Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cereal bowl cake for emergencies

Rambunctious kids?
Doggie accidents?
This cake makes it all better ... in a hurry!



4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons toffee chips
6 strawberries, sliced


In a microwave-safe cereal bowl, combine the flour, sugar and  cocoa.
Add the egg, milk, oil and vanilla. Mix thoroughly.
Stir in the toffee chips.
Heat for 3 minutes in a 1000-watt microwave.
Arrange the sliced strawberries attractively around the edge of the cake.
Sprinkle more toffee chips in the middle. Why not?

Now it's a good day. 

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Staying home--home-based businesses

I have had a few home-based businesses over the years. Here is some of what I've learned:

In-home daycare

The most money I ever made at home was by being a child caregiver. 

Some people say, "Oh you must have a lot of patience to do that." Well, maybe I naturally have patience, but what I found most challenging was keeping the house clean on a daily basis...ready for the doorbell at 7 a.m. or earlier.

Our state didn't even require licensing for watching four or less unrelated children. I wasn't comfortable watching more than that, anyway. If you are considering opening a daycare, check into your state's regulations!! Each state is different. 

The first time I opened a home daycare was more than 10 years ago. Our dining room was empty so that became the playroom. The other time I opened a home daycare, I used the room intended as a formal living room. Both rooms were close to the front door.

Here are some things to do before opening a home daycare:
  • Take a CPR, first aid and AED class. About $125, I think.
  • Buy a fire extinguisher and learn how to use it.
  • Put baby gates up where you don't want kids to go--like near stairs.
  • Baby proof. Outlet plugs; doorknob covers; cabinet latches etc.
  • Make sure pets are up-to-date on vaccinations.
  • Find somewhere to keep unfriendly pets during daycare hours.
  • Make sure the outside play area is safe.
  • Get a daycare rider on homeowner's insurance. (it's inexpensive)
I don't recommend buying equipment like high chairs and pack 'n plays until you have kids signed up. Sometimes they bring their own. I ended up buying new high chairs at about $30 each and two pack 'n plays for about $50 each.

I charged $125 per week for full-time. My hours were from 7 a.m. til 6 p.m.  No weekends.

Even though $125 a week doesn't sound like a good wage, multiply it by the number of kids enrolled.  Four kids is $500 a week. In addition, you don't have to pay to have your own kids in daycare. 

Sounding better?

But it's not all singing and naps. Kids can totally run you ragged. Then there are the iffy sicknesses (is he really just teething?) and late pickups and late payments.  And just when you think your exhausting day is over, your own family is immediately looking to you for supper. 

I recommend starting gradually with one child at a time. Even if you intend to enroll three or four kids, make sure your own family (and pets) get used to the new routine. You may find yourself wondering how you can ever add on at all. But things typically get easier.

Why I don't offer daycare anymore:

The first time I stopped doing daycare was because the little boy I was watching became ready for preschool. I was also watching half-day kindergarteners who were then ready for all-day first grade.

The second time I stopped doing daycare was because of a couple things: we switched insurance companies and the new company didn't cover in-home daycare businesses; in addition, family issues had been taking me out-of-state quite a bit.

This was just a quick overview. If there is interest, maybe I will post more about daycare as a business along with some activities and meal plans. 

I love to bake and had been getting the hang of decorating cut-out cookies. I decided to open a business.

I ran a small ad in the local paper and got a few orders. I can't even remember what I charged, but I remember baking for a fancy party, baking a tray of cookies for a Bunco party and I was proud to have a repeat customer. She ran an accounting firm and had me bake pretty cookies for her office at each holiday. 

Before starting, I called our health department who told me it was fine to do long as everyone knew I wasn't licensed. Then my neighbor told me to check again. She was SURE I needed to be licensed. And she was right. The person I talked to initially gave me wrong information. After reading the licensing requirements I realized there was no way I could do this bakery. It would cost $10,000 or more to comply. 

Onward to...

Homemade Pet Treats

If I can't bake for people, I'll bake for animals! I had to register with the Department of Agriculture and have my treats analyzed for nutrition. None of that cost too much. Totally doable. 

I had displays of my treats at our veterinarian's office, a local "people" bakery and a pet store. Our county's parks department hired me to pass out my treats at a bark-in-the-park event...oh and I filled a huge order for a woman who bred dogs. With each adoption, she gave the families goodie bags and my treats were included in those. I also participated in a couple craft fairs.

