Closets – How to Make a Closet Organizer for a Small Closet


In my world, closet organizers are a necessity.  Nowadays, there’s such a great selection with what you can choose from in the stores.  Two of our bedrooms had fabulously large closets, and, after considering a variety of styles, I opted to install a Closet Maid package that had options I could add.  I wanted to have drawers instead of the shelves that came with the package and added them separately – which resulted in me having leftover shelves.

When I went into the “lavender” room (AKA the room I set aside for my eldest to come home from grad school), I measured out this particularly small closet that originally only had shelves going up the entire height.  As I removed the shelves, I realized they weren’t even secure.  She would have no place to hang her clothes (some consisting of long gowns), and it just wasn’t going to work out for her needs.  I needed to make the most out of a small space.

I went to the local hardware store to see what I might find for her closet.  Surprisingly, nothing existed for the width of this closet.  It was “too small” for the closet organizers on the market.

I knew I could buy some wire shelving and create something for the closet (for those of you with an extreme budget, this is a good option and requires wire cutters), but since two other bedroom closets had been done with the same closet organizer, I wanted the house to be consistent with appearances.


I decided to use one of the shelves I removed to install drawers from another closet.  I also purchased two more long shelves that could be cut, two rods that were matches to the other closets, and came up with a plan so my daughter would have space to hang a few long gowns and room to hang other items in the closet.

For the top portion of the closet, I cut one of the purchased shelves to fit the entire length across and used metal brackets to secure it into studs in both the back and the sides of the closet.

I installed the rod underneath the shelving.  I put the shelf at the same height as other closets I had completed in the house.

For the bottom part of the closet, I purchased braces separately to secure the shelving to the studs on the side and back.


I utilized a large shelf that was a discard from one of the other closets.  I felt it would create a space for miscellaneous items.  Books could be placed here.  A basket for storage can also be placed here.  Most of all, it would create a second area to hang more items.

Using metal brackets underneath, I secured the large shelf to hold it in place and also secured it to a shelf that I cut to a height I wanted to be used as support vertically.  Since the expandable rod was a little too big for this section, I cut it with a blade for metal to get it to fit, and put it under the shelf.


If you have a small closet, this type of design can be repeated easily using less expensive items such as plywood or melamine laminated board.  If you don’t feel confident with cutting things to fit, try wire shelving.  It’s easy to cut with wire cutters and you can cap off the edges with purchased caps sold right near the wire shelving.

I know this seems like a “no brainer” when it comes to closet design, but when you want to keep closets looking similar in your home, sometimes, it requires a little thought process.  Think of your needs.  If you don’t need a place to hang anything, shelving in a small closet would work just fine.  If you have a small room with a small closet, find a way to create more storage space to get the most out of it.  I knew my daughter could put a few dresses to the right on this top rod and hang shorter items to the left.  Also, the extra rod below created more hanging space for her.  Her room isn’t large, but she now has increased storage capacity.

Draw out a plan.  See what’s available to you.  Think of how you can get the most out of your little closet.  Just make sure that you have your rods and shelving secured to studs or have good anchors.  When you put weight on these items, the last thing you want to do is hear or see it come crashing down.  Also, ALWAYS use a level to make sure your shelves are…level.  I’d love to see your small closet designs!


Posted in Decorating Ideas, Fixin' It, Tips & Tricks | 2 Comments

How to Maple Sugar


When I first moved into my house, I had plans of owning a lot of chickens.  I had been told the property was originally farmed.  Hardly any trees existed, and it was easy to go from one side of the property to another.

This story was hard for me to absorb when I looked around the tree covered land, but I knew the source was extremely credible, and I was a little frustrated that I had land I couldn’t use because my husband was against cutting down perfectly good trees.  I get it.  I really get it.  I felt bad about the prospect of cutting trees down too.  So, as we’re looking at the property, my (at the time) 10 year old pipes up, “Mommy, there sure are a lot of sugar maples on this property.  There are over 100.”

I asked, “How do you know?”

“We maple sugared at school,” she replied.

Before the summer was over, I bought some plastic pink non-stick tape (sold near the tools at the hardware store) to tie around the maple trees.   Neighbors thought I was marking them to take them down and asked if we might have firewood to spare, but my husband assured them it was for another purpose.  I needed to do this step because I don’t know a heck of a lot about trees, and paying attention to what kind of trees were around me opened up my eyes quite a bit.

The whole amazing part about all of this is that you not only learn which trees are best for maple sugaring, but you also get a feel for which tree is going to be a great maple sap producer after tapping trees.  This is something people can’t tell you.  It’s just something you pick up along the way.

When I ordered supplies in advance, the company I shipped me a box.  It had everything I ordered except the most important aspect – SPILES.  I had the line that attached to the spiles.  I had gathering buckets.  I had saved milk cartons and cleaned them out for collection purposes.  I thought using a line would make things easier for me since the trees were on a hill, and I could have the line go downward into a collection bucket from different trees.  Without spiles, I didn’t have much to work with for the tree tapping.

I made a little video to explain things.  I left out the part of needing a hammer or rubber mallet to tap the tree.  Certainly, you can use other methods, buckets, or ways of collection.  I’m sure someone will tell me I did the whole process wrong too, but here’s the key – my supplies weren’t sent.  I wanted to make maple syrup.  I needed to figure something out to accomplish the task. Making a simple run to a hardware store and finding things that CAN work can produce the same result as purchasing from an online store. At the same time, the online plastic spiles were a lot cheaper, but I was risking losing out on maple sugaring season due to the company not informing me of their lack of supplies and what time frame the supplies would arrive.

With that, my project worked, and we now have quite a bit of sap despite this horrific winter.  I didn’t even tap 1/4 of the trees on the property where hundreds (more than the 100 my daughter counted) of trees reside.

