Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Italian Bread in your Bread Maker

We love homemade Italian bread in our house, but hours of kneading and rising has never really appealed to me. I mean, I CAN do it, but do I WANT to do it? Not really. So I started experimenting and came up with an easy Italian bread recipe that you can just throw in your bread maker. (This is for a 2 lb. bread maker)

1 and 3/8 cup water ( I know, random measurement, but it is really what works for this recipe. Make sure the water is room temperature)
2 tablespoon soft butter

Add this two to the pan and then add the dry ingredients in the order they are listed.

4 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons dry milk
1 3/4 teaspoons salt (It is SO important to measure the salt correctly in bread!)
2 and 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast ( or 1 packet)
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

In my personal opinion, bread makers over cook, so I ALWAYS cook it on the lightest crust setting and give it the longest amount of time for it to rise. So for instance in my bread maker this bread will mix, rise and bake for 3 hours. This Italian bread is pretty straight forward and so delicious!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tutorial- How to make a cute step stool

So it begins. The potty training battle. I have done the best to prepare myself, bought all of the recommended items and I am still smacking my head against the wall a little bit. As I was preparing, I looked everywhere for a step stool. I have found plenty online or in the store, but was extremely opposed to spending $12 on a plastic Disney Princess step stool. Seriously? $12 for a piece of plastic? So I went to the craft store, where I could use a 40 percent off coupon on what I found.
I found a plain wooden stool and with my 40 percent off coupon, I didn't pay more than $4 for my prize. So here is what I did.
You will need:
Wooden Stool
Mod Podge
Scrapbook paper that matches where you want your step stool to be.
First paint the entire stool your color of choice.
Wait for it to dry COMPLETELY, then measure the stool. You want your scrapbook paper to be a little shorter than the stools slats, or top. I cut all of my paper to be the same size so it would look symmetrical. I then applied it with Mod Podge. After the entire project was dry, I sprayed the stool with a clear varnish to make sure everything was nice and set.
A little paint and a few hours later, I have a step stool I love, not one I want to throw out as soon as possible.

Todays Creative BlogTip Junkie handmade projects

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

WotW: Summer fun

I'll be honest... I started three posts for today and gave up on all three of them because I just wasn't feeling it. It is summer and the sun is shining (finally, after all the rain we've gotten here in my "desert") and I want fun things to do OUTSIDE, which is about the least computer- or web-related thing on the planet since summer fun is not only most often outdoors, it also often (at its best) involves water.

Not so good for webby devices, eh?

So, instead of those posts (which you'll get to see later, I promise), I just want to share with you some really fun summer blog events going on right now that will give you PLENTY of ideas of fun things to do and make this summer:

S.O.S.! (Save Our Summer!)
at Brassy Apple

Color My Summer (event and contest)
at kojodesigns and delia creates

Summer Camp book series
at Oopsey Daisy

Positively Splendid
The Summer Survival Guide
at Positively Splendid

Funner in the Summer
at 30 Days

Creating Really Awesome Free Trips
at C.R.A.F.T

And, to finish it out,
Make a Memory Mondays
at A Little Tipsy

Happy summer :) 

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about crafts and whatever else comes up at just Lu.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tasty Tuesdays- Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I love garlic mashed potatoes. I could seriously eat an entire batch of them. I came up with this recipe back when we were newly married and I was craving Outback but didn't have one close by.

You will need:
5 or 6 potatoes, cooked until soft with skins removed (I sometimes leave the skin on one or two, to make them more Outbackish)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 stick of butter melted (Use the real stuff, you'll thank me)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

Add everything together in a big bowl, using your stand mixer or a hand mixer, mix for 5-10 minutes. I know that seems like a lot, but the less lumps the better. If it seems too stiff add more milk.

After it is completely mixed, it is time to season. This is where it can get tricky because every body's tastes are different. I like to be able to taste the garlic, that is the whole point of garlic mashed potatoes right? So here is what I do.