It seemed my reach was limited, though. I just wasn't making much money at all. 

For those who try this nowadays, the Internet will play a much bigger part. In order to sell everywhere, though, licenses are needed in each state.


I wrote for free quite a bit before actually getting paid. I think that's the way it's done most of the time.

I wrote for a few newspapers and a parenting newsletter. A news magazine hired me as a freelancer. I got paid $200 for a feature article about some friends of mine who became missionaries. I also covered some local events and was paid $75 for each event.

My love of writing prompted me to start a local website and also a newsprint paper. The newspaper endeavor was with my husband. I couldn't have done it on my own.

Here's the thing about publishing a newspaper: ads need sold to cover the cost of printing. It was incredibly difficult to sell enough ads each month to cover expenses. 

Suggestions: If you decide to write for profit, start writing for free. Just write, write, write. Build your portfolio and make connections. Consider purchasing a subscription of Writer's Market when you get serious.


Neighbors About Town began as a welcome service. This was lots of fun. Each month, a realtor friend gave me a list of homes sold in the area. I narrowed my focus to only those moving into our school district. Depending on the time of year, I welcomed 80 to 150 new people a month.

Each newcomer would get a gift bag filled with goodies from local businesses. It was so much fun stuffing the bags. Some things included were: Play-Doh from a Montessori school;  antenna balls, visor clips, small message boards, weather thermometers, tulip bulbs, calendars and of course magnets and coupons. A local college contributed individually-wrapped Little Debbie cookies with a note attached, "Be a Smart Cookie."

I added some tissue paper sticking out and tied the tops of the bags with ribbons. I included a little note from me inviting the newcomers to call me with any questions about the area. 

I rang the doorbell and said, "Welcome" while handing them their bag. If they weren't home, I tied the bag onto their doorknob using the gift bag ribbon.

Home sales tapered and the businesses didn't see much value paying for me to welcome just a handful of people.  Too bad. 

The newcomers enjoyed being welcomed; and I think it's courteous of local businesses to reach out personally rather than blanketing a "demographic" with junk mail. But that's just me.

Now you know why my kids tease about my next endeavor being "Mom's Tire and Lube." I've tried so much! 

I think I should do an entire post on each of these businesses. There is so much more to cover. 

Before starting a business, do your homework. But don't let the information-gathering phase paralyze you. At some point, make the decision to do it or not do it.

Keep good records and pay your taxes. :) 

Also, don't be afraid to wrap it up if it's not making you money or if it ends up costing you money (unless you want it as a hobby).
Good luck!
This post was shared on:
Found the Marbles

Monday, January 28, 2013

Staying home--budgeting

Graphic from

Can you afford to live on one income? 

Here is how I budget for our family. Maybe it will help??

First, I calculate our fixed expenses.

Examples of fixed expenses are payments for: 
  • mortgage
  • car(s)
  • water
  • sewer
  • electric
  • natural gas
  • cell phones
  • land-line phone
  • car insurance
  • house insurance
  • health insurance
  • real estate taxes
  • community association dues
  • trash pick-up
To get an accurate representation, I gather payment figures from the past year and then divide by 12 for the average. 

In the winter, our natural gas payments are through the roof and in the summer, they are next to nothing. The opposite is true with electricity--summertime is expensive and wintertime isn't. Averages help give a true picture of an entire year.

If you had to use one income, would there be any money left after subtracting the fixed expenses from this income?

If yes, that's great!

If no, don't lose hope. Hang in there with me.

I didn't include expenses for groceries, gasoline, clothes, kids' activities, entertainment, gifts, parties, doctor visits, veterinarian visits etc. These are variable expenses.

If you don't have enough money to cover fixed expenses...or if you don't think your leftover-after-fixed-expenses amount will cover variable expenses..then changes must be made to lower your fixed expenses.

Here are some ways to hack at those fixed expenses:
  • Shop around for better insurance rates.
  • Turn lights off when leaving a room.
  • Keep the house a little chillier in winter.
  • Keep the house a little warmer in summer.
  • Line dry clothes instead of using the dryer. Just hanging some on the shower curtain rod helps. The dryer is a HUGE electricity sucker.
  • Only run the dishwasher when it's full.
  • Review phone plans. Consider ditching a land-line phone.
  • If you have more than one car, decide if the second is a necessity. Eliminating a second car will also eliminate car insurance and maintenance for it.
  • Look into satellite TV instead of cable or the other way around. We actually got rid of our satellite TV in favor of Netflix on the internet. Saved us about $70  month.
 In general, be mindful of what you use and try to use less.