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How to Repair Solid Wood Doors


If you have ever experienced solid hardwood doors, you know they can’t be beat in comparison to hollow doors.  They really are more quiet, absolutely more sturdy, and if given the choice most people would pick solid wood doors over their counterparts.

If you don’t have solid hardwood doors and are looking for a way to repair your hollow doors, give this a try. I did use it on one hollow door, and it should still work for you.  Just be careful when sanding because solid wood doors withstand a lot more than the less expensive doors.

If you were the unfortunate soul to purchase a home that may have been previously occupied by a person who didn’t seem to mind rodents chewing the doors, then you may be faced with the task of figuring out to repair them.  Okay, not everyone has purchased a home previously occupied by someone who hoarded (through no fault of her own), but when I came to realize almost every door in the house had been chewed through, my heart dropped when I pictured the amount of money this could cost adding up in my head.  I’ll never forget a real estate agent blowing it off saying, “Oh, don’t worry.  You can replace these for $40 a piece.”  REAL prices for solid wood doors can exceed $80.  When there are over 15 doors in a house that need repair, your head starts rolling with, “Cha-ching…cha-ching…cha-ching….”

I was determined that I might find a way to repair the doors.  However, the bottom of the doors were damaged from rodents, and some were damaged from dogs scratching on them.  I knew a simple wood filler wouldn’t suffice at the bottom of the doors.  After speaking with my mortgage broker (a man who had a lot in common with me regarding fixer uppers, spinal surgeries, etc.), he clued me in on a product that is super durable, sandable, and paintable.  The name of the product is Durham’s Wood Putty, and I found it at my local hardware store.  Just to be clear on this – Durham’s did not solicit me for writing any of this.  When I believe in a product and know it can save people money, people deserve to learn about it.


This large container helped me repair quite a few doors.  In fact, I purchased two and completed almost all with one.  The cost was approximately $15 for BOTH containers.  That’s a heck of a lot cheaper than buying new doors.

The key to this whole process is patience.  With every home repair, patience is everything.

Here is a before picture of some of doors we had in the home.  I use opportunities of people coming to visit as motivation to complete projects.  For the bedrooms, the motivation was Christmas when all of my girls were home for the holidays.  The second motivation was to complete the rest of the doors when my youngest wanted a birthday party at home.

This one is the doggy door.  A dog had been locked up in the bathroom and had enough time to chew up the vanity and claw the door up.



This was the kitchen pantry door.  Most of the doors were chewed through on the bottom like this, and this was actually one of the milder ones.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This was a bedroom door.  The entire bottom had been chewed across.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There may have been one or two doors in the whole house that were spared, but almost every single door had severe damage.  I repaired over 13 doors in the house.

Take your door that needs repair OFF OF THE HINGES.  Trying to paint around door hardware is a nuisance, and it hardly takes any time to take it down.   You can use a small screw driver and hammer to knock the pins out of the hinges.  Then, you remove the doors.  I took every hinge and doorknob off because they were worn out and looked like chipped gold.

Protect whatever surface where you’re doing repairs.  This goes without saying, I’m sure, but do yourself a favor and take the time to prepare your working area.  Saw horses would be great to prop a door up.  Lay a painter’s cloth underneath, and you’ll be good to go.

I mixed the water putty with water, and carefully patched up the doors where they had been damaged.  It wasn’t always possibly to put a large amount on the bottom of the doors and walk away.  I would wait for the amount to dry that I put on the door and add more if it wasn’t filled in like I wanted.  I mixed it in disposable plastic containers, but when it dries, you can actually knock it out of the container.  Just don’t use something that you’re attached to if you’re trying this out for the first time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe doggy door is below:


I mixed water with the putty and filled in the damaged areas.  I would add some water to smooth over with a putty knife.  I would let the filled up parts of the door dry overnight.  When the area needing repair was filled the way I wanted it filled, I used 60 grit sandpaper to sand it down.  Then, I switched over to 100 or more to get it smooth for painting.

Sanding requires patience with doors, but if the damage is at the bottom, and you repair the door like this, you would be surprised to find out that, after you paint it and put it up, if you weren’t perfect, it really isn’t noticeable unless you lay on the floor to look at it or stick your nose on it.

I had to use three coats of paint on every door due to them not having been painted so long and just looking worn out.  My advice would be to really allow your paint to dry between coats (patience, again).  I used a semi-gloss paint that was rated well, but there was no getting around the fact that it took me three coats for complete coverage.

The final results – first, the unbelievably damaged doggy door.  The only thing completed on this bathroom are the doors, so ignore the broken tiles and mess…..



The pantry doors:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe absolute worst door in the house (had over three inches chewed away on the bottom of the door:


I hope this will help you save some doors in your home.  You’ll most likely come up with a lot of other uses for Durham’s Water Putty.  I know I used it to repair furniture when wood filler just wouldn’t do the job.  For the amount of doors I had to repair, the task was a little overwhelming, but just consider everything you’re doing in your home as being sweat equity, and changing your perspective on repairs like this will create a more patient outlook.  Take your time.  Do your best….and, a saying I created is this, “Perfectionism sometimes leads to procrastination.”  Just because you don’t think you may be the best of something doesn’t mean you should quit trying.

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DIY Bathroom Vanity – Dry Sink to Real Sink


Where to begin on this one….

There was a bathroom vanity in my house that HAD to come out.  Was it ugly?  Not really. Was it too small?  A little…but it wasn’t a big deal.  So, what was the problem?  Apparently, a dog had resided in that bathroom and lifted it’s leg frequently to urinate on that vanity.  When I say frequently, I can’t even imagine how often it happened, but it was enough to make people gag walking by the room.

