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Card-making: My supplies and recent cards (with tons of pictures!)

Homemade cards

One of my favorite ways to relax is to pull out my box of stamps and make homemade greeting cards! I can't remember a time when I wasn't trying (sometimes unsuccessfully!) to make my own cards and stationery. I use fairly minimal supplies and almost always turn out something unique and fun.

Before I talk about the cards I've made recently, I want to show you my supplies. I have a big stack of paper:

Homemade cards

These are large books of card stock and paper, sold at stores like Hobby Lobby, Wal-Mart, etc. I was totally out of card stock and also wanted the convenience of some designed paper for backgrounds. The 5 books pictures were $25 (about 10 cents per sheet).

Homemade cards

My other expensive item is this paper cutter. Joshua saw it at Costco for $26 last year and bought it for me! I LOVE it. It has saved me so much time, and makes it so easy to get everything straight and perfect-looking. I can't believe I was using just a scissors all those years... :)

Homemade cards

Here are all of my stamps. The animal stamps on the right are from GoodWill. All the other stamps were a gift from a friend.

Homemade cards

My ink pads. These, too, were all given to me from a friend. I've been using them for a long time and they work great! I do find it a challenge to have so many pinks (3) and purples (2) with only 2 "guy-friendly" colors, green and black. Some day I want to get yellow, brown, and blue for that reason. :)

Homemade cards

And, the rest of my supplies: Scissors, glue stick, fancy cutter inserts for my paper cutter (above), colored pencils, markers, and an art brush. I've used the art brush a lot for backgrounds and edges.

Homemade cards

Torn paper is one of my favorite, simple ways to finish an edge. It doesn't require anything special, but looks kind of random and 3-D. I tear paper a lot when I'm making cards! On these two cards, I used some cardboard cut-outs that my sister gave me. I added a blue rick-rack bow to the one on the left. These aren't anything too fancy, but I like having unique cards to send! :)

Homemade cards

More torn paper, fancy-cut edges, and cardboard "buttons" with rick-rack tied onto them. It was actually tricky to find good ways to use the cardboard cut-outs, but in the end I was really happy with the results! :)

Homemade cards

After much deliberation, I came up with this pink and blue color-scheme and loved how these two cards looked.

(Read More...)

Tips for Summer Picnics (Eat Well, Spend Less)

I love picnics!

Yes, the frugal part of me is why I am constantly saying "Hey, guys, let's just do a picnic."

That sounds more fun than saying "Since it's expensive to eat out, I'm going to pack some food for us." ;)

Whatever you call it, I love take-along food. It's a whole lot cheaper than eating out, plus being yummy, healthy, and on-demand. Here are some picnic tips that work for us!

Porch picnic

Bring enough food, but not too much. This is especially important if you're carrying your picnic with you while you sight-see on foot or hike. I ask the older family members how much food they want (how many sandwiches, pieces of fruit, etc.) and try to take just what we'll eat. The eliminates needing to tote around leftovers or keep them cold.

Re-usable dinnerware

Use disposable wrappings/plates if you're carrying everything; use re-usable containers if weight isn't an issue. I freely admit that I use plastic wrap, sandwich baggies, and paper napkins for an on-foot picnic! If we're packing a big cooler and driving somewhere in the van, then I'll use my normal re-usable containers and some washable plates. (I have extra plastic plates purchased for large crowds, bbqs, and picnics!)

Summer picnic walk

Take finger foods so you don't even need dinnerware! Our favorite picnics are finger foods like:

Sandwiches
Veggie sticks
Pre-washed/cut fruit like grapes, apple slices, pear slices, or bananas
Cheese sticks or slices
Nuts
Chips

I like to pack serving-size baggies of the veggies, fruits, or nuts so no little dirty hands are reaching into one big bag. ;)

And speaking of dirty...

