Shop Your Own Garden to Find Beautiful and Easy Garden Gifts

Are you thinking about Christmas yet? It’s possible to grow beautiful garden gifts you can “shop” for right now!  I know it seems really early, but head on out to your garden and start checking items off that Christmas Gift List. Here are amazing gifts you might already be growing without even realizing it!Shop Your Own Garden to Find Beautiful Garden Gifts

Shop Your Own Garden to Find Beautiful & Easy Garden Gifts

Today’s installment of Tuesdays in the Garden is all about Christmas gift giving. We realize it’s only July, but give yourself a head start this year by thinking about things you can grow or make now! I’d be really happy to add a few completed gifts to my gift box this early in the season. How about you? So today, the Tuesdays in the Garden gang has ideas for gifts you can make {or buy} now to simplify the busy holiday season! It’ll be here sooner than I want to admit.

You can also use this list to get the creative juices flowing for next year’s garden! While it’s entirely likely that you’re already growing beautiful garden gifts right now, you might need to buy seeds for some of the items on this list and grow them next year. With a little bit of thought, you can turn your garden into a great resource for your Christmas gift giving basket. Here are plants I love to grow that also make great gifts!

Grow Beautiful Garden Gifts with these Ideas!

Luffa Sponges

Did you know you can grow your own natural sponges? I had to search through my blog archives to remember when I grew my luffas – and it was 2013! It’s super easy as long as you have a long enough growing season as these gourds take a long time to grow. You’ll also need a trellis or a lot of room because the vines get BIG! But beyond that, all you have to do is wait until the gourds are grown, harvest, dry, clean, and cut. It’s really not hard. I buy luffa seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and I’d love to grow these again next year.

grow ornamental corn to give as gifts

Ornamental Corn

I love ornamental corn. I don’t have any growing in my garden this year, but I did grow Heirloom Glass Gem Corn last year. I have had plans for turning the gorgeous corn into a wreath or some sort of swag but haven’t done it yet. I also love the kernels just by themselves! It would be easy to take them off the cob and put them in a jar for a lovely addition to a fall table centerpiece!


In addition to luffas, all kinds of gourds make great gifts. My grandpa in particular used to love turning gourds I grew into bird houses for his yard. I sure wish I had taken some pictures of his birdhouses. 🙁 You can also grow gourds  and turn them into lanterns, bird feeders, and bird houses, maracas,  and bowls. Again, you need space (or a trellis) and a long growing season to grow most gourds. Do you have a favorite gourd to grow?

Dried Beans

As I write this post, I realize what an abysmal failure my garden is this year. I’m really growing very few of the items on this list right now and that makes me sad. But another thing I enjoy growing in my garden are beans to dry. I really like things that are easy, and what’s easier than planting beans and then leaving them alone until they are dead and dry? I learned about 3 Sisters Gardens (the agricultural method Native Americans used in my area long ago to grown corn, beans, and squash) several years ago and enjoy watching beans trellis up corn. It is a little tricky harvesting the beans at the end, but with a little bit of effort it works. The dried beans make great soup and a jar of dried beans makes a practical and pretty gift with little effort on your part.


One thing that is growing in abundance this year in my garden are the herbs. I have way more than I can personally use, but I can cut and dry them and give home dried herbs as another practical gift! Do you have too many herbs in your garden too? Think about preserving extra to give to family and friends this year!

Dried Peppers

Again, not a current problem in my garden, but in years past I have had pepper bushes that looked like that! Way too many peppers for me to enjoy. Beyond canning or freezing them, you can also dry them out and make fabulous pepper strings or wreaths to give! Isn’t it amazing to think about all of the ways we can shop our own gardens and make fun and practical gifts to give at Christmas? I hope you’re getting inspired.

dry your own flowers to give as gifts


Do you know anyone who likes dried flower arrangements? If you think about the flowers you have in your garden right now, you can probably come up with ideas for lovely dried flower arrangements you can make yourself. To dry them – simply hang them upside down in a dark area for several weeks. I grow a lot of sunflowers and zinnias that aren’t hard to dry. I know a lot of people also like dried hydrangeas. Do you like dried flowers?