I can’t think of anything much more disturbing to me than people or animals being mistreated, and I can’t get over the dog in the bathroom scenario, but it was obvious that’s where the dog spent a good amount of time.

The urine vanity was placed on the curb, and someone hauled off with it.  Well, folks, you know what they say about getting something for nothing.  It wasn’t a buyer beware scenario, so more power to the person who put that in the back of his truck.

Onto my plan:  there was a double sink vanity placed in a downstairs bathroom.  It was a small bathroom, and the double sink made no sense in it.  Just having another person in that bathroom was cause for claustrophobia.

After pricing out vanities, I decided I wanted something more fun and different to look at – something that was more like a piece of art than just a bathroom vanity.  After seeing so many, I started thinking, “Boring, boring, boring…expensive…boring.”  I believe people should love looking at things in their homes, and enjoy what they see.  Why not have a little fun with it?

I got this idea in my head to get a dry sink and install a vessel sink onto it.  I went to thrift stores attempting to find a dry sink.  It had to have the sink area on a particular side, and I had to be able to turn it into something I loved.

The first day I looked, I found it.  The problem was that I was forced to take a hutch home with it (more on that later because I didn’t waste the hutch).  I believe my original pictures of the entire item are on another hard drive, but if I ever find them, I’ll post them later.


So, this is the ugly mess of a dry sink I had (doors removed).  I wanted to place a vessel sink there, and it already had a water proof top (this was not an antique version of a dry sink).  I drilled holes through for the sink opening and for the faucet.


Due to having to drill holes through and having to put pipes through the drawer area, I figured I would just remove the drawer front of the drawer that was originally there and just screw it in to the front to cover where the drawer was originally.  My husband said, “Can’t you just cut the drawer in half?  I mean, with having a house full of girls, wouldn’t that serve a purpose?”  Um…yes??!!!  Of course, it would serve a purpose!  That’s a classic makeup drawer, isn’t it?  It could hold hair brushes or curling irons.  YES, IT WOULD SERVE A PURPOSE!


With that, I cut a drawer in half.  I notched the back to fit over the edges, added glue, and put screws in through the back to secure it.  I cut the bottom slider piece to size and glued that on as well.  I’ll give my husband credit for that idea.  <—This should earn me extra brownie points, no?

Neither one of the drawers had stops.  I created two drawer stops with leftover wood from cutting the drawer down.  I cut two small pieces that could be screwed into the top part of each drawer.  When the drawer is inserted into the space, I can turn the wood piece up to prevent the drawer from falling out.



The original piece had hinges on the front that let down a door.  I filled in the hinge areas and sanded them down.  You can see there were two wood pieces on each side of the front drawer that would pull out for this hinged piece to lay.  I screwed those in on the side so they would no longer pull out.


I wanted to use a chalk paint on this piece, but knew that a chalk paint wouldn’t survive too well in the bathroom.  I decided to create a chalk paint anyways and used an outdoor polyurethane in order to stand up to the abuse of girls at a vanity.

After the first coat of polyurethane, I sanded with a 220 grit paper.  Then, I wiped it down with mineral spirits.  After the second coat, I used a 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper and put mineral spirits on it to sand it.  It was smooth to the touch.

I bought new knobs and pulls in a nickel color that would go with a faucet I picked out.  I really liked the original decorative hinges that came with this piece.  I cleaned them up and spray painted them with a hammered silver paint.  I stuck the screws into a box to spray paint the tops.


I knew the polyurethane was going to change the color of my paint.  I was pleasantly surprised with the change.  It turned into a green color that went well with a stone bowl I had purchased.

I fell in love with the final piece.  Hey, my style might not be everyone’s style, but the point is that ideas can generate ideas, and who knows what YOU might create.


There’s more to come involving this project, but the goal was to replace one vanity with another without spending hundreds of dollars.  Using furniture for vanities is a great way to go if you don’t want to spend thousands on a large vanity and are tired of seeing the same old things in bathrooms.


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She had a Bad Day – or DID She? by Jamie

Here’s my pick for the Valentine’s Day love story runner up, and a song chosen just for this couple:

I couldn’t get Jamie’s story out of my head!  You’ve got to love this love story!


I had a stressful job.  One of those where I would either come home at the end of the day and flop on the couch or come home and start drinking immediately.  This day happened to be the latter.  It was a particularly grueling day and I was unhappily anticipating the laundry that awaited me (you know, the tire tracks from being thrown under the bus and a stab wound in the back?  THAT kind of laundry.)  Regardless, I began telling the tales of co-worker treachery when the waterworks started.  They were the angry, unattractive tears that seem to come only when you can only catch your breath a little at a time and the story starts and stops in  2-to-3 word increments.  My boyfriend only stood there, listening, and occasionally opening up another beer when mine inevitably ran out.
At one point, I had worked myself up into such a pity-party rage that I looked at him and said, “That place makes me so mad that I just…I just..I just wanna THROW SOMETHING.”
My boyfriend looked at me and handed me an empty beer bottle.
I didn’t say a word.  I just tossed that empty bottle across the kitchen and into the laundry room door.  When it clattered to the floor without breaking I started to cry even more (which I didn’t even think was possible at that point.)  He walked over, picked up the bottle, and gave it back to me.  I then threw it at the wall, even harder, and then let out a cry of relief as it shattered to the floor.
Of course, even in my *lovely* state, I realized broken glass should be cleaned up and I dejectedly got the broom and dust pan to clean up my temper tantrum.
My boyfriend got down and started to help me when he looked at me and said, “Marry me.”
Of course, I thought maybe he, too, had too much of a 6-pack when I tearily responded with, “Huh?”
Again, he repeated, “Marry me.”
THAT’S when the real, best kind of tears started flowing and I hugged him over a dustpan full of broken glass and screamed “YES!” at the top of my lungs.
Our story doesn’t involve a ring in a cake, a flash mob, or a hidden camera.  It involves my now husband seeing me at my absolute worst and somehow deciding we should spend our lives together.
We’re still together and we celebrate 5 years in May.
Moral of the story?  Sometimes you just feel like throwing something.  Sometimes it results in a mess.  Sometimes it doesn’t :)
Happy Valentine’s Day!!
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Once Bitten, a Few Times Shy – When Valentine’s Multiply by Andy