Don't forget a clean tablecloth (if picnicking at a table) and some wet wipes or washcloths for dirty hands! :)

We also like to have at-home picnics on the deck or in the yard. Eating out in the sunshine and fresh air makes the kids (and me!) happy while keeping the kitchen floor clean. The benefit of an at-home picnic is that I can serve most anything -- like leftovers, even -- with no extra effort. :)

Eat Well, Spend Less series

This week, the Eat Well, Spend Less bloggers are writing about summer fun! Check out:

Eat Well, Spend Less During a Staycation from Life As Mom

Grilled Salads from Simple Bites

Sprouted Lentil Salad Recipe and Dressings from Kitchen Stewardship

Easy and Tasty Summertime Snacks from Kingdom First Mom

Eat Well, Spend Less During Your Insane Summer Schedule from Food for my Family

...and more to come from Denver Bargains and Good Life Eats!

Foraging for Stinging Nettles

Moshe helps gather nettles

I took this little guy out to the back yard last week. It was a beautiful sunny day, just barely warm enough to go swearshirt-free. Sweatshirt-free is never a guarantee here, even in the middle of summer. We enjoy it whenever it happens, though!

We brought gloves and a grocery bag. What were we after?

Stinging nettles

Weeds! Actually, stinging nettles. The woodsy area behind our house grew some big tall nettles last year and I kept knocking them over so they wouldn't fall into our yard. I vowed that next year I'd be ready and pick them young so we could try eating them.

I have never been so happy about weeding before! I picked the fresh young green nettles and Moshe held the bag for me. He loved helping!

Stinging nettles

The nettles were washed (in a strainer with the sprayer) and then put in boiling water for about 5 minutes. Afterwards, their sting was gone and we all eagerly sampled the cooked greens for our first time.

Delicious! I thought the taste was mild and reminded me of green beans. I chopped up the cooked nettles and added them to beef vegetable soup, and no one could even taste them.

I used stems as well as leaves, even though my research indicated the stems were too tough to eat. I imagine the freshest youngest stinging nettles are the most tender and tasty, and ours sure were!

I can't believe I grew up on a farm overrun with nettles and never ate any of them! (We did eat gobs of dandelions though.) I think foraged food is my favorite... just pick and enjoy!

Now, I'm brainstorming how I'm going to get the kids all down the road to the woodsy park and go nettle-hunting. There just aren't enough nettles in my own backyard!

Tip: Cook stinging nettles and use them as you would spinach. Quiche, lasagna, soups, and more are all wonderful made with stinging nettles!

Have you eaten stinging nettles? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts and more tips for gathering or using them! :)

Channah

Sweet Channah slept while we all played at the park last weekend. She sleeps best on/by/with me, which is part of my lack of blogging. (I am typing one-handed right now, but the slow pace is frustrating!) :)

Boys playing

We all soaked up the sunshine. Joshua played catch and t-ball with the older boys. There was bike riding, goat-feeding, and plenty of running around.

Eat Well, Spend Less: Frugal Budget Considerations for 2012

Last January (2011), I shared some of my thoughts and plans after having re-evaluated our household budget. Having a plan in place to change even just a handful of our practices or habits has helped keep our budget on track throughout the year. I thought I'd give an update on last year's goals and brainstorm areas where I still want to improve.

My goal last year was to budget tightly enough to save for the "extras" that pop up in life -- like a new baby, vehicle repairs, medical things, etc. (Speaking of "medical things", Joshua's surgery this week went well [praise GOD!] and he is home recovering. He'll have a second surgery in February, and should be able to return to work in April.)

My plan for 2011 included:

Continue having 1 vehicle -- did this all year and are continuing :)

Continue having only basic phone service (no cell phones or long distance) -- same

Continue having Netflix (no TV, no movies, and no other movie rentals or purchases) -- Canceled Netflix in August, 2011

Continue menu planning -- did better, but not 100% on this

Discontinue restaurant/take-out eating (none, vs. the 6-8 times per year for the past couple of years) -- We ate out (as a family) twice, Joshua got take-out twice, and we got hot dogs at Costco 4-5 times, so... not really an improvement, but not too bad :)

Go to Costco every 2 weeks instead of every week -- we averaged shopping every 10-14 days, so much better than weekly! :)

Spend only $420/month on food/household/toiletries -- this has increased to $500/month; I'm just not sure what else I want to cut when it comes to groceries...

Continue to keep the heat at 64 or lower -- we did this, but getting the furnace repaired (by the landlord) ended up reaping much bigger savings, yay!

