Pumpkin Spice Cake Roll

Gluten Free Pumpkin Spice Cake Roll | MSVL
My Secret Vanilla Life | Gluten Free Pumpkin Spice Cake Roll recipe uses Pamela’s Gluten Free Pancake & Baking Mix flour and Organic Valley Cream Cheese

3 cups  Pamela’s baking & pancake mix
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar

1 cup applesauce
1- 1 ½ cups of pureed cooked pumpkin
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix the wet ingredients in a mixer until combined.
In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients together and sift to break up lumps. Add the dry to the wet in small amounts until combined.

Pour batter onto a lined jelly roll pan. I used a silicone baking mat on a commercial sized aluminum tray. Bake at 350° for about 25 minutes or until it springs back when touched.

Roll it to cool. There are lots of blogs on how to roll a cake roll, but mainly you need to do this while it’s warm.

While it’s cooling, make the cream cheese filling.
Whip together 4 boxes of cream cheese and about 1 cup of powdered sugar. Add more sugar to taste.

Fill a piping bag with the cream cheese filling and pipe some lines onto the unrolled pumpkin cake roll. Then, smooth it out. Decide which way to roll it to get the desired size or number of slices. Slice it up and serve.

HeatlhyWiser PH test strips: MSVL Product Review

My Amazon Review:

These are very convenient little strips that produce quick and accurate results to keep your ph balance in check. I like that having two options for testing: saliva or urine. The chart on the back of the box is perfect for a quick indicator to match your results against. Sometimes we feel like something is just not quite right and we experience pains that have no explanation. Your body’s ph balance is really important to monitor to help keep balanced. This set comes with a  large quantity of test strips to closely monitor daily readings of ph balance. These results should be reported to a doctor to help prescribe solutions. I think these test strips are a great solutions for being in check with your body and it’s symptoms. I got these at a discount in exchange for my honest review.

HealthyWiser TDS Meter: Product Review

img_20160908_162558-01What’s in your water? That’s what I wanted to find out. When I received this test meter, I put it in my purse and tested out water in all different areas. I went to the pool, tested out the water fountain at the gym and the sinks at the gym. I tested the water from the reverse osmosis machine in the grocery store and some bottle water. I tested the tap water at home – the sink and the shower. I also tested the water that came out of the fridge dispenser that is filtered.

img_20160908_162205-01My results were eye opening. The filtered water from the fridge tested better quality than the shower. I was surprised that the reverse osmosis water got a higher TDS reading than bottled water, which had a reading of zero! I will be moving soon and I plan to test out the water in the new place. This is a good indicator for when it’s time to change out the filter in your fridge or time to get filters put on the taps in your home. It made me re-think the whole tap vs. bottled argument. If only it weren’t for the plastic! I really like how easy this product is to use. It is simple, easy to read and easy to use. I researched TDS and what is involved with that. it means “Total Dissolved Solids” which sounds kinda gros. Like, What solids are in my water? eww! But, now I can know for sure and put my water to the test. I received this product for a discount in exchange for my honest review.


My Secret Vanilla Identity

cropped-msvl_icon_LEFT.jpgMy blog began as a place for random posts about recipes, parties, my colon… whatever. The name has been changed every few years to things like CoffeyTreats, Coffey Tester, to … I don’t even remember. The theme has been changed countless times simply for fun. (I guess another hobby is messing around with websites.) Originally, it was on Blogger, then Wix and finally entered the wonderful world of WordPress.  While the random blog posts won’t change, I don’t mind knowing that people might actually read some of the nonsense I post on here. I guess the secret is out!

Over the years, I’ve been helping friends with party planning and creating healthy, allergy friendly treats, and testing out products.

So, the cat’s out of the bag. I’m offering up my hobbies as entertainment. I’m a photographer, baker, cook, party planner, wedding coordinator, muralist, website designer, teacher,  a self-proclaimed Disney tourist consultant and a product tester/reviewer. How may I help you?


Peppermint chocolate chip vegan ice cream

Oh snap.  I have finally figured out a recipe for a dairy-free ice cream that my kids actually LOVE!
The  ice cream part has NO refined sugar.  Pretty amazing,  if you ask me! The chocolate chips, on the other hand,  do have sugar,  but you could substitute cocoa nibs, if you had to.
Now,  it is not calorie-free. It’s actually pretty rich,  so you’ll want to go easy on the portion size.
This ice cream is so delicious and creamy and guilt -free. The best part is knowing that I’m not taking my chances on ingredients and it won’t cause any tummy issues for anyone.
Alright, I’ll get to the recipe:
For the ice cream, you’ll need:
2 cups of raw cashews
1 14 oz. can of Organic full fat coconut milk
1/2 cup of maple syrup or honey (if not vegan)
2 cups of organic, dairy-free chocolate
Do ahead of time:
Soak 2 cups of raw cashews for 4-6 hours in the fridge. (Not longer, because they will get bitter.)
Melt your organic chocolate in a double boiler. Take the melted chcoclate off of the heat and be prepared to stir super fast. Add 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract to the melted chocolate and stir quickly! Pour the melted peppermint flavored chocolate onto a silicone mat or parchment paper and spread out with a spatula. Freeze (along with a knife) for about 10 minutes. After it is hard, cut it up with the frozen knife, into chips. Store the chips in the freezer until you are ready to add to the ice cream. You can always make more to store for next time.
Before you report me to the photography police- these ARE my photos. My blog used to be called “Coffey Tester.” Calm down.

After the cashews have soaked, dump the drained cashews in the Vitamix blender. Add one 12 oz can of Organic Coconut milk, either 1/2 cup of maple syrup or honey, and 1 tablespoon (I know, a lot) of peppermint extract. Blend until super creamy.Now, dip your finger in there and taste it to see if you want to add a little more peppermint extract. keep in mind, it will be warm.

Next, put the creamy mixture into the fridge to cool . When it reaches around 40 degrees, it is ready to put in the ice cream maker. After it has churned for about 20-25 minutes, it’s time to dump in your desired amount of the amazing chocolate chips you already made. The consistency of the ice cream might remind you of spackle. Don’t worry, you’ll get over it when you taste it.
Voila! It will be soft right from the ice cream maker, but tomorrow night it will be firmer. Enjoy!

Disney World Etiquette

I bet you are super excited to go to Disney World with you family and you want to make sure you get it just right. As a self-proclaimed Disney World professional attender, I’d like to offer some tips on how to not be a total jerk during your stay. Enjoy.

Walk on the right side. Here in America, we travel on the right side of the road. Things work more smoothly if you walk the same way.
DON’T: STOP! You wouldn’t come to complete stop on the interstate, would you? Theme parks are the same way. There are thousands of people trying to get somewhere. If you have to stop to check your map or stare aimlessly into space, PULL OVER! to the right.
Also, if you have a family of 5 or more- don’t all walk next to each other. You are not a parade. You will be blocking the entire walkway because you guys can’t pair up and stay to the right.

Clean up your trash if you’re not at a fine dining restaurant. People will likely be stalking you for a table to sit at, don’t leave trash for them to clean up.
DON’T: Feed the birds! Do not feed the birds or any other animal. I know, Mary Poppins, great movie. You’re not the bird lady. Let me explain why this will make you the jerk; If you feed the birds,more of them will start crowding the area looking for food. Other people don’t want birds stalking them while they eat. Some kids are afraid of birds- you will be scaring the children! Lastly, it can also make the birds sick. – Not as important as the first two reasons, but still. Disney has the funds to keep them well fed with “BIRD FOOD”. Trust me, they do not need that French fry.

Remember that theme parks are a lot to take in. Children and adults will get stressed and exhausted. Try to keep in mind that nothing is the end of the world and you will create great memories, if you try.
DON’T: Spank your kids in public. Come on, now. I’m not here to debate spanking or judge discipline. But, please don’t do this at Disney World. If your child is out of control, as hard as it may be, try hugging him and letting them know that this can be a tough day for everyone. You know your kid. If he/she is acting different than usual, it’s because they don’t do this everyday!

Think about where you are standing. Are you blocking an aisle, a walkway, a door? You’d be surprised how many people are completely unaware of their surroundings.
DON’T: Block a walkway. If you are in a line that is coming out of an entrance that will eventually cross the walkway, curve the line yourself before the cast member has to direct an entire line of jerks to move over. It’s easy. Instead of lining up in the walkway behind the last person in line, stand to the side of the last person in line, next to the wall or building. People will start to line up behind you, against the building and Voila! You have done something good for the world!

Be courteous to those around you. Again, this is about being aware of your surroundings. Are you an adult blocking a child’s view of the parade? Well, then you are a jerk.