Did you hear the story about boy marries girl then girl tries to kill boy then boy runs away from girl and divorces her and swears off girls (well not wholly) and then another girl asks out same boy and the new girl marries the boy and they all lived happily ever after? If you have not heard that story, then Valentines Day is a great day to hear it.

In 1992, I met the girl of my dreams. She was pretty, nice and was the type of girl many boys would have fallen in love with. I was working my dream job as a cop, and now, I was marrying the girl I assumed I would be with my entire life.  After only a few months, the problems began. There would be several events that would lead to me leaving the job. My first wife was a diagnosed manic-depressive with very violent tendencies and a huge appetite for alcohol. Over the seven years of marriage, she pulled my service weapon on me several times, many times waking me up to the barrel of a Smith and Wesson. She pulled a radio out of the wall swinging it by the cord striking me numerous times in the head. I had abrasions all over my hands from covering up my head. When the police showed up to the police officers house to arrest her one of my supervisors saw the cuts on my hand and told me he was going to have my ass once he could prove I was beating her. I left the job because she wanted to move home, and, quite frankly, I knew I would lose the job if I did not get away from her. I believe when you fall in love and marry you don’t leave unless your options are exhausted. We moved to Ohio and things got worse. After several months and a very violent final episode, I left Ohio. Thanks to some friends, I made in to the Birthplace of Flight and my parents.  I escaped and started over. New life, new job, and that concludes the prologue to my story.

I took a job at a grocery chain and for nearly a year I kept my head down and worked. I saved money and had no plans on dating. Near the end of the first year, I got a girls phone number and gave her mine. The first time we talked on the phone it was three in the morning, and she was asking me to come over to her home because she was drunk and wanted me. We had never even been on a date and only spoke a few times. My experienced crazy meter went off, and I never talked to her again. Strike one.

Like a moth to a flame, I started to talk to another girl a couple months later and, in no time, she became obsessive and frighteningly clingy. Strike two.

I was promoted quickly twice at my job and transferred stores. I worked long hours and was truly thinking that I would never date again because I only attracted crazy. Maybe I needed to bat for my own team? There was a girl that worked in the pharmacy at the store I was a manager in. She was cute, had pretty eyes, and wore glasses. I never gave it too much thought. I thought she was cuter than most but I darn sure was gun shy. I noticed her, but left it at that. I noticed many pretty girls that walked in the store and even briefly spoke to some just to make conversation or maybe there was a part of me that did not want to forget how to talk to a woman. But the girl in the pharmacy was the one I often thought about. There were a couple girls who worked in the store that showed great interest in me, but one was crazy and the other was married which by default made her crazy because I was not her husband. Strike three and four!!! I was done.

I was building a display in the back of the store when a girl from the pharmacy approached me. She was not THE girl and I figured she had a business question. She asked me if I was single, and I said yes. She said that if I was interested, the Pharmacist was off for the next four days and wouldn’t mind going on a date with me. THE girl was the pharmacist. I did not know this fact because she was so young I assumed she was a tech or cashier. I took the number and sat on it for four days. I waited until her last night off to call her because I did not really want to go on a date and I figured if I called sooner I might have to go on one. Did I mention I was gun shy? We talked for hours and the first date was planned.

The first date was a humdinger. I took her to a coffee shop and made the mistake of giving her coffee and rock candy. Her mouth was in overdrive, and I drank it in like a fine wine. The next few dates were the same. We dated for several months and crazy never ever showed up. One day, I was talking to her mother, and she made the comment that if I did not marry her then they would find someone that would. She said this as a joke, but I took it to heart and asked her to marry me. My only regret was not asking her father first but it was never an issue. We were married in West Virginia and still crazy never showed, but it would.

After we were married, a series of events occurred over the years that were just life moments. The funny thing about life moments is that the way you deal with them as a couple defines the strength of your marriage. I had a surgery that was not expected, but it was not life threatening either. I can still remember her telling the doctor he gave me medications I was having a reaction to, and he better switch up what I was getting. It was a lion protecting her pride. Even in a drugged stupor, I recognized how dedicated she was to me.

A hurricane was approaching Virginia Beach and most hurricanes missed us, but this one was on target. The night before the storm my wife was involved in a horrendous car accident. She would require a combination of stitches and staples that when counted were well into three digits. She lost a great deal of her memory, and it completely changed her from that day forward. I did not sleep for two days watching over her after I got her home. The hurricane pounded our home, and thankfully, we were one of the few that never lost power. The storm passed, and she was unresponsive. I threw her in the car and sped to the hospital. The roads were a mosaic of fallen trees and signs. The hospital took care of her, and finally, that night I rested.

We wanted a child and quickly found that we had infertility issues. We fought through miscarriages and several years of fertility treatments and gave up. One day, she told me (and I was not given an option) that we were trying one more time through IVF. I begged no because I could not see her hurt anymore. Good thing she doesn’t listen to me because now our daughter is five.

