Cheese And Vino

Last night I sat down with Frank and had a late evening snack of cheese and vino.

I used our “new” wine glasses. They’re “new to us” second-hand finds (Goodwill). I loved them because, well, I had the same glasses years ago, so they were nostalgic, but also because the glasses of today are fun, but ridiculously humongous. These little baddies remind me of Italian spaghetti house vino glasses. Simple.

Creating A Peaceful Environment

When things around our house are chaotic, as they have been lately, I try to create a peaceful, comfortable, cozy atmosphere to make up for it. The smell of good home-cooking is an often used trick (tell me a house is instantly a home when a good, home-cooked meal is thick in the air). Baking is my preferred olfactory method, but casseroles, soups, breaking out the grill… those all do the trick mighty dandy, too.

I don’t have the luxury of a fat checkbook to spend on visual ambiance, so last year when we painted the kitchen, I chose neutral wall colors so that I could change the look easily with tablecloths, seasonal decorations, or even a bowl of fruit. Unfortunately, at this moment, I cant change the hideous color of our chairs – candy orange, free from dad’s church (a never-ending supply) – but I can still work with them (see tablecloth below).

The other day I picked up a new tablecloth, incentive to clear off the kid’s homework and clutter. I probably should have ironed it before putting it on, but I was eager. One tablecloth, one 3-wick candle (not one I made, but one I bought years ago from Target – can’t throw it away, gotta use it up), dinner in the air and lights dim… nice and inviting for the boys and Frank to come home to.

My aging camera requires more takes than it used to, and after a good handful of pictures, a glass of wine became part of the relaxing atmosphere.

You can see my wonderful cloth napkins still going strong in the background. So glad I made that switch.

Charlie’s Soap Review

Groovy Mom Review I have in my possession something I’ve been wanting to try for a very, very long time. Charlie’s Soap.

1 – Laundry Powder
1 – Laundry Liquid
1 – All-purpose cleaner

My main interest in Charlie’s Soap is the powder since HE “friendly” laundry powder is not the easiest to come by. Though I had the products in my hot chubby hands a couple months ago, it took me a bit to get around to thoroughly testing the powder. For one, I needed to get my soft water in order. I tried it with hard water and was not too keen on it. Though I’ve heard the Charlie’s Soap people are ready and willing to help troubleshoot for those with hard water, I decided to wait. I wanted to give it a fair shot in my “normal” laundering conditions, and that included soft water. I will note that, for me, Charlie’s Soap in hard water with the addition of Borax powder seemed to do an OK job. I have no idea if that is the protocol for hard water people. But, in my moment of compulsive laundering techniques, I thought I’d give it a try. However – on one load of laundry (gym clothing), there was still odor after washing. That was when I stopped testing with hard water.

Soft water status attained, I cleaned my washer, as instructed to do before using the soap. Again.

A double dose of either of our Laundry products, along with some old towels or shop rags, will be more than enough to loosen these deposits from your tub. After this first load, remove the towels and your machine should be properly prepped for use. – Charlie’s Soap FAQ

I did this before with the hard water situation, but decided it couldn’t hurt to do it again. For the past week, now, I’ve used Charlie’s Soap (1 T.) in my top-loading HE washer, in every load. No detergent has touched my washer during this time. At first I used the soap without any softener, but the static cling was insane. So I use about 1/2 cup of white vinegar (YES it works splendidly with any laundering soap/detergent and NO it does not smell in the finished product) per wash and that has helped tremendously.

As of my 1-week trial I am happy and satisfied. My clothes… smell clean. They look clean. I’m a bit surprised, as I am quite accustomed to heavily-scented, stark blue liquids and the implication that being stark blue and perfumed it will clean better. I’m also accustomed to liquid, but very much enjoy the powder. Less mess and flat out easier. The little 80-use bag takes up way less room than a jug of detergent. I was 1/3 way through it, though, before I realized it came with its own little green measuring scoop. It was tucked down inside.

I’ll admit I’ve used a dryer sheet a few times (when I’ve forgotten vinegar). Though I like scented things, I also like the smell of simply clean fabrics and knowing that I’m not wearing a chemical factory on my body. So really, I don’t mind that much that the laundry smells just less like a cuddly teddy bear and more like… clean laundry. It is somewhat reminiscent of line-dried clothing. “Just clean clothes,” as they say.

I will continue to use the soap until it is gone and report back if I have anything more to add. But so far, all is well. Even on my four boys dirty wrestling and soccer gear. Being that it is winter around here, I haven’t been able to put Charlie’s Soap to the test of muddy soccer, football and baseball gear. That might be another update. But from what I’ve seen it has handled all of the food stains that we have managed to put through the wash.

I’m not sure yet about the laundry powder “bringing out the stains of past” but it is dealing with the present ones just fine. I am very happy with it.

Also good to note – nobody in our family has developed a rash or skin irritation from the product.

Bottom line: Simple, safe, economical. Really liking it. So far my rating for the laundry detergent is:

So far my rating for the all-purpose cleaner is:

I will quickly say that the cleaner works well on counters, on my dirty fridge, bathroom… (again, will report back again when the bottle is empty). I give it two stars rather than three at the moment because I’m still evaluating and deciding.

