Teaching and learning.


Here are five items to add to your closet for the Spring season of 2010. These items will help you look good on the weekend or weeknight, but some items can be paired with dress pants for the weekday as well.

I’ve also included an item you may find in the depths of your closet that you will want to think about putting in your “donate” box as a trade-off.

1. Skinny jeans. Wait! Don’t skip over this paragraph–hear me out. Skinny jeans used to be exclusivly fit for very, very skinny people, but if you sit on a bench at the mall and people watch for a few minutes–you’ll see that this jean style is now made to fit everyone.

Let’s be clear, though. The skinny jeans I am talking about are not made of a stretchy material, and they are not tight at all. They should be loose on top and bunch up a little at the bottom. You may even consider trying a size up from what you usually wear if your size is a snug fit. They should also be worn with flats or flat sandals (see number two) and should not be worn with sneakers or high sandals. We’re talking about a thin line between stylish skinnys and tapered leg.

In fact, your trade-off for skinny jeans is tapered leg jeans. If you have any “mom jeans” in your closet (you know–high waisted, flat, straight, ankle cut), stick those in your donate box and please buy yourself a pair of well-fitting skinnys.

I found my favorite pair in Target.

2. Ballet flats. These shoes dress up any outfit, and you can find them pretty inexpensively. Get as funky as you want or go with plain black. Put with any jean and t-shirt, they turn your Saturday outfit from boring to adorable.

Throw your old, stained, plastic flip-flops in the donate box. Please.

Payless has a nice online selection of flats in a good variety of sizes, including wide.

3. Long t-shirt and tank. Your skinny jeans will look good with anything long. Think long on top, short/small on bottom. You won’t want to pair your long tops with baggy bottoms.

American Eagle has neutral colored long t-shirts and tanks. I have the Tail T in almost every color. They are 10 bucks (on sale-$15.50 regular price) and can be switched up a million different ways, think of it as an investment in a layered outfit.

Trade out any shrunken tees that don’t make it past your belt.

4. Long cardigan. Looks good over tank-tops that you can’t usually wear until summer. Pair with your skinny jeans and ballet flats. Never thought you’d look so good and feel so comfortable on the weekend, did you?

Old Navy has a good selection. They have petite and tall sizes online so you can find the perfect fit.

Trade out any old cardigans with pulls, tears, or missing buttons. If you happen to have a poncho, that can go too.

5. Airy scarf. Not a winter scarf, but a light, airy scarf to be worn as an accessory. It does provide some warmth on a cool night. Pair with numbers 1-4 for the ultimate comfortable and stylish look.

Once again, Old Navy has the best selection.

Put away your winter scarves for next year. Donate any you didn’t wear this winter.

Honorable Mention: Denim jacket. Be sure it is a good fit, and on the shorter side. It should fit snugly over a thin top, fitting almost like a suit jacket. Be careful not to wear with jeans, it looks better with a colorful skirt or neutral colored capris.

Donate your denim button down shirts.

See H & M.


Free Smiles

I’m sure everyone can relate to this scenario that happened to me yesterday while I was shopping in a store. I was waiting in line behind someone who ran into a problem while checking out and was going to take an extra minute or so. The woman in line behind me immediately began to groan and grumble, mumbling something about the line taking forever.

I thought of a quote I had read in a book to my fifth-graders earlier in the week: “In the course of a lifetime, what does it matter?” (The book, by the way, is an amazing read called Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech.) I wanted to turn around and tell the woman about this quote and remind her that her miserable groan was not worth it. I wanted to tell her that now, in some small way, she had made me a little bit miserable, made the woman in line in front of us miserable, and made the cashier miserable. Was this short wait in line really worth passing around all of that anger? This little grumble might be why our world is full of negativity.

But, of course, I didn’t want to preach to her about quotes or the world’s problems, so I did something else instead. I turned around and gave her a big smile. Then I smiled to the person in front of me in line, and saved my biggest smile for the cashier. Maybe they thought I was weird, but my hope was that a little bit of kindness might wipe out that miserable groan. I’m not sure if it did, but at least it made me feel better.

So, my thought for the day is–spread the smiles; spread the love. Because in the course of a day, or a month, or a life, does the inconvenience really matter?

Check out one of my favorite You Tube videos from someone who had this same thought.


I always had the same Sunday morning routine: Check the cupboard for what food is left from last week, look up recipes for this week, and write a grocery list including these ingredients plus the items I buy on a regular basis.

This process took up most of my valuable Sunday time, so I went looking for a way to revamp it. I tried online grocery lists, handwritten grocery lists, and even grocery list apps for my cell phone. None of these worked for me, they still took up (at the very least) a half an hour of my morning.

A few weeks ago, a friend shared her brilliant idea with me. The idea is so simple, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it myself.

Take some time to type up a list of what you usually buy weekly or keep on hand. Organize it by the section it is in at your local grocery store. Stick the typed list to the refrigerator or the inside of your cupboard. As you run out of something, highlight or circle it on your list. Then, on Sunday morning, all you have to do is add the ingredients from any new recipes you’re going to use that week. After you grocery shop, print out a fresh copy of the list and put it on your fridge. Or, I guess, if you’re really crafty–you could laminate it and use wet erase markers to write on it.

So, I went to work making my weekly grocery list. I left space to add additional items in each section. Enjoy!

Grocery List (You can print this one, but cannot make changes. The plus-side is that the font and spacing will be perfect.)

Grocery List (You can edit this one, but the font and spacing may need to be fixed.)


