing seasoning mix
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth


1. Put chicken breasts in slow cooker.
2. In a small bowl, combine pesto, dry ranch mix, and chicken broth. Stir until all clumps of ranch dressing are mixed in.
3. Pour mixture over chicken.
4. Close with lid and cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours.

This recipe is especially yummy when paired with buttered mashed potatoes and asparagus. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

DIY Bunny Pen

We own a lovely angora rabbit. His name is Peter.

He has an outdoor hutch that is roomy and wonderful. He is allowed to go outside to eat the dandelions on nice days.

When he is indoors and we are around, he is allowed to freely roam around our living room and kitchen. He is litter trained, and he uses it well.

However, when he is not supervised indoors, Peter needs a safe place to stay. Rabbits chew, and like most rabbits, Peter has a fondness for chewing through cords and pulling apart furniture.

Peter is a big boy, although most of what you see of him is fluff. The commercial indoor cages are entirely too small, and the large outdoor hutches are a bit too much for inside.

What to do.. what to do?

I did what I always do when I can't find exactly what I'm looking for - I made my own! And now I'm blogging about how I made this indoor rabbit enclosure so you can make your own, too (and at a fraction of the cost of a large commercial cage to boot).

DIY Rabbit Cage

Now before you get all peta on me, let me reiterate that this cage is only for when Peter is unsupervised. It would be sad to leave him in a pen all of the time. He is allowed out for regular exercise, play, and dandelion munching.

I had not yet started this blog when I made the pen, so I will have to explain what I did without photos. I apologize about that. However, I promise that this pen was very easy to make, so I'm sure you will be able to make it without detailed pictures. :)

Here's what you need:
  • Plastic self-standing baby gate
  • Duct tape
  • Outdoor vinyl mesh fabric
  • Staple gun and staples
  • Scissors
  • Chair mat
  • A partner
  • Rabbit
  • Rabbit accessories
To make this pen, I used four panels of a plastic six paneled self-standing baby gate that I already had on hand from my kids. If you don't own one, I recommend the Northstate Superyard Playgate, available here from

Each panel is approximately 3 feet across, so you will want to get enough of the mesh fabric to cover the top (at least 1 1/2 yards). I used an outdoor vinyl coated mesh fabric (the kind you would find on a pop-up screen house) that I purchased from JoAnn's.  Really, any kind of sturdy mesh will do. Here are some examples.

The Duct Tape I used was denim. I wanted to have it look more fabricy than regular duct tape. 

The chair mat is available from any office supply store. It should be big enough for the entire pen to fit on top with some room to spare. If you want, you can cut off the "lip" so that it is a perfect square, but I didn't. In my case, the lip is under the curtain in the background.

Assembly instructions:
  1. Pop four panels of the plastic baby gate in place. The panels "snap" together.
  2. Cut the mesh fabric so that it lays at least from outer edge to outer edge across the entire top of the enclosure. It can be hanging over the edge a little for this part - you can always trim it later. It needs to lay fully flat to each outer edge so that the staples can get a good grip.
  3. Using the staple gun, staple one side fully down along the top edge of the gate. Staple from the top down along the entire edge. I found it best to make the staples go perpendicular (crosswise) to the edge I was working on. Some pieces of the gate may chip off during the stapling. No big deal. You will cover this with duct tape later.
  4. Once the first edge is secure with staples, have your partner gently pull on the fabric to keep it taut while you work on the adjacent two sides. Again, staple perpendicular to the edge you are working on.
  5. Staple the remaining edge the same way.
  6. Using the scissors, trim any excess fabric overlap so that the edge of the fabric is flush with the edge of the pen. For the corners, cut diagonally to allow the circular joints to poke through.
  7. You will probably notice that all of the sharp staples are poking through the side of the pen. Ouch! You will cover the exterior edges of the staples with duct tape to protect everyone's fingers. You will use two layers of duct tape on each side. 
  8. Starting with the first side, find the bottom lip of the bar that you just stapled through. Tuck the edge of the duct tape under this lip as you tape across the length of the side. The top edge of the tape should just touch the top of the bar. This layer of tape will prevent anyone from accidentally touching the exposed staple prongs.
  9. After the exposed prongs are covered, use another layer of duct tape to cover the top edge of the pen. This will hide the tops of the staples to make the pen look more polished, and the overlap will reinforce the tape hiding the exposed prongs. Line up this edge of the duct tape with the inner edge of the pen. Overlap the previous layer with the outer edge of this layer.
  10. Continue applying duct tape around all four sides. Don't worry about the corners. If the top is taut, the space in the corners won't be big enough for your bun to escape.
That's it! And do you know what's the best thing about the mesh? It's strong enough for my 12 pound cat to use as a hammock. :)

To clean:

The best part of this pen is the ease of cleaning it! Sometimes Peter makes a mess of his food or misses his litter box. I have a special broom and dustpan that is only used to sweep up his messes. I lift up the pen, sweep up the mess, wipe down the chair mat with paper towel and natural cleaner, and he's good to go!