This past year I lost my job due to downsizing. It was stressful. I had a job lined up but it was the same job I was losing for less pay still serving the same company that downsized me. My job was farmed out to another company. The company I had worked for fifteen years was not keeping some of its promises. I would go from happy to angry at the flip of a switch. Some of the people I worked with misunderstood my emotions and that only made things worse. The first few months of the new job were frustrating. The job ended up being a blessing and things began to smooth out. I love my new company and am no longer angry with my old company.

My wife never wavered in her support. She never made me feel that I was not loved, special. Even when I was at my worst she was there. She has always been my rock. No matter what life has thrown at us in over a decade she is there. I do not take her for granted but I never doubt that she will understand me and when the time is right play my devils advocate.


Love is one of those things that you know when you see it. You cannot define love because it is different things to different people, but love is truly what gets me through the good and the bad. My wife, Shannon, taught me to take chances, trust myself, and not be afraid to fail. I learned to let go. I hope you all have this kind of love or find this type of love. I love you, Shannon. Happy Valentines Day!!!

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Valentine’s Day Dinner on the Grill – by Barry Martin


Donna (AKA the Hudson Valley Handymom) – I’ve been fortunate to meet some world class people in my lifetime.  Barry (CB) Martin is one of those people.  He has a star quality presence and sense of humor while demonstrating his craft to those of us who aren’t so talented.  I noticed that most of my recipes seem to be on the baked goods side.  I have a major sweet tooth, what can I say?  Despite the presence of all the baked goods on my site, one of my passions is cooking on the grill, and Barry is the ultimate go-to source for grilling.  I asked Barry if he might have some great ideas for Valentine’s Day, and what he sent was absolutely brilliant.  Having a meal made from the heart means so much.  Barry made an impressive meal that would win a lot of brownie points. Without further ado:

CB’s Valentine’s Day Dinner on the Grill

On February 14th restaurants everywhere are filled to capacity with guests we in the trade call “Amateur Diners.” This isn’t a derogatory label because we truly appreciate every customer who chooses to spend their hard-earned cash at our restaurant. But Valentine’s Day spurs many a fella to step outside his comfort zone and take his sweetheart to a “swellegant place.” Fine Dining restaurants are filled with proud men more familiar with cafes where baseball caps are worn at all times and the menu is mostly fried something served in a basket. They sit uncomfortably in a coat & tie, a bit nervous about how to order and you can tell when they are selecting his meal by the price of each item and not what they are truly hungry for. (Most likely on the way home many of these good men will hit a favorite drive thru for a burger because the entire experience has been just too too much.)

I admire my brother men for their valiant attempt at romance to show the love-of-their-life a great evening on a special day. AND I have some advice. Chill. This year make dinner at home on the grill and present her with a lovely gift with the money you saved. I can assure you that every attempt to show your sweetheart you care for her – done with style – will touch her heart. I have scientific evidence!


Recently I conducted a thorough investigation as to the preferences of women regarding Valentine’s Day gifts and gestures. OK – I posted a question on Facebook…


Which do you prefer for Valentine’s Day?

a) flowers

b) chocolates

c) champagne

d) romantic dinner out at “better” restaurant

e) romantic dinner prepared at home

f) spa day gift

g) other


89% of the women answered “Jewelry.”  It wasn’t even one of the answers – thus proving that regardless of what we men “think” will please her all that really matters is the attempt. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.



I am following my own advice and this is the Valentine’s Day dinner I’m cooking for Miss Laura and it’s heart healthy too!


Grilled grass fed beef steak, line caught mahi-mahi and gulf shrimp. I’m serving a prepared mixed salad of “spring greens” that I bought in the bag at the store and on the plate a serving of steamed spinach with lemon and sesame seeds. For dessert a scoop of really good ice cream with fresh fruit. Our beverage is a bottle of bubbles. I guarantee you the total bill for this romantic dinner will cost far less than a night out in an uncomfortable setting.


Oh and yes please, do take her out for dinner and a night on the town — but on a different night when she doesn’t expect it. And that is more comfortable for both of you. Oh and wear a tie and take off your cap! ~ CB


CB’s Valentines Day Menu

On the grill:


Steaks: 2 smallish under 6 ounce bacon-wrapped grass fed beef tenderloins

Fish: 2 medium-size 7 ounce or so mahi-mahi fillets because this fish cooks pretty much like a thin pork chop – hot and fast to 145°F

Bonus Points: Dozen or so gulf shrimp


For the greens – gotta have greens:

Bag o’Spring Greens Organic Salad Mix for starter course – lemon and oil as the dressing!

Bag o’frozen spinach microwaved whilst the steaks are resting and tossed with a bit of butter and squeeze of lemon.



I set the propane grill temp to HIGH or about 600°F – equivalent for charcoal is red glow and no smoke from charcoal with a the “hand test” of about 3 count.


  • Beef ~ Because the steaks are small – keep them cold in the fridge until ready to grill. The cold internal temperature of the meat (most refrigerators run at about 40°F or so) will help keep them moist and pink while the hot grates sear the surface to create a crust. The bacon will also crisp up if it’s thinner or eve par-cooked a bit before wrapping the steaks. Blot the surface of the meat and use a pinch of larger grain kosher or sea salt on each – getting some on both sides. If your grates are clean and seasoned metal, place the meat on and grill until a little tug with tongs lifts the meat of the grates – if it doesn’t pull of easily it needs a bit more time to sear mark. Turn once and then place on covered plate indoors to rest and fish cooking from residual heat.


