Thursday, April 9, 2015

Eagerly Awaiting Spring

Happy Easter!

Having survived the slings and arrows of an intense Easter season, replete with another First Communion (!!!), a birthday, and lots of school goings-on, I am now impatiently waiting with bated breath for predictable warm weather. Oh, for footwear that doesn’t require socks!! And as I tromp around my cold, wet, gray yard, pondering future landscaping possibilities and better acquainting myself with the particular plant species inhabiting this corner of the earth, my soul is craving real Spring. To reassure myself that it, in fact, will arrive in due time, I have been enjoying last year’s pictures of the garden splendor and hunting out some relevant quotes (the purple parts are my own take home messages from this exercise… applicable to so much more than gardening). Enjoy with me until reality is once again in bloom…


The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.

-Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933)

Be patient, O be patient! Put your ear against the earth; listen there how noiselessly and gently it upheaves its little way till it parts the scarcely broken ground, and the blade stands up in day.

-William Coles, The Art of Simpling, 1656


If thou of fortune be bereft,

And in they store there be but left

Two loaves, sell one and with the dole

Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

-James Terry White (1845-1920)

The pleasure of picking a few flowers and finding the right vase for them is incomparable.
-May Sarton (1912-1995)
I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds around my neck.
-Emma Goldman (1869-1940)
Do not think it a waste of time to cultivate a few flowers or to let the children have a flower bed. It is judicious for parents to cultivate a love of flowers in their children from the earliest years, as flowers have a refining influence, and never lead astray, but always upward to what is purer and better. If one's time and strength are limited, a bed one yard square, with a geranium and a few nasturtiums, for instance, can give pleasure to the whole household; and these flowers will bloom all season, until the frost blights them. A few flowers in pots are better than none.
-The Old Farmer's Almanac, 1893
Don't try to follow all the advice that is offered to you; make up your own mind what you want to do and go steadily ahead. If you fail you will know how, and why, which is in itself a distinct gain. Distrust garrulous advice; the gardener with real knowledge is not inclined to force advice upon others.
-Ida Bennett, The Flower Garden, 1903
It is very difficult to write about flowers. I discovered this truth only when I started to do so... In a very short space I had to combine the descriptive with the practical - petals, in fact, with slugs; loveliness with manure; lavishness with instructions for pruning. Successful gardening is made up of all these things, and to be a successful gardener one must also be a realist.
-Vita Sackville-West, Some Flowers, 1937
I recommend to any person, however humble his means, however narrow his land - if he must choose between beauty and profit, between flowers and shrubs on the one hand, and vegetables and fruit on the other, to have beauty. [...] Potatoes and apples you may buy about as cheap as you can grow them, and you will buy them if you do not grow them, to keep body and soul together. Beauty can only be bought at the most extravagant price, and if it is not cultivated at your home, will hardly be bought; there is no physical appetite to clamor for it, and common economy begins with dispensing with it.
-R. Morris Copeland, A Handbook of Agriculture, Horticulture, and Landscape Gardening, 1859

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Low-Carb, Dairy-Free Creamy Chocolate Breakfast Shake


As promised, today I am sharing one of my current favorite recipes… a delicious creamy chocolate shake that also happens to be very healthy… to balance out the last carb-laden post. My sister and brother-in-law recently accomplished some amazing health goals by adopting a low carb lifestyle, and I was duly inspired to do a homemade version of the Take Shape for Life diet (spoiler alert: it’s working). This shake is a big part of why I am losing weight… low calories and low carbs, lots of nutrition, and it is actually delicious and substantial! Before we get to the recipe though, here are a few tidbits that might be of interest:

COCOA POWDER: It’s a real challenge to make anything chocolaty without cocoa. My favorite cocoa powder… a high-quality, popular cocoa that fits into our limited grocery budget… is Rodelle. I buy it in big canisters at Costco when they have it, typically leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas season. I ran out in April last year and had to wait till November to get more, so as a precaution I bought 4 canisters to get me through the year. So far, so good. I make most of the brownies/cakes/cookies/shakes/etc my family eats from scratch so we do go through it. Here is the product you’re looking for on Amazon (currently $18!! what?!), but it was just $7 for the very same quantity at Costco this past season so it’s worth stocking up when you can. For that price, it is really no more expensive than anything generic in your local grocery store. Fun fact: Just 2 tablespoons of cocoa has 16% of your recommended daily value of fiber and 30% DV of iron. It’s tasty stuff, and healthy.