Of course, you can also give home canned goodness from your garden bounty too! Some of my favorite canned goods are homemade dill pickles, strawberry sauce, and crushed tomatoes!

Need more ideas for homemade Christmas gifts? Here are many more ideas for gifts you can make out of photographs and more homemade garden gifts! Here’s also a really nice list of garden related gifts you can buy if you’re not inclined to make gifts!

Tuesdays in the Garden

And now check out what my friends have in store for you! We’ve got a lot more ways to use up the bounty you have growing in your garden. Pop on over and take a look at all the fabulous ideas!

hearth & vine

Test Tube Dried Flowers & Herbs from Patti at Hearth & Vine

tuesdays in the garden

DIY Garden Gift Ideas from Jami at An Oregon Cottage

frugal family home

10 Gift Ideas from the Garden from Shelly at Frugal Family Home

diane homemade food junkie

Tomato Salsa to Can from Diane at Homemade Food Junkie

angie freckled rose

5 Fantastic Garden Gifts from Angie @The Freckled Rose

Shop your own garden for beautiful and easy garden gifts this summer! You can to grow beautiful garden gifts to give this Christmas with this handy list.

7 Tips for Taking an Enjoyable Road Trip with Kids! #Kidpinions Matter

 Road trip with kids. Sounds like a good idea. I mean, what could possibly go wrong being cooped up for hours on end driving across the country with your children anyway?! After driving 5,367 miles on an epic family road trip this summer, I’ve found it is possible to have an enjoyable road trip with kids, but it does take some planning. Here are a few things to consider as you plan your epic family road trip!

7 Tips for Taking an Enjoyable Road Trip with Kids! #Kidpinions Matter

*This post is sponsored by HomeAway. All opinions are mine.*

7 Tips for Taking an Enjoyable Road Trip with Kids! #Kidpinions Matter

1. Involve  your kids in choosing the location and activities

The According to the 2017 Kidpinion Travel Survey conducted by HomeAway® and FamilyFun magazine, 87% of parents surveyed in the US said their kids play a role in vacation planning. After all of the driving we did with our kids this summer, I know first-hand how important it is to involve kids. While my children did not have the ultimate say on where we went, they did choose many of the activities we participated in on our road trip. We asked our kids their opinions on stops we made on the road trip route by giving them choices. They chose to add a few hours to our day by visiting Devils Tower in the Black Hills of Wyoming, for instance. We would have skipped it, had they wanted, but I’m glad they didn’t. My kids also asked to go back into Badlands National Park on our way home and since we drove right by it anyway, I accommodated. The stop was totally worth it.

2. Take lots of snacks and water bottles

When you’re stuck for hours on end in the car, it’s important to have lots of water and snacks. We pack a huge bag of snacks and try to remember to fill up water bottles each morning when we’re on the road. I don’t know about you, but my kids (even the older ones) get irritable when they’re hungry. We run to the local bent and dent Amish store to grab convenience snack items we wouldn’t normally eat before we head out on a long road trip with kids.

Valuing kidpinions when traveling with kids

3. Activities for the car

Just like you need snacks and water, it’s also important to have fun activities ready to go. We like to play car games when we road trip with kids and even take along prizes sometimes. Electronics, movies, books, and coloring books are must haves when we road trip. If you’re looking for specific road trip games, check out my post here!

4. Play with your kids on breaks

Incorporating active breaks during long road trips with kids is very important. Pack hacky sacks and frisbees for quick breaks at rest areas. My kids really enjoyed playing ultimate frisbee on our trip this summer. If you’re looking for ways to keep active on road trips, read this post!