Cranberry Saltine Cool Whip Dish

Just before Thanksgiving I was listening to talk radio (local) and people were calling in on a casual discussion of listener’s Thanksgiving menu choices. I listened, hoping to catch an idea for something new and different to add to our menu. Since I was in the process of driving around town running errands, whatever “new idea” sparked my fancy needed to be something very, very simple that I could retain in my brain until my next stop so I could write it down.

A lady called in and gave a recipe for a family favorite, “Sounds kind of grouse, but everyone loves it,” she said.

Prepared Cranberries
Small carton of Cool Whip
Sleeve of Saltines (crushed, or not)

Layer the three items in a glass dish. Simple, pretty, yummy.

I figured – why not?

I doubled the recipe. I made cranberries by taking 1 bag whole berries, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water (directions were on the bag), boiled, smashed, cooled.

This I layered with the other 2 ingredients, then covered and put it in the fridge overnight (the lady on the radio recommended this).

I did not like it. I think if I had used pound cake or even bread instead of the Saltines, I would have been OK. But the Saltines rendered a texture and taste I wasn’t fond of. I was hoping for the “sweet, salty, cake-like melding” that was spoken of on the radio, but it turned out with a texture of something in a day-old lunch box – to me. Everyone else seemed to like it.

It is a simple base idea, though, that could be used with another fruit (blueberries) or, like I said, a bread or cookie instead of the Saltines. So, though I might not make it exactly like the recipe says (or if I did, I would make it for a potluck or something), I will keep it in my “back pocket” of tricks to use creatively another time.

Banana Bread Joy

I love the smell of fresh baked breads, muffins, cookies, pies, soups. The real deal, too, not an apple-cinnamon candle burning away on a shelf. Today I decided to bake some banana bread, not for the craving of it, but mostly just for the warm, cozy feel it gives to a home. Having a bunch of browning bananas sealed the deal.

As I measured flour, poured molasses, beat bananas, I gave thought to the joy little things like making bread give me. I miss the freedom of being a stay-at-home mom. I miss focusing on my family, being able to fill the house with delicious scents on a near daily basis. I would be perfectly happy not working, and managing a household. I would never claim to be the best at household management, but it is definitely something that I desire naturally. Sometimes it is still hard for me to believe that only a little over a year ago I was a stay-at-home(maker) mom.

We ate less convenience foods then, and I had more time to meal-plan, grocery shop and clean. But, I also figured, since we needed more money and I did not have any solid experience in the workplace, it was a good idea to get a job, put some experience under my belt and make some money. It was either get a job and make money, or go to school and finish out my degree. When a job with decent hours, decent pay and a workload that seemed to fit the bill, I decided to grab it and forgo school (even though I had been accepted back into the program).

As far as simplifying my life goes, I’m not sure I accomplished that by choosing work over school. Though I’m not sure either choice would have simplified life, anyways. But as I made banana bread, I reflected on what was important to me “career-wise” and began to evaluate if I was making the best decision. I have no answer. But I did make some absolutely divine banana bread. Which, as the day goes, was simply a good decision.


Congratulations to Courtney, she won the book!! There’s more where that came from; just keep checking back.

Is anyone else doing nothing this summer? I know summer is the typical time for “vacations” and all that jazz, but we don’t have it like that to take a family vacation to Destination Somewhere this summer (or, well, pretty much ANY summer). We contemplate going up north to my parent’s cabin, but with the prices of gas, we’re looking at $250-$300 round trip in our van. That’s some crazy stuff. Seriously. So, we’ve been trying to make the best of our mosquito-infested, non-vacation taking summer. Baseball games, trips to the public pool, bike rides, etc.

Lists of Five

Anyone else doing Homecationing? Here’s a few suggestions:

  1. Backyard camping – Set up a tent in the backyard (yours or a neighbor’s, if you want to make it more “destination bound.” You can even have backyard fires in most cities. Nothing screams camping like a tent, fire and s’mores. Maybe some swimsuits and a run through the sprinkler in lieu of a watering hole.
  2. Grilling out/picnicking at a local park – We’ve done this many times before. With friends or without. Having a little picnic, even if it isn’t far away, spices things up a bit, breaking the summertime monotony.
  3. Rediscovering the library – For some it is an underused free destination. If you don’t go there, make a point to do so. Ours has a ton of free programs for kids with reading incentives. Carlito just picked up free admission to a baseball game and a State Park for reading X amount of hours so far this summer.
  4. Movie marathon – If you have a weekend, or a couple days off (great rainy-day stuff), rent yourself – better yet, borrow from the library OR note some movie times on TV and catch a couple a day. Pop popcorn, make some fun snacks and make it a special occasion. Watch with friends, watch as a family, or watch alone. But make the event around the show.
  5. Utilize the State Park – if you live in the US, there’s probably a state, city or county park nearby. Many of them have activities throughout the summer (for free or for a minimal amount). Take advantage of the trails, ride your bike or just visit a part of the park you haven’t been to. Combined with a backpack lunch or picnic really makes a mini-vacation out of a simple trip.

Most of the above things can be done for free or for less than $50, which is only a hint of what a regular vacation can cost. Putting an activity on the calendar and sticking to it, as if it were a real vacation, makes it even more of an “event,” something special to look forward to. The simple act of marking a Me Day or Family Day on the calendar and thinking up 3-5 things you’ll do special for yourself/your family, turning off email, phone and centering only on the day together is a vacation in itself.