  • Mahi-Mahi ~ This fish is easy to find in the frozen section of most grocery stores – check the label to ensure it’s American water caught – and thaw in the fridge at least one day prior to cooking. Mahi-Mahi is a mild flavored fish with a meaty texture but it requires a different approach to cooking than the steaks – rinse under cool running water and blot with paper towels to dry the surface, then season with good salt and allow to come to room temperature – generally 70°F or so – before grilling. It’s important to cook the fish to 145F internal temperature. I place the fish on the grill when I turn the steaks the first time. You may want to brush the surface of the fish with a little bit of neutral flavored cooking oil like avocado or peanut – just to help the grill marks get going. Clarified butter is also good for this purpose. To test if the fish is ready to turn, use your fingers or tongs to tug a bit and see if the fillet lifts off the grates Turn once using a metal spatula that has been lightly oiled, placed flat on the grates and slid quickly beneath the fish.


  • Gulf Shrimp ~ Shrimp cook fast and need to be dried off after cleaning to remove the top vein, then seasoned and lightly oiled with neutral oil like avocado or peanut just prior to grilling. I put the shrimp on the grill when I’m about to remove the steaks, turn the mahi-mahi for the first time. The shrimp will begin to turn pink almost immediately and you should mind them carefully – using tongs to turn to get all sides cooked. Once heated the shrimp are done and will have a bit of carry over heat to finish.


Season the food after cooking. High temperature grilling will burn most seasonings like rubs and even black pepper so add a shake or two of her favorite seasoning after grilling. You can use any type of flavors on the seafood that you enjoy – some folks love tartar sauce, others like salsa, etc. It’s all according to personal taste. My taste is to use less seasoning and enjoy the flavors of the food – but what you like, er… I mean what your sweetheart likes is the deciding factor.


You can visit Barry and beautiful Miss Laura at these sites:

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A Movie Birthday Party – At Home


I grew up in an age of birthday parties at the home of the child who was having the birthday.  We dressed up for the parties.  We opened gifts while other children were there. I remember those at-home parties being a lot of fun as a child.  Then, when I became a parent, the emergence of off-location parties gained popularity.  I didn’t know if that was due to moving to New York or if it had to do with things changing in life. With parents working and trying to keep life together, it’s certainly easier (and less invasive) to have a party at another location.

Elaborate parties of this generation have ranged from indoor swimming parties, ice skating parties, bowling parties, gymnastic parties, Build-a-Bear parties, to renting out a movie theater at an odd hour in the morning to watch a movie with popcorn, pizza, and a cake. These parties ranged in price, but some exceeded $300.00.  It started to get so crazy with the parties, gift bags, etc., that it made me wonder what happened to the good, old-fashioned parties.  Children didn’t even have enough time to open gifts at these parties, and I’ll never forget my first experience of shock when I watched parents shove the unopened gifts into a garbage bag and haul it to the car.  None of the children even had the moment to experience watching the birthday child open their gift.

During this generation (and in my location), rarely is a party thrown at home except in the case of a not-so-common slumber party. When my daughter requested an at-home party in the midst of my fixer upper not being so fixed up, I looked around wondering how presentable I could make it prior to anyone coming to the house.  I decided to take it on as a challenge.  She’s proud of where she lives and wanted her friends to come over.  I understand that line of thinking.  At the same time, I’m looking at the un-patched holes in the walls, broken tile on the bathroom floor, and claw marks on a door from a previous homeowner locking a dog in the bathroom.  I looked at the calendar, looked at the house, and decided that I might not be done with repairs until she’s in her 20′s.  Then, her entire childhood would be gone.  Was it that bad to have a party at an incomplete house?

The answer to that question is to have the party whether your renovations are done or not.  As long as you don’t have a major construction zone going on, just do it.  I have four daughters with ages ranging from 11 to 23, and I’m aware of how fast time flies.

My daughter wanted a movie party at the house.  I looked online for something resembling a movie ticket.  I found a free printable resembling that looked like one. I downloaded it, opened it up in Paint Shop Pro, and added text boxes with the information regarding the party into it.  I picked up a box of cards at the local craft store (with my 40% coupon), and used the cards to print the invitations.  I used a document type of program with the page sized to fit my card with margins in order to print it out properly.  I did this by creating a page size and inserting the picture into the size.  Then, I stretched it to fit.  It printed out beautifully this way.

The rule of thumb is to hand out invitations two weeks in advance so people can plan accordingly.  But, here’s a new one with the latest generation – people don’t seem to know what R.S.V.P. means.  R.S.V.P means, “Répondez s’il vous plaît.”  In layman’s terms, PLEASE RESPOND whether you’re planning on attending or not!   As a mom who has had children for many years, I’ve noticed that in the past few years that parents don’t seem to care whether or not they respond to invites.  You’re suppose to respond whether you are going or aren’t going to a party.  Not responding at all has become the norm and seems to be demonstrating the rudeness our society.  For one party, we actually had to send out reminder invitations.  It actually turned me off to throwing another party because it was such a hassle to get parents to respond.  Of course, I don’t know that the parents are all to blame.  Kids have been known to bury the invitations in book bags and forget they were there.  I’ve had a few given to me last minute.  When my kids tell me they’re invited to a party, I have them locate the invitation right then and there, and call the parent so I won’t forget. For this party, the invitations were handed out, ONE parent called right away, and my daughter continually reminded her friends to have their parents call until we had a party consisting of nine children.

To create a movie themed party, I found popcorn cups online.  My daughter wanted me to make caramel corn.  The night before the party, I made a few batches, let it cool, and filled the cups.  Then, I covered them with plastic wrap and wrapped tape around it in order to keep the caramel corn fresh.


We had a plan to serve movie theater style popcorn in the same cups for the movie.


Then, the caramel corn would go home because we had so much food for the kids. I made homemade pizza upon their arrival.  After they gathered, we served the pizza, got the movie ready, and when the movie was in play, they were all sent to the dining room table to pick out their choice of movie sized candy.  Our local A&P sold the candy, so it was easy to find.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe girls couldn’t stop talking or moving through the movie because they were just too excited about being together.  We served the cupcakes and had an ice cream sundae bar. They challenged each other with making the biggest sundaes with the most toppings. At this point, the children started chanting, “SUGAR!  SUGAR! SUGAR!”  We were thinking trouble was about to ensue.

