Sunday, November 20, 2011

Going Green: Window & Mirror Cleaner

Again, this post is thanks to my genius mother who cleans with green products for a living. I asked her how I could get windows and mirrors clean without using Windex or other artificially colored and smelly chemicals.

The answer may surprise you:

Club soda!!

That's right, folks. Just regular ol' club soda that you buy on the soda aisle in the grocery store.

I simply put it in a spray bottle and Voila! You've got easy, cheap, and cleans-way-better-than-Windex mirror and window cleaner!

Directions are easy: spray onto the surface and wipe with a microfiber cloth.

It is streak-free and has no odor. I even used it on my car windows and windshield (inside and out). It cut through all the saltwater grime left on my car after I washed it. If you have ever lived in Florida, you know how nasty your car can get. The club soda cut right through all the grime and left my windows spot-free!

Don't worry if it loses some of it's fizzle - the spray will still work its magic.

Happy cleaning!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thankful Thursday

Today is another special edition of Thankful Thursday. Tomorrow, the 18th, marks one year of missing my grandmother, Mimi. I've been afraid to let myself feel the grief this past week, what with being alone in a strange place without my husband or family, but sometimes, it is good and right to let grief run its course.

So, here's to my Mimi.


Thankful this Thursday for my Mimi - for all the love, hugs, dilly dally's, advice, encouragement, nights of being my babysitter, sweet postcards and letters, raising 3 amazing kids, boxes of chocolate, watercolors hanging on my wall, and teaching me how to love a husband. 

We sang my Mimi home - all of us, her husband, her children, her grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. We sang her favorite hymns from her Baptist upbringing. We sang her favorite Presbyterian hymns. We sang songs we knew would bring her comfort and peace. We were there, surrounding her, touching some part of her (a hand, a leg, a shoulder) when she met Jesus face to face. The intense sadness could only be survived by the astounding beauty and peacefulness of the moment. 

I will remember many things about that day - driving the 2 hours to be there in the nursing home after I got the call; the friends and church members who came to love us; the incredible nurses who kept her comfortable and the quiet voices they used to soothe us; her family telling her how much we loved her, but that is was okay to leave us.

Most poignantly, I will remember the words my Dandy, her husband of 62 years, spoke to her in his last moment of clarity: 

"Betty, I am not far behind you. Then we can spend time together just like we wanted." 

Then he kissed her cheek and, I truly believe, this was the moment he also left us. His body remained, but they were together already.

(My undergraduate graduation)

If you have never been with a dying person, you can't imagine the sorrow or the beauty of the moment. It is indescribable. While it is the greatest pain I have ever experienced, it changed me. It changed my view of everyday life, of priorities, of knowing what I could let go and what I should keep, how important family is at the end of the day, and who true friends are. Even in her last act as the matriarch of our family, my Mimi taught me a lesson I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

So I am thankful for my Mimi's life, ministry, family, quirks, courage, and legacy this Thursday.

Mimi, you are missed just as much as the moment we held your hand and sang you home.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday's Favorites: Veterans

Today is Veteran's Day! I've been emotional and weepy all day. This is the first Veteran's Day I haven't been able to call my grandfather and thank him for his sacrifice during WWII. I also can't be with my Coastie. He is away sacrificing his sleep, rest, land hobbies, and time away from family so you and I can continue to sleep easy at night.

So, here's to my two all-time favorite men!

My Dandy:

The sweetest, sometimes crabbiest old fart, I've been privileged to know. He and my grandmother helped my mother raise her two daughters. He taught me how to drive a car, learn plants and trees, how to swim, the best places to hike, how to check the oil and change a tire on my car, how to invest in the stock market, and how to love family, God, and country.
That's me - the one with the perfect form in aerial and aquatic acrobatics.

Dandy was part of the "Black Magic" crew of a B-29 bomber out of Saipan in the south Pacific. He was a navigator, or radar tech.

He didn't talk much about his time in the Army Air Corps. But I know he was honored and humbled. He thought every boy should serve his country - it would make him a man, teach him respect, and give him a better perspective on the government, work, and loyalty.

Thanks to this man, our family is patriotic, loyal, and fiercely devoted to our independence and individuality, all while remaining dedicated and loving towards our family.

And, here's my Coastie:

I could gush about him for pages, but I won't bore you with that. Just know that I am honored to know him and feel blessed beyond measure that he chose me to be his wife. His positive attitude, his relaxed approach to life, and his willingness and passion for serving his country are truly amazing. He has taught me more about sacrifice, compromise, and living for something greater than ourselves. He is truly unselfish in love and in work.

So, thank you to my two brave, wonderful men. Thank you to all the other men and women who have sacrificed their safety, comforts of home and family, and their own agenda to be a part of a greater purpose. Thank you for allowing me to have my rights and freedoms. I do not take them for granted.

This Friday, my favorite thing is the veterans I have been blessed to love and know.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thankful Thursday

This week has been another week of personal challenges, hard lessons to learn, and simple, small joys. We have a lot going on here at the Preston household, but we are grateful to have each other and this life.

This week, I am thankful for:

Quiet mornings of coffee and yoga.

