5 Decluttering Tips

I like to read through other blogs and websites as I have time.  Right now I’m spending a lot of time with my accounting firm, so I don’t read as much as I’d like.  But I was impressed with this video and wanted to share it.   Sometimes, maybe even most times, just finding a place to start and beginning to take regular steps is a good way to begin to simplify your life as well as make improvements that will make your life happier and more satisfying.

This is from a blog I recently discovered that has some very good advice for guiding your life as well as this video with good tips for decluttering your life:


The blog is The Utopian Life – Practical Wisdom for Personal Evolution.

What do you think?  Ready to start decluttering?


 Homemade Weed Killer – Long- Lasting Effects

In May, I posted an article Natural Homemade Weed Killer to show how I had treated our brick walkway with a hot water weed killer.

Yes, it was that simple: Just pour boiling water directly on the weeds, making sure to soak each one.  It is definitely the lazy way to kill weeds.

Of course, you have to be careful not to splash the hot water on your feet.  Or legs.  Or for that matter, anywhere on yourself, your pets, and your family. But with proper safety precautions, I found the hot water weed killer to be extremely effective.

I thought you might like to see a follow-up on the effectiveness of the treatment.

Here is the starting photo from last May when our brick walkway was overgrown with dandelions:

Dandelions growing on brick walkway








In the original post, I showed how the walkway looked the next day.  All of the weeds were brown and dead.

A couple of weeks later, a few baby dandelions grew back.  I treated the walkway again with fresh brewed boiling water.

A month or so later, I had some hot boiled water from making spaghetti, so I treated the walkway once again because a few more little dandelions had sprung up.

Happily, that proved to  be the end.  Here is what the walkway looks like now.

Brick Walkway Full Sept 2014











Not only is the walkway weed-free, but there are no harmful pesticides, and the only cost was the energy cost to boil the water!  The treatment has lasted all season.

I think the best part was that I didn’t have to painstakingly dig weeds out of each and every crack in the bricks.  My hands and nails are grateful, too.



 Natural Homemade Weed Killer – Easy and Effective

I’m still reveling in the arrival of spring. The apple trees are blossoming, the strawberries have white blooms, and the potatoes and onions are planted. But there is a dark side to spring … the dandelions are prolific! So begins my search for natural homemade weed killers.

I use as little pesticides as possible on our property. This works fairly well except for the brick walkway and the gravel driveway. With these we have to ramp things up a bit.

I recently read that boiling water will kill a weed right down to its roots. Hmmm. Water? That’s about as natural as you can get. I decided to try it.

The first place I have tried it is our brick walkway. Here are some shots from yesterday, before the boiling water experiment:

Dandelions growing on brick walkway



First, I filled a stockpot with water and brought it to an old-fashioned boil.

Stockpot on stove with glass measuring cup on counter


The stockpot full of boiling water was too heavy and dangerous for me to carry while it was full, so I used a 4 cup pyrex measuring cup to carry the water outside.  I also used a heavy oven mitt and hot pad.  Yes, they are a little grungy, but that is what I used.

2014-05-10 001 2014-05-10 010








Before I filled the cup with the boiling water, I made sure the door was unlocked, the path was clear, and the cats were safely out of the way.


Now for the weed killing.  I poured about a cup or so of the boiling water right on the center of each plant and on its leaves:

2014-05-10 001 2014-05-10 008



I carried the water in the measuring cup until the stockpot was about half full, then I felt comfortable carrying the entire  pot of remaining water at once.  I poured the water on all the dandelions in the brick walkway and also had enough to pour on some of the weeds along the edge of the walkway.   I heated another stockpot of water and repeated the process on some of the bigger plants on the walkway and also several on the driveway:

Dandelions along the side of the brick walkway


Here is what they looked like when I was finished:

Dandelions slightly wilted after boiling water has been poured on them


Brick walkway after treating dandelions with boiing water. Dandelions are slightly wilted and still green.



