Sunday, December 9, 2012

Chuck E. Cheese's New Gluten-Free Menu

This just in: Chuck E. Cheese, our favorite arcade and pizza palace of our youth, has jumped on the Chucky E.-Cheese-band-wagon and added a gluten-free menu.  I can recall childhood birthdays chasing around that giant (somewhat creepy) mouse, and I'm so happy for anyone with a gluten-free child that they can now enjoy a birthday party like the no-diet-restrictions kids.  So here's the scoop, taken right from their website:

Gluten-free Menu FAQs

How many Chuck E. Cheese’s locations offer a gluten-free menu?
Chuck E. Cheese’s offers gluten-free menu items at more than 500 locations in the U.S. and Canada.

When will the gluten-free menu be available at all Chuck E. Cheese’s?
The gluten-free menu is available at more than 500 Chuck E. Cheese’s locations beginning Nov. 13.

How can I find out if my local Chuck E. Cheese’s offers the gluten-free menu?
Guests can inquire about their local restaurant’s gluten-free menu by contacting guest relations at 1-888-778-7193 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-888-778-7193 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

What items are on the gluten-free menu?
Chuck E. Cheese’s gluten-free menu includes a personal-size cheese pizza and an individual chocolate cupcake.

Did Chuck E. Cheese’s do any market testing of the gluten-free menu before rolling it out nationally?
Chuck E. Cheese’s tested offering a gluten-free menu in Minnesota and Iowa.

How much will the gluten-free menu items cost?
Chuck E. Cheese’s personal-size gluten-free pizza costs $5.99 at most locations in the U.S. The chocolate cupcake costs $2.99 in the U.S. or C$3.49 in Canada. Prices may vary slightly at some locations.

Why did Chuck E. Cheese’s decide to add gluten-free items to its menu?
Chuck E. Cheese’s wants every child to experience the unleashed joy of a fun day at one of their stores, but feedback from guests indicated that many of them were missing out on a classic experience with their friends due to gluten restrictions. Researching and developing a gluten-free menu that moms and dads could trust was the best way to ensure that children with gluten sensitivities have the same experience as those without.
While there are still more food allergies to address, gluten-free was one that we felt we could address at this time.

What makes Chuck E. Cheese’s gluten-free pizza different from other chains offering gluten-free pizza?
Chuck E. Cheese’s utilizes an innovative and unique process from kitchen to table that reduces the gluten-free pizza’s chances of encountering any sort of particle that might cross-contaminate the product and make it unsafe for a guest with strict gluten intolerance. Additionally, Chuck E. Cheese’s gluten-free cheese pizza is sold for the same price as its personal-size pizza with traditional crust.

Does Chuck E. Cheese’s work with any gluten-free product partners on either the pizza or the cupcake?
Chuck E. Cheese’s gluten-free pizza is manufactured and delivered to store locations by Conte’s Pasta and the chocolate cupcake is produced by Fabe’s All Natural Bakery. More information about Conte’s Pasta at and Fabe’s All Natural Bakery at

How were the partners evaluated and selected?
Chuck E. Cheese’s looked for partners who could work with the company to implement safeguards that significantly reduced the chances for cross-contamination in their gluten-free products. Those who could were then evaluated on taste to arrive at the final product partners.

Where is the gluten-free pizza made?
The gluten-free pizza is manufactured in Conte’s Pasta’s gluten-free certified facility in New Jersey.

How does the gluten-free pizza get from the kitchen to the guest’s table?
The gluten-free pizza arrives at Chuck E. Cheese’s locations from Conte’s Pasta’s dedicated, certified gluten-free facilities in frozen, pre-sealed packaging. The bake-in-bag pizza remains sealed while cooked and delivered, until it is opened and served with a personal pizza cutter at families’ tables by the adult in charge.
Under the same procedure, gluten-free chocolate fudge cupcakes from Fabe’s All Natural Bakery will remain in pre-sealed, single-serve packaging through preparation until opened and served at the table.

Are Chuck E. Cheese’s gluten-free menu options appropriate for children and adults with celiac disease?
Yes, Chuck E. Cheese’s gluten-free menu items are manufactured in dedicated gluten-free certified facilities and kept sealed from delivery to kitchen to table to prevent possible cross-contamination from outside particles.

Are Chuck E. Cheese’s gluten-free menu items endorsed by any nationally recognized organization dedicated to raising awareness about celiac disease?
Chuck E. Cheese’s pizza partner Conte’s Pasta is Certified Gluten-free by the Gluten-free Certification Organization (GFCO). Fabe’s All Natural Bakery’s products also proudly wear a Certified Gluten-free logo established by the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG).

Does Chuck E. Cheese’s offer gluten-free birthday parties?
Chuck E. Cheese’s doesn’t currently offer a gluten-free birthday party package, but guests are encouraged to add gluten-free options to existing birthday party packages by working with one of our representatives in-store, by calling 1-888-778-7193 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-888-778-7193 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or selecting the options as additions when reserving a birthday party online.

What is the nutritional content of the items on the gluten-free menu?
The gluten-free pizza is 370 calories per serving and the gluten-free chocolate cupcake is 380 calories per serving.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tips For Keeping Your House Clean Over the Holidays

The holidays are upon us, and with them usually brings company, parties, dinners, and a busy schedule in general.  Who has time to clean?  So, I've put together a few tips to help your house stay clean (or look like it is!) so that you have time to do the things you want to be doing.

1. To reduce clutter, I like to put decorative bowls all over my house.  I switch them out to keep it interesting.  My husband has a habit of leaving his wallet, watch and keys in one spot, so rather than just look at it, I put a bowl there so at least it's organized chaos.  Go around your house, and as you're picking up, take note of where you or family leaves things and put a bowl.  This also helps when you're putting things away, as you can just take the bowl to room to room and empty it.  I put a bin at the door for shoes too, so I can do the same. 

2. I love trying new cleaning products, and I find that when I get one that I love, I tend to use it more.  I like them most when they work of course, but also for the smells.  If it has a wonderful smell, it makes me feel like I've done a little extra to make my house clean.  I recently tried the Gain Mr. Clean All Purpose Cleaner, mostly in my kitchen and bathrooms and it smells wonderful, and works great.  My all time favorite, a little more expensive, but so worth it, is Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day products.  Check out there website for a full list of products, and you can usually find some at Wal-Mart, Target and Hannaford.  They are all natural, so you can feel good about not putting chemicals all over your house (especially if you have pets or children) and they smell like natural things like basil, lemon, and lavender.  If you're not sure about a scent, email them and they'll send you a sample. (I have!)