Another Skype date with my husband.

A paycheck.

Getting to know more of my heart and mind throughout challenges.

Sweet words from residents.

Beautiful sunrises.

Seeing two rainbows.

Trying a new recipe and it actually being delicious.

Somehow always having the resources to do what I need to do.

The support of my husband.

Snuggles from Mr. McGee.

Veterans who sacrificed their own agenda to protect my safety, security, and freedom.

My husband who sacrifices his safety, sleep, hobbies, and time at home to make sure bad people and bad things don't make it into this country.

Be thankful today! Try to thank a veteran, too!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Little Ministry

I never, EVER thought I'd end up in this job. Never EVER. And in less than a year after the worst heartache/beautiful moments of my life? Nuh uh. Not me. Please, Lord, not me. Send me anywhere else.

But where did He send me?

A nursing home. Better known as the SNF (pronounced "sniff" by those in the know). Three weeks after moving to Florida, I was offered a position at a nursing home. But, as fate would have it, that would be my only job offer. It's a very long commute for only part-time hours, but in the few weeks I've been working, I've learned so much. I've learned that I am, indeed, a social worker. I've learned I love being around the elderly. I've learned to separate my personal heartache of loss and grief from the life and spirit still vibrantly shining from my patients. They have taught me so much just by living their everyday routines.

By far the best part of this job is the undercurrent of faith. By no means is religion or spirituality at the forefront of my vocabulary, but it is also not discouraged. How does the Lord do it? How does He place me in the one Christian company for 50 miles that was hiring social workers? Call it divinity... I call it grace. I work in a place where it is common for my boss to pray with nurses; for emails to be echoing praise to the Lord for a blessing; for Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and volunteers from churches to be wandering the hallways day in and day out. Even the music activities leader oozes love and faith and devotion to the staff and to our patients! My work in the field of social work is my ministry. It is how I show God's love to others - by listening, by helping, by striving to make a change... all without usually ever speaking the Lord's name. It is a small job, but it is my ministry right now. I listened, followed, and found blessing beyond my imagination.

I am blessed. I have been humbled. I am healing.

All this and a paycheck, too? Yes, Lord, send me. Here I am. Send me.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cupcakes and Hamburgers... Together at last!

I love love LOVE to bake. Am I the best? Not by a long shot. But I do like to try new and fun ideas. I saw this recipe on An Accomplished Woman and knew I had to try it. She is as close to the best as I have seen in my day-to-day life! She is truly accomplished at a lot of things, so check out her site!

So last Independence Day (the Fourth of July to some of you), I attempted this recipe:

Hamburger Cupcakes!

I made these for my sister's annual Independence Day party and bonfire. They were gone in under 20 minutes. All the hard work paid off.

Here's what you'll need:
Brownies made according to your favorite recipe or box.
White or vanilla cupcakes made from your favorite recipe or cake mix box.
2 tubs of buttercream icing (unless you know how to make your own, which I didn't at the time)
Food coloring.
Sprinkles to act as "sesame seeds."

Make your brownies and let them cool completely.
Make the cupcakes and cool completely.

Using a 1 or 1 1/2 inch cutter, cut out circles of brownies. Set aside.
Cut each cupcake in half horizontally.

Divide the icing into 3 batches - one for red, yellow, and green.
Mix the food coloring into the individual batches*. Make the colors as vibrant as you like!

*I put the icing in sealable plastic bags and cut a tiny bit of the bottom corner off. It worked like a charm and just like a piping bag!

To assemble:

Place a brownie on the bottom half of a cupcake. Layer with loops of green icing, red icing, and yellow icing. I did loops so that the icing would do all of the cupcakes. Trust me, there will be enough icing and sweetness! Put the top of the cupcake on the top. You don't have to, but I secured each "hamburger" with an toothpick flag. This prevented any accidents on the trip over to the party and made them Oh, so festive.

These are very rich and sweet, but such a great way to end a cook-out!!

Happy baking!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday's Favorites: Dunkin Donuts

This Friday's Favorites post has less to do with any great, frugal deal and more to do with what it symbolizes to me these days.

If you know my husband, you know he is OBSESSED with Dunkin Donuts coffee. We even have to brew it at home. "It's still not the same," he often reminds me. However, after I did some quick math of how much he was spending each morning on a large coffee, I convinced him that brewing coffee at home would be best. However, we do treat ourselves to the "real stuff" every so often. It makes him so happy!!!

Anyways, here's the frugal deal:

He bought a refillable mug and can now get essentially a large coffee (plus cream and sugar) for just $1.05.  That is steal here in Florida. Everything is expensive, but thank goodness the lower sales tax takes some of the pain away.

My week at work had been more than stressful, so I thought I'd treat myself on my long commute this morning. I took the husband's cup and made my way to the Dunkin Donuts. Best $1.05 I had spent all week! It was delicious.

The best part of the whole venture was using his cup. I'm a big ol' mushy mess these days, so using something of his was a delight and a comfort. I got to enjoy feeling "closer" to him the whole tasty cup of coffee. If you haven't tried Dunkin Donuts coffee, you are missing out! Go grab yourself a refillable mug, and be kind to Mother Earth, yourself, and your wallet. 