If you are open to the idea, a move could be in order. I won't suggest it necessarily other than to check into it. It is sometimes possible to remain in the same school district but move to an area with a lower tax rate and lower homeowner dues. It does cost money to make the move. There are so many fees! But if it saves in the long run--well, just do your homework.

After getting your fixed expenses lowered enough to have some leftover money for the variables, it's time to seriously consider staying home.

Now for the fun stuff!!

I love that I have control over our variable expenses. This is where my "job" keeps me incredibly busy at home.

Once again, those variable expenses are: groceries, gasoline, clothes, kids' activities, entertainment, gifts, parties, doctor visits, veterinarian visits etc. 

I believe I have an unusual philosophy when it comes to variable expenses. 

Instead of looking for ways to CUT spending...I would rather start from zero and add on as needed. 

Instead of saying:
"I spent $180 on groceries this week. That is unacceptable."
"We can do without the cold cereal and soda."
I will say instead:
"Nutrition for survival costs $50 a week."
"Anything else is bonus."

To me, saving money isn't about finding ways to spend less money. It's about finding ways to spend no money...and then caving in appropriately.

So much can be saved in the groceries category. If you eat out a lot, eat at home. If you eat at home, but eat a lot of processed foods, cook more from scratch. If you are cooking from scratch already, grow your own fruits and veggies. Keep going in this direction until you are doing all you can for yourself. (Total self-sufficiency is next to impossible, by the way, but a good goal to strive for.)

Car trips can be consolidated to save gas money. Stay home whenever possible. This is easy for homebodies. 

Hand-me-downs are a way of life around here. Using second-hand shops and garage sales not only save us money, but also make use of existing clothes. It's a green way of life.

Kids' activities can be so very expensive. My kids didn't participate in many activities in their early years. We did Girl Scouts and 4-H, but that was about it. We tend to put more emphasis on activities during high school. But that's just us.

Entertainment is almost laughable. We aren't from the "date night" generation. We try to do something nice on our anniversary, but we don't make much fuss typically. Our entertainment consists of inviting friends or family over to play board games or watch sports.

So many of the gifts I give are baked treats. Teacher gifts? Cookies. Friend's birthday? Cookies. Neighbor gifts at Christmas? Cookies.  For kids, we give them what they want. Toys usually. See, I cave in sometimes. :)

It is worth looking over your holiday/birthday lists to see which gifts may be created instead of purchased. Even if homemade goodies just supplement someone's gift, it will save you a bit. Planning is key.

For us, parties are usually held at home. We hosted a lot of backyard parties with goofy party games and snacks. No big whoop. 

As kids get older, parties become trickier.

Girls love slumber parties--no matter what age. You can get away with pizzas, cake and ice cream.  Add a movie and you're good to go.

I am usually at a loss with boys' parties. This year, I lucked out. A cover band was playing nearby (free tickets!). Well, we invited a handful of boys and just had some pizza and birthday cake quickly before leaving for the concert. I doubt I will ever be that fortunate again!

Doctor visits are unpredictable. I can only anticipate based on the past. One thing I do know...if there is a doctor expense, there is usually a prescription expense to accompany it. I just budget for a couple doctor/prescription fees per year. 

Veterinarian visits are easier to anticipate. They are the same every year...unless there is a problem. Just check around to make sure you are getting the best rates and keep your eyes open for promotional offers. Our veterinarian gives discounts on Fridays and Saturdays if we are willing to see an assistant instead of the doctor.

Other tips I could give would be to do your own yard work and your own car maintenance, but those are my husband's area. He is handy and rarely gets flustered about something. He studies up on the project at the time and jumps right in!

Curiosity and learning are extremely helpful!

Try some of these suggestions as a trial run while you are still working. Pocket the extra paycheck for savings (yay!) before eliminating an income stream.

Be true to the figures and don't quit your job based on emotion. 

And most importantly...make sure the budget agrees with you!

Good luck!

Stay tuned for:
Staying home--home-based businesses

Shared on these neighborly sites:
Found the Marbles 
The Prairie Homestead 
Natural Living Mamma

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Strawberry-sticky tuxedos

Looking for something to give your Valentine?

How about cranking out some strawberry tuxedos!