3. Give everyone in your family a chore, to reduce the load of one person.  My son is 2 and he does things to help around the house, and he thinks it's fun.  One of his favorites is putting shoes in the shoe bin and books on the shelves.  His all time favorite is dusting (I had to switch to giving him a bottle of water to spray, since he was going a little overboard...), as you can see here:

                4. De-clutter and donate anything you don't want or need anymore, to clean out for the holidays.  In my house, we try to this every year.  Even it means putting it in the garage or attic until yard sale time, get it out of your house so you have less to pick up.  Put your children's toys in storage if it's things they want to keep, but don't play with a lot ( or if you're like us and saving things for future babies) and donate what they don't use.  If it's broken, get rid of it (are you really going to fix it, if you haven't already?).  Clean out closets and pantries too and donate, donate, donate!  You'll feel good about, and you're house will be more organized. 
5. In your kitchen, if you don't use it everyday, don't have it on your counters.  It will save you time not having to clean under a bunch of stuff, and make it look less cluttered.  You'll probably be baking more, but when you're finished with the mixer, put it away.  You'll be happy you did when someone stops by unexpected!
6. Once every couple of days, take a minute and wipe down every surface you walk by.  I do this almost daily in spots that get really dusty (like the television area).  It really doesn't take more than a couple minutes, and gives your house the instant "clean" feeling you're looking for.  Doing these small, quick things will greatly reduce the overall time you spend cleaning this holiday season.
7.  Go through your mail immediately when you get it from the box.  If it's trash, throw it away.  A card?  Display it with the others.  But whatever you do: DO NOT LET IT PILE UP!  Save yourself the time of going through a pile and potentially being late on a bill.
8. Reward yourself by having a small ritual for when you're house is in order and you move onto other things.  Have a cup of coffee, take a few minutes to read that magazine you've been looking forward to.  When I'm finished picking up, I like to light a yummy scented candle, making my house smell great and feel cozy and relaxing.  The Glade holiday ones are wonderful and cheap.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cyber Monday!

In honor of Cyber Monday (my first one as a shop owner!) today only you can get free shipping in my Etsy Shop with code CYBERMONDAY.  Also, this is the last day to get the limited edition red and black faux bow ear warmer, and it's just $10.  Perfect for stocking stuffers. 

And, if you're in the Saratoga area Saturday December 1, be sure to stop by my Crooked By Design table at the Festival of Trees in Schuylerville, NY!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Exciting Goings-Ons in my Etsy Shop!

Right now, there's lots of fun and exciting things going on in my Etsy Shop, Crooked By Design.  For starters, I'll be donating $1.00 from each sale made until Monday November 19, 2012, to the Red Cross to help those affected by Sandy.

I'm very excited to say in just within just a few months of opening my shop, I reached my first milestone of 50 sales in my shop, and the lucky 50th order received a free tote bag.  The next milestone to reach is 75.  There will be another surprise free gift with that 75th order, and we're getting close to it!  I'm so grateful to everyone who has helped me reach this goal.  I can't even put to words how exciting it is to have my handmade items go all around the country!

There's also a new Crooked By Design Facebook Page so be sure to "like" it to see new items, promotions, sales, etc.

I'll be posting about the Cyber Monday Black Friday sale item soon, so stay tuned! 

Oh yea, you can also stay connected by following me on Twitter and Instagram @KnaptimeKnitter.

One last thing, I'm already a busy bee with custom orders coming in, so be sure and get any and all of them in early so they're ready in time for the holidays! 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Is this candy gluten-free?

I know I'm late on the gluten-free candy list, what with it being November, and not Halloween anymore, but since my husband and I have been raiding our son's candy supply, I thought I'd share this information I just found.  I was surprised at some of these popular candies that are not gluten-free! (I found this list on  I know I've accidently ingested gluten because of some of these.  Now we know!

Nestle USA
Nestle USA considers "gluten-free" to mean "no gluten ingredients are in the product, whether directly added, or potentially present due to cross-contact. If a product label has an allergen advisory statement such as 'made on equipment' or 'facility that also processes wheat etc.,' we do not consider that product to be gluten-free. It is important to always read product labels/packaging for the most accurate information." Nestle will label potential gluten cross contamination, a customer service representative says.
    According to Nestle, the following candies are gluten-free:
  • Baby Ruth
  • Bit-O-Honey
  • Butterfinger Bar (original flavor only, NOT Crisp, Giant Bar, Snakerz, Medallions, Jingles, Hearts or Pumpkins)
  • Milk Chocolate
  • Goobers
  • Nips (including both regular and sugar-free)
  • Oh Henry!
  • Raisinets (including Cranberry and Dark Chocolate flavors)
  • Sno-Caps
  • Wonka Pixy Stix
  • Laffy Taffy (including Laffy Taffy Rope)
  • Wonka Lik-M-Aid Fun Dip
    The following Nestle candy products are NOT gluten-free:
  • Butterfinger Crisp Bar
  • Butterfinger Giant Bar
  • Butterfinger Snackerz
  • Butterfinger Medallions
  • Butterfinger Jingles
  • Butterfinger Hearts
  • Butterfinger Pumpkins
  • Wonka Nerds
  • Sweetarts
  • Wonka Bar (all flavors)
  • Chewy Spree
  • Wonka Gummies
  • Wonka Kazoozles
  • Everlasting Gobstopper
  • 100 Grand Bar
In some of these products, the ingredients themselves are gluten-free, but the candies are processed in a facility that also processes gluten.
Contact Nestle USA at 800-225-2270 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 800-225-2270 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.
Mars Chocolate
Mars Chocolate makes M&M's, Dove, Snickers and other products. The company urges gluten-free consumers to check labels, even if a product normally is gluten-free; in busy times of year (such as Halloween), Mars uses alternative facilities to make its candy, and some of those may introduce cross-contamination risks. The company says it will label any gluten ingredients or cross-contamination.
Warning: At least some packages of two relatively new varieties of M&Ms — coconut and mint flavors — include the warning "May contain wheat" on their labels as of October 2012. Other varieties — including milk chocolate, dark chocolate, peanut and almond — don't contain that warning. In addition, I saw Mars several seasonal products, including M&Ms candy corn, that featured the "May contain wheat" warning. Always read the label before purchasing.
    According to Mars Chocolate, the following candies are gluten-free:
  • M&M's (all EXCEPT for pretzel-flavored M&M's)
  • 3 Musketeers Bars (all flavors)
  • Milky Way Midnight Bar
  • Milky Way Caramel Bar
  • Dove Chocolate products (all flavors EXCEPT for milk chocolate cinnamon graham/cookies and cream)
  • Snickers Bars (all flavors)
  • Munch Nut Bar (the customer service representative urges consumers to check the labels on this one)
    The following Mars Chocolate products are NOT gluten-free:
  • M&M Pretzel flavor
  • Some packages of M&M Mint and M&M Coconut flavors
  • Milky Way Bar (original)
  • Mars Bar
  • Mars Combos (a snack mix)
Contact Mars Chocolate at 800-627-7852 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 800-627-7852 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.
Tootsie Roll Industries
Tootsie Roll Industries, which also makes Charms products, says that, as of October 2012, all of the companies confections are considered gluten-free with the exception of Andes cookies. "We do not use wheat, barley, rye, oats, triticale, spelt or any of their components and that includes our dusting on our conveyor belts. We do use corn and soy products in the manufacturing of our products."
    According to Tootsie Rolls Industries, the following candies are gluten-free:
  • Tootsie Rolls
  • Fruit Rolls
  • Frooties
  • Dots
  • Tropical Dots
  • Crows
  • Cella's Milk Chocolate Covered Cherries
  • Cella's Dark Chocolate Covered Cherries
  • Junior Mints
  • Charleston Chew
  • Junior Caramels
  • Tootsie Pops
  • Tootsie Peppermint Pops
  • Caramel Apple Pops
  • Fruit Smoothie Pops
  • Tropical Stormz Pops
  • Child's Play
  • Charms Blow Pops
  • Charms Super Blow Pops
  • Charms Pops
  • Zip-A-Dee-Mini Pops
  • Fluffy Stuff Cotton Candy
  • Sugar Daddy Pops
  • Sugar Mama Caramels
  • Charms Squares
  • Charms Sour Balls
  • Charms Candy Carnival
  • Pops Galore
  • Andes
  • Sugar Babies
Contact Tootsie Roll Industries at 773-838-3400 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 773-838-3400 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.
Most of Smarties' line of products is considered gluten-free and vegan, according to the company. However, Smarties sells its products to different "re-baggers" as well as various retail outlets. Since a re-bagger buys products from many different companies and then places them in different packaging, only re-baggers can verify whether their manufacturing plants are free of gluten or other allergens. "If the UPC number on the packaging begins with '0 11206,' you can be assured that the product was packaged in one of our manufacturing facilities," which means it should be gluten-free," the company says. Smarties Gummies contain no gluten ingredients, but are manufactured in a facility that also processes wheat-containing products.
Contact Smarties through the company's website.