Here are some sites that I used for inspiration. Perhaps they can inspire you, too!

Rabbit accessories:

The most annoying thing I found about this enclosure was allowing access to fresh hay, since you can't really attach a good hay hopper to it well. I just put the hay in a cardboard box within the enclosure. I really like Farmer Dave's timothy hay cubes because they cut down on the dust and pieces of hay that escape the pen. Plus they're hard, so Peter is able to grind down his teeth as he gnaws them.

For a hideaway, I use the Ware Rabbit Den. Peter is a bigger boy, and he needs the space.

That's it! If you have any questions, please post in the comments below.

Monday, May 19, 2014

{Worship: You're Doing It Wrong}

Ah, the Worship Wars.

If you've been a Christian for any length of time, you've probably noticed there are many styles of "worship" in church services here in North America. Some churches offer a conservative call and response format, interspersed with hymns and accompanied by the organ. Tradition is important here. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the ramped-up rock n' roll churches with electric guitars, drum sets, light shows, and fog machines. Loud is good in these churches.

I've attended many styles of churches over the years, and because of this, I've heard many, many comments and opinions about how worship should be done in all Christian churches, everywhere. Here are some paraphrased examples:

"Every church should get rid of the organ. Who listens to organ music outside of the church anymore? Get rid of it. It's not culturally relevant and makes visitors feel like they have to appreciate organ music in order to worship God."

"The organ is God's holy instrument. Every Christian church should have the organ playing at least part of the time during the worship service."

"Drums are from the devil. If the contemporary service insists on using drums, at least cover up the drum set during the traditional service. I don't even want to see the drums onstage. They're too distracting."

"I can't worship in a church that has a light show. Churches with light shows are more about performance than about worship."

"Wow, cool light show! Is this really church? It's not nearly as boring as I thought it would be!"

"Interpretive dance? Really? Since when are we doing this?"

"I can tell that your church is more about performance than worship by looking at your congregation. If the majority of people are watching instead of singing, then they're watching a show, not worshipping God."

{Honestly, I have heard every single one of these opinions expressed by people I personally know.}

In my discussions with people about worship, I've stumbled across seven recurring themes. These themes have helped me understand why we Christians need a more inclusive and accepting view of God-centered worship in our own churches and each other's church services.

1. Most often, a judgmental attitude comes from someone who is not on the worship team.

Many times the worship team in a church will try a new song, introduce a new instrument, or try something like interpretive dance to break the monotony and encourage people to think more deeply about what they are doing and Who they are worshipping. However, this can sometimes backfire if the congregation is not receptive. For me, it's easy to judge the worship team's efforts to lead us into worship. Unfortunately, this is when the worship service becomes a performance; not because the worship team has a narcissistic attitude - but because I do. Is this new endeavor helping me worship? Is it adequate to meet my needs? By sitting comfortably in my pew, judging the worship team's latest effort, I have turned the worship experience into a performance to be evaluated. Gone is my communion with God, not because of something the worship team is doing, but because of the attitude of my heart.

2. Is your "godly" opinion one that you would openly express to the members of the worship team?

If drums are from Satan, would you be comfortable in accusing the percussionist playing them of devil worship? If the organ has no place in the church, would you be comfortable telling the organist that her service is no longer welcome here? If these questions give you pause, perhaps you should reevaluate your opinion. How did you arrive at your worship preference? Is it something that you grew up with? What does Scripture say about it? Could others have a preference that does not contradict Scripture, yet is different than your own? Can you make room in your schema of worship to accept their differing style preferences without judging their attitudes and motivations?

3. Is singing is the only sure sign of worship? What if the congregation isn't singing? Doesn't that indicate that it's a performance?

How do we know when someone is worshipping God or just going through the motions? Is the congregation actually worshipping or just parroting back words on a screen? Or are they just standing still, watching a performance? Are they understanding the meaning of the lyrics in the hymnal? Does lip syncing count as worship? Is singing the only way to worship? How do we know if the people are worshipping?

