Sugar Cookie-palooza!

Tomorrow is National Sugar Cookie Day, a truly sweet and deserving holiday in my opinion. I’m planning to celebrate, are you? I’ve gathered up our mini-encyclopedia of sugar cookie recipes and tips to share with you today, along with my Top 5 Ways to Celebrate National Sugar Cookie Day:

1. Have a cookie-decorating party.
2. Have a sugar cookie exchange. (Why wait until the holidays?)
3. Surprise your friends or neighbors with sugar cookies.
4. Treat yourself to a batch of sugar cookies.
5. Find a local store and make a run for it! (Our sugar cookies really are the best.)

And now for more resources!

Big Sugar Cookie
5 Common Mistakes with Sugar Cookies
Sugar Cookie Decorating Tips
Melting Snowmen Sugar Cookies
Chick ‘n’ Egg Cookies
Fruit Pizza (on a sugar cookie crust)
Frosted Conversation Heart Cookies

One more thing: Happy Sugar Cookie Day! Now go celebrate.

Backyard Summer Forts

Summer is the season of escape, whether out of the country, to a sunny beach or even right to your own backyard. Homemade forts can make your summer absolutely magical, and they’re not just for kiddos. Take some inspiration from these tips, pack a picnic and invite your special someone(s) to join you in your own backyard escape.

Mrs. Fields Secrets Backyard Forts

1. How to build a stick fort.
2. How to build a dome kit fort.
3. How to make a colorful hanging hideaway.
4. How to make a clothesline fort.

HINT: Lighting makes a fort especially nice at night. Don’t take open flames into forts; stick to flashlights and LED candles.

HINT: Start a trend and invite friends and neighbors to build forts, then arrange a neighborhood fort tour.

{Top image via Pinterest. Source unknown.}

Home Remedies for Summer Hair

Between sun, sand, surf, and sweat, summer can do a number on your hair. Did you know that all you need to revitalize your tresses is probably already in your kitchen? (I swear, all the solutions to life’s problems are found in the kitchen!) These wonder items will keep your hair looking great all season long:

Mayonnaise – This wonder ingredient will make dull, dry hair shiny and soft. Take a heaping handful and massage it into your hair and scalp. Wrap your hair in a shower cap or plastic wrap and let it sit for about a half hour. Rinse with warm water and allow to air dry. (Use a full-fat variety for best results.)

Eggs – Rich in protein and lecithin, eggs add moisture, shine, and texture. Mix two eggs with a cup of plain yogurt (full-fat) and a tablespoon of almond oil. Whisk until creamy, then cover with a shower cap or plastic wrap for 30 minutes. Shampoo with warm water and condition as usual.

Avocado – The fats in avocados are not only good for your heart, they do wonders for your split ends. Mash a ripe avocado with 1 tablespoon of olive or almond oil. Massage into hair, particularly the ends. Allow to sit, covered, for 30-60 minutes. Shampoo with warm water and condition as usual.

Honey – This sweet but sticky ingredient will help trap much-needed moisture in your hair. Wash, condition, and rinse hair as usual, then drizzle 1/2 cup of honey all over still-damp hair, work in to tips and roots, and allow to sit for 30 minutes before rinsing with very warm water.

Gelatin – Plain gelatin is high in protein, a perfect remedy for distressed hair. Dissolve one tablespoon in warm water, then whisk in 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Apply to hair, root to tip, and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Shampoo with warm water and condition as usual.

Beer – The vitamin B in beer adds body and shine to lifeless hair. Wash hair as usual, and spritz a thin, equal layer of beer onto still-wet hair. Blow dry hair to remove the beer smell and enjoy shiny, strong locks.

Apple Cider Vinegar – Vinegar is the ultimate cleanser to use if your hair is weighed down with product and residue. Mix 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar with 1 cup of water and pour it evenly all over hair. Massage scalp and allow it to sit for at least 10 minutes before rinsing with warm water. Allow to air dry for clean, shiny hair.

