Spring Cleaning: How to Clean Your Washing Machine

This year for spring cleaning, we’re cleaning our cleaning machines. Last week, we cleaned our dishwashers, and this week we turn to our washing machines. Depending on your type of machine and your local climate, washing machines can become moldy and mildewed, which keeps your clothes from getting truly clean. Giving your washing machine a good cleanse will not only lengthen its life, it will result in cleaner clothes that also last longer and smell better. Win/win.

For Top-Loading Washing Machines

  • Select the hottest and longest wash cycle and start it with an empty drum.
  • As the water is filling in the drum, pour in 4 cups of distilled white vinegar.
  • Leave the lid open to stall the wash cycle and allow the water and vinegar to sit and soak for one hour.
  • While the water sits, wipe down the exterior of the machine, including knobs and buttons with an all-purpose cleanser.
  • Wipe or rinse out the bleach reservoir.
  • Close the lid and allow the cycle to complete, flushing the vinegar rinse through all the hoses.
  • Once the cycle is finished, use a dry towel to wipe down the interior drum of the washer and leave the lid open to dry for several hours.

For Front-Loading Washing Machines

  • Select the hottest wash cycle with an extra rinse cycle.
  • Add distilled white vinegar (about a cup, or to the fill line) in the bleach dispenser.
  • Run the full cycle with an empty drum.
  • Once the cycle finishes, use a damp rag with vinegar on it to wipe down the rubber seals around the door opening.
  • Rinse and wipe down the soap and bleach reservoirs.
  • Wipe down the exterior, including knobs and buttons, with an all-purpose cleanser.
  • Wipe down the inside drum of the washer and leave the door open to allow the washer to fully dry for several hours.

HINT: If you live in a warm, humid area, it’s best to clean your washing machine monthly and leave the door open when not in use to allow more air to circulate.

HINT: Using too much soap will not get your clothes cleaner and will likely shorten the life of your machine by producing residue in tubes and hoses. Less is more when it comes to laundry soap.

Spring Cleaning: How to Clean Your Dishwasher

It’s spring cleaning season once again, but this year we’re going to help you clean your cleaners! (That’s right, it’s getting very meta around here.) Did you that you can extend the life of your cleaning appliances by cleaning them regularly? It’s true. This week, we’re starting with the dishwasher.  Our cleaning tips are like giving your dishwasher a spa day. It will be completely rejuvenated after!

  • Remove all drawers, racks and containers from your dishwasher and hand wash them in the sink with warm soapy water, or a mixture of warm water and 2 cups distilled white vinegar. Remove any stuck on debris or gunk, rinse and allow to dry.
  • Remove all parts in the bottom of the dishwasher than can be easily disassembled by hand. This should include the grate and filter that rests on the floor of the dishwasher. Wash them in the sink and wipe down the areas where they rest. (You’re likely to find a fair amount of debris here, so be prepared!)
  • Check the blades that spin, make sure they move easily, and check the little holes that spray the water. If they have debris or calcium buildup, give them a scrub with an old toothbrush dipped in vinegar.
  • Wipe down the door and rubber seal (a prime spot for mold, mildew, and grime).
  • Your garbage disposal is connected to the dishwasher, so give it a thorough cleaning as well.
  • Put all of the parts back in the dishwasher.
  • Now place a dishwasher-safe bowl in the top rack and fill it with white vinegar. Run the dishwasher through a cycle using the highest temperature settings. The vinegar will cut through any remaining grease and sanitize the inside.
  • After the cycle, sprinkle a full cup of baking soda all over the bottom floor of the dishwasher and run another cycle. This will deodorize the dishwasher.
  • Finally, wipe down the outside of the dishwasher, buttons, and handles.

You’re done! Your dishwasher will look brand new and will run better and last longer! Depending on your usage, cleaning it once or twice per year will significantly extend the life of the appliance.

Color Your Hair with Household Items

It’s always amazing to discover new uses for your household products, but these ideas really stand out…for your hair. You can switch things up with some bold color, go dramatically dark, or add soft highlights with simple items you probably already have in the pantry and under the counter. Follow the links for helpful instructions. It’s time to raid the cupboards and play beauty parlor!

Dye your hair brown with coffee: This natural way to color hair is totally safe (and smells good too). It even works to cover gray! The instructions recommend using decaf, but you might enjoy an energy jolt with regular beans!

Lighten your hair with honey: Blonde highlights are not just for summer months any more. Mixing honey and peroxide give you lighter locks with natural conditioning. (If you have very dark hair, this method will likely produce orange hues. Test a strand of underside hair first!)

Add a burgundy tint with beets: Dark hair can take on a rich, burgundy hue. (Not recommended for blonde hair.)