After several years of listing only a few products as gluten-free, Hershey's published a gluten-free list as of March 2012 that includes several more products, mainly Hershey's Kisses varieties. As of October 2012, the following list of Hershey's candies are gluten-free:
  • Almond Joy (all)
  • Mounds (all)
  • Hershey's Kisses
  • Hershey's Filled Chocolate Kisses
  • Hershey's Nuggets
  • Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar, only in the 1.55 oz. size
  • Hershey's Milk Chocolate with Almonds Bar, only in the 1.45 oz. size
  • Heath Bars
  • Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (all except for seasonal shaped items)
  • Skor
  • Skor Toffee Bar
  • York Peppermint Pattie (all)
    The following Hershey's products are NOT gluten-free:
  • Hershey's Special Dark Bar
  • Hershey's Cookies 'N' Creme Bar
  • Hershey's Air Delight
  • Hershey's Milk Chocolate Drops
  • Hershey's Miniatures
  • Hershey's Nuggets
  • Mr. Goodbar
  • Symphony Bar
  • Hershey's Extra Dark Chocolate
Hershey's says it will list any ingredients containing wheat, barley, rye, oats and malt on the label, and also will disclose shared equipment or shared facilities on the label. Hershey's gluten-free list includes baking chips and bars, cocoa products and syrup; you can access the list here.

Contact Hershey's at 800-468-1714 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 800-468-1714 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.


Wrigley makes chewing gum and other candy products (for more on gluten-free gum, see the link above). According to the company, "all U.S. Wrigley chewing gum and confection products have been assessed to be gluten-free with the exception of the products listed below, which contain ingredient(s) derived from wheat or are made on shared equipment that also processes products with wheat and may contain trace amounts of gluten." Here's the list of Wrigley products that do contain gluten:
  • Altoids Chocolate Dipped Mints (made on equipment that also processes wheat)
  • Altoids Smalls Peppermint Mints (contains wheat maltodextrin)
  • Hubba Bubba Gummi Tape Candy (contains wheat flour and wheat fiber)
  • Lucas and Swinkles Branded Candy Strips (contains wheat flour and wheat fiber)
Note that Wrigley makes Creme Savers, Lifesavers, Skittles and Starburst, which in the U.S. are free of any gluten sources, according to the company.
Contact Wrigley at (800) 974-4539 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (800) 974-4539 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

Jelly Belly

Jelly Belly makes jelly beans in an ever-expanding array of colors and flavors. According to the company, "all Jelly Belly beans are gluten-free, dairy-free, gelatin-free, vegetarian and OU Kosher." This includes licorice-flavored gluten-free Jelly Belly jelly beans (in most cases, licorice candy contains wheat).
However, other Jelly Belly candies, including Chocolate Malt Balls, Chocolate Bridge Mix, Licorice Bridge Mix, Black Licorice Buttons and Licorice Pastels, are NOT gluten-free. In addition, seasonal mixes sold around the holidays contain the malt balls, and so are not gluten-free.
Contact Jelly Belly at 800-522-3267 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 800-522-3267 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.


Necco probably is best known for its small sugar Valentine heart candies – the pastel-colored ones that say "Be Mine" and "True Love" – but my daughter's candy stash often turns up a few Necco products every Halloween, as well.

    According to Necco, the following products do not contain gluten from wheat, rye, oats or barley:
  • Necco Wafers
  • Necco Chocolate Wafers
  • Candy House Candy Buttons
  • Canada Mint, Wintergreen and Spearmint Lozenges
  • Mary Jane
  • Mary Jane Peanutbutter Kisses (available for Halloween only)
  • Banana Splits Chews
  • Mint Julep Chews
  • Haviland Thin Mints, Wintergreen Patty, Nonpareils and Chocolate Stars
  • Skybar
  • Sweethearts Conversation Hearts (available for Valentine's Day only)

Contact Necco at 781-485-4800 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 781-485-4800 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

Just Born

Peeps marshmallow treats, made by Just Born, used to appear only at Easter, but in recent years we've seen Halloween Peeps shaped like pumpkins and ghosts, Christmas Peeps in the shape of trees, and heart-shaped Peeps for Valentine's Day.

According to Just Born, as of October 2012 all the company's marshmallow candies that are safe from cross-contamination will state "gluten-free" on the package by the ingredients listing. The modified food starch used in the products is corn starch, according to the company. Just Born also makes Mike and Ike Candies.
    According to Just Born, the following candies are gluten-free:
  • Mike and Ike Berry Blast
  • Mike and Ike Italian Ice
  • Mike and Ike Jolly Joes
  • Mike and Ike Lemonade Blends
  • Mike and Ike Original Fruits
  • Mike and Ike Redrageous
  • Mike and Ike Tangy Twister
  • Mike and Ike Tropical Typhoon
  • Mike and Ike Zours
  • Mike and Ike Jelly Beans
  • Mike and Ike Hot Tamales
  • Goldenberg's Vintage Peanut Chews

  • Thursday, October 25, 2012

    Introduction to Shopping on Etsy

    My brother has an awesome youtube channel and recently made a video to give you an introduction to Etsy.  Shopping on Etsy can be confusing when you're just getting to know it, but just like Pinterest, I bet you'll be hooked in no time. 

    Thursday, October 18, 2012

    Etsy's New Gift Cards

    Just in time for the upcoming holidays, Etsy has released their brand new gift cards!  You can choose to print the card or deliver via email.  Crooked By Design is now accepting them, too.

    In an effort to save money and reduce stress this holiday season, I've started my shopping (and making of Christmas gifts) really early this year.  Etsy has been a great place for finding those unique gifts you won't find at the store.  You can look by category depending on who you are shopping for and browse.  Best of all, you give a unique (often handmade) gift, and you support a small business. 

    Here's the link for Etsy Gift Cards

    Wednesday, October 17, 2012

    Easy Roast Chicken

    This year on our annual Pumpkin Carving Day, I decided to go all out and make a delicious harvest meal.  For just $20, I made made a meal for 6 (with lots of leftovers) of roast chicken, mashed potatoes, corn and roasted butternut squash. 

    Here's how to make a perfect roast chicken:
    I used a 7 pound one from Hannaford and went by their instructions for cooking.  It was 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes per pound.  I cheated and just waited for the popper to pop.  Makes things much easier (who has the time to clock watch?).

    Start by rinsing the chicken and sticking your hand in to remove that nasty bag of...extras.  I toss it, but you can feel free to use it.  Be sure to rinse inside, between the wings and all over.  Next, stuff it with things that will make it full of flavor.  I'm gluten free, so I don't use traditional stuffing of bread.  I threw in a cut up orange (skin on), 2 onions (quartered) and a hand full of frozen cranberries, to go with my harvest theme.