1-1.5 tablespoons garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon dehydrated onion

You add more or less of each spice, to taste. Always start with less and add more until you get where you want to be. Sometimes I am in the mood for SPICY garlic potatoes, so I add red pepper, anywhere between a teaspoon and a couple of tablespoons depending on how much I want them to kick. Mix all your spices in and the refrain from eating the entire bowl. :)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Clone yourself - Photo Thursdays

I have always wanted to be in more than one place at once. Wouldn't that be a great superpower? Imagine all of the things you could get done, maybe even part of me could take a nap while the other part cleans. A girl can dream, right? Thanks to Photoshop, even though you can't be in more than once place in real life, you can be in a photo. Here is an image that I made the other night when the stress of life got to me and I had to take a break. Fun, right?
They are really fun and easy to make. The most important part is the shooting itself. If you shoot the picture right, the editing should be cake. You need to place you camera on a flat surface or preferably a tripod. Once you have set the camera down, make sure you know what parts of the room are in the shot and set the timer. Once you take the first picture, you need to not touch the camera other than to press the shutter again. The hope is to get the exact same shot of the room every time, just with you moving to different places. Make sure you aren't going to overlap yourself. The easiest way to do this is go to very different areas of the room for each picture.
When you have your shots, upload them to the computer. Pick an image as your base shot. I picked the picture where I am leaping into the air as my base shot to make the editing more simple. Open up your base shot and one other of the shots in Photoshop.
Zoom in on an area close to yourself in the non-base shot, select a small area, using the clone tool. As you can see in the image below, I selected a corner of a picture frame, because when I get to the base image the corner of the picture frame is something I can easily find the EXACT spot of.
Go to that exact spot in your open base image. Using the clone tool, paint yourself onto the image.
Make sure to paint over anything else you have changed in the image. For instance if you look at the image below you will see that the book I am reading is also on the bookshelf. It is a simple fixed, just keep painting and you can remove small items like this. This is where it is extremely important that you got the exact same on the base picture as the original, so when you paint over things like a book on a bookshelf it doesn't slightly offset the items from the base image.
Repeat the process for as many photos you took. Sit back and enjoy being in more place than one. :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

WotW: How to take a screenshot

Have you ever used a computer tutorial that not only told but showed (using pictures) exactly what to click and how to do everything? Or seen a giveaway winner announced where they showed the number generated by random.org like this?

Anytime you see something like that, odds are the creator of the tutorial or the host of the giveaway is using a screenshot.

What's a screenshot? Also called a screen capture, a screenshot is just a snapshot of the contents of your screen, exactly as you see it (minus the cursor).

Even if you're not often caught writing computer-based tutorials or hosting giveaways, you can use screenshots for many other purposes, such as showcasing a comment and commenter, saving a coupon code that won't be emailed to you (like some coupon codes that are distributed through Facebook), or anything else where you want to save what is on your screen but can't just copy/paste it. In addition to screenshots I take for my Wednesday posts here, I often use screenshots to share rough design ideas (for designs in Photoshop) with Debra since it's faster and easier than saving and uploading a full-resolution design file. :)

So how to you "take" a screenshot?
The ability to take screenshots is built in to your computer/operating system, so the method is different if you're using a PC or a Mac.

IF YOU'RE USING A MAC, you'll use either
  • Command+Shift+3 to take a screenshot of the full screen -- everything exactly as you see it.
  • Command+Shift+4 to bring up a selection box (crosshair cursor) so you can select the area for the screenshot
  • Command+Shift+4, then spacebar, then click a window to take a screenshot of that window only  
With each of those methods, the resulting screenshot is automatically saved on the desktop. If you'd like the screenshot to be saved to the clipboard so you can paste it somewhere else (such as an image editing program or a document), just add Control to the key sequence after Command -- so Command+Control+Shift+3 takes a screenshot of the full screen, which is then saved to the clipboard for pasting elsewhere. (keyboard commands from OSX Daily)

IF YOU'RE ON A PC, just look on your keyboard, up toward the top right and find the button that says Prt Scr or something similar -- it means print screen.
image source
Pressing that button will take a screenshot of your entire screen and put it on the clipboard so you can paste it wherever you want it, such as word processing document or a photo editing canvas.

That's a simple enough process, but it gets really annoying when you're trying to do step-by-step pictures and have to keep pausing to go paste the screenshot into a new document or image file. Totally messes with my tutorializing mojo.

Which is why I was so excited to find (and now share) that there is a better way!

The key to this better way... Picasa. If you're not familiar with Picasa, it's a free image organizing and editing software from Google. You can download it here, and it's available for both Mac and PC -- but the trick I'm showing you today only works for the PC version so far. (Sorry, Mac users.) If you're a Picasa newbie, check out some past posts: we've used Picasa to upload and organize blog photos and build a blog button, and Debra has shown the basics plus some awesome features in past Photo Thursday segments.