We don't.

We can't because we're not God and we cannot see inside people's hearts.

I can sing my heart out, meaning every word. I can sing my heart out to show off to the people around me. I can stand silently, not singing, because I am praying or thinking about the lyrics to the worship song. I can stand silently because I am not engaged in the worship and am thinking about what I need to do after church. I can sing a worship song that I can relate to. I can sing one that I can't relate to. I can be a parrot. I can be a fully engaged human.

And you most likely won't be able to tell just by looking at me.

4. How weak is your relationship with God? Do you require a specific style of worship music to get you in the "mood" to worship?

I simply hate it when a Christian implies that one style of worship music is more conductive to entering God's presence than another for all people, everywhere. If this is you, let me challenge you with a few questions. Does your faith need coddling in order to coax out your reluctant praises? If the music isn't to your liking, do you automatically shift into Judgmental Christian Mode (see point #1) and therefore turn the worship into a performance with the attitudes of your own heart?

5. Would you act this way in another culture?

Imagine that you are on a mission trip, visiting another culture in another country. What if the Christians in this culture used drums, or dancing, or a didgeridoo to worship God? Would you be offended and judge their ways of worship because it is not the way you prefer to worship?


Then why do we do this to other Christians within our own culture?

Think about it. We laugh at each others' services and efforts of praising God. "I can't worship there - they have an organ. Ugh. Who does that anymore?"

"I can't worship there, they they have a fog machine. They're so over-the-top. I mean, they had a flamethrower last Christmas."

"Seriously? They're singing that song again? It must be one of the three they know."

"I simply cannot worship with that tribe. They're dancing and playing drums. I don't care if it makes me look bad as a Christian on this mission trip and is just plain rude. I'm not going to participate."

See how silly that sounds? So don't do it to others - even within in your own culture.

6. I can judge the light show or be thankful for the people who made it. 

Is the organ distracting you from worshipping because it's not your thing? Does the acoustic guitar version of the song rub you the wrong way? Try entering God's presence by praising Him for the people who are giving up their time and talents to help you seek Him. Somebody put together that light show with the hopes that it would help you worship God. Praise Him for that person. Somebody else selected that piece of music to fit the pastor's message. Praise Him for that person. And another person took guitar lessons to be able to lead the congregation in worship. Thank Jesus for that person! Oh look. You've stopped judging and started worshipping. :)

7. If I want to be distracted during worship, I will be distracted - regardless of the environment.

If I want to be distracted during worship, (usually because I have unconfessed sin that I haven't dealt with) I will find a way, regardless of the presence of an organ or a light show. Believe me, I am capable of being distracted by something as mundane as my left shoe if my heart doesn't want to worship.

Thankfully, the reverse is also true.

If my heart wants to worship my Creator and my Savior, there is no organ or light show on the planet that can stop me.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Snowy Day Beef Stew

Snowy Day Beef Stew? Uh, Julie, don't you know it's May?

Well, I don't know where you live, but here in Wisconsin, it has been absolutely frigid out there this spring. I made this stew a couple of weeks ago, and I will make it again next week if it doesn't warm up.

There's something about a wet, slightly-above-freezing cold that just chills me to the bone. I would rather deal with a well-below freezing cold than the damp, clingy cold that just settles into your muscles. I know that I sound like I'm 90. I'm not. I'm 37.

But I digress.

This hearty beef stew is perfect for warming up everyone's insides. It requires a bit of prep work (cutting and dicing and all), but it freezes well and doesn't require any extra sides (although I do like to pair it with a freshly-baked pumpkin yeast bread, which I will share another day on my blog).

So, may I present to you my version of the Snowy Day Beef Stew?

1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 lb. red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into quarters
2 to 2.25 lbs. lean boneless beef round, trimmed of fat and cut into cubes
2 tsp. dry thyme
1/4 cup beef broth
2 medium carrots cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
1/4 cup flour
1 (14.5 oz.) can of stewed tomatoes
1 (10 oz.) package frozen peas, thawed
Lawry's Seasoned Salt

Combine onion, carrots, and potatoes in slow cooker. 
Coat beef cubes with four. An easy way to do this is to pour the flour into a gallon Ziploc bag, add the beef cubes, seal it, and carefully shake it until all the cubes are coated.
Add the flour-coated cubes to the slow cooker and sprinkle with thyme.
Add tomatoes and broth to the slow cooker. 
Cover and cook at low until beef is very tender (8-10 hrs.). 
Stir in peas. Increase heat to high. Cover and cook 10-15 minutes until peas are heated.
Season with Lawry's Seasoned Salt to taste.