Tips for Having an Enjoyable Road Trip with Kids! #Kidpinions Matter

5. Plan comfortable places to stay on your road trip with kids

Of all the places we stayed on our epic family road trip, the Pine House at Mt. Rainier that we rented from HomeAway was the favorite. A pool or hot tub can make all the difference, at least where my kids are concerned. Also, dedicated beds for each child help make the trip much more comfortable. Plan comfortable places to stay on your road trip with kids

The Pine House that we rented included an awesome loft with six beds, a foosball table, and a hot tub. All of these extras were a big hit with our large group of 12 people! Plus, the cabin was conveniently located near fun outdoor hiking trails. Our family really values comfortable sleeping arrangements when we’re on the road and 2017 Kidpinion Travel Survey shows that we’re not alone. Many families prefer to stay in vacation rental homes because of better sleeping arrangements – beds for all, private rooms for many. 🙂

6. Pack strategically

One thing we did this summer that really helped make our road trip easier and more organized was pack strategically using quart sized storage bags. I had my kids pack one complete outfit per bag and then separated them based on phase of trip. The first phase of our road trip lasted four nights. So, I combined four outfits for each child into one bag and packed the rest elsewhere in a less accessible location. Having the clothes packed like this helped up keep everything organized and streamlined. I will definitely pack this way on future trips. It really helped a ton!

7. When all else fails, eat all the ice cream.

Ice cream must be the magic panacea for our family. Is it the same in yours? When all other options for enjoying smooth travel fail, just top for ice cream. Ice cream improves everyone’s mood is seconds. 🙂

7 Tips for Having an Enjoyable Road Trip with Kids! #Kidpinions Matter

The biggest take away from our 5,000 + mile road trip with kids, was to consider their opinions and be prepared. If you do that when you’re planning your own trip, I bet your family will have a great time even if you spend a lot of time cooped up in the car!

Do you have a planning tip for long family road trips? I’d love to hear!


Chicken Oreganato: a Farm-to-Table, Freezer Friendly Recipe

Chicken Oreganato is a delicious farm to table and freezer friendly. It’s a great way to use up summer produce including herbs, early potatoes, and tomatoes. With a quick prep and clean up, this recipe is sure to become a favorite at your house!Chicken Oreganato Farm to Table Freezer Friendly Recipe from

Welcome to another installation of Tuesdays in the Garden! This week, we’re sharing summer gardening goodies: tours of beautiful summer gardens and delicious ways to use up the summer bounty! You can find links to all the beauty at the end of the post!

I’ve been making this Chicken Oreganato dish for a long time and love that I grow most of the ingredients it contains in my garden (I even raise my own meat chickens!) so this is a real farm to table recipe. It’s quick to prep, but it does take a while to bake because of the skin, bone-in chicken pieces. If you know how to cut up a whole chicken, this recipe is also quite frugal even if you have to buy the chicken. I know a lot of people don’t like to mess with whole chickens, but if you’re looking to reduce your grocery budget, this is a good recipe to try. If you don’t like all the various chicken pieces, just use 4-5 pounds of whatever bone-in pieces you like most and skip the whole chicken altogether.

Chicken Oreganato for the freezer- quick to prep, impressive tasting meal. Sure to be a pleaser at your house! {from}

I originally found a similar recipe in a great freezer cookbook – Don’t Panic–More Dinner’s in the Freezer: A Second Helping of Tasty Meals You Can Make Ahead. We’ve made it numerous times and have also frozen it as per the instructions in the book, which include freezing the potatoes. But here’s the thing. Raw potatoes just don’t freeze well. So if you make this for the freezer, I recommend leaving the potatoes out of the bag you plan to freeze. The, just add them on cooking day! Super simple.

Chicken Oreganato: a Farm-to-Table, Freezer Friendly Recipe

chicken oreganato To make this easy, one dish meal, prep your veggies and put them in a 9 x 13 baking dish.fresh oreganoMix fresh oregano with olive oil, salt and pepper.
chicken oreganato ready for the ovenTop with chicken and pour the olive oil and herbs on top. Bake at 375 degrees until the chicken is cooked, 40-60 minutes for bone in chicken pieces.