DON’T: Hold up your pompous umbrella when it’s not raining. Yeah, waa waa,  it’s hot and you are blocking the sun. You are also blocking my daughters view of the dancing princesses, that we paid good money to see! Also, Don’t hold up your iPad  to record the entire show. Seriously? Get a camcorder! I don’t want to watch the show through your ipad and neither do my kids!

Be courteous to pregnant women or people in wheelchairs. I mean, do I have to even say this?  Let the pregnant woman have your seat on the monorail or any seat. Make space for the person in the wheelchair.

DON’T: Cut in front of people in wheelchairs or cut them off. That’s just not cool.

These rules of Disney Etiquette have a common theme. Be aware of what you are doing and don’t be a jerk. Have fun!



Theme Park Pack List

You’ve probably heard the “the locals” here, in the Florida, visit Disney World quite often. See, we don’t travel AT ALL. We couldn’t possibly afford to fly anywhere or even stay in a hotel for more than a few nights. So, our best option is to do day-trips to Disney, with  a Florida Resident pass, a few times a year. We have mastered the art of packing, fast passes, when and where to eat, where to nap and which lines are shortest.

I am going to share with you what I pack to feed a family of 4 at Disney for less than $15 (at Disney). You may be skeptical of some of the items on the pack list, but I promise everything is necessary.
If you are staying in a hotel suite with a fridge where you can shop at a local grocery store when you get there, or if you are local, this will work for you. It requires prep work, but it will be worth it.
This list is in addition to what you have already packed.


1. Healthy granola bars and other healthy packaged snacks
These are best for snacks while waiting in line. Try packing “snack sized” zip bags with grapes, raisins, craisins, and/or granola bars. Here’s a great recipe for that.
Packing each snack individually:

  • Will help with portion control (so, your 6 year old doesn’t eat the entire bag of popcorn that was meant for the family to share)
  • You can finish it while in line and just throw away the bag when it’s time to ride (almost all the attractions have garbage cans at the front.)
  • It’s easy to grab and hand it over.

It’s not a good idea to hand a 6 year old a handful of grapes. She will drop them, everywhere. A small baggie seems to be easier for her to manage. – Lesson learned.

2. Cut up fruit and side dishes in packable containers

 This will be the bulk of your meal for lunch and/or dinner. Cut up fruit and veggies into pieces and keep them separated. If your kids are like mine, they will want to choose what they want.
Any fruit, except maybe apples and bananas will work great for packing. For veggies, try celery sticks, cucumber slices, carrot sticks, broccoli florets, spinach leaves and even grape tomatoes. All of these can be dipped in something.
Use little 2oz plastic containers to pack dips like peanut butter, ranch dressing, honey mustard dressing, soy sauce, or hummus. You don’t have to get fancy with side dishes, but make sure it can be eaten cold/room temp.


3. Paper plates (1 for each family member, per meal +2)
Don’t ask for plates when you get there. You’ll have to stand in line, it’s kinda rude and they might not give it to you. You don’t have to pack the utensils, napkins or water cups since those are easily accessible and attainable in the park.
4. Flossers
Someone will get something stuck in their teeth. Why does this always happen? You are most likely going to be taking lots of pictures and I know you don’t want that spinach grin forever immortalized in your vacation album. Make sure you throw them away in a trash can to keep the wildlife safe.

5. A pair of  disposable latex or vinyl gloves (1 pair per meal)

Once you are at the theme park, you can eat just what you packed, or you can add a Turkey leg into the meal. I’m sure you know that Turkey legs are crazy-high in calories and should not be consumed by only 1 person. But, when you split it between family members, the calorie portions work out great. The gloves are so that you can rip off the meat, cave-mom style, pile it up and add it to your packed buffet. When you are done, you don’t have to get up and go wash your hands, because they will be greasy from the turkey. Just throw them away in a nearby trash can or make a trash pile on the table to throw out when you are done eating. *Don’t leave your trash on the table.*

6. Flushable wet wipes

Do you have kids? Then, yes, you will need wet wipes.
7. Empty Plastic zip bags
So, you couldn’t finish off that turkey leg at lunch? Stick the rest in a plastic bag and serve it at dinner! Same goes for any other left over snacks.
8. Large water bottle
Bottled water is so expensive. You can bring a large water bottle, we use this one, and we fill it up at water fountains, they are everywhere.
Additional notes:
*PLEASE do not trash the theme park.* They allow us to bring food in because certain people can not eat the food available due to allergies. If we start trashing the park with baggies and paper plates from packing our meals, they will take that convenience away. Make sure you throw everything in a trash can and don’t feed the animals or birds. It’s annoying and not safe.
Make sure your bag is small enough to put between your feet on rides. Hard coolers are not allowed in the park. You can use a locker, but they are expensive and you won’t have your food with you when you are ready to eat it. Make sure everything is sealed really well.  It will probably be riding the rollercoasters with you.

Got any other handy ideas for eating at the parks? Let me know.
Check out my blog post about Disney World Etiquette.

Beet Burger & Fries

Farmer’s Market Dinner

Beet Burger & Fries
Menu: Grilled Beet Burger with goat cheese, spinach, avocado, ranch dressing, topped with a homemade gluten-free bun and a side of cinnamon sweet potato fries and fresh strawberries.

Almost everything was from the farmer’s market:
Local Goat cheese
Raw, local milk for the ranch dressing and the buns
Herbs for ranch dressing
Sweet potatoes

(Serves 6-8)
3 cups grated raw beetroots (approx. 4-5 beets)
1.5 cups rolled oats
1 small onion
7 oz goat cheese or sheep’s feta cheese
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp cold-pressed olive oil
3 organic eggs
Homemade Ranch dressing

Peel and grate beets, onion and garlic with a salad shooter or the grating blade on a food processor. Mix the vegetables, olive oil, eggs and rolled oats in a large bowl. Set the mixture aside for about 30 minutes, so the oats can soak up the liquid and the mixture sets as this step is important for the patties to hold together). Make gluten-free biscuits or buns with Pamela’s Gluten Free flour.  (recipe is on the bag.)

Form 6-8 patties with your hands. Grill the beetroot burgers a couple of minutes on each side – or fry them in a frying pan by heating a bit of oil and fry until golden on both sides. Serve with Ranch dressing and toppings of your choice.


Simple Frozen Birthday Party

Instead of the wild, elaborate, outrageous party that we are used to having with 30 kids in attendance, we opted for a VERY small [playdate] party with the twins’ closest 4 friends, in exchange for a “Frozen inspired bedroom” (shown in another post) that they can enjoy all year, plus a day trip to Disney World. (We live close and have annual passes.) It was so worth it!

So, while I don’t have anything too impressive to post, here are a few of the simple things I did to make this year’s birthday party a hit – even if it was just for 6 little girls. They had a ball. I started by ordering party favors 3 weeks in advance just to be safe… and guess what? They arrived 1 week AFTER the party. Awesome. Thanks for nothing, Amazon. So, the night before the party, I ran up to Target and bought 4 Frozen books and some plastic tiaras. Whatever. They still loved them. The original party favors were the Little Golden book version of Frozen, Frozen stickers, and cute snowflake bags.

Next, it was time to decorate. We turned our Little Tykes play house into “Wandering Oaken’s Trading post and Sauna. I just cut out two pieces of cardboard and colored them with a Sharpie and crayons. I glued some cotton balls for snow and hung some keychain rings on them. NBD.

… and of course we couldn’t forget Olaf! We put him by “the fire”
(faux fireplace) to warm up.

The living room was not “Pinterst-worthy”and sparsely decorated with hanging snowflakes and a few sparkly door curtains. The dining room, also sparsely decorated, but still cute.

I hung some pink, purple and light pink streamers and attached them to the chandelier. I still had the plastic “royal backdrop” from the Princess party 3 years ago, and taped that to the wall. Time for Cupcakes!

This was my original idea for the cupcakes and while they are cute, completely organic (I used natural food coloring) and gluten-free, it just wasn’t cute enough. So, I decided to make each of the twins their own personal cupcake for their favorite Frozen character. Here is Anna’s royal cupcake. It was so little but adorable and delicious. Looks just like the movie, right? The best part was, I only had to make 3 of them!

Amazon sells this cool food-grade silicone, called ComposiMold, that you can melt and make a mold for anything. I busted off the arms of a little prince toy that was already missing his legs. Within in few minutes, I had a perfect mold for these little chocolate busts for cupcake toppers. I inserted a lollipop stick to hold it in place on the cupcake.

Here’s the poor guy, upside down in the molding gel. First, I hot-glued him to a popsicle stick and hot-glued any holes where the arms and waist had been. After placing him in the Composimold and gently shaking it around a little to release bubbles, I placed a shot glass on top to hold him down. This was a bad idea, because when I put it in the fridge, the shot glass fell off. I ended up just putting a big piece of tape across the stick and onto the cup.

