I have a natural tendency to whack something until it works. 

When I was growing up, my mom told me all the time, "Don't force it; there's a reason  it's not working.  Find out what it is."

Funny enough, when I would stop whacking, slow down, analyze, and think it through, I could often solve the problem, whether it was a gate that wouldn't close, or a vacuum that wasn't working.  This soon helped me be more brave, and I started taking on slightly more complicated problems.  When I was ten and my digital alarm clock wouldn't work, I opened it up and solved the issue.  (It turned out that dust was short-circuiting the board.  I blew it off.) 

Yeah, that was lucky.  Still, my philosophy now is "Well, it's already broken... I can either try  it myself and maybe save some money, or definitely  have to pay to replace or fix it."

One thing I've learned is... if you can figure out how something works, you can more easily figure what's wrong, and therefore how to fix it.  I have a couple books - my favorite is the children's book,
The Way Things Work (I figured how to fix a leaky faucet handle with this book!)- but the Internet an amazing fix-it tool. 

The two most-common problems I've seen with toilets, the ones I've personally had to fix a few times, have to do with the flapper, and the handle or chain. 

What?  You don't know what a toilet flapper is?  Yeah, neither did I, until someone told me... 
Not only is it helpful to know how the toilet works, but also to know what the parts are called.  Then you don't end up at Lowe's, wandering aimlessly down the plumbing aisle.  Or trying to tell the employee that what you're looking for is that red-rubber-round-thingy-at-the-bottom-of-where-the-water-goes.  (That's the flapper , which is in the bottom of the tank.)

For great diagrams on how a toilet works, and what the parts are, see toilet-repairs.com

So- those two most common problems?  First, If your handle goes up and down but the toilet won't flush, check the chain inside the tank.  Sometimes it comes off, and sometimes the connection will have simply rusted away.  Buy a new chain; it's about $2.  If you need a whole new handle, it's still under $5.

The other common problem is when the toilet flushes and won't stop.  That's a problem with your flapper- basically a flexible cover for the hole at the the bottom of your tank.  If it doesn't close, the water keeps running through.  Sometimes the chain is too long, and gets caught between the flapper and the hole.  Sometimes the chain is too short, and the flapper can't close.  And sometimes the flapper is being old and stubborn and needs replaced.  It's about $3.  Isn't it worth trying?  A plumber's a LOT more expensive!

That said, sometimes hiring someone is worth it.  We had a different type of problem with our toilet- it wobbled.  It's a toilet in the basement, and the floor was not flat, there were no bolts for it to connect to, and the sewer hole for it was in the wrong place.  By my husband's best reckoning, it would take a jackhammer to move the pipe to the right place in the cement.   After four years of asking him to PLEASE replace that toilet, I hired a handyman.  It's now installed properly, the basement bathroom is now fully functional, and we will have no further arguments about when the project will be completed.  Merry Christmas to me!  and to him! 

(If you live anywhere from Ogden to Provo, and are looking for a handyman, I hired Russ from Repairs-R-Russ, using a local half-price coupon, available until midnight Dec. 28.)

Well, at least they'll be bored less....

Do you need some ideas of things to do with your kids during Christmas break?

How about:

Pipe Cleaner Animals 
Pipe Cleaner & PomPom creatures

Peel a hardboiled egg the cool way (my teenagers will love this!- but I'll do my own, thanks)   I'd blown eggs before, when they were raw, but had never heard you could use a similar technique when they're cooked!

Have you ever thought about the name "Play dough"?  I hadn't, until I bought a book called Kids' Ideas With Frozen Dough.  This book, printed by Rhodes Bread, who makes frozen bake-at-home bread dough, shows how to make butterflies, turtles, alligators, bees, dinosaurs, your name... all from regular bread dough.

As a mom, I detest play dough- it gets everywhere, and is usually abandoned someplace with its lid off, where it dries out.  But this-  Hey!  this is useful.  And edible.  I give my kids a lump of bread dough to play with, and later we bake and eat their creation.  If you want to make your own, see the Making Bread page.  You can even use biscuit dough, though it becomes tougher the more it's handled.  Yeast bread dough can take a lot  of abuse.

Now one more for anyone over about age 5: The Two-Second Shirt Fold
See it here,
then learn how to do it, here.  You'll be amazed.  Then you'll want to go fold all the shirts in your house!
Isn't this what you hope for? 
A smile, a gift willingly given, and gratitude when it's opened.