Wash towels and whites in cold water instead of hot (use a few drops of bleach instead) -- I went back to hot water for whites/towels, 1 load per week

Take shorter showers (this is a hard one for me!) -- I've been taking fewer showers, not that that's a good thing... ;)

Get Ruth potty trained (she's in Pull-Ups) -- did this in February, yay! :)

Go back to cloth diapers for Moshe (used disposables during December) -- went back to cloth diapers full-time and continued, aside from a 2-day break (just while flying to Ohio/to Seattle to visit my family)

Take a year-long break from buying stuff (we have so much already!) -- I *mostly* did this. Joshua got me a few gifts, though! :)

Shop around to see if we can get a cheaper car insurance rate -- looked into this but didn't make any changes

Recycle anything possible -- done

Call trash service and downgrade to smallest, customer-provided can (saving $7/month) -- did this, and have been able to fit our trash in the tiny can every week! :)

Get landlord to fix dripping faucet in bathroom -- fixed

Figure out how to pay bills online to save stamps -- found a couple I can pay online without extra charges :)

Continue blogging -- I mostly did this, in my bad-blogger way...

Get my recipe e-book finished -- Definitely did not get this done. I let too many things be my excuses/reasons not to make time to work on it...

Eat Well, Spend Less series

Eating Well, Spending Less in 2012

I don't know how many times we've gone over our household budget and...

...the only category it seems we can realistically fiddle with is the food/household items budget.

While I don't think I can actually reduce this year's food budget (can we say growing kids?!), I want to do more without spending more.

Specific ways I plan to accomplish this:

1. Continue to spend nearly all of our food/household budget money on food (instead of things like diapers!), which is one of the ways we eat well and stay within-budget.

2. Continue to go grocery shopping every 2 weeks (or even less often). This practice, especially, means I have to plan ahead -- which is a good thing.

3. Continue to plan menus, focusing on using fresh food at its peak, not wasting anything, and eating lots of affordable foods like beans and carrots. :)

4. Resist buying foods that are expensive but don't provide good nutrition.

5. Do more freezer cooking, and not just for "special occasions" like surgery or having a baby.

6. Introduce new kitchen tasks to the children as they grow older. Yehoshua will be 8 in April, and Eliyahu is 6 -- they could be more helpful and independent if I took more time to teach them to cook. Starting beans in the crock pot, making a pot of oatmeal for breakfast, or getting carrots ready to cook are some of the things I'd like to get them doing more regularly and independently! :)

7. Finally perfect a homemade chicken broth (from the bones after making roasted chicken). I've attempted a few times and didn't care for the results. :(

8. Try to limit desserts more than we already do. Desserts tend to be unhealthy and expensive, anyway. :)

This month's Eat Well, Spend Less series posts are on the topic of New Year's Food/Kitchen Resolutions! Check out what these ladies are sharing:

Jessica at Life As Mom: Teaching My Boys to Cook

Aimee at Simple Bites: Food Resolutions

Katie at Kitchen Stewardship: Yogurt, beans, and chicken broth

Shaina at Food For My Family: Overall Kitchen Organization

Katie at GoodLife{eats}: Variety with whole grains

Mandi at Life...Your Way: The Key to Changing Your Diet for Good

Carrie at Denver Bargains: Reducing Kitchen Waste

Amy at Kingdom First Mom

Frugal Cold-Weather Comfort Foods (Eat Well, Spend Less)

One of the great things about winter is that so many of our favorite comfort foods happen to be really frugal, too. If I can contain most of my baking urges to breads and main dishes and skip the buttery, sugary desserts, we're all set! ;)

I'm partial to some of these foods because they remind me of my childhood -- cold Ohio winters, sitting in the kitchen of my parents' old farmhouse, eating foods we'd grown and preserved throughout the warmer months. But before that starts sounding too rosy -- I do remember all the hard WORK involved... ;)

Eat Well, Spend Less series

My family "did things" very simply. Special events were a bit rare and a big deal, and holidays were special because special stuff just didn't happen that often. We didn't have elaborate celebrations or gift exchanges, but that was okay. A day off school because of snowfall, or family gatherings -- it was special because it was our family... and I like that.

...and, our favorite cold-weather comfort foods are pretty simple, too.