Serves 6-8

So how is my version different than all the other versions online? First of all, I omit the mushrooms. We have allergies in our family, so mushrooms are a no-go. Second, I find that Lawry's gives it a little extra kick rather than using regular salt. So there you go. The next time you find yourself chilled through and through, consider making this dinner to warm yourself up. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Antique Piano Lamp {Makeover Edition}

I love old things. I love their history, their character, their uniqueness. However, I don't always love their appearances. I often buy a piece because it has "good bones" and transform it into something beautiful. Today I present to you one of my favorite transformations - and all it took was a little paint and sealant.

Today's Offering:

Antique Lamp Makeover

I found this lovely antique piano lamp on ebay for under $20. Needless to say, I bought it.

Antique lamp makeover

The structure, the lines of the lamp were gorgeous! From the detailed foot base, to the gracefully curved crossing goosenecks, to the fine herringbone ribbed tulip glass shades, it was beautiful.

I was in love.

It was just as pretty in person. But something wasn't quite right. Actually, make that two somethings.

First of all, the brass was very brassy. It was a shiny gold-tone with built up dust in-between the detailing. Cleaning it only made it worse. It became an even brighter brassy color.

Also, the fine detailing on the lamp shades was difficult to see unless you got up close to the lamp, and how many people go around examining other people's lamps? Unless you're an appraiser, you probably would miss this subtle feature.

So as always, I took matters into my own hands with my paintbrush. I used this wonderful paint to tone down the brass and give the metal more of a champagne tint.
DecoArt Elegant Finish Metallic Paint in Champagne Gold

I love this paint. It is so easy to work with, and I've used it very successfully when painting a variety of surfaces including metal, wood, and glass. I applied it pretty liberally to the metal parts of the lamp, allowed it to set, and sealed it with a sealant.

The result was much more subdued, which was exactly as I had hoped. However, the shades still looked less than spectacular. They had a pretty shape, but in my mind's eye, I could tell that an opalescent sheen would really make the detailing pop. Since I had my DecoArt metallic paint already out, I thought I'd just try it.

I applied a thin layer of the paint to the outside of the shades, and while they were still wet, I carefully wiped any excess out of the grooves with a lint free rag. The result was stunning!

The lamp now sits proudly in my family room near the fireplace. It fills the entire room with a warm glow when lit.

The herringbone petals are finally noticeable from a distance.

And the shades sparkle and shine when the sunlight dances upon them!

The entire transformation was done with one simple paint job with DecoArt Elegant Finish Metallic Paint in Champagne Gold. It's available here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I knew this day was coming.

Lately Little Love has been terribly terrible. Moody, not listening and obeying, whining, negotiating, pouting, being mean to her sister and our pets, and throwing fits when she doesn't get her way. You know, typical four-year-old girl stuff. Verbal warnings are not working as well as they used to, and even time outs are having limited effectiveness lately. I have decided that it's time to impose a behavior chart into our routines so that discipline can become more formal and more concrete for both Little Love and myself. (Lately I've been giving so many warnings, that sometimes I forget when I've said, "LAST warning!" If being a teacher for ten years has taught me anything, it's this: in order for discipline to be effective, there has to be consistent follow-through. Last warning means LAST WARNING. The next step is a consequence.)

So I scoured the internet looking for a good behavior chart that reflects my philosophies of parenting and discipline.  I wanted a chart that would give chances for Little Love to self-correct before a consequence occurs, but still promotes positive behaviors that I want her to exhibit (not just negative behaviors I want her to avoid).

I found a few structures for charts I liked; however, they all had some problems. I used these charts as examples for the chart I eventually made. I liked the rainbow theme used on these charts and the multiple levels of behavior (both positive and negative) on each. I also liked how Little Love could move the clothespin up and down to help her monitor her own behavior. However, the wording on these charts is vague, and I want Little Love to know exactly what behaviors I am looking for, not just what behaviors to avoid.

From Happiness is Homemade

Through teaching, I've learned that you need to be clear and specific in your feedback to children so that they can fully understand what you expect them to do. "Great job" and "outstanding" doesn't necessarily convey what they did that deserved that response.
Here is my version of a rainbow behavior chart, with more specific positive traits.
Here is how my behavior chart works: Little Love's clothespin will start on the green "Ready to Listen" each day. As the day progresses, her clothespin will move up and/or down according to her attitude and actions. I'll explain each of our levels in more detail, starting with the negative consequences.