AVOCADO: I learned in the past year (thank you Pinterest) that avocados freeze really well. Their high fat content makes them ideal for this. So when my local stores put them on sale for anything less than $0.50 per, I stock up. When each one is perfectly ripe, I peel and seed it, chop it into eighths, and freeze it on a cookie sheet. I store the chucks in a ziplock and pull them out as needed for smoothies, shakes or guacamole (not quite as good as fresh, but certainly better than no guac!). Avocados are also high in potassium, fiber and have a bit of protein to boot. They make this shake incredibly creamy and are truly honestly not noticeable in terms of tasting it in the shake. They are the secret ingredient!! My 3 yr old loves to steal some sips, and even my deeply-entrenched standard American diet husband admits he enjoys it “but I get the impression it might be healthy”… touché, Sherlock.

COLLAGEN HYDROLYSATE: I purchased mine via Amazon, the brand is Great Lakes Gelatin - the kind in the green canister. It is a flavorless white power which will dissolve even in cold liquids. I know you probably don’t have this sitting around, but I am currently using it daily to (hopefully) help revitalize my poor, aching, mother-of-four, used and abused sacroiliac joints. Collagen hydrolysate is a protein precursor to gelatin… another substance getting a lot of health food press lately. It is procured from grassfed beef hides (yum?) and research has been done indicating it may have a wide variety of uses in treating everything from joint pain to osteoporosis to ulcers and leaky gut. Also beneficial for radiant skin, strong nails and vibrant, healthy hair. I understand that it has much the same health benefits as any bone broth or other whole-animal type foods… you’re getting all the good stuff our standard American diet leaves out. After less than a month of daily use, I am not ready to claim that it has fixed my back pain problem, but it IS a sneaky way to add some flavorless protein to a shake. You could sub a typical protein powder instead, or leave it out altogether.

Pro tip: I regularly add a scoop or half-scoop of unflavored whey isolate powder to this shake (I like Mike’s Mix for value and taste) if I need more protein at the end of a day to meet my RDA but I am craving a treat. FYI, 1 scoop of Mike’s Mix has 114 calories and 40% of your daily protein needs, and currently costs just $0.72 per serving… almost identical in cost and nutrition to a 4 oz chicken breast at $3.00/lb… but a LOT easier to put in a smoothie ;) It’s not crazy expensive like some other specialty “health foods” when you consider how it will be used. I use almond milk (from Aldi) in my shakes because I am losing the battle with lactose. Whey protein powder contains only trace amounts of lactose, and so is still a great choice for the lactose intolerant like me. I can’t speak knowledgeably about non-dairy protein powders, but it would be easy to find one if you are of the dairy-free persuasion but still want to bulk up your shake.


So… after all that blathering on, here’s the recipe:

Healthy Chocolate Breakfast Shake


1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

1 cup water

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup ice cubes

1/2 average size avocado, frozen in chunks

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1 rounded tbsp Great Lakes Gelatin collagen hydrolysate (green container)

Splenda* or sweetener of your choice


Add wet ingredients to blender (I love my Nutribullet for anything like this). Mix dry ingredients together first (prevents clumping), then add to wet ingredients and mix until very smooth. Enjoy your shake!


If low carb and dairy-free isn’t such a priority, adding some malted milk powder turns this into a delicious and healthy chocolate malt!

Try adding some other flavorings like peppermint extract, coconut cream, nutella, or espresso powder. This shake lends itself well to a wide assortment of flavor accompaniments, so give it a whirl (pun intended).

Nutrition (as written, using 1 tbsp granular Splenda, calculated using myfitnesspal):

This very filling 24+ ounce shake only contains 245 calories, and 6 grams of net carbs!