My kitchen table was moved, one of the girls hooked her Ipod up to my radio.  They started to blast music…and then…my second oldest daughter brought a strobe light into the kitchen.  We hung it from a chandelier, and my kitchen became a disco.  This was an unplanned move, but the girls were laughing so hard and had so much fun. I heard them ask my daughter if they could spend the night.

Despite the incomplete renovations, none of the kids seemed to notice or care.  They just loved being together.  In the end, one of the girls said to her mother, “This was the best party I’ve ever been to…” It made me think that all of that money spent on parties in other locations…all of the people trying to one up each other with a better party than the last…but, really, in the end, the kids want to spend time hanging out with each other instead of swimming, ice skating, and making things.  It was an eye opening experience for me.  My daughter knew what kids wanted.  The rest of us, as parents, keep forgetting that the new age of kids and computer leads to kids not playing together as much as we did when we were kids – which renders an at-home party as being more amazing than all the other “amazing” things we think we’re coming up with at these other parties.  To hear the kids’ excitement asking if my daughter could open her presents while they were there brought back memories of the past – to a point where I thought history really needed to repeat itself with all of us.

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From Freezer to Slow Cooker – How to Make Easy Meals

slow cookerThere are things you may not know about me.  In the past, I haven’t brought it up to my readers because I’ve actually lost out on opportunities due to this, but I’m going to say it now.  Here’s my confession:  I’m bionic.  I’m not the kind of bionic that can run miles in a flash, lift heavy objects, or be hired out for amazing feats that no one else can accomplish.  In fact, the exact opposite is true.  Being bionic can be limiting, but the biggest limitations are the ones others set for me – limitations based on what they don’t know regarding my strengths, abilities, and motivation.

I have titanium in my spine and have to deal with the ramifications of it on a daily basis.  Anyone who has ever had spinal surgery knows how horrible the recovery is for it.  In my case, I had spinal surgery twice.  My desire isn’t to go into the whole ordeal to seek sympathy or even to sugar coat what it’s like to be me.  We all have our bionic limitations in one form or another.  That’s what makes us human.

A limitation my husband has is in the cooking department.  I know there are so many wonderful male chefs out there.  I know there are so many wonderful male home cooks.  I’m not married to one of them.  Trust me, you don’t want him to make you a box of macaroni and cheese.  He did that once for the kids, and they lost all trust afterward.

After my first surgery, my husband’s idea of cooking dinner was to bring me canned soup.  Now, although appreciated at first (because something is better than nothing), I just couldn’t take it anymore.  The metallic taste incorporated into chicken noodle soup REALLY lost the appeal after awhile.

The second time I had to have surgery, I made up my mind that I wasn’t eating soup again.  I made meals ahead of time and froze them so that my husband could defrost them and just place them in the oven.  I even came up with a great system for this, and the food was so good (and greatly appreciated).

Being able to freeze meals ahead of time and throw them in the slow cooker makes life easier for everything from having babies to having surgeries to working all day and having a meal already waiting for you.  Nothing is better than to come home from a hard day of work and smell a great meal already waiting for you…even when no one else is there.

I decided to create some new meals that can be frozen with the slow cooker in mind.  I knew I wanted to make the meals quick and easy, but I also wanted them to not be complicated.  I made stuffed peppers using different kinds of beans and cooking methods, a pasta dish (SO GOOD), and a meatball idea that was a failed BBQ sauce where I decided to throw caution to the wind since I had so many leftover cans of cranberry sauce sitting around.  When my husband proclaims how great the meatballs are, then…my mistakes become a new dish in the house.

I created two versions of stuffed peppers. This first one is the one I prefer because the other one rendered a more chewy pepper skin that was difficult to cut with a knife. With this one, the peppers became a real part of the meal. I enjoyed the red bell pepper even more than the green bell pepper, but pick whichever peppers you prefer.

The first version almost tastes like a chili and is so good. The liquid builds up in the slow cooker, so there’s plenty to drizzle onto the peppers.  The peppers become soft, so if soft is not your thing, skip boiling the peppers (but don’t expect them to bake up just like the oven).  If you can’t fit all the peppers into the slow cooker, you can stack them a bit.

Hudson Valley Handymom Stuffed Peppers

Chorizo Stuffed Peppers

6 bell peppers (red or green)

1 pound of chorizo sausage, casings removed

½ cup onion

1 tsp minced garlic

1 ½ tsp chili powder

1 tsp salt

1 – 12 oz. can of corn (drained)

1 cup uncooked rice

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack Cheese (reserve ¼ cup)

1 cup of shredded sharp chedder cheese (reserve ¼ cup)

1 – 15 oz can pinto beans (drained)

1 – 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes

1 – 14.5 oz can of chili style diced tomatoes


Begin by boiling water in a large pot. While water is boiling, cut tops off of peppers and remove the seeds.

When water is boiling, submerge peppers into boiling water. Remove with a large, slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels by turning them upside down.

In a large bowl, add chorizo, onion, garlic, chili powder, and salt. Mix together by squishing mixture with hands.

Stir in corn, uncooked rice, 1 ½ cups of the cheeses (reserve ¼ cup of each cheese for the end), pinto beans, and diced tomatoes.

Fill peppers with mixture.

To freeze ahead of time, place peppers carefully into two gallon sized freezer bags.

Prior to cooking, defrost completely in refrigerator.

Place into large oval slow cooker. Pour diced tomatoes with chile over the top.