Yellow consists of a verbal warning describing the negative behavior and a reminder to make better choices before more negative consequences occur. Moving the clothespin to this level should remind Little Love that she's on the path for more unpleasant consequences if she continues the negative behavior.

Orange consists of a time out and time to stop and think about what behaviors have led to this point. It will also involve a discussion about what behaviors she could do instead to avoid this time out in the future.

Red consists of the loss of a privilege.  Little Love loves her screen time, so the loss of screen time would often be the first consequence at this level.

I wanted to keep the negative behavior levels somewhat generic since Little Love seems to be struggling with a number of issues at this point. However, there are some very specific positive behaviors that I want to see her cultivate instead. Listening, obeying, thinking ahead, and being proactive in knowing what I expect of her will result in some positive rewards. Being proactive and thinking ahead will negate whining and pouting, and listening and obeying will counteract the disobedience and disrespectful behavior.

Light Blue indicates the minimum good behavior that I am looking for. I am looking for her to attend to my instructions and to do as she is asked without backtalk. This is the minimum standard for "good" behavior.

Dark Blue consists of anticipating what she may be asked to do and doing it without being asked or told to do so.  In our house, we call this "thinking ahead and being proactive." For example, when it is chore time in our daily routine, Little Love can think ahead to the chores she is expected to do (for example, giving the pets fresh food and water). If she can think ahead and do this without being asked, told, or reminded to do so, her clip will move up to this level.

Purple is the reward level. Rewards are attained by performing at the dark blue level at multiple points throughout the day or by avoiding all of the negative behavior levels. To start, a small reward will be given for simply avoiding the negative levels. As her behavior improves, larger rewards will be given for attaining the dark blue level more and more consistently. Small rewards may include some extra outside time after dinner or an extra book before bed. Large rewards may include going to the zoo or having a playdate with a special friend.

Would you like to download my behavior chart as a free pdf printable? Click here.

So that's it. I'll let you know how it works out in the long run. I'm curious - how do you get your children to not only behave, but also to anticipate and accomplish positive actions without you directly telling them to do so?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dryer Balls For Sale!

When I posted the instructions on how to make your own dryer balls on my blog, I had a few friends ask me if I would make and sell them. Well, they're up and ready for purchase now in my Etsy shop, Simple Stuff Skin Care. You can view and purchase them here.

These dryer balls can be "recharged" with the scent of your choice for free for the duration of the life of the ball! See the listing on my Etsy shop for details. :)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Little Girl's Sweater Dress

This post is about a sweater dress that I made for Little Love some years ago. However, people still ask me for the pattern that I used, so I thought I'd post it here. Today I present to you the Austen Sweater Dress by Sarah Barbour.

The original pattern was published in the Yarn Forward magazine, issue number 31, December 2010. Here is the link to Barbour's Ravelry information about the pattern.

I used Pound of Love yarn by Lion Brand to complete this project. Pound of Love is a little stiff to work with, but once washed, it is snuggly soft and drapes nicely.

This sweater dress features stockinette stitch bottom and sleeves, ray of honey stitch top, yarn overs and a picot cast on/off for the trim. The button band consists of a garter stitch with yarn overs. The flower buttons were purchased from JoAnn's.
Picot Sleeve Detail

The pieces of this sweater are knitted separately and then sewn together. The sleeves are knitted from the top down, so it is easy to adjust the length.

I found the original pattern to be pretty true to the finished product, with very few mistakes in the writing. However, one major recommendation: instead of knitting the collar a separate piece, assemble the rest of the sweater, and then pick up and knit the collar so there isn't a bulky seam right next to the neck.

This is one of Little Love's favorite things to wear. Also, because it is a longer sweater, it has actually lasted her for three years without her outgrowing it! The first year, it fit like a dress. This year, it fit more like a long cardigan with 3/4 sleeves. I'm certain by next year it will no longer fit, but she definitely has gotten use out of it!

Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

DIY Dryer Balls

Today I present to you something totally unoriginal. You can find tutorials on how to make these all over the internet. But hang in there - I have my own "twist" for making them!

Today's feature: DIY Dryer Balls

diy dryer balls

Dryer balls? Yes, I know - boring. However, they last for years and you don't have to buy any fabric softener if you have enough of these bouncing around in your dryer. I find that five is the right number for my dryer. In retail stores, you can find PVC versions of these for pretty cheap, or hand felted versions that cost an arm and a leg. I don't like heated plastics, especially PVC, rubbing against the clothing that we wear everyday. And I don't know about you, but with two kids, I need all the arms and legs I can get. Soooo I made my own.