*I realize that many people are anti-artificial sweeteners, and are probably incensed that I would suggest they might *gasp* be part of a healthy recipe. I have decided to use them at this stage of my life. That is my decision for my own health. Please feel free to make a different decision that suits your requirements, but please don’t leave comments about it here… that’s just not the point of this post. Thanks.*

**This post contains affiliate links to products that I use and have purchased with my own cash, but only the ones I would actually recommend. If you happen to follow a link and also happen to make a purchase, a small percentage of that will come back to me and, for the sake of full disclosure, I will promptly use it to buy fabric or fund a home improvement project. Do with that knowledge what you will ;)**

Friday, March 13, 2015

Easy Pretzel Sticks Recipe (with Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce)


It’s Lent. Yes, most definitely Lent. When you need to bribe your kids to eat leftovers (yet again) and you’ve given up after dinner desserts, the most effective way to do it is to make soft pretzels. Even acceptable on meatless Fridays! It’s also good for making friends and influencing people… take some to your next meeting or social event. See what happens.


Want to make some? First, prepare some dough. You can use many different dough recipes to get delicious pretzel results. The dough recipe I used is from King Arthur Flour website. Prepare a cooling rack by placing it on a dishtowel and spraying it with cooking spray (you will be baking directly on it). Baking on a wire rack will allow the pretzels to cook on all sides without getting too crunchy or soggy in places. This is my favorite method after much trial and error. I would also use this method for bagels. The towel will soak up drips… don’t skip that step.

While the dough is rising, skip the wimpy baking soda bath and jump straight to the big guns of pretzel-making: LYE. Lye will almost always come in a container where DANGER and/or POISON are printed in a font size bigger than than the contents of the container itself. Make no mistake: lye is dangerous!! Have you seen Fight Club?! It is used in soap making and also as a drain cleaner. Alkaline substances will corrode and discolor your favorite aluminum pans (ask me how I know), so don’t use those with lye or baking soda. Lye can cause severe burns. Which is why you will exercise common sense and protect your skin and eyes as necessary. Got it? Okay. Don’t let lye freak you out… You’re the boss if it! The pretzels will be worth using substances that may get you on some sort of government watch list. Trust me. Of course if you don’t have lye on hand and must make some pretzels right now, by all means use the baking soda as advised by the KAF recipe I linked.

Preheat your oven to 450. If you have convection, turn it on (if you don’t they will still turn out amazing!). Put about 6 cups of water in a stockpot (choose your dirtiest looking stainless steel stockpot… the lye will leave it sparkling!), add a couple tablespoons of lye (always add the lye to the water, never the other way around!), stir to dissolve, and heat to simmering. Lye can get staticky, so be careful when measuring and clean up any spilled lye particles quickly to avoid unpleasantness later.


Roll your dough out flat and chop it into breadstick shapes (4” L by 1/2” H by 3/4”W… ish) with a pizza cutter. Perfection and uniformity are completely optional.  Allow it to stand for a few minutes while you make sure everything is in order with your lye bath and wire rack. Carefully place the strips into the simmering lye bath for about 10 seconds, just until they turn a little yellow. I do about 4 at a time since I can scoop that many out at one time. The yellow means the gluten in the surface of the dough has been affected by the alkaline bath, and it will give you the delicious pretzel flavor and golden brown pretzel exterior you know and love. Don’t leave them in too long or they will get soggy. Scoop them out with a mesh strainer utensil or slotted spoon (again, avoid aluminum). The lye in the water on the pretzels has reacted already, so you don’t have to be overly worried about lye burns if you need to nudge them with a finger at that point.  Arrange them on the rack, leaving some room for expansion. When the rack is full or you’ve done them all, sprinkle with kosher salt to taste.


Place the wire rack into the preheated oven and bake for 8-9 minutes, or until they are a light golden brown and nicely puffed. Meanwhile, you can pour the hot lye bath down the drain and feel pretty good about it. When done, allow them to cool for a few minutes, and then coax them off the rack. Some may require gentle persuasion with a spatula, but hopefully the cooking spray did it’s job and they slide off easily. I don’t own a nonstick cooling rack, but I imagine that would be a good thing for these.