Yields 4-6 servings

Chicken Oreganato for the Freezer

20 minPrep Time

1 hrCook Time

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  • 3 lbs cut chicken pieces
  • 4 medium potatoes, cut into medium chunks
  • 4 Roma or plum tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 large onion, cut into medium chunks
  • 1/3 c olive oil
  • 1/4 c fresh oregano, coarsely chopped (or 2 tsp dried)
  • 1 tsp salt, I recommend Real Salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • To make for the freezer just mix everything in a large bowl. Stir until it's all coated. Place chicken and veggies in a freezer bag. Freeze.


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Place chicken and veggies in a large roasting pan - put the chicken on top of the veggies (skin side up, if your meat has skin).
  3. Mix herbs and olive oil and pour over chicken and veggies.
  4. Roast until chicken juices run clear, about 40-60 minutes for skinned chicken pieces, or less for boneless, skinless meat.


You can freeze this meal. I'm not crazy about freezing potatoes because they turn an awful shade of black, but everything else freezes quite nicely. If you'd like to freeze this meal, I recommend mixing everything together (except the potatoes) in a gallon ziplock. To cook, thaw., add fresh potatoes, and follow the baking instructions above.


If you don’t like bone-in chicken, you can also use skinless chicken breasts or thigh fillets. I’ve made it with fillets too and it’s also delicious. If you make it with the fillet pieces, cook the veggies for 20 minutes and then add the meat at the end so everything is cooked through and nothing is undercooked.


Tuesdays in the Garden

I hope you’ll pop around to see what’s going on in the Tuesdays in the Garden blogger’s summer gardens! Unfortunately, I don’t have much of a garden this year so I have to live vicariously through them! Between working to transistion to raised beds and too much travel, my poor garden has really suffered this year. I’ll have to give fall gardening a real go because my summer garden has pretty much been not much at all. 🙁 Here’s what’s going on around the blogosphere though!

blueberry guide
The Ultimate Blueberry Guide from Jami at An Oregon Cottage

freckled rose

A Tour Through Angie at The Freckled Rose’s July Garden

sun dried tomatoes

Make Homemade Sun Dried Tomatoes with Diane from Homemade Food Junkie’s Recipe

summer garden tour

Take a tour through Patti’s Summer Garden at Hearth & Vine

shelly frugal family home

See what Shelly at Frugal Family Home is harvesting in her July Garden

Looking for more freezer meals? Here are some of my favorites!

Parmesan Garlic Chicken

Easy Oven Sandwich

Spinach Mozzeralla Meatloaf

Ground Beef Stroganoff


Keep Comfy on Long Road Trips with prAna! #MamboprAna

Being comfortable and active is imperative to surviving long family road trips. Here’s how you can keep comfy on long road trips with prAna {to also help you stay sane, active, and healthier!!}

Keep Your Family Active on Long Road Trips with these Tips

*Many thanks to prAna for sponsoring this post on how to keep comfy on long road trips. All opinions are my own.*

Keep Comfy on Long Road Trips with prAna!

We’ve been on an epic family road trip for over two weeks now. On Monday, we’ll head home and by the time we get back to Iowa, we will have been through seven states, five national parks, numerous national monuments, and covered over 5,000 miles in the car! When you spend that much time in the car, it’s imperative to stay comfortable and active to remain sane! As you’re preparing for your family road trips, make sure to keep comfort in mind!Keep Comfy & Active on Long Road Trips to stay healthy and sane.