Now, for Elsa’s cupcake: I started with (good tasting, gluten-free) chocolate cake in a silicone flower pot mold. Flip it over and use a paper towel roll to cut just the right angle out.

I made a few extra for this one, just in case. But, I only needed 3 Elsa cupcakes. Don’t worry, I took care of the extras. 😉 This is just the top of the cupcake. I plopped these little mountain tops on top of chocolate cupcakes. Then, I added delicious organic cream cheese icing. I got a cheap chocolate castle mold on ebay and made little white chocolate castles. I think they turned out perfect.

But, what to wear? I got some fabric and blindly made some coronation costumes that I think turned out really freakin’ awesome!

The activities for the party included:

  • Pin the nose on the snowman (Dollar store find. I didn’t bother having a giant poster of Olaf printed. I know, bad mommy.)
  • Snowball toss (wadded up paper tossed into a basket and then at each other)
  • Cut out paper snowflakes
  • Elsa & Anna Light (Like, Red Light-Green Light, but for Elsa you FREEZE.)
  • Sven Ring Toss (a cardboard cut out of Sven’s head with plastic rings)
  • Coronation dancing Freeze dance

…And now, for the grand finale of the party; I cued up the “Let It Go” scene/song on YouTube, all the girls belted out their best vocals and just at the right moment, I MADE IT SNOW IN THE LIVING ROOM.

Snow Angels, of course, on the carpet.

Snow refill

It was actually pretty simple to do. I will say, this would probably be best on hard flooring. I have berber carpet, so I was able to sweep (most of) it up to make it snow about 10 more times. When we were finished we vacuumed it up.

I purchased two bags of fake snow confetti at the party store (5 months before the party). I taped little, paper salad plates on the fan blades and filled them with about 2 cups of snow confetti. Turn the fan to low or medium and you’ve got snow! So, not including the costumes, the party cost me about $40 since I used a lot of party decor that I had from previous years.

See, you can have a great Frozen birthday party without breaking the bank!


Easy, Healthy, allergy friendly, (Vegan) snacks for kids

So, you’ve signed up to bring snack for your kids’ class… today. So, 10 minutes before school starts we run into the grocery store and grab something prepared. Unfortunately, most of the time we grab a box of cookies, or cupcakes, or a giant box of Goldfish. While the teachers may appreciate that you remembered to bring in snack on your assigned day, the parents might not love that their child is getting “dessert” as a snack every day.

It’s hard to come up with snacks for kids that are not only healthy, easy to prepare and won’t leave any “allergy kid” out. Here’s my top 10, allergy friendly, healthy “Grab and Go” snacks for kids and busy moms:

Prepworks 16 count apple slicer & corer

1. Apple slices – with this fun little gadget, there’s no need to send the teacher a knife and cutting board for the snack time. (Avoiding jail time for sending a weapon to school is always a bonus.)  A bag of organic apples is about $6. If each kids gets about 1/3- 1/2 of an apple, that’s probably enough for the whole class. Remember, it only needs to be a SNACK, not a meal. This handy gadget can also be used with pears.

2. Bananas – They are pretty cheap and the only prep work is peeling. Each child only needs half for a snack, maybe a whole one depending on the size of the class.

3. Plain Raisin boxes – Not, the yogurt or chocolate covered. Just raisins.(Organic is even better.) You can get these at the large supermarkets like, Costco or Sam’s, and definitely at your grocery store. To save some money, you could buy the raisins in the big container instead of the individual boxes. The teacher can put a handful on a napkin just as easily.

Gorilla munch on Amazon4. Dried Cranberries – These come in individual boxes or the large container just like raisins.

5. Grapes – Seriously, grab a bag, wash, distribute, enjoy. It doesn’t get much easier.

6. Gorilla Munch – No, not cheerios. GORILLA MUNCH. This stuff is so good, organic, GMO-free, low sugar, allergy friendly and you can keep a giant, bpa-free, container for lots of snacks! I order it in bulk because my kids love it so much.

7. Dried bananas (or freeze dried) – Check the labels to make sure there aren’t crazy chemicals in them. My kids like the dried bananas chips, plantain chips and LOVE the freeze dried bananas.

8. Veggie Chips (or Veggie Stix)- Yes, they have oil in them, but they aren’t that bad. I mean, they have veggies in them!  They are tasty and filling. I don’t mind my kids having them for an occasional snack.

9. Corn chips –  Be careful with this one. Make sure they are Organic, non-GMO, gluten-free and don’t contain any chemicals or sugars.If you want to get fancy, you could add some homemade guacamole. But, that takes time and you usually have to eat it right away. However, it would be a fun, quick little recipe to teach the kids in the class.

10. Brown rice cakes – Again, make sure these are Organic and non-GMO and free of chemicals and sugars. If there aren’t any allergies to worry about in the class, you can add hummus spread, non-gmo peanut butter, Justin’s almond butter, or for a special treat – Justin’s Hazelnut spread- yum!

Now, you have no excuse! …except for maybe your 4 kids, the car won’t start,  you just had a baby, etc. Hey, I tried to make it a little easier for you!  Good Luck 🙂


The Journey to a Healthier Life Begins with Netflix?

Yes, really. If you are ready to change your life for the better the first thing you need to do is educate yourself. Don’t you want to know what you are in for before you start a major life change? There are gobs of self-help books out there and to be honest, I’m just not the type that can cozy up to a good book and read for hours. I wish I was. We got Netflix as a replacement for cable so we could monitor what the kids were watching and it turned out to be majorly awesome for us parents as well.
So, before you jump on the first diet fad to help you lose 10 pounds in 10 minutes, watch these movies on Netflix.

The order is based on my opinion of the best viewing order. It doesn’t really matter. They are all great!

1. Food, Inc.
2. Supersize Me
3. America the Beautiful
4. Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead
5. Hungry for Change
6. Forks over Knives
7. Forks over Knives: extended interviews
8. Food Matters
9.The Gerson Miracle
10. The Beautiful Truth
11. Tapped
12. Food Fight
13. Farmaggedon
14. Vegucated

I do have to comment that while “Vegucated” does have many great points, it makes me upset that she seems to be encouraging products like Oreos as  “Vegan food”. Well, yes, they are vegan because they’re not even “food” at all. That’s my only real problem with the film.

Also- While I recommend “America the Beautiful”, I do NOT reccomend the sequel, “America the Beautiful 2”. It completely disregards a healthy diet and ends with the idea of “just be happpy”, as if your health is not important and won’t make you happy.
I hope you all can change your lives for the better after educating yourself and making a decision to do things right.

My favorite video (also available on Netflix) is “The Secret.” It will change your outlook on life and it works with any person, of any religion, or lack there of.

There you have it. Now go upgrade your life!

UPDATE: Since this post, FMTV.com launched and has almost all of these videos plus more. So, for sure, check them out as well.

Fine Print: I am not at all affiliated with Netflix, FMTV.com or any of these films, nor have I been compensated for anything on this blog. These are simply my own opinions and recommendations. I am not a doctor.


Disney’s Frozen Inspired Bedroom

Instead of the usual over-the-top birthday party this year, the twins opted for a Frozen themed bedroom with decorations they can enjoy for more than just one day. This was no easy feat, but after a few weeks and a lot of work, I think it came together very nicely. They love it!

Here’s “Elsa’s” Frozen side:

 She keeps her Elsa necklace on her clock so that she can put it on first thing in the morning. She wears it everyday.

Here’s how I created Elsa’s Frozen side of the room:

Elsa’s headboard and footboard were made from crackled plastic panels, usual used for fluorescent lighting ceiling panels. For the headboard, I cut out a mountain shape from the plastic. Then I hammered a bunch of nails for the outline and left them sticking out about an inch and half from the wall. I glued little magnets to the back of the plastic to stick to the nails and then it held itself against the wall.

The footboard was attached with magnets as well, since nailing it would have cracked the plastic. I dind’t want to glue it and ruin the furniture. After that was installed, I sprayed some swirly spirals with the window-spray-snow-in-a-can stuff. I also hung two cleariridescent plastic snowflakes and one white snowflake underneath the shelf above the bed. The canopy is a cheapo white mosquito bed net . I added blue and silver ribbon glitter mesh.

The picture frames on the wall were plastic shadow box frames from the craft store. I painted mod-podge on them and sprinkled on Epsom salt to give them an icy-frosted look. Here’s a tip: DON’T (accidentally) BUY THE SCENTED EPSOM SALT! (Unless you want it to smell like an Abercrombie & Fitch store – you know, that smelly store you walk past in the mall that gives you a migraine from the stench. Holy cow, that was a lesson learned.) Get regular, unscented.