These pretzels should be eaten promptly… if you try to wrap them up, the moisture of the pretzels will be soaked up by the salt and they will get gluey in parts. Still tasty, but not everything you might hope. They will last out in the open (or in a brown paper bag) for hours with their chewy exterior, and can be reheated in the oven later if you want to serve them at a party but don’t want your guests to see you in chemistry goggles while you cook them (sort of joking, sort of not). They are amazing with a honey mustard dipping sauce. My basic recipe is below (a knockoff from Applebee’s, I think), though I rarely measure ingredients and it always turns out delicious.

Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce


1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1 tbsp prepared or whole grain mustard (the kind with visible seeds)

1/4 cup honey

1 tbsp white vinegar


Mix well. Refrigerate to store.


To restore balance to the world, next I will share a delicious gluten-free, low carb recipe. I’m currently limiting my own carb intake, so writing this pretzel post was a little bit of a Lenten sacrifice :)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Farewell to Winter

I am a Michigander, born and raised. I am not intimidated by extreme weather, even if it sometimes wreaks havoc to the most carefully laid plans. I love that we get to experience all the seasons here, even if sometimes it feels like they will never end. But the year is marching on, and winter is fading fast.


I love the first delicate flakes of late Fall. The highly-anticipated, short-lived few.


Light dustings of fine powdery snow that give away the secret wanderings of other unseen lives.


I love fluffy midwinter snow, especially on windless days. Falling, swirling, clumping. Making a dimpled blanket that covers the gray slush splatter from salted roads. Clinging to tiny branches, roadside weeds, power lines. Building impossible towers of snowflakes on every tiny exposed horizontal surface.


The glittery, wind-swept formations.


The tiny worlds of frost that bring wonder to even the most excruciatingly cold of winter days. Imperfect windows harboring magical patterns of ice in miniature.


And, eventually, the melt. Luminous, patiently-formed icicles slowly drip-drip-dripping away until they ultimately succumb to their inevitable transience. Those last hills of crusty, dirty snow surrounded by Spring.


The smell of ice and earth, life stirring after the freeze, ready to burst forth in glorious color to shock us out of our snow blindness.


Breathe in. Savor the stillness, the empty air, the cool fingertips… banking these moments in my mind for the days of unrelenting summer heat.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Real Life: American Girl Doll Huron Valley Catholic School Uniform

I have been too quiet here lately. The biggest culprit at present is the fact that I have 3 busy kids at a (wonderful) Catholic school (and 1 busy guy not yet at the wonderful Catholic school), and the parent community is the crux of its fundraising efforts. Every year, the (wonderful) parents join forces and put on a spectacular dinner auction to raise money for need-based tuition scholarships. Not only is the auction an ever-increasing success, the evening is filled with fun and friends. I have previously mentioned that both my husband and I are alumni of this (wonderful) school, and it is very much an establishment we are glad to support in dollars and hours and students. If you live in the Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Plymouth-Canton, Dexter, Saline or South Lyon area and are looking for the best imaginable education for your pre-K through 8th grade kids AND a supportive and faith-filled parent community, please stop by and have a look at Huron Valley Catholic School!


This year, I am in charge of a couple parts of the auction, including managing the silent auction baskets. That particular job, in a nutshell, is to take the merchandise donated and make it look as attractive and cohesive as possible in shrink-wrapped baskets. It’s another job that is essentially the equivalent turning straw into gold… to maximize the profit, we try to work with what has been donated in terms of baskets, fluffy filler, and merchandise to produce a bid-worthy package. Of course, as with many crafty things, Pinterest has helped corral my inspiration... here’s my auction basket design board.