Take your hair a shade darker with black tea: A couple of cups of strongly brewed tea will take your natural color one to two shades darker and last for a couple of weeks. Just enough to feel new.

Add bold streaks of color with Koolaid: You’ll look great for your next home game or rock concert with this simple trick. Careful, though, depending on the natural color and health of your hair, this could be permanent!

Have you ever tried these methods? What did you think?

{Image via fineladyshop.com}

Great Oscar Party Ideas

Mrs. Fields Secrets Oscar Party
The hottest party in Hollywood is happening Sunday, but your house can be just as glamorous and fun with these clever Oscar party ideas. Invite some friends, don some fake eyelashes and get your acceptance speech ready because you’re about to to win best party host!

1. A range of flavored popcorns are perfect party fare. Have savory and sweet varieties.
2. These Tuxedo Cake Pops look so dapper. They might win best dressed.
3. You can recreate the Hollywood sign in a number of creative ways, but cupcakes would be dreamy.
4. Add a wedge of star fruit to give your bubbly drink the star treatment.
5. Make your napkins look like nominee envelopes for the ultimate touch.
6. Add your own labels to drinks so that everyone can enjoy an “Oscar Buzz.”

And don’t forget to download your free Oscar Dress Rating Card to keep track of your favorite (and least favorite) fashion looks.

25 Last Minute Valentine Gift Ideas

Okay, maybe you fell in love yesterday, or maybe you’re the ultimate procrastinator. Either way, you’d better put something together quick! Here are 25 great ideas to rescue you from the Valentine’s Dog House.

  1. Head to your nearest Mrs. Fields store and get a decorated Big Cookie Cake. Call ahead and have your own personalized message (up to 20 characters) inscribed in frosting!
  2. Write a love poem. Think you can’t do it? Think again!
  3. Fill your valentine’s car with balloons.
  4. Enroll them in a sock-of-the-month subscription.
  5. Prepare a relaxing bubble bath with all the right ingredients: candles, music, fancy soap, warm towels and uninterrupted time.
  6. Track down your valentine’s favorite old movie  and have a romantic movie night in with buttery popcorn.
  7. Send a special, meaningful text one word at a time, every hour on the hour throughout the day so your valentine is anticipating each one and putting the puzzle together.
  8. Find a karaoke track of your favorite love song and give a private concert.
  9. Remember the first meal you shared together? Buy the ingredients and prepare it yourself.
  10. Make a special playlist of meaningful songs. Print out the lyrics and make notes in the margins about how it relates to your love story.
  11. Is there a task that you valentine has been putting off? A squeaky door, a broken drawer, a watch that won’t work? Surprise them by fixing it (or having it fixed).
  12. Make a giant homemade greeting card out of a big cardboard box. Pull out the construction paper, markers, glitter and glue to make it oversized and over-the-top sweet.
  13. Call a local radio station and dedicate a song. (Make sure you valentine is listening!)
  14. Buy a book or find some video tutorials and give your valentine a thorough, relaxing massage.
  15. Write love notes on the bathroom mirror in lipstick, soap or dry erase marker.
  16. Prepare a virtual vacation with photos from around the world that you would love to take your valentine. Make imaginary plans and explore them together.
  17. Make a silly online card with Jib Jab.
  18. A heart-shaped cookie cutter can turn any food into a valentine.
  19. Create a photo slide show of the two of you together set to a favorite song.
  20. Record a video of yourself listing all the things you love about your valentine and email it to him/her.
  21. Surprise your valentine at work with a special picnic lunch.
  22. Go old school and make a clever candy bar poster.
  23. What’s your valentine’s favorite cocktail? Buy the ingredients and play bartender.
  24. Plan a last-minute romantic road trip.
  25. Build an adult fort and fill it with pillows, blankets, chocolates and a book of love poems.

The Best Homemade Valentine Ideas

Mrs. Fields Secrets Homemade Valentines

A homemade valentine is extra special, but doesn’t have to be extra hard. We’ve rounded up the best homemade valentine ideas on the Internet for you to try with your kids. Make them together and create some fun memories along the way!

(Clockwise from top left)
Homemade heart puzzle
 - Pretty paper, glue and scissors are all you need to get started. Try using old wallpaper sample books for interesting patterns and textures.
Handprint valentines - Super simple, but oh-so-cute, these sign language “I Love You” hands traced from your little one say so much.
Robot valentines
 - A little more time intensive, but ridiculously cute, these mini candy bars-turned-robots are a ton of fun.
iPod valentines - If you’ve got a little music lover, this valentine is perfect. Wrapped candy heart boxes with silver kisses for earbuds!
Illustrated valentines - Have your little one draw a heart design, then turn it into a coloring activity with this sweet idea.
Scratch-and-win valentines - This clever idea could be used in so many creative ways! Share a valentine wish or reveal a secret prize.
Homemade crayon hearts - Recycle your old crayon pieces in heart-shaped silicone molds, a perfectly useful valentine.
Paint strip bookmarks - A simple heart-shaped hole punch and some ribbon turns paint swatches into a sweet valentine bookmark.

