Have a drummer in the family? Best green cymbal cleaner? Lemon juice!

Jack with her tenors – they don’t need cymbal polish, but if they did we’d use lemon juice!

Updated 8/3/13 – wow, looking back at this post made me weepy.  Jack is now a Marine!  Yup, she’s in California learning a language I can’t spell let alone say.  We are super proud of her.  And the lemon juice still works.  :-)

Jack, our oldest daughter, is a drummer and she is making a special appearance with the elementary school band in May.  She has to clean up her drum kit and take it with her for the performance, but we noticed her cymbals were not looking their best.  So we checked the cupboards, no cymbal cleaner.

A quick check of the internet revealed a green, and frugal, solution – lemon juice.

Luckily lemons were on sale last week and I picked up a bunch of them.  She cut them in half and rubbed them on the cymbals and the results were even better than cymbal cleaner – and it smelled a lot better too.

So, if your drummer needs cleaner cymbals, try lemon juice!

Perfect Toddler Training Bowl

a bowl with a handle!

I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this before – but maybe you have – when our little ones starting to eat from a bowl.  With our 2 year old she used a large plastic bowl which often spilled and was hard for her to handle.  Somehow when Chubs came along I got the idea to give him a Tupperware measuring cup to eat from.  They are perfectly sized for toddlers PLUS they have a built in handle so they can keep them in place while learning to use that spoon.

So no need to purchase special toddler bowls – just grab a measuring cup!

Garden plastic – free source, your newspaper

Newspaper Bags get a new life

When we start seeds indoors I usually need to cover the flats with plastic since I have a lot more flats than I do lids.  Before I’ve used plastic grocery bags for this, but I have fewer and fewer of these now that reusable bags have come onto the scened.  So I looked around and found a stash of old newspaper bags.

Most people I know with dogs use these while they are walking their dogs, but we don’t have a dog and I hadn’t found a use for them yet.  They are really too small for collecting much garbage and too thin for anything heavy. 

Flat plastic from newspaper bags

So I cut one open and ended up with an 18.5×19.5 inch piece of plastic.  These are a great size to cover my flats of seeds waiting to sprout and they are light enough that they don’t weigh down already sprouted seeds if I have multiple varieties in a flat.

What a great way to reuse these bags and get some help in the garden too.

The “empty” peanut butter jar

The Kids say it is empty, I know different

If you look at this peanut butter jar you might think it is ready to be recycled, not much of use left in there.  Well, the truth is there is quite a bit to use left in there – nearly 1/4 cup which will may 2-3 sandwiches.

You can also put some warm milk in there and swish it around to dissolve the last of the peanut butter and whip up some peanut butter-banana smoothies or chocolate-peanut butter shakes.

One of the parts of living sustainably is to use and reuse items as much as possible to reduce consumption of the earth’s resources.  Part of this is not letting anything go to waste.

So next time you get ready to compost your “empty” peanut butter jar, take a spatula to it and make sure it is truly empty before you recycle it and enjoy some “free” sandwiches or a great drink.

Crock Pot Caramel Rice Pudding Gluten Free

Makings of a Great, Easy Dessert

I’m not sure how I stumbled across this recipe, but I am so glad I did.  It is super easy, tastes like a dream and has very simple ingredients.  The original recipe appears here, but we eliminated most of the ingredients because we like our pudding pretty plain.

Crock Pot Caramel Rice Pudding


  • 3 cups cooked rice (cooked a day ahead if possible)
  • 1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 12 oz can evaporated milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients in the slow cooker and heat on low until rice absorbs most of the liquid.  We like to stop it while it is a little “soupy” which makes it nicer when we reheat it later.  If you cook it the whole way initially it can get a bit dry if you reheat it.  It’s also delicious cold.

Using day old rice give you grains that don’t stick together.  Leftover rice is fine.  I have made it with newly cooked rice and it tastes fine, it just is clumpy.

I find my canned milk and sweetened condensed milk at discount stores for under $1 each which makes this recipe really reasonable – less than $3 for twelve or so servings.  And very satisfying.

Turn your magazines into idea books

Making Idea Books

For years I’ve subscribed off and on to several magazines and I’ve piled them up thinking I’d use them when I needed ideas for recipes or crafts.  Well that never happened because they invented in the internet.  If I need a recipe or craft idea it is much easier to search the web for what I want than to search through all those magazines.

I hated to think of all the money I’d wasted on ideas I’d never use, so I decided to do something about it.  I started making idea books out of all that old stuff. 