    Next, melt a few tablespoons of butter and add some herbs to it.  I used basil, rosemary and thyme.  Give it a good stir and, using a cooking brush, paint it onto your chicken.  Add some to the inside too.
    Now, it's ready for the oven!  Cover loosely with tinfoil and put it in the preheated oven.  After about an hour, remove foil, and brush some of the liquid from the bottom of the baking dish onto the chicken.  Do this a few times throughout the cooking process.  When it's finished, the popper will pop.
    The final result:
    THE MOST IMPORTANT PART:  Let it "rest" before carving, that way the juices really get in their and it gets extra flavorful and moist.  A 10-15 minute nap is sufficient. 


    Monday, October 15, 2012

    New Earwarmer Headbands!

    Now that the cold weather is coming to get us, I've been making all sorts of earwarmer headbands to keep warm.  So far, I've tried 3 styles in sizes for baby-women's.  Here's some of them:

    Hand Crocheted Eco-Friendly Bow Earwarmer  Faux Bow Earwarmer Headband in Black Women's sizes

    Eco-Friendly Kid's Bow Earwarmer Headband in Yellow Kid's
    Hand Crocheted Baby Bow Headband in Red Hand Crocheted Knotted Baby Headband in Purple Baby

    As of now, I don't have the patterns available for purchase, but I might soon so stay tuned.  Check out my Etsy Shop for sizing details and to purchase an earwarmer. 

    Like what you see?  Be sure to check out the new Crooked By Design Facebook fan page for sales, new listings, special deals and other exciting stuff!

    Thursday, October 11, 2012

    Crooked By Design Now on Facebook!

    My Etsy shop, Crooked By Design is now on facebook!  Be sure to check out the page and "like" it for sneak peaks on things I'm working on, new listings, promos and more.  Thanks for all the support!

    Tuesday, October 9, 2012

    As a special thank you...

    I opened my Etsy shop, Crooked By Design at the tail end of May this year, and I'm currently just shy of the 50 orders mark!  I can't express how excited and thankful I am about this, after hours upon hours of hard work with my hooks, needles and sewing machine.  As a special thank you, the person who places order #50 gets a FREE SURPRISE in their order.  Perhaps you'll be the lucky recipient? 

    To keep up to date on this blog and my shop be sure to follow me on Twitter!  @KnaptimeKnitter 

    Sunday, September 30, 2012

    Easy DIY Updates on a Budget

    Lately, we've been playing musical rooms with our upstairs, attempting to update them one at a time.  The first we started was our smallest bedroom.  At the time we started, it was just an extra room.  I'm very disappointed to say we don't have before pictures to really demonstrate this to you.  I'll try to paint the picture: terrible tan-ish colored carpet and wallpaper from the 1970s featuring birds flying away from what seems to be a hunting scene.  It had to go. 

    The first thing we did, long before the re-decorating even began, was rip up the carpet.  I could see from corner that there was some wonderful hard wood hiding underneath, but my husband warned me: don't touch it until we have the time and money to really fix it.  You don't know what's under there, he warned.  Did I listen?  No.  How could I with my mother-in-law standing next to me saying, Do it!  Tear it up! There's hard wood under there! 

    I suppose I should take a moment to give a little history of our home.  The house has been in my husband's family since the 1800s when it was built.  Many family members were born here, and some died.  There's a lot of love and history in our house, and its also slightly crooked in many spots from years of adding on throughout the decades.  My husband's grandmother was in an exclusive relationship with wall paper, subsequently leaving the next occupants with layers and layers of it.  Those next occupants: my husband, son and I.  And I couldn't be happier!  I love this house.  It was after all, the spot where I first met my husband with a brief hello.

    Ok, getting back to it.  Of course I listened to my mother-in-law and tore up the carpet.  Thankfully, it was very easy, as it hadn't been nailed down too much, and I proved my husband wrong, for perhaps the first and only time, ever.  Underneath was lovely hard wood floors!  I oiled them and it was beautiful. 

    Next up was the wallpaper.  We all worked to take down the layers and layers of paper, using the inexpensive method of simply spraying vinegar on the paper and peeling.  You may need to spray on each layer, if you're in an old house like ours and there are multiple.  My husband took over for the next steps.  He sanded, primed and painted (I've been forbidden, since I'm terrible at painting).  To save money and time, we texturized the walls using Spackle instead of trying to even them out.

    Now, this is where I come in: the decorating!  Right now, this room is acting as my two year old's room while we re-do and update his older, much bigger one.  The plan is to make his large room into his bedroom/play room, and the smaller room will eventually become a nursery for future babies. 

    We went with a Toy Story theme for his room, since he's obsessed with it.  We also had his birthday party in the same theme, so some of the decorations came as gifts at his party.  For about $3 I made his curtain, the letters and numbers where stick on decals I picked up the Christmas Shoppe for $1 a page and the artwork were all gifts from his baby shower.  *we're still in the process of hanging is other pictures.

    Ok, the moment you've been waiting for!

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

    New Discoveries About Diaper Changing (dun dun dun)

    My son has always hated getting his diaper changed.  When he was a wee little newborn (well, if you consider nearly 9 pounds wee and little) he hated being wet in his diaper.  He also hated being changed/cold.  Pretty much safe to assume he hated everything diaper related.  Now, as a mature 2 year old, his hatred of diaper changing has only increased.

    We're starting to potty train, which theoretically should work to my advantage.  Kid hates diapers, kid discovers potty and BOOM!  Miracle.  N.O.P.E.  No way.  He's not very excited about the potty either.  Sure, he uses it, a few times a day while eating a cookie, but we're not potty trained yet. 

    So here's out it goes (about 50 times a day):
    Step 1: My son yells "POOPIEEEEE."  I ask if he's gone poopie.  He says, no.  My nose senses he has in fact gone poopie.
    Step 2: He sees me reach for the diaper.  "NOOOOOOO."  I say, "YESSSSS." And attempt to pin him to the ground while distracting him with songs and other tactics.  He's on to me.  He knows what's coming.
    Step 3: I give him the very important job of holding the sacred clean diaper and swiftly clean up the mess (that he denied having done). 
    Step 4: He runs away.  I rejoice that its over.

    What have I learned from this?  Toddlers are harder to change than newborns, and newborns may be easier than toddlers.  He's lucky he's so cute.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2012

    Be Green, Help a Horse

    A friend of mine has a wonderful Etsy shop featuring heavy duty upcycled reusable shopping bags.  With each purchase, not only do you get an awesome bag (my favorites are the horse ones) but a portion of the proceeds goes directly to a local horse rescue.  The bags are very well made and are perfect for your large grocery trips.  Would make great gifts for the holidays that are right around the corner!

    Visit the shop Here and check them out!

    Equine Senior Upcycled Market Bag

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012

    Gluten-Free Pizza for the Whole Family-On a Budget

    I love pizza.  I mean LOVE it.  When I went gluten-free in 2007, one of the things I missed the most was nice, greasy pizza house pizza (specifically from the York House of Pizza in York, Maine).  I shed tears over the notion of never having it again.  And for those of you who have tried the frozen gluten-free pizzas, you probably found the same results I did: not worth the money.  One way I make it now, after much trial and error, is using the Gluten-Free Bisquick recipe you can find on the box.  Of course, as I tend to do with everything, I change it up a bit.  The result is a yummy pizza that tastes a lot like normal gluten-filled homemade pies. 
    Here's what to do:
    Pick up some of this  for about $4.99 at the grocery store.  Pretty steep, but you can use coupons to save a little.  Follow the recipe found on the side of the box for pizza.  This box should make 2 pizzas, which is a lot cheaper than the upwards of $12 you can spend on one small one in the freezer section. 

    I use a round pan to make myself feel like I'm eating real pizza.  Be sure to spray the pan.  I will admit, spreading this onto a pan is a bit of a challenge, but worth it.  The trick I use is to continuously wet your fingers with cold water and spread it with them.  Don't worry if there are small holes. 

