Mother's Day Freebie

Mother's Day is coming up fast, and I've got just the thing for you to send your mom to tell her that you love her.  These freebie card designs (for personal use only) are a little preview of my upcoming owl collection of invitations and party supplies, and they're sure to put a sweet smile on your mom's face.  They're especially great cards for kids to print themselves and give to mom.  Just download the 5 x 7 image that you like and print at home or at a local print shop.


Chocolate Raspberry Smoothie

Need a little pick-me-up in the mornings?  This chocolate raspberry smoothie will do the trick.  It's got a bit of protein in it to keep you going until lunchtime, and it's pretty darn tasty.  Try it out after your workouts, too, for a quick meal.

If you're having a brunch party or kids' sleepover, this smoothie is something to easily make in one batch.  It will get everyone going for the day.

Chocolate Raspberry Smoothie


* 4 ice cubes (optional if using frozen berries)
* 1/2 cup water
* 1/2 cup soy milk (or cow's milk if preferred)
* 1 scoop chocolate soy protein powder 
* 1 medium-sized banana
* 1 cup frozen or fresh raspberries


* Put ice cubes and frozen raspberries in a blender and crush.

* Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.

* Enjoy!


Go Vegan for Environmental Awareness Month

There are lots of organizations that celebrate April as an environmental awareness month since it includes National Environmental Education week, National Parks week, Earth Day, Arbor Day, and Earth Hour.  Usually, in doing my part, I choose something new each year to start doing that will help preserve the environment or increase sustainability.  This year I've decided to go vegan!

I've always tended toward vegetarian fare to begin with, but after reading Veganist by Kathy Freston this month, I realized that the social responsibility aspect fit in line with my sustainability beliefs as well...Not to mention the health benefits!  To start, I've been cooking two to three meals a day that are vegan (no animal products).  I originally thought that giving up dairy was going to be the hardest part since I put cheese on everything.  It turns out that I got over it really fast, and I really don't miss it.  Of course, I am making substitutions in my meals with vegan products that act like their animal product counterparts.

I have to say, though, that this is definitely forcing me to try a large variety of foods that I never would have cooked with otherwise.  Things like quinoa, black-eyed peas, nutritional yeast, and udon noodles have now become staples in my pantry.  Eating this way reduces a number of problems including: the harmful impact on the environment that animal food systems create, carcinogens in the things we consume, animal cruelty in food processing plants, bad cholesterol levels, and many more.  If you know there's no way you can make such a drastic change in your diet, then try Meatless Mondays once a week. It'll give you a chance to experiment with your food, enjoy cooking whole foods, and give you a sense of doing good.  Here's an easy whole wheat pizza recipe to get you started.

Whole Wheat Pizza


* 1 teaspoon white sugar 
* 1 tablespoon instant yeast
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
*1 teaspoon salt
*2 cups whole wheat flour
*1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour


* Stir together the olive oil, yeast, and salt.   Mix in the whole wheat flour and the all-purpose flour until dough starts to come together. 

*Using a mixer with a dough hook (or using your hands if preferred), knead until all of the flour has been absorbed, and the ball of dough becomes smooth, about 10 minutes. Place dough in a bowl sprayed with cooking spray, and turn to coat the surface. Cover loosely with a towel, and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). 

* When the dough is doubled, tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and divide into 2 pieces for 2 crusts. 

* Roll a ball of dough with a rolling pin until it will not stretch any further. Then, drape it over both of your fists, and gently pull the edges outward, while rotating the crust. When the circle has reached the desired size, place on a well oiled pizza pan. 

* Top pizza with your favorite pizza sauce, vegan shredded cheese, artichokes, peppers, spinach, and onion.

*Bake for 16 to 20 minutes (depending on thickness) in the preheated oven, until the crust is crisp and golden at the edges, and cheese is melted on the top.

(Recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com)



If you are a bottled water drinker, then you have to watch the documentary Tapped.  It discusses the ridiculously low regulation of the bottled water industry compared to the very high regulation of municipal drinking water.  There are a number of problems surrounding bottled water including: large companies claiming access to local water reserves that should be available to local citizens, the processing in petroleum plants that add harmful BPAs to the product, and the fact that empty bottles are thrown into the oceans to pollute our water resources and harm the wildlife in those ecosystems.

A better way to get your water intake is to carry along a reusable water bottle during the day.  They come in all sizes so you don't have to feel weighed down with a huge bottle.  It'll save you money and also contribute to your health, the environment, and making companies more socially responsible through how people choose to spend their money.  For those throwing parties and needing lots of drinks, try using a jug of tap water with a nicely printed label instead of the bottled stuff.  The presentation will be classier, and you'll feel better about making your party more sustainable.  Of course, if worse comes to worst and you have to buy bottled water, always recycle!  

Remember, Nalgene not Nestle!  Here are some of my favorite reusable bottles:
Thermos to-go, Camelback with sip straw, Kor red dot design award winner, and the classic Nalgene 32 oz bottle with attached top.


Happy Easter

It's still pretty cold here in the UK, and we're in the middle of the rainy season.  Still, we can celebrate Spring and this Easter with the sprouting flowers popping up everywhere.  The tulips are in full bloom, daffodils are lining the roads with bright shades of yellow, and the green grasses are tempting us as their vibrant color begins to come back to life.

In celebrating new life, whether in your religious beliefs or just in the environment, try bringing some of this natural beauty into your home.  It'll liven up your space and make you feel happier to see and smell something fresh and new.  We could all use a little something like that to brighten up our days.


Celebrate Earth Hour

Today is the annual Earth Hour celebration sponsored by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).  It takes place every year in cities, towns, and homes around the world where people and corporations turn off their electricity for one hour.  That's just sixty minutes to substantially help the environment!  The hour chosen (between 8:30 and 9:30pm local times) allows power to be shut off at its generally highest usage point during the day.  This is usually when people are home from work or activities, families are watching television, or the laptops and other gadgets are out in full force.  Since this is such a peak time, it's the perfect opportunity for people to show their support for the environment and commit to conservation for just one hour.

Why is this important?  Well, in the U.S. alone, commercial and residential buildings account for 40% of energy consumption (Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation , 2008).  This contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, overconsumption of resources, and long-term degradation of the environment.  By everyone doing their part for this one hour, we can save a substantial amount of energy and resources contributing to the decline of our natural environment.  So, don't forget!  Switch off those TVs, I pods, laptops, and even the lights at 8:30pm wherever you live.  It'll give you a fun thing to do with the family, a bit of time to be social with friends, or time to just hang out and meditate for a while.  There are some great "how-to" guides on the Earth Hour website for suggestions on what to do along with lots of pictures to check out from around the world after Earth Hour is complete.  Happy Earth Hour!

Bandung, Indonesia

Bangkok, Thailand

Edinburgh, Scotland

(Photo sources: WWF/ Earth Hour Global and Maverick Photo Agency)


St Patty's Day Trifle

To celebrate this St. Patty's Day, here's a little treat that is sure to please.  This chocolate trifle includes layers of brownie, chocolate pudding, and cool whip dyed green for this festive occasion.  It can be adapted for any craving, but these ingredients give the best consistency for a chewy, creamy mouthful.  If you'd rather have a crunch in your dessert, just add some Heath bars, graham crackers, or peanuts to your layering.

St Patty's Day Trifle


* 1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
*1/2 cup butter
*1 1/2 cups sugar
*2 eggs
*1 tsp vanilla
*1 cup all-purpose flour

*Jello instant pudding mix-chocolate
*3 cups milk

Cool whip:
*1 carton cool whip
*Green food coloring (about 25 drops)


*Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9 x 9 inch pan.