Beans! Oh, all right, you already know I love beans... filling, delicious, and frugal. I almost always cook my beans from dried beans. I either cook a big batch and freeze some of them, or cook a big batch and we eat all of them!

On a chilly day, some freshly cooked beans waiting in the crock pot is a perfect meal. And not many perfect meals are that cheap. ;)

What do I like besides pinto beans (and some toppings)? Here are a few easy from-dried-grains recipes for variety:

White chili is so easy, and a welcome change if you eat "regular" chili often. We love this soup!

Hearty Beef and Lentil Chili is one of my newer discoveries. If you've never cooked with lentils, this is a great place to start!

Lentils don't get any easier than this Easy Lentil Soup recipe! Despite its simplicity, it's delicious. Our whole family likes it. I got lentils in bulk (25#) and this is one of the ways I serve them! :)

This veggie bean soup with spinach is one of my personal favorites. I can't get over how good it is -- when I follow the recipe. ;) It's meatless, colorful, and affordable. I like to buy the big 3-pound bags of spinach at Costco and make several meals with spinach, including this soup! (Leftovers freeze great, as well.)

This Gourmet Bean Soup is really as easy as 1, 2, and 3. You may end up standing at the stove wondering if you really did everything you were supposed to do for this recipe! Start it early, and then get busy doing other fun stuff (or make some dinner rolls and a salad while the soup cooks). :)

Beef and Barley Soup is one of my childhood favorites. I have a similar version made using wheat: Wheat Berry Soup.

My mom's vegetable soup... one of the common Sunday lunches after church. My mom would make this in the morning, leave it to simmer, and we'd come home to a hot lunch (only we called it dinner, of course). Having vegetable soup in the crock pot (or in the fridge, waiting to be warmed up) is one of my best tactics for affordably filling hungry tummies after a day (or part of a day) away from home. :)

While this one won't save you time (compared to making loaves of bread), it really ups the presentation of your pennies-per-cup soup when you serve it in a homemade bread bowl! Everyone LOVES these bread bowls when I make them. :)

Easier beans or soups during busy days and weeks:

Make large batches and freeze leftovers for a quick meal later.

Bread or rolls (made and then frozen) are a great side with soup.

Most soup recipes can be easily adapted for the crock pot.

Have a plan! My downfall is that soups need to be started early, despite the little hands-on time required. Having a menu plan is a huge help! :)

A favorite winter tradition: Sunday night popcorn! Dark before 5 in the evening, and we'd pull out the air popper and pop lots and lots of popcorn. My mom usually served home-canned apple juice or grape juice with our popcorn. Popcorn is a great frugal snack (even though I don't grow my own). :)

I don't usually get too fancy with beverages, but here are a couple I turn to when a friend comes over (or it's just been One Of Those Mornings).

Chai Tea Latte (pictured above) -- or this from-scratch spiced chai tea! Mmm... cardamom... :)

Hot cocoa on demand. This stuff totally saves my morning some days. :)

Since this is rather decadent (hello, eggs and cream and maple syrup!), I've been saving it to make when we're having company. No one can refuse homemade egg nog -- what a treat! :)

Joshua's specialty is making homemade sparkling grape juice (or other juice) when we have company. It adds a festive touch without costing much! :)

What do you like to make from-scratch this time of year? I'm sure I'm forgetting things. We have a more relaxed December than most... and hang out at home a lot. ;)

Can-free: Enchilada sauce (and a new enchiladas recipe!)

I do not normally like enchiladas very well. Not "real" ones, anyway.

Joshua's mom makes an enchilada casserole that's really tasty, but it involves flour tortillas and cream of chicken soup. Delicious!

My little sister Amy has her own version of enchiladas that are topped with things like shredded lettuce and tomatoes, filling that includes cream cheese, and "enchilada sauce" that's actually picante sauce. Again, it's delicious! But not really "enchiladas", you know?

Here are two reasons why I hate most "real" enchiladas:

#1. They're too hot. I can't eat them without drowning them in sour cream first!

#2. The corn tortillas taste raw to me. I love corn tortillas and prefer them over flour tortillas for tacos, but I don't like them when they taste raw.