Coconut Oil – The rich fats in coconut oil are the perfect drink for dry hair. Rub 1-2 tablespoons in your palm and apply to dry hair before bed and allow to moisturize overnight. One bonus? It smells amazing.

Banana – Bananas prevent split ends and add elasticity. Mash a ripe banana with 1 tablespoon of almond oil, then whisk until creamy. Apply to hair, tips to roots, and allow to sit under a shower cap or plastic wrap for 30-60 minutes. Rinse with warm water.

Do you have any favorite home remedies for hair? Let me know in the comments.

{Image via Saumyachopra.com}

Tips for Shopping the Farmer’s Market

The trend of shopping locally at farmer’s markets is not only good for your health, it’s good for your community and your wallet too. But shopping your local farmer’s market is not the same as going to the supermarket, so utilize these tips to make the most of your experience.

  • Become a regular. Frequently shopping the same farmer’s market is beneficial for several reasons: you’ll become familiar with the layout, the selection, and you’ll get to know the farmers. This will come in handy if you ever have special needs, like pre-ordering a bushel of peaches or arranging special delivery or pickup options.
  • Shop early or shop late. The early shopper gets the best selection and the late shopper gets the best deals. (Many farmers would rather sell off remaining products at a discount rather than transporting them home.) And both shoppers beat the crowds.
  • Bring your own bags. Get in the habit of carrying your own reusable shopping bags. They are sturdier, hold more, and can be slung over your shoulder to make shopping easier. Plus, it’s better for the planet!
  • Carry cash and change. Though more and more vendors are able to accept credit cards, don’t count on it. Cash will always work, so have small bills and change on hand. Quarters are a hot commodity and vendors usually run out. You might even strike some good deals if you can give up some of those shiny coins.
  • Shop like a European. Instead of shopping with a traditional list, visit the market and build your menu based on what’s available, what’s most fresh, and what excites you.
  • Ask for input. Use the market to learn about produce and products you’ve never tried before. Get to know the farmers and vendors. Ask for advice for preparation and cooking.
  • Bring a cooler. Either a small portable cooler or even a reusable ice pack in your bag can help you keep meats and perishable items safe while you shop, especially on a hot summer day.
  • Bring the kids. It’s not just an educational experience for you, bring the kids in tow. Let them pick out fresh fruits and vegetables to incorporate into your diet.
  • Be friendly. As you form a relationship with farmers and vendors, you’re more likely to get better deals and special selections.
  • Buy in bulk. Like any shopping, you’ll save money by buying in bulk. Consider splitting purchases with friends or neighbors.
  • Become a volunteer. Most farmer’s markets are organized and staffed entirely by community volunteers. Volunteering your time will often give you access to more selection, deep discounts, and that warm-fuzzy feeling of doing something good for your community.

Do you have any other tips for shopping your farmer’s market? Share your ideas.

Homemade Lip Gloss

Mrs. Fields Secrets Homemade Lip Gloss
Got a gaggle of girls coming over for your daughter’s summer sleepover? Sweet fruity lip gloss is today’s easy peasy project you can whip up for yourself or with the kids. It’s the perfect party favor they can make themselves and customize any way they want with endless colors and flavors.

Homemade Lip Gloss

1 cup petroleum jelly
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 packet sugar-free Kool-Aid drink mix powder
food coloring
plastic ziploc bags
plastic bead holders

Directions
Combine petroleum jelly, coconut oil, and drink mix powder in a quart-size ziploc bag. Seal bag and microwave for 15-second increments, or until contents are warm and soft and easy to mix. Add small amounts of food coloring at a time, resealing the bag and working it into the mix until you have your desired color. Snip corner of bag and pipe lip gloss into containers and allow to cool and stiffen.