Strange as it may sound, this is probably my FAVORITE feature of Picasa. I mean, I love most everything, but when I found out that Picasa would automatically import my screenshots... that clinched the deal. Picasa and I will never be apart. :)

Once you've installed and opened Picasa, all you have to do is press the Prt Scr button and Picasa will automatically store your screenshot (called a screen capture in their terminology) in a folder so you have easy access to view and crop the screenshot, as well as rename and then upload it. SO easy!!

You'll know that it's working because a little flag-type message will show on top of all of the windows you have open and tell you "screenshot saved - click to view". I tried to get a screenshot of that flag-thingy for you, but Picasa is smart enough to not include that box in a screenshot, since if you're taking rapid-fire screenshots, you wouldn't want that box obscuring part of your screenshot subject.

Then, to find and edit your screenshots, you can either click the little flag message to be taken to the Screen Captures project in Picasa, or find it yourself by looking in the left menu bar of Picasa under the Projects category:

In that project folder, you'll see all of the screen shots (or screen captures) you've taken. And you can crop, insert text, and edit the screenshots to your heart's delight!

Question? Let me know :)

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about crafts and whatever else comes up at just Lu.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tasty Tuesdays- Simple Edition- Tomato Soup noodles

My husband and I grew up in very different families when it comes to food. A lot of what my mom made was based on our Norwegian heritage and my MIL made traditional American food. Both types of food are delicious with a few exceptions on both sides (I can't do his mom's tuna club sandwiches and he can't do my mom's tuna fish pancakes. Hmmm.... we seem to have a tuna fish problem in this house.)

Funnily enough, even with the very different meals our mothers made growing up, we both grew up on this dish. It is simple and delicious. My husband's family call it goulash and I guess in some ways it is a simple form of a goulash, we never had a name for it in our family. It was just something my mom made when she was out of ideas and even though it was a last resort for her, we all loved it!

You need:
a package of noodles, cooked to according to direction
1 lb of hamburger, browned and drained.
1 can of tomato soup

Add all of the ingredients and mix well. That is all there is too it. My mom usually made this meal with her homemade spaghetti sauce, the trick to making this meal if you want to use spaghetti sauce and not tomato soup and hamburger is to add slowly. You want the noodles to be barely coated. It should not turn into a soup.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Murder on the Orient Express- Book Review

I have a small confession. During high school I read almost every single Agatha Christie mystery novel. I was a frequent visitor to the small library in my home town that luckily had a good selection of her novels.  I read every single novel on that shelf, except for Murder on the Orient Express. For some reason, I couldn't bring myself to read it because it seems like it is the one Agatha Christie novel that most people have read. I like to be different like that, which is one of the reasons it took me into my twenties to see all of the Star Wars movies, but that is for a different post. 

Even though Hercule Poirot is not my favorite of the Agatha Christie detectives, I have to say she writes him brilliantly. He is a small, impeccable man with some odd tendencies about his appearance and finances. Part of me has always thought of him as a smaller, less OCD, more dignified version of Monk. Christie goes out of her way to provide the reader with such detail about her most famous detective that you can almost hear him talk. 

Murder on the Orient Express starts out, like any murder mystery, with a murder. This particular murder takes place during the night on an international railroad. The man is found stabbed to death the next morning with 12 stab wounds. The biggest problem that Poirot faces is that from the way each of the stab wounds were made there is no way his murder could be only one person. So Poirot finds himself stuck in a snow storm on a train that has at least a couple of murderers roaming the corridors. 

After reading at lot of mystery novels, you start to solve them in your head long before you get to the end. In some Christie novels this is possible, but one thing I liked about this book is that Poirot withholds key points of information until the end of the book, making it impossible for the reader to solve it completely without finishing the book. It reminds me of And Then There Were None, another Christie novel that cannot be solved until the last couple pages of the book.

This book reiterated the lesson that I learned when I finally saw Star Wars, just because everybody has seen/read it doesn't mean it isn't worth jumping on the band wagon...sometimes. 

Christie is a captivating writer and this is definitely one of her best works. If you have never picked up an Agatha Christie book, grab this one, it is well worth the read. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Photo Thursdays- Backing up your photos

( I finally figured out a way to rescue my lost post from last week so sorry for the repeat post in your reader.)
I take my camera everywhere. It is both a good and bad habit of mine. Good because I have so many wonderful pictures of almost aspect of my life, bad, because I am pretty sure if my husband glares at me one more time for taking his picture, his face might get stuck that way. I still get a good chuckle out of the fact that my husband, who hates having his picture taken, married a photographer.