Now, I'm not one to reinvent the wheel, so I will direct you to a very easy-to-follow tutorial over at I followed the tutorial as stated, except I added a step.

Here's what I did: After step 5 (before putting them in the pantyhose) I needle-felted them to get rid of the ridges and make sure that they would not unravel. I used my Clover Felting Needle Tool to repeatedly stab each ball with a twist of the wrist. I would not encourage you to go out and buy one of these unless you plan on making a bunch of balls as Christmas presents or for craft fairs, but I do all sorts of fiber arts as a hobby, so I had one of these on hand.
The Clover Needle Tool
If you do plan on taking up needle felting, this tool is great for felting large areas. It also doubles as a stress-reliever. Repeatedly stabbing an object is therapeutic! 

But I digress...

Anyway, by needle felting before washing, you can ensure that your balls won't have any weird lumps or bumps (nice if you're giving them as a gift or selling them), and it also ensures that they won't unravel before they have a chance to felt completely. Usually you have to wash and dry these balls on high temperatures at least twice to get them to felt up firmly. By needle felting the balls before washing, I have found that I only had to wash them once.

diy dryer balls

So there you have it. Save yourself some drying time with each load and skip the fabric softener just by making these 100% wool dryer balls. They're worth the half-hour of work to make them!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Waze App

My husband found this app somehow and tried it. He was geeking out about it for several weeks before I finally decided to try it.

By far, this is the best navigation app that I have ever used. And the kicker? It's free! No more google maps for me!

Why is Waze so awesome? The drivers themselves contribute to the navigation - by driving with the Waze app open, you automatically contribute information on speed to fellow drivers, which helps everyone avoid traffic jams.

But what really sold me was the alerts. Users can manually tag certain events like road closures, accidents, speed traps, even roadkill to alert other drivers. It was actually a roadkill alert that convinced me to download it. I was a passenger in my husband's car when his phone announced, "Warning! Roadkill ahead!" And sure enough, in the middle of the intersection was a dead squirrel.

I've also appreciated knowing the cause of a traffic jam - people tag where the accident took place as they pass it - so I can better decide if I should stay on the crowded freeway and wait it out or get off and allow Waze to pick a different route.

Oh, and Waze automatically suggests a different route if it notices an upcoming bottleneck. If you're the first Waze driver in the area stuck in the bottleneck, it's unfortunate for you, but at least your Waze app is sending out information to the community so that other drivers can avoid the same predicament.

It's pretty neat. Check out the video below and then download it in the app store. :)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

...And the Winners Are...

A big thank you to everyone who entered my give away contest to kick off this blog! And a very, very big thank you to everyone who has followed it. I promise that I will post more giveaways in the near future, so keep your eyes peeled!

And now the big announcement:

Congratulations, Britnee - you have won the gift basket!
And congratulations, Megan S. - you have won the art pendant!

If you have won, please check your email so that we can be in touch for delivery.

I'm thinking I might squeeze in another giveaway right before Easter. Something to look forward to!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Little Inspiration

Sorry that I haven't blogged in a couple of days. But today I'm back with a new graphic! Feel free to share it on Facebook or Pin it or print it out. You have my permission to use it however you'd like.

Oddly enough, the inspiration for this one came from my recent discussions with friends about feminism, marketing to women, and similar topics. While being pretty and smart are nice, a woman's godly character will carry her further than either beauty or intelligence ever will.

Monday, March 10, 2014

If You Are Not Homeschooling...

This year was a year of big changes for Little Love and me. She officially started 4K this fall. I decided to send her to a private school that had a small class size and a home-like atmosphere. Why? Because Sweet Pea was born and was demanding much of my attention.

Needless to say, the transition was a little rough.

I knew that Little Love's first day of school would be hard. And the first week would be even harder as she realized that she would have to face school on her own without any family members by her side. I wanted her to have a keepsake, a talisman of sorts, that would remind her that I love her and am praying for her while she is away.

It couldn't be a toy, because toys are too special if they get broken (plus, they were prohibited by the preschool). It had to be something she could easily see and understand.

Then I stumbled upon this wonderful post by Tie Dye Diva Patterns.

It reminded me of a Mizpah coin necklace that I had worn as a teenager, so I made my own version, incorporating Genesis 31:49. We talked about Jacob and Laban and why the place of Mizpah was significant. God watches over both of us, even when we cannot see each other.