    The last thing I do a little different, is to add a little oil to the top after adding the cheese and toppings.  It gives it that slightly greasier taste I craved from the inability to eat real pizza. 

    The results:

    I Dare Say, Fall Has Arrived!!

    Fall is my favorite time of year.  I think it is for most people.  This year, fall seems to be bringing an even busier schedule than the summer and I'm ready for it (I think)!  As we are getting into these amazing cool days and everyone is knee deep in the hustle and bustle of back to school, Halloween is probably on your mind.  Mine too.

    We've been brainstorming ideas for costumes for my son.  Though this isn't his first Halloween, it will be his first time trick or treating and his costume has to be amazing.  Here's some of our ideas so far, in no particular order:
    -The Lorax: we are dying to put a mustache on our kid.  My idea, though I haven't tested it yet, is to get a rectangle shaped piece or fuzzy orange fabric, cut a head space out of it and have him wear it like a poncho. The mustache and eye brows may be harder to make, so if you have any ideas, please send them my way.  The thing we like best about this idea, is my husband and I would get to dress up as Truffula Trees....yes!
    -Woody/Cowboy: as part of his birthday present, my son got a Woody accessory set from the Disney store.  Pretty much the easiest costume we can do, since the rest is just clothes he already has.  Upside: so cute and easy.  Downside: he has been a cowboy before. 
    -My sister had the best idea I've ever heard for a baby costume, and even though my son's too old for this one, I sure which we could do it.  My dad is a lobsterman, so naturally, my family is drawn to anything lobster.  My niece is 5 months old and is planning on being a lobster for Halloween.  Are you wondering where this gets good?  She's going to sit in a lobster pot, in her stroller.  Best costume ever. 

    If you're looking for some cute trick or treat bags for your little one, I have some available in my Etsy Shop.  They are made for smaller treat seekers, but I can do larger, if you request one.  This is actually the second batch of these I've made, after the first ones sold out in a week! 
    I also have some super cute (and cheap!) Halloween Bandannas for pups, toddler and kids, so be sure to check those out too!

    Saturday, September 1, 2012

    Roasted Chick Peas

    A few weeks ago I bought a couple cans of chick peas.  I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do with them, but I wanted to do something.  I started to research roasting them, and after my first handful, I couldn't understand why I hadn't done this sooner.  They were delicious!  Oddly enough, my two year old was obsessed with them which is great because they're a healthy treat.  They have iron too, which I'm terribly in need of, so that's an added bonus.  I used a recipe I found on this blog but made a couple changes to cater to my family's taste buds.

    Here's what you need:
    1 can of chick peas (15 oz)
    1 tbsp olive oil
    1/2 tsp paprika
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1/4 tsp coriander
    1/4 tsp cloves
    1/4 tsp salt (add more to taste, if you prefer more salt like I do)
    1/8 tsp chili pepper
    1/8 tsp paprika

    What to do:
    Drain and rinse the chick peas and combine all the ingredients in a bowl.  Mix them well to coat the chick peas.  Spray some oil (Pam, or whatever kind you have) on a baking sheet and spread the chick peas on it.  Put them into the preheated 400 degree oven for about a half hour, adding a little more time if you prefer them crunchy.  Be sure to turn them a couple times.  Enjoy!

    Monday, August 27, 2012

    A Great Deal on Crochet Hooks

    If you're in the market for some wonderful crochet hooks, I would strongly recommend checking out this set of 13 bamboo hooks I found on Etsy.  I purchased the set for only $9.99 plus shipping and they shipped really fast.  I prefer bamboo/wooden hooks and needles over any other, and if you yarn, you know how expensive they can get.  This set comes with 13 hooks!  It's such a great deal, I couldn't believe it.  The only down side, is the really small hooks are quite fragile. 

    If you want to check them out, go HERE to visit their shop.

    Two things I want to note about this:
    1. No, I wasn't asked to write this.  I just really loved my purchase and it was a great deal.
    2. If you have a puppy, I suggest hiding these.  I now have a set of 12...

    13 size Bamboo crochet hooks 2.75-10.0mm (A COMPLETE set from US size C to size N)

    If you're looking for a great crochet or knitting needle case, check out my Etsy shop, where I have a few for sale :)

    Thursday, August 23, 2012

    5 Money Saving Family Fun Ideas

    As the mom of an active toddler, we're always looking for fun things to do as a family, that won't break the bank.  Sure, costly family adventures are wonderful too, but even a trip to the local children's museum can end up costing us $18 for a small family.  Some weeks, that's just not in the budget.  So here are some ideas (most of them, my husband's) for fun things to do, that don't cost a lot, if anything.

    1.Take a nature walk
    Fall is right around the corner, and with it comes the perfect time to take the family outside and exploring.  Have your kids look at the trees, grass, dirt, everything and talk to them about it.  Have them bring a sketchbook and draw their favorites and write down any questions they want to look up about their findings.  When the walk is over, take them to the library and see what kinds of fun books they can find about the outdoors and possibly answer some of the questions they wrote down.  If you have a younger one, like I do, just tell them about what's around them.  My guy, nearly 2, has been pointing to everything and starting to ask (in his own way) about things and its amazing how much he remembers.  Let them touch things like bark, and explain the textures, smells etc.

    2. Camp in your back yard
    As the summer comes to an end, its a great time to pop the tent, make some smores and cook those hot dogs on an open fire.  In your own back yard.  Have your kids leave all electronics in the house, and pretend like you're actually camping.  This is a great way to teach your older kids some skills such as how to set up a tent and fire safety when camping. 

    3. Have a picnic at the Airport
    If you're near a small airport, you're kids could be lucky enough to have a picnic while watching the planes go by.  My little guy is obsessed with planes right now and I bet kids of all ages would think it was very cool to get to watch and hear the planes go by.  You may even get them to eat those veggies in exchange!  And I know I'm obsessed with libraries, but you could make a stop on the way and pick up a book about different types of planes and look them up as you see different kinds.

    4. Check your local community events calendar
    Usually posted in the local papers, at the library, and/or the town's chamber of commerce website, the community events calendar is the perfect place to start your search for a fun family day.  It's usually filled with free, or inexpensive activities run by local groups.  If they do cost money, typically its not much and goes to a good cause.  A great way to talk to your kids about giving back and the importance of getting involved within your community.

    5. Make a healthy family friendly meal together
    Get the whole family involved and come up with a meal to cook together.  Everyone can help with this one.  Let the kids tell you what they are in the mood for, find the recipe, get the groceries and put everyone to work.  Kids love to help cook!  For example, if you're family decides on homemade pizza, let your older child help spread the sauce, and your wee one can help put the toppings on.  If you have a really small one, give them some bowls and spoons and have them "cook" something up themselves. 

    Saturday, August 18, 2012

    A Few Thoughts on Fifty and His Shades...


    I'm currently on book two in the Fifty Shades of Grey series and I have a few thoughts about it.  I'm curious if my opinions will change upon completing the series.  The first thing I need to address is: really everyone, what is all the hype about?  I wonder if this book had been published without an amazing press kit budget, would it be as popular as it is?  People are absolutely raving about these books, saying they are better than Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and I just can't agree with that. 