Anyway, because I take my camera everywhere I tend to have a fair number of pictures of other people's children. More than once I have gotten this heartbreaking message, "Hey Debra, this is so-and-so, our computer just crashed and we lost everything. They are going to see if they can recover the hard drive but they don't think so. I was just wondering if I can have all the pictures you have taken of my kids, so we have something." It makes me so sad, because it could have been prevented by backing up your photos.

You should back up your photos EVERY TIME you add new ones to your computer. Everything should always been in at least two places. It is a pain to add an extra step, but it might just save all of your photos later. You have quite a few options when it comes to backing up your images, here are some of the ones I use.

An external hard drive is a must for anyone who takes a lot of images. They have really come down in price and you can often find the 1 TB drives for under a hundred bucks. Seriously, do you know how many pictures you can put on a 1 TB drive? It depends on the file size but it is probably more pictures than you are ever going to take, right now after five years of having my SLR and operating my business I still have only filled up half of it. This option is easy because you can just drag and copy your images onto your external right after you add them to your computer.

Burning CD copies. This can be time and space consuming, especially if you are going to take a lot of photos. I use my external as a primary back up to my computer and then for the very important events I burn a copy and leave it somewhere safe that is NOT my primary residence. For example, there are CDs at my parents house that have my wedding photos and my daughter's birth on them. If disaster did strike, there is a good chance that the photos I would be devastated to lose will be safe. Every year I burn a disc of my favorite photos from that year and add it to the stash at my parent's house.

Uploading photos. There are so many online places that will allow you to upload all of your images. I upload all of my photos with Shutterfly, because they offer free unlimited upload space. I know Lorene uploads her photos to Picasa Web Albums (through your Google account), Picasa Web Albums give you 1 GB of free storage, letting you purchase more space if you need it. Picasa Web Albums is where your Blogger photos are stored so many of you already have some photos on there.

It doesn't matter where you back up photos, but you need to back them up!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

WotW: Keep your readers reading with related posts

Happy Wednesday! Last week reader Linda asked about the related post widget that you see both here on Housewife Eclectic and over at just Lu. Both Debra and I use the LinkWithin widget, the most common related-post widget I've seen for Blogger blogs (Wordpress blogs are a horse of an entirely different color). It looks like this:

Why use a related posts widget at all? Because it keeps your readers reading. The widget, like other widgets, won't show in a feed reader, but if a reader is already visiting your blog, they are probably there because they are 1) leaving a comment (hooray!) 2) browsing around or 3) new to your blog and browsing to see what you offer. So, odds are that they won't mind sticking around since they are already engaged (commenting) and/or ready to browse. The LinkWithin widget features both a thumbnail and the post title, so readers are doubly drawn to click and read another post.

I've been using the LinkWithin widget for about a year, and here are some of my observations:


The widget works -- visitors to my site are clicking those links. How do I know? The LinkWithin widget is consistently my #2 referring site in my Blogger stats (learn more about Blogger stats here):

The design is minimal, not annoying, and ad-free. You can customize how many thumbnails to show depending your preference and the width of your posting area. And the only ad-like link is the very small LinkWithin in the bottom right corner to link back to the creator of the widget.

Installation is easy-peasy. After Linda asked me about the widget, I just told her which widget I used and she was able to install it quickly and easily on her own, following the instructions from LinkWithin. Just enter your email address and blog URL and select your blogging platform and 3, 4, or 5 thumbnails; click Get Widget and follow the installation instructions.


The search results seem to only be about half absolutely the best links they could be, in my opinion and for my blog. LinkWithin says that featured stories are chosen based on "several factors, including title, tags [labels], and content" (here on the FAQ page). So, if there are similar phrases in all three of those areas, the story is more likely to be featured.

That means that for a post in a series, such as this WotW series, the featured posts would be other series posts. Generally, that is true -- posts that are part of a series that contain both the name of the series in the title and a label generally show related posts that are also part of the series.

The shortcoming seems to occur when posts have only two (or only one) of the three factors in common, such as tags (labels) and content, but not title. Sometimes this just pulls up less-related posts and sometimes, in my experience, this just duplicates a post in the widget. For example, I recently posted about button jewelry. The post title includes the word button(s), and the post includes the words earrings, buttons, necklace, pendant, and bracelet. These are the listed related posts:

Yup, all related... but one duplicate. Bummer :(

Now, this might not necessarily be a fault of the widget. It could be (and probably is) me, or it could the fact that I have four thumbnails instead of three. Here on Housewife Eclectic, Debra has the widget show only 3 thumbnails and I have browsed around quite a bit and not seen a single duplicate thumbnail in the related posts.