Get Your Grill in Great Shape for Summer

Planning a big barbecue for Father’s Day this weekend? Give your grill a thorough tune-up for a perfect party and a season of great grilling. (Come to think of it, this would be a great “gift” for dad!) Use this list to get you started:

  • Before you begin, disconnect fuel line.
  • Use a steel wire brush to scrub away any loose debris, rust, or decay from grates, burners, and hoses.
  • If burners or grates have large pieces of rust or peeling paint or finish, replace them. (Most hardware stores sell replacement parts.) These pieces can catch fire and release dangerous toxins into your food.
  • Soak grates in hot, soapy water to loosen any excess grime. Use a steel wool pad to scrub them clean.
  • Use a wet, steel wool pad to clean the inside of the hood. Add a little baking soda for tough stains.
  • Remove, drain, and clean grease traps. Left ignored, these can ignite and cause a fire.
  • Use a screw driver to tighten any loose handles, wheels, hinges, handles or knobs.
  • Make sure any tubes or hoses are clear and that fasteners are tight.
  • Use a piece of wadded aluminum foil to scrub any grime or grit off the exterior of the grill.
  • Reconnect fuel line and replace grates.
  • Turn burners on high heat and allow grill to cook for 10 minutes. This will burn off any soap or residual chemicals. After 10 minutes, shut off the heat.
  • When grill has cooled completely, spray grates with cooking oil. This will prevent rust and keep foods from sticking to grates.
  • If you don’t have one already, invest in a grill cover. More than anything else, this will extend the life of your grill.
  • Always grill outdoors and at least 20 feet from any building.
  • After each use, scrub grates while still hot with your steel wire brush, then spray with cooking spray.

Have a wonderful Father’s Day weekend and a summer of grilling greatness!

{Image via Tool-o-paedia.}

Memorial Day Idea: Heritage Dinner

Mrs. Fields Secrets Heritage Dinner Ideas
If you’re looking for ways to create more meaning with Memorial Day amidst the sidewalk sales and barbecues this weekend, consider having a Heritage Dinner in memory of loved ones lost. This is a great way to help kids (and adults) feel connected to their heritage. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Choose to focus on one person, someone you knew well or an ancestor that you research.
  • Create a menu surrounding the person’s favorite foods. If you don’t know their favorite foods, research popular foods from that time period.
  • Decorate with old photographs, yearbooks, personal belongings, clothing, etc.
  • Guests could dress in period clothing as well.
  • If old journals are available, share entries.
  • What was daily life like for that person? Share details and compare them to daily life now.
  • Create a historical context. What major events happened during the individual’s lifetime and how might that have affected their life?
  • If you knew the individual personally, share stories and memories and encourage guests to do the same.
  • Draw personal connections between the individual, yourself, and guests. Are there similarities in personality, looks, interests?
  • If proximity allows, visit the grave site or other significant locations together as part of the event.
  • You could also choose to focus on an entire family, involving guests in gathering the research about individual members.
  • If you enjoy the experience, commit to making it an annual event.

Have any other ideas for a Heritage Dinner? Share them in the comments.

How to Beat Butter Stains and Other Cooking Splats

You name it, I’ve had it spilled or splattered on me in the kitchen. I guess that makes me an expert on stain removal. Next time you think that your favorite shirt is ruined, try these stain-busting tips:

Butter Stains: Turn clothing inside out and dot the stain with a degreasing dishwashing soap.  Next, take a soft, wet toothbrush and gently scrub the stain. (I keep a toothbrush under the kitchen sink for just such a purpose.) Turn the clothing right side out, add another bit of dishwashing liquid and scrub again. Rinse thoroughly with warm water and allow to air dry.

Shortening/Grease Splatters: Dot the stains with degreasing dishwashing soap and scrub with a soft, wet toothbrush. Next, fill a sink with warm water and more dishwashing liquid. Allow the clothing to soak in the water for 15-30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly with water and allow to air dry. If any stains remain, repeat.

Vanilla Stains: Treat a vanilla stain sooner rather than later! My favorite treatment for vanilla stains is an OxiClean solution. Wet the stain thoroughly with the solution and allow it to sit for about one minute before blotting the stain with a clean towel. Then, launder the clothing as usual.