    You may be like my husband and ask yourself, "so why read the books, if you don't like them?"  And to sum up: I do like reading them, I just don't think they are groundbreaking.  The language is awful.  Its a combination of "big" words mixed with childish phrases like "holy cow".  I can't buy that someone willing to do...the things they do says "holy cow" so much.  And every time Ana says "my inner goddess" I want to scream at how stupid it sounds.  But, I do like the plot and the mystery around Christian and I find myself wanting to read.  Maybe I'm being hard on this book because I'm mad at myself for succumbing to the pressure and actually wanting to read it. 

    I think it would be better if the language had been improved, the sex scenes were more spread out and if Christian wasn't such a controlling abusive ass.  I know, he was abused, ok, I get it.  And I get that he's beyond sexy and not a bad person.  But some of the things he puts Ana through seem so terrible to me and I get mad at her for dealing with it (and liking it).  It makes me wonder, if he wasn't so rich, would she put up with it?  She plays it off like she doesn't care about the money, but it seems like a controlling boyfriend may be easier to deal with in a brand new Audi. 

    And about the sex scenes: There's too many.  Ok, we get it, we know what happens. Some is fine, great.  But really, reading the details four times in one chapter is a bit too much and I skip over them.  Not because I'm prude or offended.  Just bored of hearing about it.  Sorry Fifty and Ana, I'm sick of your randiness. 

    It strikes me as odd though, of all the books I read (and I'm a big reader) I find myself wanting to sit down and read this book, which is so perplexing.  Why on earth do I want to read something that drives me crazy?  I guess I've found my Fifty Shades.

    The Help



    I recently finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett (I know, I know, I'm behind everyone else who read this months ago) and I loved it. Before I started it, my mother-in-law explained it better than I ever could when she warned me that this book was a very stressful read. It really was! It was by no means a suspense novel in the traditional way you think of suspense, but I was on the edge of my seat throughout the entire thing, and found myself worried for the characters. I was always certain something terrible was going to happen. For this reason, it took me awhile to get through (as most books do, given I am a parent of a toddler and puppy) even though I really enjoyed it.

    I won't spoil it for you, but if you haven't read this book, you really should. It has been compared to To Kill A Mockingbird, which, embarrassingly I haven't read even with a son named Atticus (I've seen the movie though) and I can see why, given the topic of race in Mississippi in the 60s. This book makes you think about all that has changed since then. Its amazing to me, a girl from Maine, to think that this was going on when my mom was a baby (sorry to date you, Mom!). As someone who sees everyone as the same, I can't imagine thinking the way Hilly does in this book. I love the bravery of Skeeter, and the Help in the book and it truly made me appreciate the way things have changed for the good.

    Thursday, August 16, 2012

    How to Make Marinated Tomatoes

    My garden has become over grown with weeds this summer and I blame one thing: ME.  It's been so hot that I just haven't wanted to get out there and take care of it.  My tomatoes don't seem to be bothered by it, however, and I have had a surplus of them for the past month.  And I must say, they are a delicious treat to have.  I've been looking for ideas for how to use them and this is one I tried today after doing some research.  They were to die for.

    Take 5 or so of your ripest tomatoes.  Rinse and slice them and then put them in a mixing bowl.  Top them with some olive oil (about 2 tbsp), some basil, parsley, oregano, sea salt and about a tbsp of minced garlic (use as much or as little as you desire).  Stir them up, cover with saran wrap and leave on your counter to marinate.  After a few hours, you'll have amazing tender, flavorful tomatoes.  Top with a little parmesan cheese and freshly grated pepper. 

    Wednesday, August 15, 2012

    Gluten-Free Beers: A love story

    I bet you remember the day you realized that being gluten-free meant you were also beer-free.  I bet you were crushed (I know I was).  To never have another Sam Summer was a very upsetting notion for me.  For a while, I just gave up on beer all together, not wanting to take the time (or spend the money) to get to know the gluten-free versions.  I've moved away from that, and have tried a handful of them.  As a whole, they really aren't bad, just different.  These are the few I've tried (finding different gluten-free beers isn't an easy thing to do), but if you want information on more you can check out this website.

    The most mainstream of the gluten-free beers is Redbridge, made by Budweiser.  It's your run of the mill beer and at $7.99-$8.99 for a 6 pack, its not too pricey.  I like it, just don't let it get warm (or its terrible).  Redbridge is my go-to beer, if I'm ever in the mood for it, and many restaurants have it too since they all have Budwiser, so be sure and ask for it by name next time you're out to dinner.  Even if they don't have a gluten-free menu, they may have Redbridge. 

    I've tried New Grist a few times and I like it, but not enough to justify the $12.99 a 6 pack costs.  I don't taste a huge difference between it and Redbridge. 

    If you like IPAs, you may want to try a new one I just discovered, New Planet pale ale and I enjoyed it.  It was pretty hoppy, and though I've never had a real IPA, my husband said it tasted very similar.  Bad news: its $10.50 for a 4 pack.  Good news: they have different varieties, so you're sure to find one you like.

    Of the ones I've tried, the best I've had is Bard's Tale Dragon's Gold.  I can't remember exactly how much it was, but I think it was about $12 for a 6 pack, and well worth it.  It tasted like beer, not some knock off version of.  If you ever see it in a store, pick some up.  You'll be happy you did.

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    5 Money Saving Tips of the Week

    The focus of this week's money saving tips are bills, and how to cut down on them.  My husband and I are trying to cut costs everywhere (who isn't?) and these are a few things we do to keep the bills from taking over our lives:

    1. Use Skype
    I think its safe to say the days of long distance calls being costly are over, but as with everything else, another expensive thing will take its place.  In most cases: cell phones.  Many people don't have landlines (I still do, however) but using all those cell phone minutes can be very expensive.  A wonderful and free solution (let's FACE it, its way more fun har har) is to video call using Skype.  As long as you have internet and a webcam (which most laptops and computers have built in these days) you can video call anyone with a Skype account for no money at all.  You're already paying for internet, so why not get more bang for your buck?  I use Skype all the time with my family who are 4 hours away.  Don't have it yet?  Get it here.

    2. Use Pre-Paid Cell Phone Plans
    Before I get into this, I will say, this isn't for everyone.  I am not attached to my phone (probably because no one calls me!) and I can go a day or so before I realize the battery died.  Lately, however, since I got my Android, I have fallen a little more in love with it.  Before I made the switch to Virgin Mobile, my monthly AT&T bill was about $65 and that didn't include internet and unlimited talk/text.  After what seemed like an eternity, my contract finally expired and I was able to free myself from the abusive boyfriend that was my cell phone bill.  It seemed like no matter how many times I tried to break up with AT&T or fight the hits my wallet was taking, I couldn't get out.  At last, my moment came to break free.  For a few months, I didn't have a cell phone at all.  That got old fast.  I started researching good phone packages that actually had good phones to go with them.  The best I could come up with is my current Virgin Mobile package for my Android.  I now pay $25 a month for unlimited internet, data and text and 300 minutes.  That's more than I need (a savings of $516/year, not including overage costs AT&T always charges you).  The best part is, if you forget to pay your bill you won't get charged.  You're phone won't work until you pay it, but you don't have to go through the headache of re-activating it.  Aside from sometimes having spotty service, I really can't say enough good things about it.  To find out more about the plan, go here.

    3. Ditch Cable
    I know, how could I ask you to part with such a thing?  But really, do you really need, or even use it?  We had cable, DVR and everything for a few months and just couldn't justify the bill we got each month.  Including internet we were paying well over $100 a month and usually just used instant Netflix anyway.  Now that we only have internet through the cable company we save about the cost of grocery shopping trip each month, and I'm way happier with that than I ever was with cable.  I should note: we are not the "We don't watch t.v." type of family.  We love our shows and probably watch too much of it.  We just like to use the money saving methods of watching them (see item 4).