I believe that this little bracelet reminded Little Love of both God's love and my love for her throughout those trying first few weeks. She still loves to wear it, and I love to wear mine.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Don't Forget to Enter!

If you haven't already done so, check out this post to enter my giveaway! There will be two lucky winners - one person will win the bath and body gift basket, and one person will win this fabulous hand-drawn art pendant!

No purchase necessary! Feel the love just for reading my blog! :)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Tricked-Out Trike

This post originally appeared on my first blog. I'm reposting it here because I had received so much positive feedback on it. If you're looking for a new trike (or bike) for your fast-growing kids, consider buying used and overhauling it with... duct tape!

I found this lovely little Craigslist special a few weeks ago. For $25, I thought it was a good deal. It was the perfect size trike for my little girl and even came with a sun canopy! There was a lot of sun fading and some pretty ugly peeling Disney princess stickers, but I figured that I could update it with a paint job to make it like new...

Little did I realize all the steps that go into properly painting a bike! Taking it apart, taping the non-paintable parts, sanding, priming, painting...ugh. There had to be an easier way.

That's when I started surfing the interwebs for some ideas, and then it came to me! Duct tape.

I bought some butterfly duct tape on Ebay, took the trike apart, thoroughly washed everything, and wrapped the frame in the butterfly tape. This is the result:

Nifty, hey? I mean... Look At It. Except for the tires it looks new!

The canopy had some very faded "Disney Princess" decals. Butterfly duct tape is definitely better! (I can't stand Disney princesses. I'll explain why in an upcoming post.)

The old white handlebar grips were severely chewed-upon and gross. Oddly enough, the purple foot rests were in respectable condition. I pried both the gross handlebar grips and the foot rests off the bike. I threw away the handlebar grips and replaced them with the newly cleaned foot rests instead. I purchased some new handlebar ribbons and a new bicycle basket on ebay (I love ebay). Some super glue now holds the handlebar ribbons in place. I covered the foot rests with generous layers of butterfly duct tape.

A cute butterfly bell and some reflective stickers on the wheels top it all off. So there you have it - an original, one-of-a-kind tricycle that's new to us for under $40 total!

So the next time you're in the market for a kid's bike, consider used and a roll of your kid's favorite duct tape. Good for your wallet!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Geekery

"The Geekery" section of my blog will contain all the nerdy things that I'm currently geeing out about. I am a science geek at heart. I've always loved science, and I taught math and science for many years before I became a SAHM. I still love a good explosion. Here's a very, very good one.

What else would you do with 1500 ping pong balls? Make a colossal mess, that's what!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Slow Cooker Cranberry BBQ Chicken

As I have stated before, I am not a cook.  Not even close.  But having two kids has created a crisis of sorts in my life.  It is simply too much work (and expense!) to drag kids out to eat frequently.  And since my husband's cooking skills consist of "warming stuff up," "setting stuff on fire," and "poisoning your loved ones," it was time to take matters into my own hands.

I am forever thankful to other bloggers who have posted easy recipes that turn out delicious. So easy and so delicious, in fact, that even I can't screw it up with kids hanging off my ankles. Here's the first.

Thank you to Six Sisters' Stuff for sharing this recipe. It has saved dinner many, many times.

Slow Cooker BBQ Chicken

2 lbs. chicken breasts
1/4 cup dried minced onions
1 (16 oz.) can whole cranberry sauce
1 cup Archer Farms Sweet and Smoky Thick BBQ sauce

Combine all ingredients except chicken in mixing bowl. Mix well. Put chicken in slow cooker. Pour mixture over chicken. Cook on low 6-7 hours.

Serves 3ish

I specifically use and recommend Archer Farms Sweet and Smoky Thick Barbecue Sauce, available at Target. It doesn't have high-fructose corn syrup as an ingredient, and it is thick enough to coat the entire chicken while cooking. I have found that thinner sauces slide off as the chicken heats. Oh, and the flavor is finger-lickin' good, y'all.

That's it! Try it and let me know what you think. :)

Monday, March 3, 2014

So Why a New Blog? Oh, and Did I Mention the Giveaway?

After years of writing (and neglecting) my old blog, I've decided to start afresh with a new one.  I'm hoping to make this blog more personal and less used-car-salesman-ish.  I will spotlight my products occasionally, but most of the time, I will write about life in general.