*Melt butter in microwave or on the stove and pour into a bowl with the chocolate.  Stir well until the chocolate has melted into the butter.

*Add in the sugar and eggs.  Then, mix in the flour until just blended.

*Pour into the greased pan and bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

*Set pan aside to cool.

*Follow the directions on the Jello package.  Mix the packet into the milk in a medium bowl.  Whisk well to remove lumps.

*Place in the fridge to set for at least ten minutes.

*Mix the green food coloring into the cool whip.  Use as many drops as needed until the desired color is achieved.

*Cut or crumble the brownies into small bite sized pieces.

*In a deep bowl or several small cups, layer the ingredients in the following order: brownies, pudding, cool whip.  Make sure to spread each layer to the edge of the bowl or cup.  Repeat the layering a second time.

*Chill until ready to eat.  Enjoy!

(Brownie recipe from Allrecipes.com)


Tiered Cake Stand Project

I recently went to a tea party where the host showed everyone how to make tiered cake stands.  It was a great little afternoon project that was really quick and easy for such a great end result.  Any type of plates, bowls, or mugs can be used for the cake stand, and the final product works well for formal or casual events.  Here are some instructions to make your own:

Tiered Cake Stand


*2-3 dishes of your choice (plates, bowls, saucers, or tea cups)
*Cake stand stems pack (can be found at craft stores and online)
*Tape measure
*Screwdriver (or drill if preferred)
*Power drill 
*Tile (diamond) bit for drill

*Choose two to three dishes to include in your stand.

*Mark the center of each plate with a tape measure and a marker by making a small dot in the center.

*Using a tile drill bit (may be called a diamond bit) and a power drill, drill a hole in the center of each dish in the spot marked. Tip: The end of the drill bit may need to be dipped in a very tiny bit of water between drilling to cool off the bit.

*Using the purchased stem kit, secure a washer and then a screw to the bottom of the first plate.  Put a soft washer on the top side of the plate on the screw and then apply the stem fitting to this.

*Repeat until all dishes and stems are secured together.  The top tier will have the embellished stem on top.



Women in the Built Environment

It's International Women's Day!  Since there are few women in the built environment fields, I'd like to honor those who have made significant contributions to architecture, urban planning, or engineering.  These women have put their hearts into their work and shown a substantial drive to make our surroundings better.  It's easy to forget just how important designing our built environment is when people do their jobs as well as these women.  Let's take a moment and recognize some of the outstanding efforts of women who make our daily lives easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable because of their contributions to the built environment.

* Urbanist, writer, and activist
*Wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities
*Organized grass-roots efforts to preserve local neighborhoods

*Architect and first female winner of the Pritzker Prize
*Known for:
 Vitra Fire Station, Germany
Terminal Hoenheim Nord, France
London Aquatics Centre, UK

Vitra Fire Station
(Photo by Rory Hyde)

*Architect and urban planner
*Founding member of the Congress for the New Urbanism
*Advocate for improved neighborhood walkability and reduction of sprawl

*Architect, landscape designer, and artist
*Known for:
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington D.C.
Civil Rights Memorial, Alabama

Vietnam Veterans Memorial


Homemade Valentines

Valentine's Day is the perfect time to show the people in your life that you care, and homemade valentines are a nice way to do that.  They let you express exactly how you feel and add personal touches for those special people.  The cards can be as simple or as elaborate as you'd like to make them, too.  You could stamp a nice saying on a blank card or go all out with ribbons and embellishments.  Just make sure to put your heart into it, and they'll get the message that they're loved.

If you like the cards below, check out the We R Memory Keepers Love Struck collection to create your own projects with these papers and embellishments.


S'mores Bars

What's more fun on a cold night at home then warm, gooey s'mores bars to remind you of a summer campfire?  This is the perfect treat for a kids sleepover.  It's a no fuss recipe that kids can help make and drool over as they bake in the oven.  They can even be packaged up for the neighbors, kids at school, or the soccer team.  Of course, even the adults will love this nostalgic dessert.