All in all I had spent about 10 minutes in the actual application, not including waiting for the water to boil.  I did some kitchen cleaning while I was waiting for that.

The Next Day – Natural Homemade Weed Killer Success!

The best part came this morning (the day after the boiling water treatment:


Brick walkway the day after the boiling water treatment.  All are brown and wilted.


Here is a closer look:


Dandelions brown and dead in brick walkway.



Pretty impressive – weeds killed with plain water.

Nature is impressive, too.  Take a close look at the dandelion in the upper left.  Note that the determined little weed used it’s last bit of energy to open up it’s seed pod.  Unless I pull up that white bloom of seeds, the next wind will scatter a hundred or more dandelion seeds in my yard.  What a marvel of species preservation.


You may be wondering about the weeds that were treated along the walkway edge and in the driveway.  The boiling water treatment was not quite as effective:

Dandelions along the walkway - only one appears to be wilted.


Only one of the dandelions on this edge seems to be brown and dying.


The treatment seemed to get a few more of the driveway weeds, but it appears to me that I may have to treat them again to finish them off.  Or maybe I needed to use a lot more water with the initial treatment.

Wilted dandelions in the gravel driveway.

(You may need to click on the picture to get it to display clearly.  My preview is showing it a little fuzzy.)


All in all, I am pleased and encouraged with this method.  It definitely works well on the brick walkway.  It is moderately effective on the driveway, but I will continue experimenting.  I do know that anytime I boil water, such as for making spaghetti, I will try to toss the hot water on a patch of weeds in the driveway.


A note of caution: this method will kill the roots of any plant it comes in contact with.  So make sure that any plants you want to keep do not have a root system right next to the weed that you are dousing in boiling water.

Of course, you must use common sense and protect yourself and anyone around you from getting burned from the boiling water.  Use this method at your own risk.  Boiling water will cause severe burns. Be careful!


If you have any effective natural homemade week killer methods or recipes, please share them with us in the comments.


Photos by Patti Tokar -Copyright 2014 – All Rights Reserved











 Gardening Inspirations

I’ve been busy finishing up tax season and am now starting to turn my attention to the gardens.  It’s been a long, hard winter here in Indiana.  Spring finally arrived with a fanfare of crocuses and daffodils.  Welcome, Spring!

Here are some inspiring sites to get you in a Spring kind of mood ….

1.  Top 20 Clever and Simple Gardening Hacks

This is the first one and I’m putting it to use immediately.  I was just getting ready to buy some peat pots.

Make biodegradeable planter out of toilet paper rolls.

gardening hacks 1 Top 20 Clever and Simple Gardening Hacks

(Photo from hackthelife.net)

There are, of course, 19 more hacks, each one practical as well as lovely.


2.  Gorgeous Night Gardens – Amazing Night Plants


Well isn’t that something?  I hadn’t thought of enjoying the gardens at night, too.  I have Dusty Miller plants that I grow every year, as well as Lavender.  I may have to plant some Silver Sage, too, and take a few moonlight walks this summer.

Moonlight Tree










Photo – freedigitalphotos.net / domdeen


3.  Garden Craziness

This one is intriguing.  Love that creative spirit.   Abandon the practical; have something for the sheer joy of it.  (Maybe the full moon in the photo above is affecting me.)Pooktre Tree Shapers


Pooktre Tree Shapers

Pooktre Tree Shapers


Pete, Tree person and Becky







Photo courtesy of pooktre.com


Do you have any favorite or intriguing gardening sites?  Any gardening inspirations?







 11 Ideas for Easy Handmade Gifts

Let’s get this clear:  A handmade gift is one of those gifts that can go terribly wrong.  If it doesn’t fit, is the wrong color, wrong style, or if it’s just plain ugly, it can’t be returned.

Mothers and grandmothers will, of course, absolutely love a handmade gift, any handmade gift, from their child or grandchild – even if it is the most puzzling, atrocious creation they’ve ever beheld.

Everyone else – be careful.  Your handmade gift may make some very awkward moments.