We found that our children too often got the "gimmies" (Gimmie, gimmie, gimmie...)--
Tear one present open, toss it behind them, and reach to see what's next.  Some presents never got played with or appreciated, relegated to the side of the room forever, in favor of something more exciting.  To help eliminate that, we started a Christmas tradition a few years ago.   

There's no rule on when they're allowed to get up- but present-opening won't start until 8 a.m.  Stockings, and only stockings,  are free game before that.  Each of the kids gets a box of cereal as part of their stocking (set to the side, no, they don't fit inside!), so that pretty much takes care of breakfast.  (If you'd like fresh cinnamon rolls, see the Refrigerator Rolls post.)  Right before opening presents, we read the Christmas story in Luke Chapter 2, and have our usual family song and prayer for the day.
We take turns opening one present each hour, on the hour- only one package opened at a time, going from youngest to oldest, each person choosing what to open.  We also open 1-2 family gifts, depending on how many are under the tree.  We spend the next hour looking at, playing with, or reading whatever our gift was, or the kids play together with something.  We meet under the Christmas tree an hour later, to do this again. 

This has really helped our children notice and appreciate each gift better. 

Since we have a large family, all the kids buy or make small gifts for each other, and grandparents give gifts, everyone actually has about ten presents.  Rather than taking ten hours to open, though, we open the rest of them at about hour #5.  

I recently read someone's else's method; they have each person gather the gifts they are GIVING, and distribute those themselves.  The point of this is to focus on the giving, more than the receiving.  This year we'll combine the two ideas, letting one person each hour give out all their gifts.  (After-Christmas- update:  I LOVED doing this, and the kids were really excited to give their gifts out in one round .  Next year I'll let the teenagers give last, though, so they  end on a grateful/happy note.  I made the mistake of having them ) 

And this year, with Christmas on Sunday, our kids voted to have just the filled stockings for Christmas morning, and "Christmas" on Monday.  They want this because there are household rules on the types of play on the Sabbath (i.e., no bike riding, rollerblading, or trampoline jumping!), and they figure they can FULLY enjoy whatever they're getting if there are fewer limitations.  I'm voting for this because then we can hopefully focus more on Christ that day, including watching the video links, below.

May you have a Merry Christmas, filled with happiness, peace, appreciation, and love for your family and our Savior.

For some beautiful, newly-released Bible videos on the original Christmas, from The Annunciation to The Wise Men and in between, see here.

Do you ever wish you could have cinnamon rolls in the morning without having to get up two hours early? Do you ever wish you could have dinner rolls ready to bake when you walk in the door from church or work? 

With this recipe, you can.  No pop-open refrigerated dough cans required.  You get fresh, hot, delicious bread with all normal, easy-to-pronounce ingredients.   (Do I sense a Christmas tradition in the making?)

The technique might work with other bread/roll recipes; I haven't experimented to find out yet.  (Please let me know if you do!)

The recipe is from a 1987 Fleishman Yeast bread recipe booklet and tweaked only slightly.  One chapter in the booklet was called "Rising On Ice"; hence the name, below.  The dinner roll dough is soft, tender, springy, with a tender crumb.  You can make any shape of rolls with it, including cinnamon rolls!  If you make dinner rolls, remember that you can sprinkle them with herbs, sesame seeds, poppyseed, or sea salt.  These could even be made into can't-be-beat hamburger buns!  (Roll 1/2" thick, cut 3-4" circles with a biscuit cutter or canning ring.)

This makes about 2 1/2 dozen rolls, or one 14x18" baking sheet full of cinnamon rolls.

Rising On Ice Dinner Rolls  
1 cup milk
2/3 c. water
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) butter
6-7 cups flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 packages active dry yeast (or 3-4 tsp. instant yeast)
2 eggs, at room temperature
Combine milk, water, and butter; heat to 120-130 degrees (butter doesn't need to melt).  Meanwhile, put 2 cups of the flour, the sugar, salt, and yeast in a large bowl.  Add the warm milk mixture, then beat two minutes on high speed.  Add eggs and 3/4 c. more flour; beat two more minutes on high.  Add more flour to make a fairly stiff dough; knead 8-10 minutes, until smooth.  Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.  Punch down, shape into whatever shape rolls you want. Place them on a greased baking sheet.  Brush them with oil (this helps them not dry out in the fridge, as well as to not let the plastic stick), then cover them loosely with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 2-24 hours.  When ready to bake, pull them out of the fridge, carefully uncover them, and let them sit at room temperature while the oven heats.  Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until done. 

For instructions to make cinnamon rolls, see the Making Bread page and scroll about halfway down. 
There are lots of recipes here for pies, crusts, and toppers! 