And of course, we’re still partial to this idea we shared a couple of years ago…

Glow in the Dark Bathwater

Mrs. Fields Secrets Glowing Bathwater
Have you ever heard of glowing bath water? This is such a fun idea that could brighten up bath time for your little ones, or even serve as a romantic surprise for your valentine. This idea is completely safe, non-toxic, non-messy and only requires two simple items to make it happen. Here’s what you’ll need:

Glowing Bath Water
from Growing a Jeweled Rose

1 black light bulb (or more, depending on bathroom lighting)
1 (2 liter) bottle of tonic water

Directions
Replace the bathroom light bulb or lamp with a black bulb (or bring a lamp into the bathroom to use the black bulb). Fill the bathtub with water, adding the bottle of tonic water as you fill. The water will glow a brilliant neon blue!

HINT: Use sponges or brushes to “paint” glowing designs or words on shower walls.

Recipe: Peppermint Marshmallows + Other Ideas to Spice Up Your Hot Cocoa

Mrs. Fields Secrets Peppermint Marshmallows

Keep warm from the inside out with these delicious ideas for spicing up your hot cocoa. Homemade marshmallows are a fun indulgence, especially with peppermint flavoring to add a little kick to your hot cocoa. Plus, try out our favorite recipes for Mayan-style Hot Cocoa and a Hot Cocoa cocktail for adults.

Peppermint Marshmallows

vegetable shortening (for preparing foil)
1 cup cold water
3 tablespoons (3 envelopes) unflavored gelatin
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

Directions
Prepare a 9×13 inch pan as follows. Invert the pan. Cut a piece of aluminum foil long enough to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Place the foil over the inverted pan and fold down the sides and corners just to shape. Remove the foil and turn the pan right side up. Place the foil in the pan and press it gently into place. With a pastry brush or crumpled wax paper coat the foil thoroughly but lightly with vegetable shortening. Set aside.

Place 1/2 cup cold water in the large bowl of an electric mixer, Sprinkle the gelatin over the surface of the water and set aside. Place the sugar, corn syrup, salt and the other 1/2 cup water in a heavy 1-1/2 quart or 2 quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil. Cover for 3 minutes to allow any sugar crystals on the sides of the saucepan to dissolve. Uncover, raise the heat to high, insert a candy thermometer, and let the syrup boil without stirring until the temperature reaches 240 degrees. Do not overcook. Remove from the heat.

Beating constantly at medium speed, pour the syrup slowly into the gelatin mixture. After all the syrup has been added, increase the speed to high and beat for 15 minutes until the mixture is lukewarm, snowy white, and the consistency of whipped marshmallow, adding the vanilla a few minutes before the end of the beating. (During the beating, occasionally scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula. The marshmallow will thicken and become sticky — if the mixture crawls up on the beaters as it thickens, carefully wipe it down with a rubber spatula.)Pour the slightly warm and thick marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan and, with your forefinger, scrape all the mixture off the beaters. Smooth the top of the marshmallow. Let stand uncovered at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours or longer if it is more convenient.

Then sift or strain confectioners sugar generously onto a large cutting board to cover a surface larger then your pan. Invert the marshmallow over the sugared surface. Remove the pan and peel off the foil. Strain confectioners sugar generously over the top of the marshmallow. To cut into even 1 inch strips use a ruler and toothpicks to mark it every 1 inch.

Prepare a long, heavy, sharp knife by brushing the blade lightly with vegetable shortening. Cutting down firmly with the full length of the blade, cut the marshmallow into 1 inch strips. (After cutting the first slice, just keep the blade sugared to keep it from sticking.) Dip the cut sides of each strip into confectioners sugar to coat them thoroughly — you should have enough excess sugar on the board to do this. Now cut each strip into 1 inch squares. (You may place three strips together and cut through them all at once.) Roll the marshmallows in the sugar to coat the remaining sides. Shake off excess sugar. Store in a plastic box or any airtight container — or plastic bag.

Mayan Style Hot Cocoa
from Allrecipes

1 cup milk, warmed
3 tablespoons hot cocoa mix
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Directions
Mix the dry ingredients together in a mug, then pour hot milk in and whisk until combined.
RumChata Hot Chocolate

8 ounces hot chocolate
1.5 ounces RumChata rum

Directions
Stir hot chocolate and rum together and sip.