I went through each magazine and pulled out the information I thought I might use some day.  If I didn’t see anything I donated the magazine to our local reading room.  For the ones that were torn up I kept some of them for craft projects with the kids, but the rest got thrown away (we can’t recycle magazines here.)

I three hole punched the pages and used reinforcements before putting them into 3 ring binders I had from other projects.  I pasted smaller cutouts to ugly scrapbooking cardstock (you know the kind – you bought it in a combo pack or something and you have no idea what you’ll do with it) and hole punched those pages too.  Some larger articles went into page protectors to keep them together. I used heavy cardstock and homemade tabs to divide the sections (I have books for crafts, kids, recipes etc.) so I could find things easily.

Now when I need an idea it is easy for me to grab a binder from my kitchen bookshelf – even easier than using the internet – and I finally feel like I’ve put those magazines to good use.  No need to print off internet ideas either, it is all right there for me.

Yes this project took time but it was also kind of fun and very gratifying since I was reducing my clutter and making something useful. 

If you decide it is too much work to handle all those back issues then just donate them to someone who can use them.  No sense hanging on to things you will never use when someone else can use them.

One of the other benefits of this little project was that I saw how little some of the magazines actually had in them and I dropped those subscriptions.  I can read the few articles of interest at the library if I want to but in most cases I’m not missing anything but advertising.

Celebrate Earth Day – read your children a book

Teach them early about the environment

Earth day will be here in a few days and now is a good time to head to the library and pick up a few books to share with your children about why it is important to take care of the Earth.

One of my favorite books on the subject is Earth: Where Would We Be Without It? (Look-Look). This book is a Golden Book and is geered toward preschoolers but an elementary student would find lots of new words in it to read as well.

The ideas covered in this book are water conservation, recycling, trash removal, energy conservation, rain forests and a lot more. This book is packed with ideas for conserving resources and has many places to jump out of the book and into some hands-on learning or field trips.

My teen had this book and I will use it again with my pre-schoolers. Just a favorite to pass along.

What to do with CFL bulbs when they break

We’ve made the switch to CFL (Compact Fluorescent Light) bulbs in about 95% of our fixtures and one of our major concerns with the switch had to do with disposal and safety if one should break.

CFL bulbs contain mercury which is dangerous for humans. According to a publication put out by our state utility commission a CFL bulb contains 5 milligrams of mercury while a mercury thermometer contains about 500 milligrams.

If you have a CFL bulb that breaks, there is a specific clean up routine you should follow to make sure the mercury is handled safely. The steps for cleaning vary depending on the surface the bulb has landed on but the same first step is used in all cases – ventillate the room and shut off central air/heat if it is on.

The rest of the steps can be found here on the PA Utility Commission website.

My newest book project goes on sale today… check it out

Puss E. Cat at my laptop - the subject of my story "Warning, he bites!"

I never really know how to tell people I’ve had something published in Chicken Soup for the Soul… it isn’t MY book, but one 101th of it is since I have a story in it.

My newest story published by them goes on sale today in their new book Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Cat’s Life: 101 Stories about All the Ages and Stages of Our Feline Family Members
.  I’ve read my advanced copy and there are some wonderful – and sad – stories in there.

Springbok Puzzles – blast from my past

Springbok Puzzle Goodie Goodie Gumpdrops!

One of my favorite things to get as a child was a puzzle – especially Springbok puzzles from the Hallmark store.  I always fell in love with the complex and colorful subjects and I loved the way the pieces fit together – kind of unexpected.  On a Salvation Army trip I found several of the smallest sizes puzzles for 50 cents a piece and I picked them up.

Of course when you buy a second hand puzzle you never know if it has all the pieces.  I stole a few minutes when my children were sleeping to put this one together – and it was complete.  What a treat!  I’m putting it aside for me to do again and for the kids to try when they get older.  It is a tricky one which made it all the more fun.

I wasn’t sure if Springbok was still in business so I looked around and found out that they are, but not in the way they were when I was a kid.  You can now order their puzzles online as well as in Hallmark stores.  There store can be found here.  I was also very happy to see their products are earth friendly and made in the US.  You can read the details here.

If you haven’t put a puzzle together in a long time, you really should take the time to do it soon.  It is a very quiet activity that still requires you to use your mind.  The perfect family activity for a rainy day, there is nothing quite like the feeling of accomplishment when you put in that last piece.  Springbok offers a family sized puzzle with 400 pieces that has larger pieces on the outside with smaller ones inside offering differing degrees of difficulty for a family to do together.