Check out the following links, from my main page and blog posts.  You'll see repeated recipes throughout them; they're mostly handouts from different pie classes I've taught.

Crash Course In Pies- basic Vanilla Cream Pie and variations: Banana Cream, Banana Caramel, Butterscotch, Coconut Cream, Chocolate Cream, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cookies and Cream, Eggnog, Peanut Butter, and Strawberries-and-Cream pies!  Also has different options for crusts and toppers (meringue or no-run whipped cream)
Custard Pies: Recipes from The Chameleon Cook: Pumpkin Pie, Pecan Pie, Cranberry Pie, Rhubarb Pie, Date-Pecan Pie, and Lemon Chess Pie (blog post on Lemon Chess Pie here).

Memorable Holiday Pies
- easy pat-in-the-pan crust that is never tough, the world's BEST raspberry chiffon pie, pumpkin pie, cream pies with a few variations.

Pumpkin class handout - includes my mom's pumpkin pie recipe, along with other non-pie recipes.

Starter Cookbook- cream pies and variations, crusts, meringue, no-run whipped cream, and tips.

The Great Pumpkin Cookbook  - includes Praline-Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin-Apple Pie, Pumpkin Chiffon Pie, Pumpkin Streusel Pie, Pumpkin Cookie Pie (sugar cookie crust, pumpkin-icecream filling), Gobble-up Pumpkin Pie (uses a can of sweetened condensed milk), Impossible Pumpkin Pie (makes its own crust), Mom's Pumpkin Pie, Honey-Pumpkin Pie, Raisin-Pumpkin, Tofu-Pumpkin (egg and dairy free), and Molasses-Pumpkin Pie!  Also has a few pumpkin cheesecake recipes, along with dozens of other recipes.
If you are prone to getting hives or ezcema, maybe my story will help you.

This photo is of uticaria; hives.  It often starts as general puffiness with  itchiness, and is often aggravated by heat or friction, even from clothing touching it.  It itches and burns ferociously, and if you give in and scratch, it balloons, swells, puffs up into red or white raised areas.  Just looking through the photos (to get some for this post) brought memories that made me want to cry.  It's awful.  What's worse is that some people have these for months or years at a time.

Photo credit: International Chronic Uticaria Society

I was reading my local online news today, and there was an article called "Treating ezcema and other rashes", part of a regular feature called "Mommy Medicine".  I posted a comment on the board, and then thought that maybe some of my blog readers would need the information, too.  Or maybe you know someone with this problem.  I sometimes break out in hives all over my entire  body, sometimes I can even feel my brain swelling with it, and NOTHING takes it away. I can't effectively explain how desperately miserable that is.  Benadryl doesn't touch it, nor cortisone cream, not oatmeal baths, not Eucerin, or calamine lotion- nothing!  To make it worse, they would stay for days.  I'd been to doctors, I'd been to naturopaths; nobody could explain why it was happening, other than there must be something I was allergic to.  But there was no consistent pattern that lead to any one allergy.  At least it wasn't contagious.

I noticed over time, though, that some foods seemed connected to the hives, though they couldn't account for all my cases.  I'd also only break out if I was stressed and  it was right before a certain time of the month, in addition to eating those foods, plus some mystery factors.  I searched online for "stress and hives" and found the website of the International Chronic Uticaria Society.  Reading through their info, I found a list of foods that are naturally high in histamines (the opposite of antihistamines!) and often trigger chronic hives. Every food that I suspected was a culprit IS on that list, as well as other ones that I'd been eating but not suspected.  I had hives when I found that food list; after immediately dropping every possible offending food, the hives cleared up after just 2 days instead of the usual 7.  I can still eat those things on a regular basis, but if I'm at a higher risk of hives (stress, time of the month), I back off for a few days, and I stay hive-free. 

My son has ezcema on a regular basis, as well as some ADHD, and avoiding that same food list helps tame both.  It's amazing.  All I can figure is that the ADHD  and ezcema both must be related to inflammation and the body's response to it.  The funny thing is that we had avoided some things for years with him, seeing that it made a huge difference in behavior- artificial color, artificial flavor, and preservatives- and those are all high in histamines.  Maybe he can blame my genes, after all.

If you want to see the food list, it's at http://urticaria.thunderworksinc.com/pages/lowhistamine.htm

Uticaria on someone else's back.

All photos are from the International Chronic Uticaria Society.

Uticaria on leg.    