This year, the acquisitions volunteers procured an American Girl doll… Isabelle, the girl of the year for 2014. She came with a couple cute outfits but she was sadly lacking in school spirit. After a couple months of living the minutiae of benefit auction logistics, I needed a little creative outlet, and it came in the form of a pint-sized Catholic school girl uniform for Isabelle. I used my pattern software to build an 18” doll version of the jumper option our little girls can wear to school, complete with a t-shirt transfer miniature HVCS logo. I made the peter pan collar and sleeves attached to the jumper rather than a separate blouse, for simplicity’s sake. And here she is!


I am so pleased with how this uniform turned out… it hit the spot for my creative needs and will hopefully help draw bigger bids for this package. More money = more kids who can attend = more lively school! Everybody wins!


I am considering putting together some AG doll clothing patterns (including this jumper!) to make an affordable and versatile pattern bundle for moderately experienced sewists (meaning I’ll provide the pattern blocks that could be used for a variety of styles and it will be up to you to mix/match/assemble according to your vision). Like slopers for your AG doll… use them to dream big, test your design skills, and whip up a custom doll wardrobe! I will have to wait until after this year’s auction before embarking on that adventure (it’s in just 2 weeks! I see the light at the end of the tunnel!). So, in the meantime, if this concept is something you’d be interested in, join my email list below by the end of February 2015 with your preferences and you will get the package for FREE as a PDF when it’s ready!! ((your info is secure, and I only send about 4 emails per year))

I hope you are surviving this winter with whatever sustains your creative spirit when the sun is on vacation! It WILL be Spring again someday :)

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread (yeah, it’s cake)


We just got 14+ inches of snow. Probably more like 16. And it’s flippin’ freezing out. Today is our second snow day from “The Blizzard of ‘15” in SE Michigan. So what could be more appropriate than a post about summer veggies from your garden? Read on…


I was the lucky recipient of many a zucchini from my mom over at Fieldstone Farm. Delicious, organic zucchinis. In quantities with which I could not keep up. Enter the food processor. I shredded and froze a lot of that produce for the cold, dark days of winter. Days just like today!


The nice thing about having frozen zucchini on hand is that you can thaw it any time and make yummy treats like this double chocolate zucchini cake bread! Take that, Blizzard! This recipe was adapted to my preferences from one found on movitabeaucoup.

Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Makes 1 9x5x3 loaf


  • 1 1/2  cups shredded raw zucchini (or frozen zucchini, thawed and drained)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I love Rodelle cocoa, seasonally found at Costco)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup  canola oil
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.

Grate the zucchini, using a medium sized grater, and set aside. You do not need to squeeze the zucchini dry. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the oil, sugars, eggs, and vanilla extract until well blended. Fold in the grated zucchini. Add the flour mixture, beating just until combined. Then fold in the chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (about 55 to 65 minutes). Place on a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes, then remove the bread from the pan and cool completely. Enjoy!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

TaxACT Giveaway winners!

As promised, I am here to announce the winners of the TaxACT giveaway! The rafflecopter widget used the brains of to select 3 random entrants. These lucky gals will all receive a TaxACT Online 2014 Deluxe 1040 return (with the option of a discounted state return) complements of the nice and hugely helpful people at TaxACT.

Our winners are Donna, Julie and Miriam!

So, lovely ladies, expect an email from them soon with the details on how to claim your return. Thanks for participating! Happy tax season, all!!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Be Your Best in 2015

A couple dear friends and I have decided that we needed a good, motivating motto for this new year we’ve got. After some deliberation and much joking about mottos past, our collective mantra turns out to be:

Be Your Best

(read: Be Yo’ Best)

And that means taking care of sick people and honoring commitments and taking a moment to just be around green things every now and again. Which is why writing a blog post about New Year’s mottos is happening 3 full weeks after the fact. Accepting my humanity, moving on…


There are a few key areas of my life that I hope will benefit from mindfully endeavoring to be my best this year. They are:

Spiritual life – scheduling prayer time, consciously offering mortification for others, and choosing to do everything with greater joy

Family life – being more present for all my people in small ways each day; being more kind, patient and loving

Personal health – choosing more nutritious foods generally, while not beating myself up when a brownie is needed for quality of life purposes; making an effort to move more, but in ways that don’t hurt my back; choosing to love myself everyday, just as I am

Lifelong learning – not being afraid of challenges in learning new skills; following through with purely educational projects; making a real effort to do my very best work with proper technique; getting outside my comfort zone and not fearing failure

House projects – in an effort to be realistic, I have only a few stated goals for the house in 2015: make window treatments for two bedrooms (by May), paint the stairs and hallway (and all remaining doorway and other trim), and build a closet where the minibar currently exists in our sunroom. These are projects that will improve the user experience of the house in a very real way. I will do other work too, I’m sure, but those are the big goals.