Well chosen and crafted, a handmade gift can be a delightful way to show someone how well you know them and how much you care about them.

Handmade gifts can also be great last minute gifts.

That said, I’ve been thinking about handmade gifts that have a good chance of being well received. Here are some ideas.

[12/07/16 Broken Links were updated and replaced]  [12-20-17 broken links were updated and/or replaced]

11 Ideas for Handmade Gifts

1.   Make an Apron

This is a good gift for the person who likes to bake and cook. Especially when baking or cooking with flour, most cooks will at least once in a while want to wear an apron to keep their clothes from getting splatters and flour smudges.  Unless you are quite sure of the person’s taste, avoid exotic or cheesy designs and go for functional, yet pretty.

One thing that makes an apron perfect as a handmade gift is that it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece in order to be functional.  In fact, if an apron is too pretty the cook might be reluctant to wear it and risk staining it!

Here are a few easy apron instructions that I found:

30 Free Apron Patterns  Free Vintage Apron Patterns

The instructions are detailed and the aprons are lovely.

Martha Stewart has instructions for a Baker’s Apron


2.  Sachets

These are nice because they are meant to be tucked away in a drawer, which takes a lot of the pressure off of making them look perfect.

 Martha Stewart has simple instructions for Patterned Sachets


3.  Little Notebook

This makes a small notebook that is nice for keeping next to the phone or in the car.  Add a pen to complete the gift.

For the really creative, this can be used to make an actual book, such as a book of original poems, or a book of quotes.

See Kate Sew – A Little Tutorial for Making Little Books

4.  Bath snowballs

– made with Epsom salts, so can be used for a foot soak instead.

Fragrant Bath Snowballs

These are very pretty as well as practical.


5.  Planted arrangement – spices, herbs, flowers

Try this Mini Succulent Garden from  Real Simple

or Christmas Flower Gift

6. Secret Treasures Book

I’m not particularly fond of cutting up perfectly readable books, so I suggest using a book that is hopelessly outdated, or perhaps has damaged or missing inside pages.  As long as the cover and spine are in good shape, this project can make an attractive hidden storage book.

How2dostuff has good instructions for How to Make a Secret Hollow Book

7.  Family Calendar

If you have a printer and a word processing program such as MSWord or OpenOffice you can make a personalized calendar.  Use photos of the family, the pets, the house, the surrounding city, or even favorite vacation photos for each month.  If possible, note birthdays, anniversaries, and other special days on the calendar.

Here are some calendar templates  calendarlabs.com Photo Calendar

Microsoft Office has many free calendar templates office.microsoft.com


8.  Cookies or Bread in a Jar

– layer the dry ingredients for baked goods in an attractive pattern in a jar.  Be sure to attach a card or printout with the recipe and baking instructions.

Here is one for Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Quick Bread

And one for Cowgirl Cookies

 M & M Cookies in a Jar

Christmas Cookies in a Jar



I love these beautiful bookmarks you can make with stray earrings


10.  Oilcloth Receipt Wallet

This one I personally like .  It’s unique as well as practical.  It can be used in a car or purse to neatly store all those little receipts, sales tickets, and scraps of paper.  It can also be used for storing the same small papers in a drawer or on a desk.  If you avoid the flowered patterns and go for a masculine color, this is even a great gift for the man in your life to keep track of papers in the garage or glove box.

Oilcloth Receipt Wallet

11.  Things I love about you list

There are many variations on this one … but I really like this one that uses a deck of cards:

52 Reasons i love you – this is a gallery showing many variations of the card book.  You can also purchase and download a template on this site if you are in a hurry.

50 Reason Why I Love You Jar – this sweet idea uses candy and small stickers to deliver the messages

A key to this gift is to make it personal.  Try to stay away from cliches like “You help me ” and instead be more specific “I love how you open the garage door for me when I get home.”


Hopefully these will give you some ideas for handmade gifts.  Now, you’d better pick your gift and get started if you want to get it done in time!