The mural was just a fun, free-hand painting. I just love painting big swirls and “going with it”, wherever the brush leads me. After I was happy with the swirls and colors, I added glittery snowflake wall decals.

The snowflakes hanging from the ceiling are just a cheap, simple decoration from the party store, taped to the ceiling. Super simple.

Now, here’s “Anna’s Royal side:


Here’s how I did it:

I attached several, taped together, large poster prints to the window shade making the image of “Arrendale”, as seen from the castle window. On the lower shelf of the is a tissue holder – half frozen and half “be-jeweled”. The girls helped decorate it with jewels, sprinkling glitter and adding more Epsom salt.

To create “Anna’s” bed I started with this image from the internet –  That, I don’t own and don’t claim to, but you can Google it, too.

 I started by drawing a rough outline on a giant roll of brown paper (the stuff used for keeping the floors clean in new homes. It comes in giant rolls at Home Depot. It’s great for tons of uses.) Then, when I was happy with that, I cut it out and traced it on an 8 foot white board panel.
My husband used a jigsaw to cut the pieces out. Time to prime and paint and paint and paint. After painting all of the pieces, I hand painted the design according to the internet-inspiration photo.
To create the art gallery of portraits during the “first time in Forever” song, I found most of the images on Pinterest. First I gathered an assortment of frames and laid them all out on the floor to figure out how to arrange them. Once I got the arrangement figured out, then I had to figure out which photo would go in which frame.

I printed out each photo (in black and white on the regular printer) just so I could move them around to figure out the arrangement. I was so fortunate to find the big gold frames at Goodwill for only $4 each! They were actually framed mirrors, but that was easily fixed. I took a screw driver to the back of them and knocked those mirrors out. There isn’t glass on those frames, but they still look great to me- like the original paintings!

 Both of the girls have a shelf above their bed. Under the shelf, I attached a little tap-light which is perfect for night-book-time.

See it under there?
Her canopy was made from a window panel set from Walmart. I had to cut, re-sew and sew on velcro to it to make it work. It’s attached to the underside of the boards with velcro. 

Yes, I was prepared. I stocked up on all things “frozen” during November and December while planning this room. Some of it was even purchased before the movie was in theaters. We just knew this movie was going to be THE movie and it IS. We are Frozen-Crazy!

After all that, we did end up having a small Frozen Birthday party.


Skim the cream the easy way!

Put the turkey baster DOWN.

I found the secret to getting the cream from raw milk the easy way! Maybe it’s not a huge secret, but I was pretty psyched to figure it out.

Step 1: Shake up your raw milk and dump it all into a dispensing container with a spicket/tap.  Let it sit at least overnight in the fridge to let the cream rise to the top.

Step 2: VERY CAREFULLY move the container to a flat surface and if possible, put it on a little step stool on a table or counter top. Get a jar or container ready to dispense the skim milk. Make sure the top lid is off or the milk won’t come out the tap!
As long as it stays undisturbed the cream will stay at the top as the skim milk dispenses out the bottom of the container.
Step 3: As the cream approaches the bottom, carefully tilt the container to only let out the skim milk.
Step 4: When only the cream is left in the container, switch to a different jar and dispense the cream!
After this, I usually dump all of the skim milk back into the large container and keep it in the fridge. It’s handy having a skim milk dispenser!

How to Make REAL (Gluten-free) Chicken Nuggets

             After taking the plunge to remove everything artificial from our diets, I came up with this simple solution for a regular lunch that my kids can’t live without. We thought going to Chick-Fil-A was the “healthy” place in the mall food court to eat. Boy, was I wrong! So, here is a chemical-free chicken nugget meal your kids will love.


Glutino GF bread crumbs
Organic Coconut Milk
Organic Boneless Chicken Breasts
McCormick Rotisserie Chicken seasoning* (optional)

2 containers, 1 needs to have a lid
Kitchen shears
Baking sheet
Silpat or parchment paper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Put Coconut Milk in one container and the breadcrumbs and the seasoning in the other. The amount is not really important. Obviously don’t use too much seasoning, maybe 2 teaspoons?

Designate one hand to get wet and yucky with the coconut milk and the other to stay dry for the breadcrumbs.

1. Cut up bite-size pieces of chicken.

2. Put the pieces in the coconut milk bowl. Mix it around so that all of the pieces are covered.

3. Put about 3-4 pieces in the breadcrumb bowl, put the lid on and then shake it up to cover the pieces.

4. Place those pieces on the Silpat on the baking sheet.

5. Continue these steps until all nuggets are finished.

6. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

You don’t have to bake them all! If you can’t eat 2 chicken breasts worth, you can store the extra uncooked nuggets in a airtight container for up to 2 days (depending on when the expiration date was.) That way they taste fresh when you want to bake them again tomorrow. This is a great time saver if you want to make this ahead of time, the night before for lunch the next day.

There you have it! Add some Alphatots and some fruit and you’ve got a delicious kid-friendly meal!

**UPDATE: Once again, I am disappointed to find out about sneaky ingredients in my food. The Rotisserie Seasoning includes “Spices” that are not named- which means it COULD be MSG. But, who knows? They’re not telling us. You can still make your own seasoning for these nuggets with paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and salt.


How To Cook & Eat an Artichoke

I’m going to let you in on a little secret… Artichokes are friggin’ delicious! They are packed with all kinds of nutritious goodness, but mostly loads of Vitamin C. These artichokes were “frost kissed” which is a pretty way of saying they were flash frozen to preserve them  for transport. That’s why they have the brown, scabby spots. They mostly go away during the steaming process. Unfortunately, these were not organic. I try to get organic as much as possible, but these were just before the season begun. Here’s how to eat them.

First, get out a large stock pot and put a steamer basket inside. Fill it with water to just where it starts peeking through the steamer basket. Turn it to medium-high heat.

While that’s heating up, start cutting the pointy tips off of each leaf.

The center leaves are harder to get to. Use the knife to cut the tops off. Then, cut the stem off at the base so that the artichoke can stand on a flat surface. Cut a little bit of the ugly edge of the stem off and thinly peel the stem with a vegetable peeler.

Put the stems in the bottom of the steamer. Wash the artichokes thoroughly. Fill the tips with water and dump them out. Rub the leaves with your hands under running water.
Next, place the artichokes in the pot and cover with the lid.

This is VERY important: set a timer for 15 minutes to refill the water in the steamer pot. You will have to refill it about every 15 minutes or you will burn the steamer basket and artichoke juice. It will stink up your artichokes and they’ll be undercooked and nasty. Steam the artichokes, with the lid on, for a total of 90 minutes.

After 90 minutes of steaming and checking the water level every 15 minutes, take the artichokes and stems out with a ladle or silicone oven mitts.

How to EAT an Artichoke

Melt about 3 tbsp of butter in a little dipping bowl. Have a “discard bowl” ready on the table.  DIG IN!
You can start with the stem, if you choose. You can dip the stem in butter and eat the whole stem as well. It’s not as great as the rest, but still pretty good!

Start by picking off one leaf at a time, dip a the end in butter and scrape the inside of the leaf off with your teeth. The outside leaves won’t have as much “meat” but, you’ll get more as you get towards the center leaves.

Here are some leaves I scraped going from left to right in order of the section they came from. Once you get toward the center, you can just eat the lower half of the leaf.

Once you get towards the center, the leaves will be really thin. You can get a bunch together and just bite the ends off.

When the tips have sharp points it’s about time to discard those and get to the best part!

Get out a spoon and slowly and carefully tug the “hairy” part away from the edges.

That little greenish-greyish bowl is called the “heart” and it is awesome. EAT THE WHOLE THING! Of course, you’ll want to toss it into your butter bowl first or fill the heart with butter! Either way, it’s delicious.


Homemade Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Homemade Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Friggin’ delicious.
“How about some ice cream, dear?” “Sure, honey! I’ll have that ready for you in about 4-6 hours!”

            Now that I’m making an effort to “eat clean” and be organic I realized that it was time to replace my beloved Cool Mint Cookie Frozen Yogurt.  It remains the best frozen yogurt on the planet in my mind, but it had a few ingredients I wanted to eliminate from my diet. I wanted it to be free of lactose, corn syrup and soy.  After much trial and error, I have come up with an amazing replacement.  It’s WAY more calories, but much healthier and the calories aren’t always “bad”. Just eat it in moderation – it’s ice cream.

This is not the project to do when you have other stuff going on. Like, when your kids are conscious.  It requires your full attention. If you walk away, stop stirring or even look at it funny, even for a second, it could ruin the whole batch.