I set out to create real enchiladas that we would all enjoy, with mostly healthy ingredients. Enchiladas that I would want to eat plain, regardless of the toppings like sour cream. Enchiladas that are affordable. Enchiladas that would use some of the corn tortillas in my fridge since Joshua can't really chew tacos very well right now. ;)

And to start, I needed enchilada sauce. I modified a recipe from a Vitamix cookbook. Guys, this enchilada sauce is awesome! I mean, it actually tastes good. And it has a flavor other than "hot". (If you want more "hot", just add some cayenne.)

Chili powder is one of the main ingredients in homemade enchilada sauce. I get my chili powder in a big bag at a bulk food store, so it wasn't a problem to whisk up this sauce.

And then make even more, because it's just so good and I'm craving enchiladas AGAIN. (Thank you, pregnancy!) I had no idea it was so simple to make homemade enchilada sauce or that it would be so good!

Next, I needed to tackle the "raw corn tortillas" issue I have with enchiladas. I'm not into frying and didn't want the bother of frying them in oil like Pioneer Woman's recipe. (Plus, that's a lot of extra calories.)

Instead, I decided to dry-fry them using my cast iron skillet and another saucepan on top. Remember my kitchen tip about my new favorite way to cook corn tortillas? It really is my favorite way to get hot, cooked, SOFT corn tortillas! :)

The resulting enchiladas were perfect. I loved them!

Joshua said "Wow, these are actually good. I'm glad I didn't tell you what I was thinking when you said you were making enchiladas for dinner." (!!!)

The kids all enjoyed them, too. When I made beef enchiladas again for lunch on the weekend, everyone was excited!

I'm positive it was the combination of my homemade enchilada sauce, cooked corn tortillas, and my homemade refried beans inside.

I'm thinking this is one of the cheaper, easier meals I can make, especially since I cook big batches of ground beef and put the extras in the freezer to pull out for quick meals. I'm also going to experiment with freezing the ready-made dish of enchiladas for an easy freezer meal. And, I'm going to experiment with meatless enchiladas (beans and cheese only). That sounds about perfect to me!

Do you like enchiladas? :)

Can-free: Homemade refried beans (that taste amazing)

Canned refried beans from the store are tasteless and pasty. These fresh, homemade refried beans are delicious enough to eat plain, right off the spoon!

When we were first married, Joshua asked me to use very, very little refried beans in his burritos or tacos. Now that I cook fresh beans in the slow cooker and make my own refried beans, he'll eat a big heap of them!

I've heard lots of people say "You can make refried beans just by mashing up your cooked pinto beans... don't bother with re-cooking them."

Now, I am sure that is a good substitute for refried beans. But it is not refried beans. And in my opinion, the flavor of mashed beans doesn't hold a candle to refried beans. ;)

But, refried beans don't have to be complicated or difficult. When I cook a big batch of pinto beans in my slow cooker, I freeze or refrigerate the leftovers. Then, when I need refried beans for the next day (or another meal), I fry the beans. Another option is to make a large batch of refried beans and freeze in 2-cup containers.

Beans in the slow cooker are easy enough for my 7-year-old to make by himself! And thanks in part to having freshly cooked beans, all of our children love it when I serve beans. That makes me (and our food budget) happy! :)

Have I convinced you to try cooking dry beans in your slow cooker yet? If so... homemade refried beans is the next logical step! ;)

Visit Frugal Fridays at Life As Mom for more frugal tips! :)

From desperation to delight: Hearty Beef and Lentil Chili (new recipe)

Chili was on the menu for dinner. I busily went about my day, helping children with homeschooling. I folded clean laundry from the weekend (I wash everything on Sunday, minus diapers and wet bedsheets), and tried once again to clear off the kitchen counters. During Moshe's nap, Ruth and I napped in the living room (being pregnant is a great excuse to get plenty of sleep!).

I got back up a few hours before dinner time. "For once," I thought, "I'll have dinner just simmering on the stove, waiting to be eaten on time, rather than rushing around at the last minute like usual."

I started browning some meat for chili, and rummaged through the freezer for some cooked beans. Surely there was at least one container left in there! But I came up empty, after going through both the small freezer and our chest freezer.