S'mores Bars


  • 2 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup butter or margarine, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 package miniature marshmallows


* Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

* Stir together 2 cups of the crumbs with the flour, butter, and sugar in a large bowl until well combined. 

* Press half into a greased 13 x 9 pan.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and pour the chocolate chips over the top.  Let sit until the chocolate begins to melt and then spread the chocolate over the crust.

 * Set the oven to broil.

* Sprinkle with marshmallows and the remaining 1/4 cup of crumb mixture. Press the marshmallows into the chocolate lightly.

* Broil in the oven on the top rack for 30 seconds to 1 minute until the tops of the marshmallows are toasted to your liking.

* Cool and cut into bars to enjoy.


Lemonade Cupcakes

Last week I posted pictures of my sweetheart themed party and all of the food that I made for it.  Today, I'm going to give you the recipe to make those amazingly good lemonade cupcakes that you can top with the freebie heart toppers.  These are the perfect way to say "hello" to the coming Spring or celebrate a special event.  The cupcakes are light with a cream cheese frosting that compliments the cake very nicely.  Your sweet tooth will thank you for these!

Lemonade Cupcakes


  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 3 tablespoons thawed lemonade concentrate
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • large eggs 
  • large egg whites 
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 cups fat-free buttermilk
  • Cooking spray 
  • Frosting:
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
  • 2 teaspoons thawed lemonade concentrate
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

  1. * Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. * To prepare cake, mix sugar, butter, lemon rind, 3 tbsp lemonade, and vanilla with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs and egg whites, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. 
  3. * In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda; stir well with a whisk. 
  4. * Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat well after each addition.
  5. * Pour batter into cupcake tins sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.
  6. * To prepare frosting, place butter, lemon rind, lemonade, vanilla, and cream cheese in a large bowl.  Beat with a mixer at high speed until fluffy. Add powdered sugar, and beat at low speed just until blended (do not overbeat). Chill 1 hour.
  7. * Frost cupcakes and store loosely covered in the refrigerator.
  8. * Enjoy!
(Recipe from Myrecipes.com)


Sweetheart Party with Free Printable

I recently hosted a party for some military spouses in the area as an opportunity to chat and catch up on what everyone had been doing.  Since Valentine's Day is fast approaching, I gave the party a sweetheart theme and based my party goods on the little candy hearts that are so ubiquitous every year.  The luncheon came together nicely with some turkey wraps, sides, and lemonade cupcakes.  I made toppers for the cupcakes, wrapped them in heart papers, and designed food and drink labels to match.

If you like the sweetheart theme, here are some free (for personal use) cupcake toppers that are ready to print.  Just print them, cut out the squares (or the hearts if you prefer), tape each one to the top of a toothpick, and stick into the middle of a cupcake.  Enjoy!


Soft Pretzels with Cheddar Cheese Dip

Anything dipped in cheese has to be good, right?  Soft pretzels are an especially fun snack to make and eat.  These are a great replacement for popcorn on a movie night or even as an appetizer for that Super Bowl party coming up.  Planning ahead for this recipe is key because there are a few steps involved.  Make sure you've got some time to prepare the dough early in the day or the night prior.

Soft Pretzels with Cheddar Cheese Dip


Soft Pretzels:
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 package active dry yeast
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil
3 quarts water
3/4 cup baking soda
1 whole egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
Coarse sea salt
For the cheese sauce:
½ Tablespoon unsalted butter
½ Tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
8 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated
* For the Pretzels: Combine the water, sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl and mix with a mixer dough hook until combined. Let sit for 5 minutes.
* Add the salt and flour and mix on low speed until combined. Increase the speed and continue kneading until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. If the dough appears too wet, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Remove the dough from the bowl, place on a flat surface and knead into a ball with your hands.
* Spray a bowl with cooking spray, add the dough, and lightly spray the dough as well. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot for about 1 hour.
* Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
* Bring the water to a boil in a medium-sized pot and add the baking soda.
* Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a flat surface. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope measuring about 20 inches. Cut the dough into one inch pieces to make the pretzel bites. 
* Boil the pretzel bites in the water solution in batches for about 30 seconds. Remove with a large slotted spoon and place on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.  Brush with the egg wash and season the tops with the salt. 

* Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown.

* Remove to a baking rack and let cool while making the cheese sauce.
* To make the cheese sauce:  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and cook until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the Cheddar cheese until smooth and completely melted. 

(Recipe from Two Peas and their Pod)


Making a Cozy Home

I just read an old article on the Care2 website that talked about making a cozy home by pleasing all of the senses.  It talked about the reduction of chemicals, adding natural elements, bringing in soft fabrics, cooking something tasty in the kitchen, and even positively altering the mood of the people in the home.  All of the elements made perfect sense in the way they promote comfort, wellbeing, and relaxation.  After all, your home is where you should feel your most secure and at ease.

The article got me thinking about how doing just one minor thing each week to improve your living environment can make a huge impact to your wellbeing.  If you light a couple candles when you come home from work one night, it may help calm you down after a stressful day.  Baking a batch of cookies on the weekend can fill your home with comforting smells that bring back memories and put a smile on your face.  Adding a wind chime to your patio brings peaceful sounds into your home.  Any of these little things can be incredibly meditative and comforting if you open yourself and your home up to the possibilities.  Try it by adding one of these elements into your home each week and feel how good it can be to have your own little hideaway.


Peanut Butter Cookies

Well, this recipe marks the end of my holiday baking for the year.  These tasty peanut butter cookies were a little treat I boxed up for those that needed a special thank you for their hard work throughout the year.  The recipe is really easy to whip up, and the cookies can be wrapped up in all kinds of ways.  I chose to pop them in a bakery box, add a little twine to the top, and stick a homemade label on the front to add a little warmth.  They're such a great gift to show your appreciation to someone.

If you're just looking for some comfort food, try filling your cookie jar with this recipe.  The intense peanut butter taste will definitely satisfy anyone's sweet tooth.


  • 2 cups peanut butter (Jif or natural peanut butter work well)
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease cookie sheet.

In a medium bowl, stir peanut butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the baking soda, salt, and vanilla. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place them 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets. Press a criss-cross into the top using the back of a fork.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

* Enjoy with a glass of milk.

(Recipe from Allrecipes.com)


Overnight Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon rolls are part of the weekend breakfast rotation at my house.  They're the perfect sweet treat for a lazy morning spent lying around the house. Here's a recipe that can be made the night before to sit in the fridge overnight.  Even the icing can be made the night before and just reheated in the microwave the next morning.  This way, however late you decide to wake up, you can just pop them into the oven and await the warm, gooey bliss.

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls


  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • For the filling:
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • For the glaze:
  • 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons half-and-half cream


* Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Add the butter and stir until melted; let cool until lukewarm.

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the milk mixture. Add the sugar, 3 cups of flour, salt and eggs; stir well to combine. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and supple, about 8 minutes.

* Lightly oil a large mixing bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

* Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 10x 14 inch rectangle. Lightly brush the far edge with water. In a small bowl combine the cinnamon and 3/4 cup brown sugar and sprinkle over the rectangles. Then sprinkle the raisins and chopped nuts over the dough. Roll up the dough into a log and seal the seam.

* Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces; place the pieces in a greased 9x13 inch baking pan, or 12 inch deep dish pizza pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to rise overnight.

* The next morning, preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Take the rolls out of the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

*Bake the rolls for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden. Meanwhile, combine the corn syrup with the vanilla in a small bowl. Whisk in the powdered sugar and enough cream to make a thick glaze; set aside. Drizzle the glaze over the rolls 
and serve warm.

(Recipe from Allrecipes.com)