1 cup of Milk (dairy, almond, rice, etc.)
2 cups of organic half & half (with lactase drops added)
2/3 cups of sugar
6 egg yolks
2 tsp of peppermint extract
Lactase drops
1.5 cups “Enjoy Life” chocolate chunks

Tools needed:
Mixer with beater
Large glass cup or measuring cup
Container with plastic freezer bag in it
Glass bowl
1/3 measuring cup
Wooden spoon
Rubber spatula
Siplat or parchment paper

Get everything ready to go, because once you start, you gotta move fast.

First, separate all of the egg yolks from the whites.  All 6 yolks go in the measuring cup and the whites go in the seal-able plastic bag. You can freeze the egg white and save them for another recipe or toss them. Whatevs.

Pour 1 cup of milk into the saucepan.
Pour 1 cup of “half & half” cream into the saucepan.
Pour 1 cup of “half & half” cream into the glass bowl and place the strainer on top.
Pour 2/3 cup of sugar into the saucepan.

Start heating the saucepan at medium heat. Give it a little stir to mix the sugar around.
Now, You might want to get a timer out and also put on your big girl panties because this part is not so enjoyable. Use the mixer to whip the egg yolks for….ready for this… 3-5 minutes! (The amount of time will depend on the power of your mixer. Mine was kinda old and crappy.) So, get comfortable and crank that machine to HIGH SPEED

When you first start whipping, the yolks will be dark yellow and very thin and liquidy.
Here’s when I just got started.

With 2 minutes remaining, you can see the yolks are getting lighter in color and thicker.


By 5 minutes, the yolks are very light and very thick, like cake batter or thin icing. I have since bought a new mixer and it only takes 3 minutes on high speed to get the yolks to the right consistency. You want them to be thick as it determines how creamy or icy your ice cream will be. 

Next, stir up the milk and sugar in the saucepan and get eye level with it. Watch for steam. Don’t let it boil!

Yeah, you can’t see the steam rising. But, it was there. I promise. Once you can steam rising, pour some or all of it into the yolks and stir quickly for about 15 seconds. Don’t use the beater you don’t want to add bubbles.

Then, pour all of that back into the saucepan and continue to stir and cook at medium heat. 

Keep stirring. Don’t stop. Don’t look away. Focus. Watch it carefully and don’t let it boil. Keep checking the back of the wooden spoon.

If it starts bubbling or looks like this; that means it’s probably boiling and you may or may not be able to save it. Lower the heat.

If it looks like this; chunky and watery, you’ve burned it. The batch is ruined. Chuck it.

You want it to remain creamy. It’s not done cooking until the back of the spoon can be coated thick enough that when you drag your finger across it, and burn your finger, it looks like this.

Now, remove the saucepan from the burner and pour it through the strainer into the glass bowl with the cream that you already poured in. This is to strain out any lumps that might have cooked too much. If there are no lumps- you are a champion. If you have a few lumps- you’ll do better next time and you didn’t totally ruin the ice cream.
Stir it up. Congratulations, you’ve just made custard or something very close to egg nog.

Place the glass bowl in an “ice bath”, which is a fancy way of saying a bucket-o-ice. Make sure to fill up around the sides. Then, put it in the fridge. 


You can put a thermometer in the “ice cream” to keep track of when it’s ready for the ice cream machine. It can take up to 4 hours to get cold enough. You can speed up the process by putting it in the freezer instead. It needs to reach 40 degrees.

Let’s make some chocolate chips!
Melt 1.5 cups of the chocolate chunks over a double boiler and add 1 tsp of peppermint extract. I use “Enjoy Life” chocolate becasue it doesn’t contain soy, dairy or anything weird and artificial. The chocolate does not have to be “tempered” or anything fancy because it will stay frozen.

 Here’s a tip: Put the silpat or the parchment paper on top of a cutting board. It will make the transport to the freezer much easier!

Pour the melted chocolate onto the Silpat or parchment paper and spread it across to as thin as you want your chips. If it’s too thick, it will be difficult to chop. Then, place it all in the freezer, with your knife for about 5 minutes. You want to freeze the knife and the cutting board because the chocolate starts to melt very quickly! Be prepared for your hands to be covered in chocolate!

Don’t put your knife right on top of the still melted chocolate, duh! I put this in after it was already frozen!

After 5 minutes, take it out and start peeling it off of the mat/paper. Put about half of it back in the freezer. Chop it up! It doesn’t have to be perfect little rectangles. Put those chips in container and put it in the freezer. Chop the remaining chocolate and add it to the same container.

You may have to freeze during the chopping process. I guess my house is warm and the chocolate melts super fast.

Once the ice cream has reached 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you can take it out and get it ready to go in the ice cream machine.

Here’s a tip:
When you take the bowl out of the “ice bath”, place it on a towel. The bottom of the bowl will be wet and if that drips into your ice cream maker it makes ice chucks in your ice cream. No Bueno.
Now it’s time to add 1 FULL tsp of peppermint extract to the custard! Don’t forget this step!

Follow your ice cream maker instructions… yadi, yadi, yada.  Pour it in the ice cream maker, let it do its thing. About 5 minutes before the ice cream is done churning, get out your container of chocolate chips and start slowly spooning in chocolate chips.

Oh, there’s an empty spot- add chocolate! You can add as much or as little chocolate as you want. Sometimes this makes too much chocolate, sometimes it’s just right. Idk.

Quickly, transfer the ice cream into a dry, freezer safe container or into your mouth. Enjoy!
Now, go do the dishes.


The Lion King Birthday Party

      Is there an echo in here? The girls loved last year’s Jungle party so much that they wanted their 5th birthday party to be JUST like it, except this time, specifically a “Lion King” party.

I did my best to transform the living room into a jungle again, but this time without a bajillion balloons.

This is vinyl tablecloth (it came in a roll of over 50 ft.) and brown streamers

Learning from previous years, this year, the party started at 2pm. No early arrival, no lunch and I told the parents to DROP OFF their kids, to help with crowd control. I still had plenty of chaperones/helpers and each was “assigned” to an activity station. I designated my dad as the photographer, which he was more than happy to do. The backyard was set up with various activity stations. Of course, we still have the playground set in the backyard with the swings and slide.

1. Pin the tail on Pumbaa
I had to do some photoshop work on this and have a poster printed and a few posters of tails printed to cut out. After that, I just had to hang it up and pass out tails. No problem.

2. Pin the scar on Scar
Same concept and work as Pumbaa, but this time with eye’s and scars instead of tails. The kids thought it was hilarious putting eyes all over Scar’s face.

3. Color with Rafiki
I freaking painted this mural! Projector and paint – boom. The paper was a ginormous roll (probably 100 ft?) from Home Depot for $10. I hung about 20-30 feet on the fence. The kiddos used chalk to color on it. Good fun.

4. Make a lion mane mask
Easy peasy. I cut circles out of the middle of orange paper plates, attached elastic to the sides and cut strips of yellow and orange crepe paper/streamers.

5. Bowling for Buzzards
Printed buzzards on card stock and taped them to a cheap bowling set.


6. Stampede Race
We blasted the soundtrack for the stampede and did a few relay races and “Red Light, Green Light”.

To gather the kids up before going inside, we called them all up to the porch.

7. Feed the chickens
Why not? We have a chicken coop now and all the kids wanted to check them out. My husband passed out handfuls of oats to toss from the porch to the chickens.

After about an hour and half of backyard activities, we all came inside for the traditional game of freeze dance and a few other dance games. This time we decided to change things up and learn simple movements to parts of the songs. We also did a conga line and freestyle dance. I put different colored masking tape on the floor to show where we would all go for the circle, to avoid weird crowding.

See that awesome Lion King Sunset mural in the background? Yeah, I painted that, too. 🙂

 Then, all the good little children sat down on the pre-marked lines on the floor to sing Happy Birthday to both girls, once for each of course.


Finally, we started the Lion King movie and passed out the “dirt” cupcakes. Same as last year… except this time, they were gluten-free. That didn’t go over as well as I had hoped. Several of the kids rejected them. 🙁 I’m still on the hunt for a good tasting gluten free chocolate cake.

The girls opened presents while the movie was still on so kids could either watch them or watch the movie as parents arrived for pick up. Everything went just like clock work. Perfect! No mistakes to list this time! I was able to direct the kids like it was a day at camp while enjoying everything. I think I’ve got this party thing down!