I decided to check the pantry cupboard to see if there was a stray can of beans... any kind of beans... lurking in the back. There were no cans of beans. (A pressure cooker was the only way I could have made fresh beans in time for the chili, but I don't have a pressure cooker.)

Then I thought of... lentils! I've heard of lentil chili. Lentils cook fast enough to be ready in time for dinner. But... would we like lentils in our chili?

I debated just making beef chili. After all, when you're only serving 3 things, the main dish should be something that's good, not a flopped experiment due poor planning. But the beef chili in my pot just wasn't very much. Enough for 1 meal for us? Maybe. But still, one of the best things about chili is that the beans help stretch the meal into 2 or 3!

I decided to make the chili with lentils. When Joshua came home, he said "Hmmm, this chili looks different from normal." So of course I said,

"Oh, well, it's a new recipe. Lentil Chili. Haven't you heard of lentil chili before?" ;)

Cornbread recipe
Eliyahu (5) helped me make the cornbread

Much to my delight, the whole family loved my lentil chili! The lentils had a nice texture, it didn't taste lentil-y, and it was easy to eat. I was amazed by how well we liked it! Joshua had thirds. Moshe (the 1-year-old) had seconds!

Okay, so, it was dinner after all, and thankfully a very successful one. We've had lentil chili several times since, and I made sure to measure all the spices so it could be shared. ;)

The only way to improve this lentil chili? Have some fresh cilantro on hand to sprinkle on top... :)

Kids' Toothbrushing Solution (aka why my bathroom is no longer smeared with toothpaste)

Kitchen counter tooth-brushing setup

Tooth brushing. With 4 kids, ages 7 and under, tooth brushing is a real ordeal around here. It's also something really important to Joshua and me, since we want our children to have good dental health and good hygiene habits from a very young age.

Our goal is for tooth brushing to happen twice a day, and flossing (with one of those handy plastic flossers) before bed. Now, I never feel like brushing 10 sets of teeth each day (4 kids + my own teeth, 2 times a day is a lot of brushing, even if Joshua does some of it!). So, I let the older ones (ages 3, 5, and 7) brush their own teeth in the morning, and just help with the bedtime brushing and flossing.

And somehow, almost magically, our bathroom was never clean. Toothpaste was being smeared in the strangest places. I'd find toothpaste smudged on the door, the mirror, the wall, and of course -- the bathroom counter. And the tube of toothpaste was emptying way too quickly.

We tried putting the toothpaste in a high bathroom cupboard, to be dispensed only by Mom in the morning. But I couldn't seem to make it back there to help dispense toothpaste, as having it "up and out of the way" made it even more inconvenient to remember and do all the brushing.

Joshua came up with a solution that has been working brilliantly for a few months now. We put the toothbrushes and toothpaste in the kitchen. I use a little cup on my window sill, so the toothbrushes can air dry and stay clean, while still being out of the way and easily accessible.

Kitchen counter tooth-brushing setup

In the morning when we're done with breakfast and taking our dishes to the sink, the toothbrushes are right there, waiting for me to put toothpaste on them. I usually send the kids back to the bathroom one at a time to brush and then bring their toothbrush back to me (so it doesn't end up on the bathroom floor or who knows where else!). And the baby (1 year old) gets his teeth brushed right at the kitchen sink.

This setup has helped our toothpaste last a LOT longer. :) (Read more frugal tips at Frugal Fridays!)

I've found the best prices on children's' toothbrushes at places like Big Lots, dollar stores, or Wal-Mart. I try to find a package with at least 2 toothbrushes in it for around $1. If I'm not sure of the quality of the toothbrushes, I just buy one package to see how nice they are. I've been surprised that the more expensive toothbrushes are not always the better ones!

I also give the kids a new toothbrush whenever theirs is getting worn and frayed. This seems to be every 2-3 months. A new toothbrush really works a lot better than an old one, so this is an area where I do not try to "save" by making-do with an old toothbrush, for both us and the children.