These chocolate-covered treats are super easy and frugal, too! 



CandiQuick or chocolate bark
Smidge of royal icing (recipe to follow)
Food coloring or paste

  • Wash and dry the strawberries.
  • Melt chocolate in microwave according to directions.
  • Stir.
  • Dip strawberries into chocolate. Let dry.
  • Prepare some royal icing (a really thick powdered sugar and water icing might suffice).
  • Using a spoon, piping bag or bottle, paint a white "shirt" onto each berry.
  • Add red or pink coloring to leftover icing.
  • After the berry's "clothes" are dry, dot on a bow tie and some buttons, using a toothpick.

OK, here's the royal icing recipe:



3 tablespoons of meringue powder
  (found in the cake decorating department)
4 cups of powdered sugar, preferably sifted
6 tablespoons of warm water


Beat ingredients in a mixer for about 7 minutes. Add more water during this step if the icing seems too stiff.  

You're sure to receive a sticky smooch for your Valentine tuxedo efforts!

P.S. I originally posted this recipe on our previous website, It also appeared in our newspaper, Home Matters. This is my original work and photo (just so ya know).   :)   --- Kris

Shared on these neighborly websites:
A Cat-Like Curiosity     
Creating My Way to Success
Mad in Crafts
Flour Me with Love
Adventures of a DIY Mom
Learning the Frugal Life
Growing Home 
Handy Man, Crafty Woman 
Robyn's View 

On twitter, too:

Friday, January 25, 2013

But can he lie down?

People wonder if Mr. Cool can lie down while in his wheels.

Apparently so:

Nothing stops a lazy beagle!

He just didn't seem comfortable enough, though.

There. That's better.

Shared on this neighborly site:
Snoopy's Dog Blog

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fried rice at last

Since the beginning of time I have tried to get the hang of cooking fried rice. 

I think I've finally nailed it.

My previous attempts were okay-tasting but just not the same as from a restaurant. 

The problem: too heavy on the soy sauce. It was like I was extinguishing a house fire! A house made of fried rice.

Here's what I do now:

  • Use leftover rice which has been in the fridge.
    Cold rice is key.
  • Heat a skillet on high. Add a few tablespoons of oil.
    I use olive oil, but peanut oil is more authentic, I believe.
  • When that's all nice and hot (if it gets scary-hot, turn the heat down a bit), I stir-fry some onions, garlic, celery and carrots.
  • Then I dump in the cold rice and stir-fry quickly.
    Gotta keep it all moving around in the pan.
  • At this point, I chicken out and turn down the heat.
  • Finally, I add some frozen peas (thawed) and cooked meat--diced leftover chicken or lunch meat ham.
  • I season with ginger, salt and pepper.
    Cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes make it spicy.

  • Everyone adds soy sauce on their own plates--to taste.
  • Tip: You could also scramble an egg ahead of time, set it aside and mix in right before serving. 
This might be a "cheater" way to fry rice, but it works for me. 

I thought I'd share it.

Shared on these neighborly sites:
The Prairie Homestead

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Feline mistaken identity

Do you ever see something out of the corner of your eye and think it's something else?

I do that all the time thinking I see Kitty Baby.

Oh look at Kitty Baby sleeping on the couch:

"No, Kitty Baby, you don't need to go outside."

"Kitty Baby! Don't eat the dog food!"

"I see you've dressed yourself like a homespun pioneer angel today, Kitty Baby."

"Kitty Baby! Get off the kitchen table!" (That stuffed cat always fools me.)

"You would rejoice in the streets if I tripped over you, wouldn't you, Kitty Baby?"

"I thought I heard my name," he says.

"Never mind." I reply.

Shared on these neighborly websites:
Sarah Did It
A Cat-Like Curiosity

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reunion with a chicken

I hung this chicken decoration on our swing set almost a year ago. He used to have a spirally thing at the bottom which would twirl in the breeze. 

Alas, the wind stole him from me. 

I figured he was twirling for another family now and I would never see him again. 

While outside with Mr. Cool, I noticed bits of red and yellow peeking from under some wet leaves. 

It was my chicken! 

The spirally part is gone, but chicken is still in good shape. 

I'll give him a bath and some chicken feed. 

He must have had a rough time of it outside in the elements.

Oh no! 

"Always look both ways, chicken!"

Life indoors isn't looking much brighter: 


Monday, January 21, 2013

Brown sugar in a pinch

Last night I went to glaze a ham but discovered I was out of brown sugar. 