Merry Christmas!  I hope you and your family have a holiday filled with peace, joy, love, and prosperity.


Related posts:  Fat Dollar – Inexpensive Gift Ideas

Simple Life – Meaningful Gift Ideas

Fat Dollar – Last Minute Low Dollar Gift Ideas

Related posts from The Fat Dollar –  More Inexpensive Christmas Gift Ideas – $10 or Less!

Awesome, Yet Inexpensive Gift Ideas



 Easy Apple Cake with Caramel Icing

One of the best parts of fall harvesting is the baking that follows.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been freezing lovely orange bags of butternut squash and also lighter orange bags of pumpkin.  I saved aside enough to make both butternut squash bread and pumpkin bread, and it was a great pleasure to serve it to my family.

This year, our apple tree bore fruit for the first time.  The tree bore so much fruit that some of the limbs broke off.  I probably should have thinned the apples out so there was not so much weight on the branches.

The apples were sweet and crisp, but much smaller than a normal apple.  They were about half the normal size, so I had my doubts before I actually tasted one.

Small or not, they were great for baking.  I made Apple Cake with Caramel Icing.

 Piece of apple cake with caramel icing on a plate with a fork

The recipe was very easy.  The caramel icing is cooked, but it was also fairly simple.

The cake is moist with a subtle apple taste.  The caramel icing flavor blends perfectly.

Any extra effort to make the caramel icing was well worth it!

I posted the recipe on the Simple Life website – Easy Apple Cake with Caramel Icing.

I hope you enjoy this recipe!







 8 Success Strategies You Probably Didn’t Think Of

I’ve been immersed in finishing out this year’s tax season, which had the government shutdown as a grand finale, so haven’t been posting as much these last few weeks.  I’ll be caught up soon and be able to write more.

For now, I’ll share a summary of an article from Oprah.com that caught my attention:  8 Surprising Things That’ll Make You Wildly Successful.

Wildly successful sounds very appealing.  Especially when you have been working nearly non-stop for days.

Businesswoman jumping

8 Surprising Success Strategies (That Will Make You Wildly Successful)

Here is a summary of the Oprah.com article.

1. There is a bacterium in soil, which are often inhaled while gardening, that may help the body produce serotonin, an anti-anxiety chemical.

2.  Don’t share your goals … verbalizing them gives you the false sense of having accomplished them which reduces your drive.

3.  Asking yourself questions, rather than giving yourself commands or self-praise (‘is it possible I can complete this?’ rather than ‘I will conquer!’) may make you dramatically more effective.

4.  Looking at cute puppies, kittens, or other sweet baby animals may afterwards make you better able to focus – yes it works even for men.

5.  Having a short,  friendly conversation with someone you don’t know tends to make you better at planning and self-discipline as well as having better recall.

6.  The best person to get career advice from is often someone in the first third of their career, rather than someone who has been on the job for a great number of  years.

7.  A few chugs of a naturally sweet drink, such as fruit juice or even non-diet soda, may give you the ability to strive for a goal rather than quickly settle for less.

8.  Turning the thermostat to 72-79 degrees Fahrenheit makes most workers more productive and error free.  (At 68 degrees, productivity dips and errors soar!) (I love this one!)

Try one or two of these.  Who knows, maybe you’ll even experience wild success!




Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net by imagerymajestic


 The Mulberry Lesson of the Green Stems

Some time ago, I blogged about picking and working with mulberries – Wild Blackberries, No, They’re Mulberries .

Mulberries June 2011One thing that makes mulberries more time-consuming is their little green stems.  You can see them in this photo of the mulberries that we had picked.

I learned a lesson in simplicity from those mulberries.  Funny how the gardens and nature seems to always have a lesson for me, if my mind is not too noisy and distracted to listen.

If you want to use the mulberries for baking muffins, a pie, tarts, jam, or other such delicious treats, then you must take kitchen shears and snip off each and every little green stem.  Otherwise, you will end up with what seems like chewy little sticks in your mouth as you bite into that tender muffin or flaky pie.  I’m guessing that after your guests have spit out a few stems, they won’t be back for seconds, no matter how good your baking skills.