    4. Use Instant Netflix in Lieu of DVD Delivery
    When Netflix first came out, it was a great deal.  You didn't have to go to the movie rental store where you always spent way to much money and racked up tons of late fees.  The movies came right to you and there was no rush to watch them.  But, like all things, they inflated the price so much, it wasn't worth it anymore.  They sort of shot themselves in the foot with the instant movies and shows, because we stopped getting the DVDs delivered and opted for only the streaming (about at $120 per year savings).  Also, there's other ways of renting movies now, with Redbox being only a $1 a day (or free for a day if you use promo code BREAKROOM) and of course, you can rent from your local library. 

    5. Save Electricity!
    You're heard this your entire life, I'm sure.  It's not that we go out of our to waste it, but shouldn't we go out of our way to save electricity?  It is, after all, one of the easiest ways to cut down your bill.  This summer has been terrible with heat, so I'm sure you can relate to stress we've been experiencing over the AC running so much. But summer also means you can cut down in other ways.  Our dryer has been broken for months, and I'm in no real hurry to get the repair man in here because I've hung every load since it broke.  It takes a little longer to get it done, but you'll be happy you did it.  Also, in the summer we certainly don't need as many lights on as the other months and as soon as the sun goes down, turn off the fans and AC and let the cool night's air in your windows.  Cooking on the grill, or eating fresh from your garden are some other examples.  I've even cut back on my toddler's bath times in the summer months since he's in his little pool so often anyway, I figure he's getting clean!

    Monday, August 6, 2012

    Tips for Making a Gluten-Free Cake (That Doesn't Taste Like Cardboard)

    I've made many gluten-free cakes.  Mostly just because I love LOVE cake.  And cupcakes.  And pretty much anything having to do with cake.  Don't get me started on the frosting (I'll start drooling).  Many people cringe at the thought of gluten-free baked goods, and with good reason most of the time.  They do tend to be very dry and crumbly.  However, after years of trial and error (I still ate the errors) I've somewhat perfected (I use this word loosely) the art of the gluten-free cake.  I like to use mixes, probably for the same reason you do: they are easier.  With gluten-free, they can actually be cheaper that way too.  Betty Crocker makes yummy ones, and if you buy them at Wal-Mart (never Price Chopper, because they are way more expensive) they're like $3.99 for the mix.  I can live with that.  If I do make one from scratch, I use the same methods as with a box. 

    Here are a few things to keep in mind when making gluten-free cake:

    1. When the recipe calls for water (Betty Crocker does) substitute Coconut Creamer.  Doing this makes it more moist, plus adds a slight flavor.  The Betty Crocker recipe calls for 2/3 cup water, so I usually do a little more than 1/3 cup creamer and the rest water.  This doesn't only work with coconut flavored creamer.  If you're making a chocolate cake, the Almond Joy one would be great, or even mint (do they make that?). 

    2. Mix very well.  I'm not sure why this improves the taste, but a family member once made me a gluten-free cake and was so yummy, I had to ask what she did, that I wasn't doing.  She told me all she did different was mixed it for a little extra time.  That's it. 

    3. Avoid over cooking it.  I know, I know.  Why would you purposely over cook your cake?  But it happens, all the time.  As soon as it looks like its becoming golden, take it out!  Over cooking makes it even drier.

    4. Not that cake lasts long in my house, but the quicker you eat it, the better.  Because gluten-free baked goods don't have gluten (the binder) they dry out really fast.  The butter, or dairy rather, really helps with this when it comes to baking, which is why a lot of the time when you're making a gluten-free item that is also dairy free, it tends to be even more dry.  At least that's in my experience, but I'm in a very intense relationship with butter, so maybe I'm just lonesome and biased when I'm without it. 

    Hands down the best gluten-free mix I've ever used is Bob's Red Mill Yellow cake mix.  Using all the tips I mentioned, and making these into cupcakes makes for a very dreamy treat.  I made them for my siblings once and they ate them in a matter of minutes.  I'm still hearing about it.

    UPDATE: I should have added another tip to list.  Don't leave cake on the counter when you have a puppy who loves to counter surf.  My lovely cake was eaten by my dog, and so I had to do it all over again.  I opted for cupcakes on round two (see above).  He won't be getting near those.

    Wednesday, August 1, 2012

    5 Money Saving Tips of the Week-For the Home

    Whether you're like my husband and I and just starting out with our home, or you are just trying to spruce yours up a bit, you know how expensive working on the house can be.  There's a bunch of stuff we would like to do (ie. tear up the carpets, paint one of the rooms etc.) but that's not going to happen anytime soon.  In the meantime, we used these 5 Money Saving Tips to add a personal touch to our home:

    1. Go shopping in your own house
    Nate Burkus talks about this a lot on his show.  Take the time to walk through your house, look in your closets, attic, garage etc.  I bet you'll find treasures hiding out that you forgot you had.  You can also do what we do, and go shopping in family member's homes.  My mother-in-law recently went on a de-cluttering spree throughout her house and we shopped around and found some great stuff that they didn't want anymore (like this corner cabinet). 

    2. Find and display vintage items
    I love vintage stuff.  There's something so special about an item that other people have had.  Often times you can find vintage items for super cheap at thrift stores and yard sales.  You don't need to spend a boat load on things.  For example, I inherited a couple sewing boxes over the years from grandparents and in them was loads of wonderful thread, many on wooden spools.  The thread is pretty useless to me with regards to sewing, so I display them in my house in glass jars.  I have one in a mason jar (on my awesome corner cabinet I acquired while shopping the in-laws house-see above) and another in a glass vase.  Another quick and cheap idea is to line your stairs with old books.  They are a dime a dozen at thrift stores and I love the look of them. 

    3. Put away things you don't use and take them out when you need them
    I know I've had times when cleaning or organizing my home that I was so frustrated by the furniture that we had that I would just get rid of things (for no reason other than my temporary insanity).  In the end, you just end up buying new stuff and getting sick of that too.  Our new solution is to put said items in storage.  Countless times we've had things in our house just because, and since we've started doing this method, we've gone shopping in our own garage and house so many times and avoided having to buy something new. 

    4. Whenever possible, make it yourself
    I know, this is easy to say when you're a do-it-yourself-er but really, anyone can be if they just try.  I'm still new to sewing, and I've already made curtains, pillow cases and blankets for my house.  This can save loads of money and you get something that is unique and no one else will have.  I'm in love with my curtains now and every time I look at them, I feel sense of pride that I made them (yes, they are crooked...but so is my house)  I even made one set of my curtains out of some that a friend asked me to hem.  Her's needed to be shortened quite a bit, so I took then ends and made my breakfast nook some.  Total cost: $0 and about 45 minutes of my day.  If you're not sure how to sew curtains, just google it.  I simply looked up tutorials and was making them in a matter of minutes.  You don't need much in terms of sewing skills, just a straight line and a ruler.  *Just a little tip about curtains: If you want your room to appear bigger, put the curtains as close to the ceiling as possible.  It makes the room look taller.