No problem.

I just added 1 tablespoon of molasses to 1 cup of white sugar.

 After mixing, I ended up with this:

 Brown sugar!

In case you are wondering, the ham was glazed very on-the-fly. I just combined the juice of a can of pineapples with about 1/4 cup of brown sugar and a couple tablespoons of maple syrup.

Is there something you use in a pinch? 

Do tell! Do tell!

This was shared on the following neighborly website:
Robyn's View -- Foodie Friends Friday

Friday, January 18, 2013

Staying home--the human aspect

Graphic from

To those who can handle the super-person lifestyle:


Alas, I am NOT one of those people. 

In my humble series on staying home, I continue here with the human aspect of it all.

Here are some human-y reasons I love staying home: 
  • I can nurture like mad.
    "Nuture. Nuture. Nuture." That's what I always say.
    Some might respond, "Yeave me ayone." (that's toddler speak)
  • My husband works his job and I work here. His relaxation time is in one big lump when he gets home; whereas, my relaxation times come sprinkled throughout the day. We each get enough down time.
  • His day off is my day off. I can be ready for fun in the sun! Or cleaning the garage. Whatever.
  • Everyone is coming and going, but there is always someone to come home to. I keep their seats warm.
  • Daycare is not a necessity when a parent is at home, of course.
  • Along the same lines, though, while older kids ARE able to take care of themselves here and there, don't underestimate the value of a parent at home when they are teens. Not only does this eliminate the "idle hands" situation, but teen problems surface at all times of the day. These issues are not usually polite enough to wait until after working hours.
  • Spontaneity. And not the good kind. Just as soon as your mind begins to ponder about someone's realize you need to find a bucket. And fast. Wouldn't want to miss that! Seriously, though--I don't have to suffer through a boss giving me a hard time for taking care of sick kids.
  • And snow days. No worries about calling off work for these, either.
  • I can keep up with extended family and friends. Doesn't it feel horrible to realize that someone you love just went through some ordeal, but you didn't know about it?
  • We can host parties and get-togethers. If I were working outside the home, this would never happen.
  • I was available for Mr. Cool in his time of need.
  • We can be more neighborly. (thus teaching the kids to be neighborly)
  • We can volunteer. (thus teaching the kids to volunteer)
  • We can become active in a cause. (thus teaching the kids to stand up for what's right)
  • We eat a more wholesome diet, because our meals are planned better. This also includes taking lunches to school instead of buying them in the cafeteria.
  • I can consider what gifts to give people for birthdays and holidays and set about searching for a good price...or crafting them myself.
  • I can pursue my stuff: guitar, art, baking, writing.
  • I have time to cuddle kitties and dogs, too!
When I worked outside the home, I used to visualize our life as teetering on an upside-down icicle. Nothing could go wrong or the whole deal would crumble.

This is better. 

I realize a lot of people wish to stay home and simply can't afford it. It was the same for me for many years. 

Maybe it is possible for you and you don't realize it. 

Next up--Let's crunch some numbers!

Stay tuned for:
Staying home--budgeting in detail
Staying home--home-based businesses
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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lovey dovey treats

This activity has it all:

feeding hungry love birds
busying bored kids
decorating for Valentine's Day

 Here's all you do:
  • Line a jellyroll pan with foil.
  • Melt a suet cake (about 12 oz.) in a saucepan over low heat.
  • Add some birdseed and mix.
  • When all is melted and mixed, quickly pour mixture into the foil-lined jellyroll pan.

  • Chill pan of melted suet in the fridge overnight.
  • Cut the suet into fun shapes using cookie cutters.
      (Some shapes will break. It happens.) 
  • Poke a hole through each shape--for hanging with strings later.
      (Be sure to poke all the way through.)
  • Freeze the shapes that look best.
  • Save the scraps. The birds will eat them even if they aren't pretty.
  • Remove the frozen shapes from the freezer.
  • Thread a string through each hole and tie.
  • Hang these festive creations in a tree.
Warm your heart while watching the birds enjoy their special Valentine dinner!

This post was shared on these neighborly websites:
Robyn's View (Foodie Friends Friday Linky Party) 
Creating My Way to Success
Mad in Crafts
Natural Living Mamma
The Prairie Homestead
Flour Me with Love
Adventures of a DIY Mom
Learning the Frugal Life
Growing Home
Handy Man Crafty Woman