Bake on high for 6 – 7 hours.

Top with remaining cheeses before serving.


Alternate recipe:

6 bell peppers (red or green)

1 pound of chorizo sausage, casings removed

½ cup onion

¼ tsp garlic powder

1 ½ tsp chili powder

1 tsp salt

1 cup of corn cut off a corn on the cob

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack Cheese (reserve ¼ cup)

1 cup of shredded sharp chedder cheese (reserve ¼ cup)

2 cups of cooked rice

1 – 15 oz can black beans (drained)

2 – 14.5 oz cans of diced tomatoes

Cut tops off of peppers and remove seeds.

In a frying pan, break up sausage while cooking over medium heat. When sausage is almost done, add chopped onion to it and the drippings, and cook until soft.

In a large bowl, add chorizo and onion mixture garlic, chili powder, and salt.

Stir in corn, black beans, one can of diced tomatoes that has been drained, 1 ½ cups of the shredded cheese, and the rice.

Fill peppers with mixture.

To freeze ahead of time, place peppers carefully into two gallon sized freezer bags.

Prior to cooking, defrost completely in refrigerator.

Place into large oval slow cooker. Pour remaining can of diced tomatoes over the top.

Bake on high for 4 to 6 hours.

Top with remaining cheeses before serving.


Creamy Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese




1 large red bell pepper, cut into bite sized pieces

4 cups of raw, fresh broccoli, cut up

1 cup of ham, cut into pieces

½ cup butter

½ cup flour

1 ½ tsp of salt

3 cups of milk

12 z can of evaporated milk

2 cups of shredded smoked gouda

1 cup of water

1 pound of large shell pasta

For freezing ahead:

In a gallon sized freezer bag, place red bell pepper, broccoli, and ham.

Microwave butter in a medium bowl until melted by heating for 30 seconds, stirring, and repeating until melted.

Whisk flour into butter. Gradually pour evaporated milk into mixture and continue to whisk until well blended.

Whisk milk and salt into mixture and pour into bag.

Add the cheese into bag. Close the bag and place in the freezer.

Prior to cooking, allow bag to defrost in the refrigerator.

Pour bag into slow cooker.

Pour the pasta into the slow cooker, add the one cup of water, and stir together with a spoon.

Set on low and cook for three hours stirring occasionally while cooking.




1 onion, diced

1 ½ pounds of ground sirloin

1 cup of dried breadcrumbs

1½ tsp salt (1 tsp for meatballs, ½ for the sauce)

10 ¾ oz can of tomato soup

1 tsp of dry mustard

1 TBSP of molasses

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 TBSP cooking sherry

¼ cup ketchup

¼ tsp onion powder

¼ tsp garlic powder

¼ tsp of fresh ground pepper

1 14 oz can of jellied cranberry sauce


In a medium bowl, mix together onion, ground sirloin, breadcrumbs, and 1 tsp of salt with hands.

Form into 1 ½ inch balls.

For freezing: place balls, uncooked, into one gallon freezer bag.

In a medium bowl, whisk together all remaining ingredients.

Pour the mixture over the meatballs. Close bag and place in freezer.

Defrost completely in refrigerator prior to placing in slow cooker.

Once defrosted, place in slow cooker on high for 6 to 8 hours until the middle of a meatball is well done.

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Donna’s Coconut Almond Cookies – EGGLESS!

I don’t normally put my name in front of a recipe, but I had put this recipe I created on a couple of cooking websites, and it was renamed for me with my name placed in front of it, so I just left it.

I love the taste of coconut and almonds, and if you like it too, you’ll love the taste of these cookies.  I hope you enjoy!


Donna’s Coconut Almond Cookies


Serves: 22
Prep Time:
Cook Time:


1/2 c butter, softened

get recipes @
1/2 c vegetable shortening
3/4 c sugar
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/4 c flour
1 c coconut, sweetened flaked
1 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
Donna’s notes for this recipe:
I have four daughters, and my family has a big love of a certain candy bar. I was inspired to create a cookie that would satisfy the cravings! The result is a light and airy cookie that’s crisp, packed with flavor, and addicting! It’s hard to stop at one. You can switch out the semi-sweet chocolate with your favorite chocolate flavor or just leave the chocolate off altogether. Don’t be fooled by the small amount of chocolate because this cookie packs a lot of flavor. These are super easy to make.
1.   Preheat oven to 350.
2.  In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, shortening, and sugar.
3.  Add vanilla and almond extracts and salt to mixture.
4.  Gradually add flour, and thoroughly mix.
5.  Stir in coconut until well blended with mixture.
6.  Scoop out heaping tablespoons and roll into balls. (Optional: The cookie dough can be refrigerated for an hour prior to rolling into balls for ease of preparation.) Place onto parchment paper one inch apart.
7.  Using the bottom of a glass dipped in flour, press down each ball until 1/4 inch thick.
8.  Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. When baking is complete, remove from oven. Allow to remain on cookie sheet to cool for a couple of minutes so the cookies harden.
9. While the cookies are cooling, in a small microwavable dish, heat 1/2 cup of the chocolate chips for 30 seconds. Remove from microwave. Stir. Repeat until chocolate is completely melted. Repeat all of these steps for the other 1/2 cup of chocolate chips.
10. Pour chocolate into a sandwich size plastic bag. Cut a small hole at one corner. Holding the sandwich bag like a decorating icing bag, squeeze the chocolate out onto cookie by zig zagging the chocolate across the top of each cookie (leave the cookies on parchment paper for easy cleanup). This can be done while the cookies are still hot.
11. Move cookies to cooling rack. Allow chocolate to harden. The hardening of the chocolate can be sped up by placing in the refrigerator for a few minutes.
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