Here are the tips from this party:

  • Do EVERYTHING in advance. I had all of the crafts printed, cut labeled several days in advance. 
  • Little details that made the party go smoothly: I used colored masking tape on the carpet to make a giant circle to avoid craziness during the conga line. I know these kids. I also made a different set of lines for them to sit and watch the movie and watch the girls open presents. I’ve done 2 giant parties before and I know these kids will crowd and be crazy if things are set up in advance.
  • Have a written schedule prepared. I had everything planned down to the minute. It was a 3 hour party. I knew how long it would take to do each activity station and how long it would take for cake and how long each song was for the freeze dances. This helped immensely because everything went perfectly and I didn’t have 20something kids to entertain for who knows how long until their parents came to get them.
  • Designate helpers – I had about 4 parent volunteers stay to help and they actually did! My dad was in charge of photography – that was his main job. My MIL stayed by the craft tables and helped the kids make the masks (She was great since she used to be a preschool teacher.) My mom did the “pin the tail” games. She loved it. The other helpers volunteered for things that they enjoyed. Meanwhile, my job was to host, but I also got to be by my twins’ side the whole time and have fun with them.

The Coolest Bolt Party ever


 My daughter LOVES Bolt.

I had never even heard of the movie and stumbled upon it in a discount bin of DVD’s. I figured, “What the heck. She likes dogs. Maybe she’ll like this random movie I’ve never heard of.”  Boy, was I right! I thought Beauty and the Beast would be THE ONE that she would forever be in love with, but Bolt and Penny quickly took it’s place.

The full Penny costume

She watched the movie over and over and over and wanted to re-enact the movie just as many times. She begged me for a “Penny costume” and for Bolt toys. Well, you know as well as I do that since it wasn’t one of Disney’s most popular videos, you can’t find Bolt merchandise anywhere!
As a surprise, I was able to put together a Penny costume for her and purchased the one and only Bolt toy available on the Disney Store website. Fortunately, the costume was pretty simple once I got the wig from ebay, entitled “Sexy tranny auburn wig NWT”, and the “Sexy striped Beetle-juice knee high socks” from Hong Kong. (Who knew this costume would be so sexy?)

Re-enacting a scene from the beginning of the movie.

She decided for her half birthday that she wanted a Bolt themed party. A HALF BIRTHDAY PARTY??? I’M IN! (I love parties.) So here we go…

Believe it or not, we actually had A LOT of kids show up. Word travels fast. I think there might have been about 20 altogether. Most of them watched the movie on Netflix the night before so they would understand parts of the party. Since it was just a “half birthday party”, there were no presents or cake. It was basically a really fun, big playdate.

For decorations, we took over 100 pictures of “Penny” to re-create the wall in Bolt’s trailer. I cropped them all square and printed them out as regular 4×6 prints. Then, I just chopped off the bottom to look like a Polaroid. That week, a plush “Mittens the cat” listed on eBay and I got it! The mini hotdogs were from the scene where Bolt and Mittens eat in the trailer park. The blue Fruit-by-the-foot was for the leash that tied Bolt and Mittens together.

“The power…of the Stryofoam!”
 I was pretty proud of these boxes. I made them completely by myself, from scratch! The boxes are actually small paper bags cut to look like boxes. I re-created the ‘Global Air Freight” logo in photoshop by myself. The “styrofoam” packing peanuts are actually little meringue cookies!
Gotta have Bolt and Mr. Carrot cookies, too. They were delicious!


…and what kind of party for 4 year-olds would be complete without syringe shots? These were at the party store in sets of 6. It’s just juice with a touch of green food coloring. These syringes are from the part of the very end of the movie where Dr. Calico tries to ‘stick it to’ Penny. The kids loved drinking from them!
We had several obstacle courses and races set up in the backyard that had the kids running everywhere. We also played the soundtrack during some of the games to make it more realistic.
Inside, the kids had a few more games including these “lasers” they had to climb through. Before they did the “laser course” they had to get “altered”, so they all got lightning bolt “tattoos” with a black washable marker. For craft time, They made binoculars out of toilet paper rolls, string and tape. We also made Bolt collars – each kid decorated a plastic gold tag that was attached to a brown ribbon.
She still talks about this party and so do the other kids that were invited. It was pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. 🙂

**This party took place before I stopped feeding my family gluten and artificial food dyes.**


VIP Baby Shower – mini-party

So, I’m used to having BIG parties for lots of people. This party was a challenge for me because we were expecting about 10 people… and then only 5 showed up. I felt so bad for the new mommy that her “friends” had totally bailed on her. But, at least I had really cute food and decorations. Whatever. I kept it simple… sorta.
The guest of honor, the soon-to-be-mommy, loved reading tabloids and other entertainment magazines so we thought a celebrity theme would be fun.

I printed out over 100 images of magazine logos for a “step & repeat wall”. I placed a long red vinyl table cloth on the floor for the “red carpet”. Each guest got their picture taken with the new mommy upon arrival.

We needed celebrity presence and fortunately, Justin Beiber was on clearance at the party store.

Check me out being all sexy, like this kid, while I decorated for the party
And of course, celebrity look-a-likes plastic curtains!
The mommy to be gave me a stack of her magazine to decorate with. I ripped out a bunch of pages, mostly the covers and taped them together for a huge tablecloth. I put a clear plastic tablecloth over the top just in case something spilled on it. 

For the food: The mommy-to-be requested vanilla cupcakes with cream cheese icing. We also had non-alcoholic margaritas and sparkling grape juice in plastic goblets.

The popcorn on the table was real popcorn, but the “popcorn” in the cute bags was actually meringues!

I made individual kernels out of meringue that were slightly tinted yellow

That’s all. It was a mini-party. Too mini for my taste.


Ulcerative Colitis can kiss my ass

I was diagnosed with Ulcerative colitis at age 31, but I’m pretty sure I’ve had it since I was born. Frequent tummy aches made me a “faker” as a child. Weekly shit-flares would ruin my plans with friends during the teenage years. As an adult, the all too frequent, time-consuming flares would keep me from getting things done and taking care of my twin babies.
I was taking NINE Asacol tablets a day. NINE. The docs also wanted me to try daily suppositories and enemas. Seriously? How on Earth could that possibly make my life better? Things had to change and I wasn’t willing to accept the bags of drugs, procedures and extra colonoscopies in addition to my already, uncomfortable daily life.

I decided to change my diet. A year later: No more Asacol (NONE) and I haven’t had a flare in over 6 months. No drugs, no procedures. I went into for a check up adn the docs said, “You don’t have to have a colonoscopy this year. You’re doing so well, let’s wait 2 more years!” BOOM! I beat it, my way and it was better than what the docs wanted me to do. They NEVER even hinted at changing my diet. Not even a suggestion. It really bothers me that they were ok with the idea of me having to do daily suppositiories and enemas when I could have just stop eating certain things. Jerks!

So, Here’s how I did it:
I said Good-Bye to caffeine (with the exception of the occasional piece of chocolate), Gluten (Wheat), Lactose, Soy (except for in Miso Soup. That’s the ONLY Soy I allow, since I rarely eat it.), artificial preservatives, artificial sweeteners, GMO foods, “farmed” fish, and anything that includes the words “Spices” or “Natural Flavors” on the ingredients list.

What Do You Eat?

I still eat plenty! My rule is; “If you can grow it, then you can eat.” In other words, I couldn’t possibly grow “Red 40”, “Maltodextrin”, or “Sodium Benzoate”. But, it IS possible to get milk from a cow to make cheese or ice cream. You can buy local (or organic) milk. You can buy soy-free chocolate. They came from natural stuff that is grown on Earth, not in a lab. Shop local, eat seasonal, make stuff from scratch. You can do it! Yeah, it’s hard. REALLY hard. I have to go to like, 3 different grocery stores sometimes just to find the ingredients I need, that are organic and not filled with chemicals. But, Is it more of a pain in the ass than daily suppositories? No way!

Farmer’s Market:
If you haven’t been to your local farmer’s market- you must check it out. I think you’ll be surprised at how much they have. This is a great chance to break out and try new recipes and enjoy making your own food. You may even have a local crop share group that is awesome for getting the whole bag of groceries all at once.

The Challenge:
I challenge you to try cutting out the junk for 30 days. I guarantee you will feel results.  This means that you have to read the ingredients on literally everything that you eat. EVERYTHING. So, think twice before you go to a restaurant, because they might not have a list of ingredients for you to see- and that means you can’t eat it.
How about those cute little “yogurt” shops? That’s not yogurt. I’ve looked at the ingredients and they are filled with chemicals that you wouldn’t believe! What’s worse is finding out how they make it. I had visions of them churning milk and cooking it in a special low-temp yogurt machine to get it just right… NOPE! The franchises receive their products in powdered-chemical form and mix it with water! Then, they dump it in the fancy soft-serve machines to make it squirt out all pretty-like. 

No more fast food. The only place I allow is Moes. I don’t get the tortilla, queso or cookies. So far, I haven’t had any reactions to their food and their ingredients list is pretty good.

Grocery shopping takes longer because you have to look at the ingredients of EVERY SINGLE THING that goes into your cart. Yes, even on meats. You may notice that many brands will add crap to what looks like a “regular chicken breast” or hamburger meat.