Mulberries are slightly bland, but bursting with nutrition. Natural nutrition really lights me up.  Not in a radioactive sort of way, but in a “that is so cool and fascinating” kind of way.  I figure that besides the nutrients that we know of, berries and other natural foods likely have a whole spectrum of beneficial  ingredients that nutritionists have not even discovered yet.

However appealing that natural goodness is though, spending hours staining my hands purple-blue while snipping off each and every little green stem gets wearisome.  I’m good for about two or three cups of destemming mulberries, then the impatience begins to shadow my enthusiasm.

Then while I was snipping away,  a thought occurred to me:   The stems are edible.

I love smoothies and have one for lunch most days.  I always add some kind of berry to the blender;  several kinds of berries if I’m feeling artistic and getting awed by the sight of the lovely reds, purples and blues cascading next to each other.

Did I really need to snip off the stems of the mulberries that I will use in smoothies?  Ok.  You already guessed the answer: no, I don’t.  Didn’t.  The stems either grind up in the blender and disappear or they sink to the bottom of the smoothie glass where they don’t bother me at all.

Why was I meticulously snipping off stems from the mulberries meant for smoothies?  Because I wasn’t paying attention.  I wasn’t aware.  Like so many other things, I had done it that way before so I kept doing it without question.

Now that I am aware, my perspective has changed.  I can snip green stems until the enthusiasm has worn off and then just stop, rinse and freeze the rest of the mulberries in containers labeled “Mulberries for Smoothies.”   The label, boring yet effective, ensures that I don’t dump a cupful of frozen mulberries into a batch of muffins, only to discover that they all have lime-green, chewy stems.

I wonder what else I am doing because “that’s the ways it’s always been done” and I have never stopped to question it?

Now that  I’ve learned the mulberry lesson, I will make an effort to be more aware of possible alternatives when I find myself annoyed or impatient with something.  Maybe I’ll find a better way.

In order to allow the possibility of the better way, I’ll have to quiet the complaining, tense chatter in my mind.  Once I let go of that noisy,  negative mental commentary, those silent moments that follow can present some stellar solutions and alternatives.

I know this.  I’ve got the smoothies to prove it.

I hope that you, too, are able to quiet your mind and find some enlightening solutions of your own.

In peace,








 Finding Joy in Life – It’s Not That Hard

Woman Listening to Headphones --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

“People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
~Abraham Lincoln

Sometimes daily life can seem like drudgery, something to just be tolerated.  When I find myself feeling this way, it is almost always because I have been focusing relentlessly on a problem that overshadows me.  It might be a looming deadline, a bit of family drama, or something of the sort.  It might be nothing definable; I’m just in a rut and forgot to even think about finding joy in life.

Getting back to enjoying life, rather than enduring life, is really quite simple:  look for things that bring you joy.

Sometimes that may take a little effort if you’ve been in a long stretch of colorless and harried days.  You may have forgotten what makes you smile.  Even so, there is probably nothing to buy and nothing complicated to learn in order to bring back those points of joy in your life.  There’s no need to wait – you can start immediately.

Just start paying attention.  What brings a burst of happiness?

Here are some suggestions if you need a bit of nudging for finding joy in life:

  • Pick a flower
  • touch a piece of silk
  • pet your cat
  • listen to your favorite song
  • watch your peacefully sleeping child
  • sip a smooth drink of coffee
  • watch the sun rise
  • bake some cookies
  • breathe in the scent of lavender
  • dance to the music
  • sit on the deck
  • walk barefoot in the sand
  • hug a friend
  • kiss your spouse, slowly and meaningfully
  • walk your dog
  • sing out loud
  • give away a good book
  • read a good book
  • taste a piece of fruit
  • eat a piece of dark chocolate
  • …. what gives you joy? Do it! And again!