Bake This Not That

Around here, we like to adopt a sensible approach to sweets. Life is short and we think it should be savored. It seems that finding the right balance when it comes to indulgence is a key to happiness. If you’re trying to recalibrate after a particularly indulgent holiday season, here are some choose-this-not-that ideas for your favorite baked goods.

Craving cookies? Bake Cranberry Oatmeal  instead of Triple Chocolate Chip. You’ll save about 35-50 calories per cookie! You can also make half-size cookies by cutting each ball of cookie dough in half. (Remember to monitor baking times, which will be 3-4 minus less for smaller cookies.) A half-size cookie means half the calories. (Our Nibblers bite-sized cookies are a perfect way to indulge with balance.)

Craving brownies? Try our Reduced-Fat Chocolate Brownie recipe. Or, if you’re using a mix, swap applesauce for vegetable oil in your recipe. You’ll save calories and fat, but won’t notice a difference in taste!

Craving cake? Our No Frosting Chocolate Bundt Cake is so rich and moist, it does not need frosting (which saves a ton of calories).

Craving bread? The darker the bread, the better for your body. If you’re not a fan of whole wheat or multigrain, try using half and half (white flour and whole wheat) to ease into the flavor. If you’re used to buying artisan breads, ask the baker to pre-slice it for you extra thin. You’ll save half the calories.

Craving donuts? Our Baked Cake Donuts recipe is still one of our most popular. You’ll get the great flavor of a cake donut, with nearly half the calories.

Craving a sugary breakfast or snack? Try our Healthy Breakfast Cookies, Homemade Granola or these No-Bake Energy Bites instead of a pastry in the morning. They will satisfy your sweet tooth, but keep you from having a sugar crash. These are also great for an afternoon snack.

Cutting back on gluten? Our Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe is so good, you won’t believe that gluten didn’t get invited to the party.

Do you have other tips for being sensible with your sweet tooth? Share them in the comments!

Home Remedies for Dry Winter Skin

Harsh, dry winter air can do a number on your skin, but did you know that there are dry skin solutions hiding right in your kitchen cupboards and pantry? Check out these great home remedies:

For faces:

  • Avocado: Mash a ripe avocado and smooth onto a freshly cleaned face. Relax and leave on for 15 minutes.
  • Greek Yogurt: Spread a layer of yogurt onto a freshly cleaned face. Relax and leave on for 15 minutes.
  • Banana and Papaya: Mash the two fruits together to make a paste. Spread onto a freshly cleaned face and rinse after 15 minutes.
  • Honey: Spread warm honey onto a clean face and allow to cool and dry for 10-15 minutes. Wash off with a warm, wet cloth.

For hands:

  • Olive Oil: Work a few drops of olive oil into hands, especially dry knuckles.
  • Coconut Oil: A half teaspoon is plenty to serve as a rich and moisturizing treatment for dry hands or body. (Look for whipped coconut oil too, which is easier to spread.)
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: Wet a cotton ball with apple cider vinegar and wipe over itchy, cracked skin to soothe irritation. Follow up with an oil moisturizer.

For feet:

  • Baking Soda: Mix a 1/2 cup of baking soda for every gallon of warm water and give feet a 10-15 minute soak.
  • Vegetable Oil: Before bed, rub a modest amount of oil into cracked heels and feet, then cover with thick socks. Repeat for several nights.
  • Sugar: Create an exfoliating sugar scrub by mixing 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of petroleum jelly in your hands. Work the scrub into dry feet (or hands, elbows, or knees), then wash off with a mild soap before moisturizing.

For bodies:

  • Oatmeal: Grind one cup of oatmeal in a food processor until you have a fine powder. Add powder to running bathwater and enjoy a moisturizing soak.
  • Grape Seed Oil: Keep a bottle of grape seed oil in the shower. After showering, blot dry with a towel and immediately apply a liberal amount of oil to retain moisture all day long.
  • Citrus Water: Add moisture to the air in your home by simmering a pot of water on the stove with slices of lemons, oranges, or grapefruits. (It smells great, too!)
  • Avocado Oil: Used as an after-shower or before-bed moisturizer, avocado oil can help keep skin soft and moisturized.
  • Seafood: Cook salmon for dinner, order the tuna sandwich for lunch, or simply take an Omega-3 supplement each morning. The fatty acids are great for skin and hair.
  • Spicy Foods: Herbs and spices like tamarind, turmeric, cumin and coriander help promote the production of collagen in the skin and help you retain moisture.

{Image via Pinterest.}

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