Pinterest has SO many recipes for “clean eating” and copy-cat recipes for things you can’t live without. Just this week, I made a copy-cat, homemade version of “Lawry’s Seasoning salt.”

Subscribe to the Food Babe blog. Silly name, but she knows her stuff about food and what’s in it. I’ll try to remeber to post my favorite substitutes here and keep you up to date on my journey.
I want to hear how this works for you!


Jungle Safari Party – 4th birthday!

In the last year, the girls have become obsessed with the movie The Lion King. They frequently watch other animal movies such as Brother Bear and Madagascar but, nothing holds a candle to Simba.
This year was planned WAY better than last year. I had just about everything done by the day before. The party was at 11am and I had recruited many helpers for the morning of the party to help. Every helper had their own list of things to do. It worked perfectly. I had time to shower and get dressed cute before any guests even arrived.


We had the two bounce houses again, the Lion King Soundtrack and other “jungle sounding” music blasting in the backyard. We did “pin the tail on the lion.” A table was set up for coloring and some large cardboard pieces to climbs through. They weren’t painted- just totally plain to crawl through- whatever. We did a relay race outside while playing the music from the “Stampede in the gorge” part of the Lion king movie.


Then, the kids came inside for a good old fashioned game of freeze dance. We just had the Lion King and Madagascar cued up on the tv ready to press pause. The kids really got into it. (The birthday twins were dressed as Nala & Simba, then changed into their Lion King shirts and then this little lady decided she needed a princess dress over that. LOL)

 Surprisingly, the big hit of the party was the “animal hunt.” I hid little animal toys all over the living room for them to find. They liked that so much we did it about 7 times. The parents were all helping to hide the animals again and again. Then the kids would bring them back to me to put in my cute pith hat as fast as they could.

LESSON: Don’t bother making elaborate balloon designs for decorations.
It looked cute, but most of the guests didn’t seem to notice them. It took forever. At the end of the party I passed them out to the kids to play with. They were pretty stoked. I guess that’s a positive.
Hindsight: never again.

That’s a crap-ton of green balloons to create palm trees  
Lunch time!
 It’s hard to see, but I also made little posters everywhere to look like path signs {BASE CAMP, Zimbabwe trail…) Again, we rented child-sized tables and chairs for the kiddos to sit.

LESSON: It’s nice, but not necessary, to have lunch catered for 30 kids and 45 adults.
I thought having the party at 11am instead of 9am, like last year would solve a few problems, and it did, except it created a few more. I couldn’t invite people at lunch time and not feed them. So, we ordered a crap-ton of bar-b-que. 
Hindsight: Don’t do the party at lunch time

Each kid got a cute, paper animal plate, a “zebra leg” (chicken drumstick), half of a banana, mango chunks, garlic toast and some meringue mushrooms. Meringue mushrooms? What the hey?

Yes, meringue mushrooms. They were AWESOME. I made them, from scratch, with meringue and dark chocolate. They looked so real some of the kids were afraid to try them! They tasted like cotton candy/marshmallow with chocolate. SOOOooo good. The adults couldn’t keep their hands off of them either!

Then, all the good little children sat down and ate their food while watching The Lion King movie. Perfection! This time we were not going to forget about the Birthday Song. We all sang it twice, once for each twin.

Look at me enjoying the party!! I was so “present”. Lesson: Designate a photographer.

LESSON: Making elaborate cupcakes isn’t necessary.
My first attempt at cupcakes involved making individual animal shaped cakes and icing them. (Hippos, Lions, Bears..)

There were not turning out right and it was taking WAY too long, so I quit that stupid project and ended up with this genius idea:

Dirt cups! Chocolate cake, green “grassy” icing, gummy worms and “leaf” chips.

Hindsight: I made the right choice by bailing on the stupid, elaborate cupcakes and going with the dirt cups. The kids devoured them.

After the party, we still had ton of food left which we were able to save for left-over for the next few days. The out-of-towners had been fed so they left after the party! Finally, we surprised the girls with BIKES!

My husband was pretty excited about these. He got them on Craigslist for $10 each!

“We’re going to see real elephants… RIGHT NOW!”

A friend gave us a Groupon for a private elephant meet and greet- the same day as the party



Yeah, it was pretty cool. How will we top this next year?

Colonoscopy Prep: It doesn’t have to be a pain in the ass

*Disclaimer: This should not be used as medical advice. I am not a doctor. This post is simply my opinions and advice based on my own experiences.

Colonoscopy Prep Tips

Congratulations on doing your homework before an upcoming colonoscopy! Research is the first step to making it a better experience. Before we get started, I’ll warn you. This is going to get just a little graphic and I may use mild foul language, but really, what are we talking about here? Let’s get the giggles out of the way: “Poop, Shit, Butt-hole, Ass…”
Now that that’s out of the way – I hope this will help ease your mind and prepare you for your upcoming shit-fest.

I chose the MoviPrep option and had an afternoon colonoscopy. First, let’s start with a shopping list of the items that will help with the prep. Other than picking up the big MoviPrep box from the pharmacy, I suggest the following items. I’ll explain the importance of each of them.

  • 100% Pure Petroleum Jelly in a squeeze bottle
  • (Separate) Vaseline for lips
  • 2 containers of Charmin flushable wipes
  • Panty liners (optional)
  • Lemon flavored Italian ices
  • Miso soup broth or Chicken broth
  • Stuff to make smoothies
  • Biotene Dry Mouth Oral Rinse (optional)
  • Anti-Bacterial foaming hand soap
  • Insulated travel coffee mug
  • Water bottle
The Prep instructions will state that you should avoid high fiber foods 3-5 days before your colonoscopy. I strongly recommend that you follow that. Three days before my colonoscopy, I tried to have mostly liquids and very soft foods. It WILL make a difference in how you feel during the prep. You need to accept the fact that you ARE going to be hungry, but it won’t kill you and you might even lose a few pounds! BONUS!
If you have Ulcerative Colitis, of course, continue to stay away from your “bad foods” and do your best to reduce your stress level. Try to schedule your colonoscopy for a Monday so that you can relax the weekend before.  You don’t want a flare-up on the day of your appointment!
Three Days Before the Colonoscopy
Breakfast: a Smoothie
Lunch: A smoothie and something else soft, like yogurt
Snack: Flavored water, pudding
Dinner: Mashed potatoes, soup (soft and liquid!)
Dessert: Frozen yogurt
Two Days Before the Colonoscopy
Breakfast: Smoothie and tea
Lunch: Smoothie and/or a small portion of mashed potatoes (sweet potatoes are great!)
Snacks: lots of water, yogurt, Italian ices
Dinner: Smoothie
Evening snack: a big bowl of frozen yogurt (last solid food- make it soft and good!)
Follow your instruction sheet given to you by the doctor. Don’t eat nuts, broccoli, cereal, oatmeal or anything that would be considered fiber or called “roughage.” There is a reason for eating very soft foods and mostly liquids a few days ahead of time. MoviPrep will “Movi” through you like Draino. It will be fast and furious. So, YOU decide what you want rocketing through your a-hole for a few hours. Solids or liquids?
The Day Before the Colonoscopy
The food list recommends eating Jello, but I recommend making your own with real gelatin without all the chemicals and food dyes.
I bought 5 large bowls of Miso soup from the local sushi restaurant. (Grocery store Miso soup isn’t the same and doesn’t taste nearly as good.) I asked the sushi restaurant to omit the mushrooms, chives and tofu. I only needed the broth!   It is best enjoyed HOT. I recommend using a a travel coffee mug to keep it nice and hot while you drink it… by the gallon. The Miso broth was a life saver for me. It was delicious and helped me feel full. Remember to drink lots of water!
About 2 hours before you are supposed to start drinking the MoviPrep, mix it together and put it in the fridge. It’s much more tolerable cold. Then, start getting the bathroom prepared.

1. Put the Petroleum Jelly and the 2 containers of flushable wipes near the toilet.
2. Bring your cell phone in the bathroom and put it within arms reach of the toilet. I brought the ipad in and put it on the counter top to watch YouTube videos for entertainment. Be prepared to spend about 2 hours in or near the bathroom.
3. You probably already have hand soap in your bathroom, but I recommend a good, anti-bacterial foaming hand soap since you will washing butt-juice and Vaseline off of your finger a million times.
4. Wear pants that you can easily pull down. No snaps, zippers, ties, whatever. In some cases, you’ll be lucky that you even got them down in time. Panty liners are nice for keeping the messy petroleum jelly and butt-juice from destroying your underpants. You can keep changing the liner so you don’t have yucky underwear during the process. Guys- don’t be embarrassed to ask your lady to borrow a few liners. It’s better than having butt-juice underwear! And don’t go commando. You don’t want that shit running down your legs.