Mystery Marshmallow Treats

I hate to waste food. It sabotages the food budget that I try so hard to stick to each week, there are tons of hungry people in the world, and… well,  it’s just plain wasteful.  Since we eat a lot of cereal in my house (bought on sale, mainly in generic form, and sometimes with coupons), I have an easy way to use all the bottom-of-the-bag leftovers that no one wants to eat. 

Use all these leftovers, supplement with crispy rice cereal, and whip up a batch of Peanut Butter Mystery Marshmallow Treats!  You can’t go wrong with this crowd pleaser.  Just about any cereal works, and the standard recipe (or your own) is perfect.  You could keep a plastic container to collect all the cereal in until you have enough to make a batch of treats.

You know the drill…here are the ingredients:

A package of marshmallows, half stick of butter or margarine, and a generous scoop of peanut butter for flavor and protein.  I also add ground flaxseed for a nutrition bonus, and no one will ever know it’s there.

Melt butter in a large pot, then add peanut butter to your taste; I generally use about 1/2 cup.  Add marshmallows and stir.

Turn off the heat and stir in about 6-7 cups of cereal.  Corn flakes, Special K, Chex, Corn Pops, Cheerios; just about anything works well in this.  This is also the point where you stir in the ground flaxseed, if using.

At this point you’ll dump the mixture into a greased 13 x 9 inch pan.

Now, onto flattening this sticky mess….simply run your hands under cold tap water, shake, and press the cereal mixture down.  Don’t oil your hands (yuck!), this water trick works like a charm.  Using cold water also buffers your hands against the hot mixture. 

Let it cool, flip pan over onto a cutting board, and cut into squares.

No two batches will ever be exactly alike, but they will all be yummy! Perfect snack; one the kids will love it in their lunchbox.  Easy, inexpensive, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’ haven’t let any cereal go to waste!


Benefits of Gardening

I decided to start gardening a few years ago and I love it.  Here are some reasons why I love to garden.

Gardening is a great activity that burns 300 to 400 calories an hour.  Great activity if you are interested in losing weight.  Watch your back, though, and lift correctly.

A moderate amount of sunlight is good for depression and other illnesses.  Be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat so that you don’t get too much sun.

Vegetable gardening is a frugal and productive hobby that saves you lots of money on groceries.

Flower gardening or vegetable gardening can make you a little extra income if you sell your veggies, cut flowers, seeds, seedlings, bulbs, etc.

Gardening is a great way to meet your neighbors.  During the winter it seems that we don’t see much of our neighbors, but when we are out and about in the garden we have lots of visits from our friends.

Inexpensive gifts abound in your garden.  How nice a gift of veggies to an elderly neighbor, flowers to a sick family member, or seeds and bulbs to a new neighbor would be!

It is a very educational activity for adults and for children.  Lots of biology.  I am constantly learning new things about gardening and teaching my children as well.  It also easily segways into other things such as cooking and economics.

You can garden organically, which would save you even more money on groceries versus purchasing organic.

Gardening is a great thing to look forward to in the middle of winter.  I just love rifling through gardening catalogs and planning my garden in the wintertime. 


Frugal Gardening

I love to garden, but it can get expensive really fast! Here are some tips on how to garden frugally.

Use seeds from the things you eat at the grocery store. Many times this method works well, but sometimes it does not. You just have to experiment with it a bit to see what will sprout and what will produce. If you buy a pepper at the store, cut it up and put the seeds on a plate on top of your fridge for a few days until they dry out. Package them up and save them until spring when you are ready to plant.

Save seeds in the fall from veggies from your garden. Scroll down to the bottom of the page on this link for instructions on exactly how to save seeds from common vegetables.

Don’t buy expensive seed starter packages. If you want to start seeds early, you can use your own dirt in recycled containers or paper egg cartons in front of a sunny window. You can sow many seeds outdoors directly into the garden when it is warm enough and avoid seed starting altogether.

Plant your own annual flowers from seed for planters, hanging baskets, and window boxes instead of buying packs of flowers or preplanted containers.

If you buy plants, buy small instead of spending more for larger plants. Your small plants will grow and fill in just beautifully in time.

Use groundcover plants under trees and shrubs and around objects instead of paying for mulch. Check this out.

Get free plants from cuttings, divisions, shoots, etc. If you are interested in a certain plant, there are many resources online available to show you how the plant reproduces.

Share and trade your plants and seeds. You can do this with friends and family or on many online gardening websites or Freecycle.com.

Perennial plants are plants that come up every year. Annuals die off in winter and you have to buy new ones. Plant more perennials.

To develop easy and inexpensive new beds, check out lasagna gardening.

If you don’t have much space for your garden, check out square foot gardening.

You don’t need expensive tools or equipment most of the time. What you need: A shovel, a hand trowel, a rake, and pruners. You may also need twine and stakes (sticks) for certain plants that require support. If you need an expensive tool, borrow one or rent one and split the rental fee with a neighbor.

You may need to amend your soil. Take the time to get a soil sample test done so you know exactly what to add and how much. This will save you time and money in the long run.

Make a hidden area on your property into a compost pile for grass clippings, leaves, kitchen waste, etc.  If you have rabbits, their droppings can go directly into the garden. If you have chickens, goats, etc., then you have to compost their droppings first or they will be too strong and burn your plants.

Look for sales on plants, seeds, and bulbs at the end of season. Seeds and bulbs can typically last more than one year so you can save them until you are ready to use them.

Conserve water. You can gather rainwater in barrels or containers from your downspouts to use in the garden. A soaker hose will also conserve water as opposed to spraying. It is best to water first thing in the morning.

Learn about each plant you put in so that you can care for it correctly. There are lots of resources online. My favorite forum is GardenWeb.com. There are many experts there who can help you with any questions or problems you might have.