Chocolate Stains: Rinse the stain with hot water first, then dab on dishwashing soap and scrub gently with a soft toothbrush in a motion that sweeps the stain up and out instead of grinding it in. Rinse with hot water and repeat if necessary.

Berry Stains: Place a clean white towel beneath the stain, then treat the area thoroughly with an OxiClean solution. Allow it to sit for one minute, then blot the stain with another clean towel. Repeat, if necessary, then launder the clothing as usual.

Tomato Stains: These are some of the toughest stains, so treat them sooner rather than later. Start by soaking the area with an OxiClean solution, allow it to sit for one minute, then blot it with a clean white towel. If stain persists, boil some water in a tea kettle. Stretch the clothing over a colander and secure it with a rubber band, trying to have the stained area in the middle. Once the water is boiling, pour it from about three feet above directly onto the stain. The force of the gravity is key, it helps to knock the stain out of the fibers!

HINT: Once stains go through a cycle in the dryer, they are usually set permanently. Try to hand-treat your stains before putting them through the wash.

{Image via diylife}

How To: Create a Perfect Mother’s Day Tray

Mrs. Fields Secrets Mother's Day Tray

Mother’s Day breakfast in bed is a tradition for a lot of families, but putting it together in a beautiful presentation can be a challenge. Here are some pointers for a perfect breakfast tray, a gift in itself. (Feel free to print this out and leave it conspicuously for your family.)

1. A personalized mug with her favorite morning beverage.
2. A colorful new tea towel lines the tray and also keeps items from slipping around.
3. A tiny gift box fits perfectly on the tray.
4. A small dish with a few pieces of chocolate is a must.
5. A petite vase or shallow jar with a handful of fresh flowers brightens everything.
6. A cloth napkin wraps around the silverware and makes everything feel formal.
7. Two plates with contrasting colors looks posh (and comes in handy if she decides to share her meal).
8. Mom’s favorite magazine fits under the plate for a delightful morning read.

Not sure what to make for your Mother’s Day breakfast? My Breakfast in Bed Menu is easy for Dad and kids to make. Plus, it’s delicious!

Mother’s Day Breakfast in Bed Recipes

Homemade Green Cleansers for the Whole House

As part of Earth Week, I’ve committed myself to replacing some of my regular chemical cleansers in the closet with homemade cleansers that are safer for my family, safer for the planet, and kinder to my wallet! I’ve scoured the Internet (no pun intended) to find the best homemade alternatives to the everyday products we use. Will you join me in replacing at least one of your regular cleansers with something homemade? (Be sure to check out my special hints below!)

Orange Vinegar – Good as an all-purpose cleanser and especially for wood, the recipe for this concentrate utilizes the cleansing power of vinegar and orange oil.

All-Purpose Cleaner & Antibacterial Cleaner – Clean a host of things around the house, including your oven with these easy recipes.

Mold and Mildew Removers – Remove mold and mildew from tile, paint, and even leather and luggage with this simple recipe.

Bathroom Cleaners – Find simple recipes to clean everything from your bathroom mirror, down to your toilet and everything in between (include a calcium and lime remover).

Antibacterial Soft Scrub – Perfect to use on sinks and tubs, this smells great and gets everything squeaky clean.

Laundry Detergent – Three simple ingredients gets a load of laundry clean for about a nickel per load.

Dishwasher Detergent Cubes – Use this recipe and some ice cube trays to make your own dishwashing detergent.

Stainless Steel Polish/Cleanser – The right cloth and some olive oil clean up your stainless steel appliances and buff out trouble spots.

HINT: In my research, one theme seems to keep emerging about limited shelf life of homemade cleansers. Because they aren’t made with strong chemicals or preservatives, the potency of liquid cleansers can start to fade after a few months. A simple solution is to make smaller batches.

HINT: Before using any new cleanser on fabrics, granite, or hardwood, test them in an inconspicuous spot and give them 24 hours before proceeding.

HINT: If you have trouble finding tea tree oil mentioned in a few of the recipes, lavender or eucalyptus essential oils have similar properties.

{Image via Google}

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