Ok, time to start drinking! Bon Appetit!
The MoviPrep tastes like liquid Pledge floor cleaner. You’re gonna have to psych yourself into drinking it. Follow the instructions for the amount you are supposed to drink. Don’t sip it. Just chug it as fast as you can and get it over with. Then, chase it with a little water. It should take effect within 15-20 minutes. Don’t sit down or relax. You want things to get moving. Why delay the inevitable? Stay standing, walk around, let it do it’s thing. Just stay near the bathroom. Set a timer for 15 minutes to start drinking the next set.

 3-2-1 Blast Off!

No, that’s not a fart. RUN! Get your ass to the toilet. Do not assume that “it’s probably fart.” You will shit your pants. If you feel anything at all, you’re almost too late. RUN!
  The Pooping Process: Step by step guide for your shit-fest. 

I recommend getting the Petroleum jelly in a squeeze bottle. It will be so much cleaner than dunking your finger in a tub of that goo and then… well, you know. If you followed my diet suggestions you will not expel anything that really looks like poop. Ideally, it will be liquid poop.

Also, DO NOT USE TOILET PAPER! I don’t care how soft you may think it is. This medicine-cocktail is powerful and will burn your butt-hole if you don’t take care of it. Only use the flushable wipes.  You may think it’s ok, the first time. It’s not. The MoviPrep liquid will have an effect on your skin from the first moment. Don’t ruin a good thing. Use the flushable wipes. Trust me. (I have tried many flushable wipes and I recommend Charmin. The other ones tend to make me itchy.)

Do the following after EVERY “poop”.
  1. Gently wipe or dab your butt-hole with a flushable wipe and then throw it in the toilet.
  2. Squeeze about an inch of petroleum jelly on your finger and apply it around your butt-hole, even if it feels fine. Trust me.
  3. Get another flushable wipe and wipe off your finger. Put it in the toilet and flush!
    If you pee at the same time, just pat with toilet paper or a flushable wipe.
    (Ladies- lean/rotate forward to pee so that it doesn’t drip near your butt-hole. Urine will burn your butt-hole after this medicine passes through.)
  4. Wash your hands thoroughly with hand soap and dry.
  5. Keep standing. Walk around, stand, pace, but don’t lay down. Keep things moving to get this over with! If you lay down, it will take longer and you may cramp up.
After you have finished half of the container of liquid, just bring it in the bathroom with your cup. You won’t be able to make it to the fridge and back to pour the next 2 doses. Keep following the step by step instructions and be sure to use the Petroleum Jelly EVERY TIME. Stay Hydrated. Drink a lot of water. This will make a huge difference in how you feel. Carry a water bottle around with you and take constant sips.
Six hours before the Colonoscopy
Have a little Miso Soup broth and drink more water.
Four Hours Before the Colonoscopy
You will not be able to eat or drink anything, even water, 4 hours before the procedure. So, just before that, drink a big glass of water. Rinse your mouth once or twice with the Biotene before you leave for the procedure. It will help with dry mouth. Also, applying the Vaseline (made for lips) to your lips will help you not feel so thirsty. Chapstick is addictive stuff and actually ruins the top layer of skin on your lips. Vaseline for lips is great and will last longer.
It will be hard to not slip up. You body’s survival instinct will be telling you “I’m hungry. I’ll just eat that __________.” You have to keep reminding yourself that you can not eat or drink. Here’s a trick I did: I was pretty hungry, but smelling food actually seemed to stop the craving. I stuck my nose in a bag of chocolate chips and breathed it in. It smelled great and it was like I had eaten it. Peanut Butter smells good, too!
I hope this (long) guide will help you. If you have any other helpful tips, let me know so I can include them for others. Now, go get your ass checked out! Good Luck!

Metatags for search terms:
Ulcerative colitis, Colonoscopy tips, Colonoscopy prep,  Ulcerative proctitis


Disney Princess Birthday Party: A Royal Doozy

             We didn’t really do anything for the first two birthdays because they didn’t understand that whole “party or holiday” concept yet. Then, preschool came and they got invited to birthday parties and all of the sudden they wanted their own. Well, since they didn’t get any parties so far, I wanted their first party to be awesome. But, I didn’t have any experience with parties- at all.
I was ready to go ALL out. I mean, they have been cheated out of four birthday parties already (2 for each). So, by my logic this should be as big as 6 birthday parties- and it was. They really wanted a Princess Royal Ball and I was ready to make it happen.

In hindsight, I could do this party WAY better, if I had the chance again. I learned a lot from my first party planning experience and I’ll share with you the highs and the low points of this extravagant affair.

I started planning months in advance. But, I should have had more set up days in advance instead of making a to do list for the morning of the party. Duh!

LESSON: I didn’t do enough ahead of time or ask for help a few days before. 
Guests were arriving and I was still running around like a maniac, un-showered, sweating and still in work clothes. I didn’t even make time to throw on the pretty dress I bought for the party. I was still setting things up, helping kids, getting food ready, and directing my few volunteers on what to do next. I didn’t get to really enjoy the party at all. I was so busy, from not doing enough in advance or getting help from others, that I didn’t greet or really speak to my guests, spend time with my family or actually enjoy any of the hard work I had put into this party. I look like a slob in all of the pictures, I don’t even recognize some of the people in the pictures and I don’t remember anything my kids did or said the whole day. It was like I wasn’t even there. What a mess! I will never let that happen again. I missed the whole point of enjoying my children on their special day.

UPDATE: You’ll see in the posts from the following years that I learned a big lesson and made a extra special point to be very involved in spending time with them on their special days.

The Grand Entrance
The children were greeted by a castle and a red carpet at the entrance of the party- fit for royalty. Disney soundtracks were playing loudly on outside speakers and there were balloons everywhere. Inside the castle there was a little table with a rose. Any guesses which movie that’s from?

We had multiple cardboard castles around the yard to play in. Each with a slightly different theme.

TIP: Start collecting appliance boxes weeks, maybe even months, in advance. They are hard to come by. I gave my number to several appliance stores and begged them to call me if they ever had any. I was basically on call for boxes. If they had one, they’d save it for me for about 30 minutes before their truck took it away.

To keep the children entertained, we had various “activity stations” around the yard. Other than 3 cardboard castles to play in, we also had our backyard playset that has swings, a glider and a slide. 

Two mini bounce houses
A PlayDoh station and a coloring station

Lauren McKinsey,  a new, up and coming Printables Designer, donated lots of cute decorations for the cups, party favors and the “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique” activity station. There were necklaces, nail polish, tiaras and hair glitter all ready to beautify the little princesses.

Printables and design by Lauren McKinsey
Printables by Lauren McKinsey

We rented child-sized tables and chairs. Each table had two beautiful, fresh flower centerpieces.

Then, the Big Surprise! My husband cued the music to play a “announcement horn” kind of sound effect and Princesses came out of the house on to the porch. SURPRISE!! The kids were floored.

Here’s the story on these princesses: I purchased each of these costumes on ebay and asked these sweet, highs school girls from church, if they would please attend as princesses. There was no payment, nothing illegal, they were happy to do it. It was such a blessing! The children were star-struck.

TIP: Designate a photographer.

I’m so glad I had a designated photographer otherwise I would have absolutely no memory of this day whatsoever. I did not take ANY photos of the day. All of the photos were taken by other people and I’m so grateful for them.

The princesses invited the guests inside for a Royal Ball. The indoor decorating took almost an entire day, since I had never done this kind of decorating before. Seriously, it wasn’t much, but I learned a lot.

It’s hard to tell in the pictrues, but there had be about 80 people in my living room at this point. It was crazy!!

They also presented the birthday twins with presents: a plush Belle doll and a Snow White figure set.

Meanwhile, I was getting the cakes set up outside.

LESSON: Don’t make yourself in charge of EVERYTHING! I could have been dancing with my beautiful babies while someone else put the cupcakes on the tables!!!

My mom desperately wanted to make the cakes and I had enough to do, so I was fine with it. Unfortunately, the other kids ran outside for cake so fast that MY girls didn’t get the princess cake that they wanted and no one sang Happy Birthday or blew out candles! It was so frustrating. None of the parents were like, “Wait, lets see what the host wants us to do… don’t dive into your cake… maybe we should sing happy birthday? Do you have the birthday girls cake?” None of that. Thanks. Way to be great guest. Also, no one was even offering to help at any point. 
So, it was up to me and the grandparents the whole time.

LESSON: Only put out a cupcake for YOUR child, with a candle on it. Then, sing Happy Birthday. THEN, the other kids can get their cupcakes.


 The [big] princesses stayed outside and played with the children for the remainder of the party.

It was a magical day… for them. I’ll be more prepared next year! I got this. 😉