I am a former teacher, and I will begin virtual schooling my eldest daughter in the fall. I'm hoping to contribute to the wealth of free online homeschool resources with things that I create, strategies that I use, and reviews of learning aids. I've learned so much from other homeschooling bloggers, and I would love to be an encouragement to others in the same way.

I've also finally become somewhat domestic in the last two years. It has taken me a lifetime to learn to cook (or rather, to get over my aversion to cooking and actually just do it). I plan on sharing easy recipes (think slow cooker!) to help other culinary-challenged people.

And just in case the first post made you think that I'm a bright and sunny Christian mom blogger - I'm not. "Recovering Snark-a-holic" probably best describes my writing style and personality. So if you encounter a bit of sarcasm in this blog, please don't be surprised. I'm trying. Really.

Now for more details about the giveaway. What giveaway, you ask? Check it out if you haven't already done so.

The grand prize is this fabulous gift basket from my skin care product line - Simple Stuff Skin Care.

Here's what's included in the basket:

  • One (2 oz.) Mocha Facial Scrub
  • Two Good Goat's Milk Soaps - one Lavender and one Lovely Lime
  • One Healthy Hair Shampoo Bar in Mango
  • One 8 oz. Calm Down Conditioner in Citrus Coconut Splash
  • Two Ultra-Hydrating Lotions (2 oz. each) - one in Hazelnut and one in Sweet Orange and Cinnamon
  • Two Luscious Lip Balms - one in Peppermint, and one in Pucker Up Lemon
The grand prize gift basket is worth $47.00. You can win it for FREE by completing at least one entry on the Rafflecopter form at the end of this blog post.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Giveaway

What's any good blog without a giveaway kickoff? Here's the deal. I need readers, and you need to be clean and smell good.  So I am raffling away a gift basket overflowing with healthy skin care goodness from Simple Stuff Skin Care.  Take a look.

Ok, you caught me.  Simple Stuff Skin Care is my product line.  I made all of the products myself, right in my very own kitchen.  But I'm still giving the gift basket away for free!

Smelling good not your thing? No problem! I'm also giving away a handmade art pendant - one of my personal designs.

To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter form below.  The more tasks you complete, the more entries you'll have, and the more chances you will have to win! Rafflecopter will pick the winner on 3/16/2014, so enter before it's gone! 

If you'd rather not enter and would like to simply purchase my products, please check out my shop on Etsy.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Everyday Sundry



1. of various kinds; several.

"lemon rind and sundry herbs"


1. various items not important enough to be mentioned individually.

"a drugstore selling magazines, newspapers, and sundries"

Sundry describes my life.  It mainly consists of various tasks, not important enough to be mentioned individually.  Such is the life of a typical stay-at-home mom.  Forever cleaning, folding laundry, putting away dishes, wiping noses, and other sundry tasks.  It's routine, it's dull, and it is tiresome.

That is, it was routine, dull and tiresome until I stumbled into this small, but game-changing truth:

God is in the sundries.

Now I am no longer waiting for my life to continue post-kids.  I am no longer waiting for something to happen.  It is happening.  God is here.  And because my life has slowed down since I left teaching, I am in a better position to see Him.  I  have the time to hear His whisper as I fold laundry, to heed the calling of the Holy Spirit as I "coincidentally" meet former acquaintances while running errands, time to teach a song of praise to my kids.

Now that I am finding Him just about everywhere, I realize that I am not in a "holding pattern" waiting for my life and career to continue once my kids are older.  He has important purposes and plans for me here and now. And because I am seeing God more and more in my daily life, I can better tolerate the unending sundry tasks.  How can anything truly be unimportant when God even hangs out among the dishes in the dishwasher?

Yeah, it can't, and it's not.

So what is the meaning behind "everyday sundry?"  It refers to everyday experiences. Everyday opportunities to meet the God of the universe. Everyday anticipation of the joy of being surprised by Him. Finding Him among the everyday sundries of life.

Feel free to chew on that for a bit.  Just don't be too surprised if one day you discover Him at work in the top rack of the dishwasher.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Coming Soon to a Browser Near You

Hi There,

I'm Julie, the owner/designer behind Echoes of Stars' Designs, LLC and Simple Stuff Skin Care.  You've stumbled upon the home of my new blog, which will launch on March 1, 2014.  I'll be discussing a variety of things: from recipes and crafts to homeschooling (I'm a former teacher and current SAHM), and some random geekiness thrown in for good measure.  Why don't you bookmark me or subscribe and come back later?  I promise it will be worth the wait.