Think of my Coastie, too, while you enjoy the coffee... and all the men and women who serve their country away from the comforts of home.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thankful Thursday

I'm writing this so late in the day, but better late than never! A lot has happened in a week - some good, some not so good. But Team Preston has remained strong and united. It is always encouraging, too, to see how God answers prayers.

Here's what I am thankful this week:

Skype dates with my husband (he is so handsome!).

Friend time.

Pictures of friends celebrating Fall back home.

Quickly answered prayers.

Humbling, but huge, learning curves.

Homemade hummus.

A clean office.

A job.

Friendly customer service at our bank... even at midnight.

More family coming to visit.

Phone calls from my mom and sister.

My "Millie" (mother-in-law).

Power yoga in the mornings.

Cheesy tourist attractions (see below).

And only 3 more weeks until family time in Tennessee!!!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Guiltless Southern Sweet Tea

I love being Southern. I love the culture, the food, the polite manners, the art of gossiping, saying "Bless her heart," and sweet tea. Boy howdy, but I sure do love some sweet tea. My husband, the southern gentleman, also loves sweet tea. After we moved to Florida as newlyweds, he asked if I could make sweet tea.

"Sir, I am offended, " says I in a deep Georgia drawl. "Every woman worth her salt knows how to make sweet tea."

Somehow, my husband seemed suspicious. I reckon (Lawsie mercy, but the dialect is coming on strong today!) he had come across some southern ladies who considered themselves true southern women but failed at the task of making true, homemade, southern sweet tea.

Now, to anyone born above the Mason-Dixon line, you may not appreciate the full scope and breadth of what sweet tea means to us Southerners. Sweet tea embodies the south. It is gentle and sweet, but can be strong and vibrant. It can be made several ways but it always has one thing in common - summertime, childhood memories, front porches, lemons, and the tie to your southern roots.

Okay, enough of my ramblings. Here's my Husband-Approved Guiltless Southern Sweet Tea.

You'll need:
Tea pot (for boiling water)
Tea pot (for steeping the tea)
5 Lipton DeCaf tea bags
8 packets Stevia sweetener

First, boil a pot full of water.
In the meantime, open your tea bags and hook together using a clothes pin (or any other handy device). The point is to not lose the tea bags in the pot while the tea is steeping.

Once, the water has reached a boil, pour the water into the "steeping" tea pot. Have the tea bags already in the pot.

Cover and steep for 10 minutes. If you like a really strong flavor of tea, steep an extra 2-5 minutes.

After 10 minutes, remove the tea bags and squeeze out any excess liquid.
Next, pour the hot tea into the pitcher. REMEMBER to have cool or room temperature water in the pitcher if it is glass. Hot tea poured directly into glass could shatter the glass.

Add in your 8 packets of Stevia. Stevia is an all-natural, zero calorie sweetener made from the juice of the stevia plant. Many brands now market stevia, so use whatever you have in your local store. You can find it in powder or liquid form, but I find it is more precise to use powder when making sweet tea. If you like super sickly sweet tea, add 1-2 more packets. Trust me, 8 is husband-approved.

Give it a good stir to make sure all the Stevia dissolved.

If the color is too dark for your personal taste, don't be afraid to add more water. Just make sure to give it another good stir. Chill in the refrigerator and enjoy!

I'm enjoying a glass right now. Ah, it is a blessed thing to be Southern.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Going Green: To Clean a Coffee Pot

If you already know how to clean your coffee pot, you have permission to go frolic in the nearest fields and feel fancy free that you are a wonder-person (I'm all inclusive here). If you do NOT, however, know how to properly clean a coffee pot, you should hang your head in shame, look at your sad pot, and tell it that you will soon be a much, much nicer owner.

Confession: I didn't learn this skill until about a year ago. I had always just stuck my pot in the dishwasher once a week. Okay... once a month. Okay... if I remembered.

Anyways, my mom, The Queen of All Things Green, taught me these two neat tricks that I now use once a week or once every 2 weeks. If you drink as much coffee as we do in the Preston house, your pot probably needs this TLC right away!

Next confession: This is my dirty coffee pot -

Gross! Stains, residue, blech! 

So here's what you'll need:

A dirty coffee pot
Salt (don't you love my homemade label? We're not fancy here, folks)
Distilled White Vinegar

First, I like to get the stains off the pot. To do that, I put about 1 Tablespoon of salt in the pot and some water. Just enough to get the salt moving freely in the pot. Swirl around.

Before with stains:

After... no stains!

See the difference? The salt acts as an exfoliant, if you will, to the stains and gently rubs them away.

Next, to clean the internal workings of the coffee maker, you'll need to pull out the trusty vinegar. I mix about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of vinegar to maybe 6 or 8 cups of water. It's not an exact science.

Pour into the water tank of the coffee maker and let it percolate. The vinegar runs through the maker and cleans out the pipes, so to speak. Make sure to run a second pot through of WATER ONLY as the last step. You want to make sure you get all of the vinegar taste out of the coffee maker before you brew coffee. Then wash the carafe as usual.

Happy Cleaning!