Deliberately do at least one thing every day that brings joy and you may be astounded at how happy you can be right here, right now.

What brings you joy or makes you smile?


“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”
~Elizabeth Gilbert – Eat, Pray, Love

“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”
~Joseph Campbell





 Learn to Distract Yourself to Increase Productivity

Increasing personal productivity can be more difficult than it would at first seem.  After all, isn’t it just a matter of “just doing it?”  And if it’s that simple, why aren’t we all just getting things done?
Father Son Happy Dance - Increase Your Productivity

In my website and blogging work, I find that I go through cycles.  I’m highly productive at times and a zero on the scale of productivity at other times. Learning to work with these cycles and have a consistent level of productivity would be ideal for me.

Mark Waldman and Andrew Newberg, MD, authors of several books, including Words Can Change Your Brain and How God Changes Your Brain, have developed a strategy that may be just what I need.

Waldman and Newberg’s strategy is adding a deliberate distraction to improve your productivity and your creativity.

The strategy sounds quite simple, yet it can feel a little odd and it requires moving against some natural resistance to follow the steps.

If you can do the steps, you just may find yourself finishing that dusty, yet important project.  Or writing your book.  Or getting your business started.  Or brushing the cat and the dog and sweeping the floor, too. You may even find yourself lighting up with ideas and starting the art project that you’ve been avoiding.  Whatever you have wanted to do that you keep stalling on … it may get done if you try and master this strategy.

So here are the steps they recommend:

1. Get started on your project of choice. Immerse yourself and let yourself hit the point of “flow”.

2. As soon as you start feeling the first bits of stress (usually 20-50 minutes after you hit the “flow”), stop.

3. Stretch and yawn. Gently stroke your arms and face. This causes your body  to release the feel-good chemical oxytocin.

4. Run in place as fast as you can for 30 – 60 seconds. You can also dance wildly, which is my personal choice. Just move at a fast pace and keeping moving for 30 – 60 seconds.  This wakes up the brain. And anyone around you.

5. For the next 60 seconds,  focus on your breath while, with each breath, repeating a word or phrase that makes you feel good, such as “Love”, “Release”, “Joy”, “Abundance”, “Gratitude”, or “Peace”.

6. Now return to your project and start the sequence again.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

The roots of the strategy are from Dr. Harbert Benson, founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.  His research was focused on stress and relaxation.  He, along with William Proctor, developed the “breakout principle” which helped high level managers regulate stress and increase their own creativity and productivity.  Benson and Proctor co-wrote the book The Breakout Principle.

The general point of the strategy is that initially, stress is a motivator.  Stress makes your heart rate increase and helps you become more alert, focused, and efficient.  After a certain period of experiencing stress, though, our bodies begin to become overwhelmed with stress hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol.  At this point, productivity takes a sharp plunge.

By using the stress just to the point of discomfort and then shifting to a relaxing and distracting sequence, Benson and Proctor found that individuals can experience  increased creativity and problem solving ability.  They further found that learning to use this method and continuing to practice it caused the practicing individuals to raise their overall level of performance and creativity.  They found this especially relevant for artists and athletes, but also very effective for businesspeople.

That’s right.  Practicing these six steps may actually make you consistently more creative, better able to solve problems, and more productive.

So, if you ever see me leap up from my chair and dance about or run fast to nowhere, it’s not that I’m flirting with insanity, it’s that I’m practicing deliberate distraction.

And that’s a good thing.

How about you?  Will you give it a try?  Have you already experienced something similar?  How do you keep your creative energy flowing?




Resources and references:

Improve Your Personal Productivity with a Few Distractions – to read more on the Simple Life site

Are You Working Too Hard?  Harvard Business Review Nov 2005 – A Conversation with Herbert Benson

Distract Your Way to Success – Science of Mind April 2013


Related Posts and Articles:

Want to Change Your Life?  Try Yawning

Try Just One Thing to Reduce Stress and Get Things Done

You Can Learn Prosperity