    5. Re-purpose things
    Use your imagination!  Don't go rushing to the store when you need something (like a storage solution).  Instead, think of other ways.  One idea is to use a hanging fruit basket in your bathroom for storing items you use all the time.  This way, you save counter space and it gives your room a unique feature.  My husband still raves about this idea.  Another fun one I read the other day was to use a cupcake stand as a place to throw your mail and items that usually collect on your table.  The possibilities are endless and I'd love to hear you ideas!  Please post a comment and share the creativity with us!
     (and yes, I'm fully aware of how terrible this picture is.  Ignore my bathroom's current state.  It's next on the house to-do list)

    Friday, July 27, 2012

    Gluten 101

    The question I get the most is: what the hell is gluten?  Before we get into that, I want to be clear that I am not a doctor, but I am gluten-free, which frankly, means I probably know more about certain aspects of gluten than most doctors, but I am not here to diagnose or give medical advice.  I can just tell you what I know, knowledge gained from personal experience and research I've done over the years to better my ailments with gluten.  With that said, here's the basics:

    Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.  Anything that has those ingredients therefore has gluten.  Examples: flour, malt vinegar, most breads and pasta.

    Being gluten-free can mean a few things.  For some, it is a diet and lifestyle change.  Others, it is medically necessary.  A confusing things about gluten-intolerance and Celiac's is that it is not actually an allergy.  These two words Allergy and Intolerance are often used interchangeable, but its very important to understand they are not synonyms.  Not to say they aren't as serious.  Allergies imply that if a person eats, or even touches the thing they are allergic to, they will have a reaction like swelling, throat closing, passing out, etc.  Allergies manifest themselves externally (as well as internal).  Intolerance's refer more to the digestive system. 

    Located in the small intestine are villi which are small and finger like.  Each time a gluten-intolerant person eats gluten, the villi are damaged and damaged villi cannot digest nutrients properly, leading to malnutrition among other things.  After years of abuse, a person who doesn't realize they should be eating a gluten-free diet will have very damaged villi.  This affects a person throughout their entire body.  Signs of this include, but are not limited to:
    -bloating (almost all the time)
    -emotional problems such as mood swings and anxiety (due to the body attempting to digest
    something it physically cannot digest)
    -dry skin
    -weight loss or inability to gain weight
    -thin and brittle hair
    -hives or skin redness

    The good news is, once you go on a strict gluten-free diet, the villi does repair itself over time.  Bad news is, if you accidental eat it, the villi is damaged again. 

    Going gluten-free can seems very intimidating, and down right depressing.  I have shed many tears over the fact that I will never again EVER eat a real bagel or my father's pasta dishes.  I was devastated over this.  And of course, there's the social aspect.  No ones wants to be the person who makes everything difficult.  It took a long time to comes to terms with this, and realize: being gluten-free doesn't make you difficult.  Different, yes, but not a burden.  It's not your fault you can't eat something, and you should never feel like you're being a burden.  Sorry, but you will have to help choose restaurants, check menus before going places, make your own food etc.  But I promise, it gets better. 

    Hidden sources of gluten:
    -Fried foods: yes, french fries seem like they'd be gluten-free since they're potatoes, but once they enter that fryer with other breaded items, or where bread has been, they aren't gluten-free anymore.  A lot of the time they have a coating on them, too, which isn't.  Stay away, unless certified gluten-free of the restaurant has a separate fryer for gluten-free items.
    -Envelopes: strange, huh?  Don't go licking those envelopes. 
    -Oatmeal and oats: this is a tricky one.  Oats themselves do not contain gluten, but often the fields where wheat and oats are grown are neighbors, and the wind causes cross-contamination.  I just recently started adding oats back into my diet and I will only eat the certified gluten-free ones.  I tried some normal kinds, but it was just too risky. 
    -Cross-Contamination: this is a word you'll hear a lot.  It refers to your gluten-free item crossing paths with a gluten-filled item.  This happens mostly with toasters, knives, and counter tops.  If someone (like me) is very sensitive to it, just having gluten touch my food can make me sick.  The simplest solution for this is to keep everything simple.  In my house, we have separate butter dishes and use squeeze bottles when possible for condiments to avoid the accidental knife-on-bread-then-in-jar problem.  TRAIN YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS TO KEEP EVERYTHING SEPARATE!
    -Malt: this is a very dirty word when you're gluten-free.  Don't go near anything malted.  This includes malted beverages such as Twisted Tea, malt vinegar, cereal with barley malt etc.  It's barley and a no-no.
    -Soy Sauce: most of the time its made from wheat.  Check the label!
    -Wheat Free is not the same as gluten-free: just because something says it doesn't contain wheat, doesn't mean it doesn't contain gluten.  It may have hidden sources, rye, barley etc.
    -French onion soup sans the bread: don't let your waiter fool you.  Just because you remove the bread, doesn't mean its gluten-free!  On the night of my wedding rehersal dinner, I was told this by my waitress, only to find myself sick in restroom minutes later.  Come to find out, it had Guiness in it.  I don't think a barley filled beer in my soup really constitutes gluten-free.  Don't just take their word.  Most of the time they don't know what they are saying or what gluten is.  *same goes for a sandwich.  No, you can't just take the burger off the bread.  It's still covered in bread.  Send it back.  Do not eat something just because you don't want to be a pain and say something. 

    Really, list goes on and on about where you can find gluten.  The best advice I can give is: when in doubt, look it up.

    Items that DO NOT contain gluten (have as much as you want!):
    -Rice (unless of course, it is mixed with other types of starches.  Check the label.)
    -Xantham gum: this is what us gluten-free bakers use as a binder.  Gluten is a binder, so removing gluten makes baking tough.  Xantham gum is something you'll see in pretty much every baked good for the rest of your life.
    -Wine and liquor: see?  There's hope!  Liquor is a confusing thing.  Whisky is made from wheat, but the way they distill it removes the gluten protein.  This doesn't mean you can boil out gluten, but when its distill enough, its removed.  And wine is grapes, so as long as it isn't a malted beverage, go crazy! 
    -Most cheeses: with the exception of bleu cheese, which you can find gluten-free, but the way the cheese is made "bleu" often involves bread, so read the ingredients.

    There is no cure for this.  The only way to save yourself and your villi is to live a strict gluten-free lifestyle.  In order to do this, you need the support of your family.  Educate those around you about the impact of gluten on your life and what they can do for you.  My husband is the most supportive person alive when it comes to my Celiac's.  He will not hesitate to ask questions and search high and low for a gluten-free item I'm really wanting (like gluten-free french onion soup.  YUM!).   

    Check out these resources for more information.  What I've provided you with is a very bare-bones basic introduction to what it means to be gluten-free, but there's always more information to see:

    Feel free to comment with questions, and I'll do my best to answer.  A couple more quick things:

    1. Most people go years before they realize gluten is the problem.  Talk to your doctor before you completely change your diet, but take a couple days to try being gluten-free if you suspect its a problem.  I felt better within a few mere days.  If you suspect your intolerant to it, track your symptoms and speak to your doctor asap.
    2. Some people don't have all the symptoms.  For some reason men don't get the stomach pains and issues as much as women.  (Of course, we have to give birth AND feel worse with gluten.)  This is a blessing and a curse though, because if you don't feel the effects, your likely to keep eating it, which is worse in the long run.  Poor villi.
    3. There is a blood test for Celiac's, but it's not always accurate.  A test could tell you that you don't have it, when in fact you have gluten-intolerance.  Go with your gut (har har) and choose the gluten-free lifestyle if you feel better on it.  Doctors don't know everything.
    4. THIS IS NOT A WEIGHT LOSS PLAN.  It is often thought that being gluten-free will lead to weight loss.  Yes and no.  Yes, gluten-free means almost no fried food (unless you make it yourself), less carbs, more homemade dishes etc.  This could lead to weight gain, but really you can do these things without actually going gluten-free.  When I went gluten-free in 2007, I finally gained weight because for the first time ever, my body was getting what it needed from my food. 
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