Uticaria on neck.  It also may be on the top, sides, back, and inside of the ear; on the scalp; on arms, palms, fingers, underarms, chest, rear end... anyplace there is skin.

"No woman ever has enough time, enough energy, and enough strength to do all the good things that are in her mind to do.  We have to have the help of the Holy Ghost to take care of the most essential, and then the necessary, and then fill in the nice-to-do things around that."  - Julie B. Beck, president of the Relief Society, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

Boy, is that right!  I oughta be in bed right now, judging by what happened last night. 

Like any self-respecting American woman, I intend to exercise on a regular basis.  Yesterday I managed to get on the treadmill for just over a half hour.  The only problem was the time: ten p.m.

So I walked, and walked, and walked, as I balanced my reading book on the treadmill's control panel.  The book had to be held to stay up and stay open, so I alternated which hand could swing freely, and which stayed put.  Since the book (Seven Miracles That Saved America) was more interesting that paying attention to which side of the treadmill I leaned towards, I wandered too far to the side and whacked the back of my hand on the rail.  Now I have a big blood blister there. 

After I finished, it was time to stretch out.  So I did, sitting on the floor with my book still in hand.  After a while stretching, I  woke up.  As in, while sitting up, reading and stretching, I had fallen asleep.  Totally, completely asleep. 

So that's how well my intentions end sometimes!

Anyway, if you thought from this post's title that the pickle juice was somehow a secret to exercising, get your hopes back down. :-)  They're not even related, as far as I can tell.  If you find out differently, please let me know...

It's just that something new dawned on me yesterday-  pickle juice is useful.  Sure, I've always used a tablespoon or two in homemade Thousand Island dressing, but the rest gets dumped. 

What IS that pickle juice?  Basically, it's vinegar, with salt, spices, and sometimes sugar.  So if you find (or make up) a recipe that needs those things, you can use pickle juice!   I even found a recipe online for pickle juice soup (which got surprisingly good reviews).  Try it in place of the vinegar in a tuna salad, egg salad, potato salad, pasta salad, etc.  (The flavor will penetrate better if you pour it over the potatoes or pasta while still warm.)  Or make it into a vinaigrette or creamy dressing; in a pan sauce for meat- especially fish; poured over a roast (vinegar helps tenderize meat); pour it over cooked beets to make 'instant' pickled beets (or use another vegetable- try Dilly Green Beans), or do whatever else you can think of!

Have you ever been tempted to buy a bottle of fancy flavored vinegar?  Look at that, you had some in your fridge all along!

See here for Part 1- Baking.

The #1 reason people are scared of making gingerbread houses?  I think it's ASSEMBLING the pieces.  Most people use frosting to hold the pieces together.  That's aggravating; the frosting doesn't hold well and the pieces have to be propped up for hours before they'll really bond.  Who has time for that?

Here's what my mom taught us- use Edible Hot Glue- melted sugar.  Caramel, they call it in the cooking world.  Take about 1/2 cup granulated sugar, put it in a heavy saucepan (big enough to dip your gingerbread pieces in) over medium-high heat, and watch as it starts to melt.  (It's actually decomposing, scientists just learned this year!) Do NOT walk away from the pan during this time!!! You'll need to stir a little of the unmelted sugar into the liquid part; keep it moving a bit so it doesn't scorch.   Turn down heat as needed.  If it cooks too much, it turns black and bitter-tasting. 

Once it's completely melted, turn the heat down to low; you want it to stay hot enough to be liquid, but low enough it won't burn. 

Get both pieces ready that you want to bond.  Dip the edge of one into the hot sugar.  Be very, very careful to not get any on yourself- this is way hotter than boiling, though it doesn't look it.  Think hot glue on steroids. 
Put the two pieces together immediately, and set them up on a flat surface.  You'll have about ten seconds to get the fit right before this 'glue' sets up. 

This even works to connect broken pieces.  Somebody bumped the cooling rack and knocked most of the gingerbread to the floor.  Several broke. 

No problem.

This is where the frosting comes in handy- to make your decorations stick!  I also like to cover the places the sugar glue shows.  For more ideas on what you can use for decorating, see my three-page handout on making gingerbread houses.

One done.  This one was actually a kit, though I used the Hot Sugar Glue to stick it together.

We make a bunch of little houses every year; each child gets to decorate his/her own.  Some years we've just made and decorated a house FRONT- a large, house-shaped, FLAT cookie.  Not 3-D.

 Part of the tradition is that we eat our houses on New Years' Eve, though somehow there's always candy missing off them by then!

Have fun!