I did not make a category for my business pursuits. On purpose. I have realized that I am in a phase of my life where “making money” and “building my brand” are not what I want to really focus on. I do still  have that desire, but that cannot compete with my family needs this year and the time needed for other commitments I have made. This doesn’t mean I am shutting down, or even scaling back, but I choose to accept that I can’t drop everything else to make that a greater priority this year. I would love financial success without the effort, but that is not how this works. I will be better for saying it up front and putting my energy where it is needed in the bigger picture.

So… a little late, but better than never!


And just a reminder that tomorrow is the last day for the TaxACT giveaway. As of this writing, there are but 10 entries for 3 prizes. You could call that either terrible blogging or excellent odds. I prefer to think positive!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

TaxACT Review and Giveaway!

So… we’re getting into tax season…

                                                                             Anybody excited?

                                                                                                                           I thought not.

Now, I am no accountant, but I have always done my own taxes. Even as a high schooler working a few hours after school, I handled my very own 1040-EZ (with some smart parents and a tax preparer [who also happened to be my future mother-in-law] to offer guidance as needed). I guess I’ve been a lifelong DIY fanatic. It’s not rocket science, though sometimes it feels like it.

(Just for kicks, here is a picture of me and my husband when we graduated 8th
grade. Waaay back in 1995. I am front and center and dorky behind the two studs taking
a knee, and my future husband is the kneeling stud on the right. Tee hee. The cute redhead
to my right married the other kneeling stud, and the standing guy in the dark jacket
married the demure darling in the dark floral dress to his right. Collectively, at last
count, we have 12 kids between us. Time flies when you're having fun!)

As life went on, I accrued student loans, got married, bought real estate, had kids, started my own small business and bought equipment, joined a partnership and made charitable contributions, among many other things. And my taxes got more and more complicated too. A schedule C, more forms, more details to track. We had been using a different online tax preparing service, but when I needed to file a schedule C, they told me it was going to cost upwards of $65 to file my state and federal return with them. I’d never had complaints about their service, but that was a hefty pill to swallow. First I decided maybe it was time to hire a CPA. After learning their prices and knowing I would still  have to deliver all the organized information to them to do it, I decided I’d shop around a little more.

(the big day in 2003. such kids!)

Enter TaxACT. I found them through an internet search. Currently, they charge only $12.99 for a deluxe federal return and $17.99 for federal and state (they also offer a free basic federal return for everyone!). I have used the federal and state version since I found them about 5 or 6 years ago (who can remember that far back?), and they have handled everything I have thrown at them with ease and convenience. Schedule C on top of the 1040? No problem! Business property that needs to be depreciated? Sure! Remember your kids’ social security numbers and favorite charities? Of course! Once you make your first return with them, they remember all your info from the previous year which saves a ton of typing and paper cuts.


They prompt you with questions to input correct and complete data, walk you through adding your W-2s, K-1s, and other forms, and they have buttons to explain anything that needs explaining along the way. They show you a side-by-side comparison of your current return and your last year’s return (if you used them last year) so you can see any big changes or discrepancies and double check your work. You can also compare your data to the national average. Filing the state return after the federal is very quick as they import the pertinent data automatically.