Xylitol

Here is a post I wrote about using xylitol to improve dental health, and a delicious affordable alternative to purchasing flavored xylitol mints:

Xylitol: Promoting dental health naturally and frugally

I've not been 100% consistent in using xylitol (life gets in the way sometimes!), but my teeth are so much cleaner when I do use it! :)

Would you mind sharing an update regarding how you like(ed?) using this system? We're considering trying it in our family. Thanks! :)

-Annie

Do I still follow Dr. Ellie's dental system for cleaning my teeth? Yes -- partially. :) Originally (3-4 years ago) I had to add a WaterPik to my routine because of a tooth that was breaking/broken and needed to be kept really clean. (I also didn't chew on that side of my mouth. Do you know how much better food tastes when you're chewing with your whole mouth and tongue?!)

At the end of last year, I finally got that tooth fixed. I had been able to keep away infection and be pain-free for over 3 years with Dr. Ellie's system, but the tooth was much too decayed to remineralize or heal.

After all my research, I did go with a root canal and crown, as I felt my risk factors for the root canal were low (no infection present, very skilled dentist who only does root canals, the "safest" packing material for the root canal, etc.) and I was comfortable getting it fixed in that way. :)

All that to say, I no longer need to use the WaterPik, but I still do use and like it! I also floss once a day, which is not part of Dr. Ellie's "system". If I remember right, she "allows" something like a WaterPik or flossing to be added to "the system" without a problem.

The parts of her system I do use are the toothpaste (Crest Original Paste) and rinses (Listerine and Act), in "her" order. The toothpaste really does seem to work the best for us all around. I use small amounts for the children who can spit. I have tried fluoride-free toothpaste and even with good brushing habits, our teeth had plaque build-up.

I think there is room for differences in dental care, and you should definitely find and use what you're comfortable with! I'm very thankful that through all the reading I've done and since finding and using Dr. Ellie's system, our family's dental health has improved. (Having dental insurance now helps too.) :)

Got any tips for tooth brushing with kids? Tell me in the comments! :)

Blackberries fill my freezer (and the best blackberry coffee cake recipe)

If you look in my freezer right now, you'll see a whole lot of salmon fillets and gallons of blackberries. Salmon and blackberries... foods that will always shout "Pacific Northwest!" to me! Our summer finally warmed up and we had a month of the perfectest weather possible. Clear, sunny days with highs in the 70's... and handfuls, literally handfuls, of juicy wild blackberries.

Fresh blackberries!
A couple of the biggest blackberries Joshua picked this evening

These guys are huge, and will fill a small bucket in no time at all. They're also growing everywhere here in Western Washington. We've found several great picking spots within a short walk of our house.

My favorite spot isn't the one at the end of our driveway (too close to the road with an 18-month-old runaway), but the one at the park down the road. The children play, run, and visit with the goat kids that live right beside the park while I pick blackberries... and pick blackberries... and pick blackberries from the (what I thought was a) SMALL blackberry patch there. :)

Bucket for berry picking

The easiest berry picking is with a bucket and string. I used a few old (clean) shoelaces and cut slits in the sides of empty sour cream or yogurt containers so we'd each have a bucket for picking.

Yehoshua and his bucket, ready to pick blackberries
Yehoshua (7) ready to pick berries :)

Also useful is a grabber of some sort. You know those high-up bunches that are so huge and ripe and get the most sun but no one can reach them? They MUST be gotten. ;) A friend suggested using a long stick with a nail half-way pounded in at the end to help maneuver the canes.

At any rate, something to reach or pull with that doesn't involve skin is really great because those branches just don't like to let go. At all. My parents were here from Ohio last week, and remarked on the size of the blackberries... and the tenacity of the prickles (they're not technically thorns... I just learned this today).

When my parents were here, we tried to make their food experience as PNW-ish as possible. ;) The first evening, Joshua grilled tuna steaks. (I didn't take pictures, but let me just say that leftover grilled tuna steaks takes a tuna melt to a whole new level!)

The next morning for breakfast, I made some fresh blackberry syrup with whole wheat pancakes. For dinner that night, Joshua grilled salmon on cedar planks.

Later in the week, I made blackberry coffee cake with more of the berries. Joshua's freshly made vanilla ice cream went perfect with the blackberry coffee cake!

And believe it or not, blackberry season is still going. I think our freezer can hold a few more gallons, if I take the time to pick them. And it's free food, so I may as well! This is, after all, the only time of year when blackberries are not (as much of) a pesky weed here. ;)