However, Debra also has MANY more posts than I do to pull from (over 600 compared to over 200) and she also has more standard topics that she features regularly, too: Tasty Tuesdays, Wednesdays on the Web, Photo Thursdays, plus Letters to my World, confessions, reviews, and arts and crafts. My blog is a bit more... random. :) Having more posts and having more regular topics (with corresponding labels), as well as putting categorical-type information in the post title, will obviously help the widget find better results without duplicating any.

So, long story short: the LinkWithin widget works and is easy to use. Help it along by using similar words or phrases in the titles of posts about similar topics, as well as labeling similar posts similarly.

What widgets do you love? hate? feel ambivalent about? ;)

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about crafts and whatever else comes up at just Lu.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tasty Tuesdays- Basic Brownies

This is the basic brownie recipe that I use when we are craving something sweet.

1/2 c. butter
2 T. oil
2 eggs
3/4 C. flour
1/2 C. Cocoa
1 C. Sugar
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. walnuts (optional)

Melt butter on stove, then add the cocoa and oil. Remove from heat and stir in sugar and blend eggs one at a time. Add vanilla, then flour and nuts. Mix well. Spread in a greased 8x8 pan. Bake at 350 for 30  minutes, cut into squares.

My Brownie Hints
You can add nuts to this recipe if you would like, but seriously why ruin your brownies like that? :)

Try using egg beaters instead of eggs. They will make your brownies super fluffy.

Cut your brownies with a plastic knife. It works. Trust me. My MIL keeps a plastic knife if her kitchen just for brownie cutting.

Don't eat the whole pan at once. It will give you a tummy ache. Trust me, I've done it, but that was pre-marriage when I still thought all men were stupid.


Monday, May 9, 2011

There is no such cozy combination as man and wife

Once upon a time, last October, my Sister-in-law was married. I was extremely fortunate to be able to fly to Utah to take the pictures for their wedding. The day the got married was beautiful, but bright. I kept trying to urge those clouds to give me some cover, but they were being stubborn.

One of my favorite things about shooting this wedding was the bright colors of her bouquet. It is one of the things I would change about my wedding if I could go back. What was I thinking? All white roses against a white dress? I think I still would have done my colors the same way but I would have thrown the colors out the window when it came to my bouquet.
All in all, it was a really fun wedding to shoot. The bride and groom were up for anything, even climbing into the fountain and it is always fun (but a little stressful,) to shoot a family wedding.

I had to include a picture of the flower girls, mostly because the cute little one in the middle holding out the flower is my little girl. The girls are dressed in brown, orange and cream.

I debate myself often on whether or not to share my photo shoots on this blog. Today I went with go for it. We will see what tomorrow brings. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

To my mother

This is the nomination I submitted for my mother that won the giveaway over at Delia Creates. My mother is truly the best person I know. Happy Mother's Day to her and every mom out there. 

I spent my childhood worrying about what kind of mom I would be. I used to watch my mom in her interactions with us, her six children and the many foster children she cared for over the years. I watched her as she rocked a screaming baby that was coming down from his mother's addiction. I watched her painstakingly teach his mother how to be a good mom, teaching her to cook and to bathe her baby. I watched her bittersweet tears when she reunited him with his mother. 

I saw her take care of twins that were born months premature due to drug use on the part of their mother, waking up every hour with one twin or another and then still getting up to make us our lunches and send us out the door to school. I watched her love and take care of other people's children, loving every single one of them every bit as much as she did us. I watched her tote around oxygen tanks for the smaller babies and play and laugh with the toddlers. I have watched her save her own money so even years after many of these foster children have gone home to their parents, she can provide presents for them on Christmas morning and school clothes in August. Without her, many of these children wouldn't experience the magic of Christmas. I have watched her every night pray for their well being. 

I watch her delight in her children and grandchildren. Now, as I have a child of my own, I realize my mother was not only my guardian angel, watching over me and guiding me, but the guardian angel of almost every child that has met her. She has made me the mother that I am and my one hope for my life is to be as much like my mother as possible. I can't be with my mother to thank her in person this Mother's Day, but she and her example are with me every day as I raise my daughter