Last year, I accomplished File the Taxes Day and had a little personal party because it was finished with very little trouble on my part. The very next day, another W-2 arrived from the final paycheck from my husband’s previous employer. Oops. So I got to test out the Amended Return functionality of TaxACT. It was free, since we had filed the original return through them, and it was very quick to do! Surprisingly not scary or intimidating at all! I printed out the amended returns (both federal and state) and mailed them in with the small bit we owed. Done! For real! I was so pleased with how not painful it was, I wrote them an email to tell them so. I let them know that this year I would write up a candid review of my enthusiastically positive experiences using their products, and asked if they would like to offer a giveaway. And they do!

So, while tax returns may not be the most exciting thing to read about on a blog about all things happy home, I will posit that having a good tax experience definitely helps create Domestic Bliss in your home! Give them a try!

They are offering my three winners a free TaxACT Online 2014 Deluxe 1040 return, with the option of a discounted state return. They have a great price for what they offer, especially considering how well they perform, but free is even better! To enter the giveaway, please use the rafflecopter below. Entries will be accepted from 12AM 1/15/15 until 12 AM 1/22/15. The winners will be announced here on 1/24/14, and subsequently contacted by TaxACT with a code for the free return. Easy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If the above widget is not working for you, my apologies as a raffle copter newbie. I have heard some can't see it, so please try THIS LINK to my Facebook page where you can join the raffle just as well.

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cookiemaggedon - 2014 Edition


Happy Advent, everyone! Silence, silence, silence and then WHAM-O!!! Mega update in one night. That’s how I roll. It's been too busy to write amidst all the baking (except for all the catching up I just did). But I am very happy to report (from my desk, listening to jazz holiday on Pandora while the world sleeps) that I am now in the post-apocalyptic phase of cookiemaggedon wherein I am actively foisting cookies upon hapless visitors and friends. The real point of making hundreds of dozens of cookies (not exaggerating) was to create  nice, thoughtful gifts for my husband's sales clients. Translated for you: 29 platters of cookies to give away (plus 7 plates to keep for our own numerous Christmas functions, 2 packages to mail to out-of-town siblings, 3 plates for classroom parties, and 7 plates to give to wonderful neighbors new and old).


I made 13 varieties of cookies over a period of 9 days. Not going to lie - it was intense. And intensely messy. A few dozen cookies got burnt. By the end, I was an oven-mitt-wearing, floury-be-aproned kitchen zombie. There were probably pecan bits and coconut flakes in my hair, but my hands had never felt more moisturized after rolling and cutting out about a million buttery cookies. Delicious... Buttery... Cookies...


The 2014 line-up, hyperlinked for your convenience (the starred ones are new to me this year!):

Rolled and cut out cookies:
My family favorite Sugar Cookies
Classic Gingerbread

DSC_2549     DSC_2545

Shaped cookies:
Cranberry Ribbon Icebox Cookies
Split Second Cookies (aka Jam Logs - some apricot and some serviceberry from our trees)

DSC_2511     DSC_2517

Bar cookies:
*Raspberry Coconut Magic Bars
Magic Cookie Bars (though I only made them with 6 layers this year... No pecans)
*English Toffee Bars

DSC_2495     DSC_8933


Drop cookies:
Gingerbread Drop Cookies (I will add more molasses next year so they aren’t the spiced twin of the PB cookies)
Mint Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookies
*Soft Peanut Butter Cookies
Natalie’s Chocolate Crinkles

DSC_2527     DSC_8903

DSC_2520     DSC_8917

No bake cookies:
*Coconut Pecan Pralines
*Mint Oreo Bark

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Folks, THAT WAS A LOT OF COOKIES! But they were all scrumptious. My underdog favorite turned out to be the Pralines. Too good. Had to give them away! If you like German chocolate cake with The Frosting... Well... Mom and Dad, you'll love them.

I feel very happy and proud to have accomplished such a monumental task. Of course, as is always the case, other aspects of  life suffered… and there was a little bit of cookie snitching and hiding under TV tray tables… but overall it was a good BIG experience for me and filled my need for creativity in the absence of other, less-edible pursuits. And hopefully these small but numerous labors of love will be enjoyed thoroughly my husband’s clients as well as our family and friends.


Snitched cookies are guilty pleasures.  Sneaking pictures of snitching munchkins… totally guilt-free!