Comfy clothes rule on road tips

Not only do comfortable clothes make travel more enjoyable, but they also make it easier to move when you stop which is one key to staying healthy. I recently received a couple nice clothing articles from prAna that are perfect for comfortable, active travel. We’ve driven close to 3000 miles so far and have 1800 more to go before we get home. I’m so glad I received these nice clothing articles before we left as they’ve made my time in the car super comfy.

prAna Mika Strappy Top

prAna Juniper Pant and  prAna Mika Strappy Top

I really like the Juniper Pants are I’ve received several compliments on them as well. They’re made from a blend of hemp, organic cotton and stretch material. I love the long flared leg. I’m 5’9 and often have a hard time finding pants that are long enough, but that was not the case with these! The Mika top has a really fun strappy back which I love. It’s very comfortable and flowy and is great for letting the air flow! Not only are the clothes comfy, but they’re just really cute too – we don’t have to sacrifice style in the name of comfort.  🙂

Comfy clothes also make it easier to be active

The goal on our road trip out west was to get to Seattle. However along the way, we tried to hit as many fun national and state parks as we could and we stopped for several days in both South Dakota and Montana. While we didn’t have a lot of time to spend at each stop, we were able to get out of the car for a hiking, climbing, and fun along the way. Wearing clothes that allowed us to move and experience the diverse landscape was key to enjoying each area. We tried to play a few active games outside each day and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of remaining active even though we spent countless hours in the car.

prAna Juniper Pant


After spending days in my prAna clothing, I have seen first hand how they help me stay comfy and active! I’m always happy to promote great products from responsible companies and prAna’s desire to do good for the planet is admirable. Their clothes are sourced from sustainable and eco-friendly products like hemp and organic cotton, and they offer recycled and fair trade certified items as well. PrAna also prioritizes giving back to communities by cleaning up beaches in Southern California, sending aid to areas affected by natural disasters, and donating a portion of the proceeds from a select collection of items to Outdoor Outreach.

I have learned over the years that we can make an impact with our money. One way to spread postivitiy is to think about the impact your purchases have on the planet. If you’d like to buy products you can feel good about, give prAna a try! Make sure you keep comfy on long road trips with prAna!

Save 15% off your prAna purchase with code MSS17SL. Valid until July 13, 2017.

15 Minute Zucchini & Beef Skillet Dinner – Easy Farm to Table Recipe

Perfect for camping or a quick meal at home, this delicious zucchini & beef skillet dinner made with just 5 ingredients, is on the table in only 15 minutes! This recipe is one of my favorite farm to table recipes and is a great way to use up extra zucchini from your garden.

Easy Zucchini & Beef Skillet Dinner {ready in 15 minutes!}

Welcome to another installment of Tuesdays in the Garden! Today, my gardening friends are sharing recipes featuring garden fresh produce! Zucchini seems to be the theme for the day! There are several delicious ways to use the prolific garden veggie. But there are also ideas for rhubarb and peppers too! I’m drooling over all of these farm to table recipes! I hope you’ll click through to each of them and try them out! Let me know what you think. 🙂

I love cooking with zucchini and have numerous recipes on the blog with creative ways to use it all up. So many people have trouble getting rid of all of their zucchini, but I rarely have that problem. If you have extras, leave them at my house so I can make all of these delicious dishes: zucchini chocolate cake, farm to table roasted veggies with kielbasa, easy shrimp lo mein from scratch, and anything in this collection of 12 savory zucchini recipes!

Zucchini & Beef Skillet Dinner

15 Minute Zucchini & Beef Skillet Dinner

And here is one more fabulous savory way to use zucchini. I’ve been making this quick zucchini skillet dinner for a number of years. It’s delicious, fresh, and very easy to make. All you need are a couple zucchinis, a pound of ground meat {I use local grass-fed beef}, fresh lemon juice, and chili powder. It might not sound overly inspiring, but it’s really tasty. The combo of lemon and chili powder is quite delicious.

cooking zucchini and beef skillet dinner

To make this, simply slice up one or two zucchini while you brown your meat. Add the zucchini and let it cook until the meat is done and the veggies are soft and buttery. Add lemon juice, chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste. That’s it! You can increase the amount of chili powder and lemon juice if you want to make the flavor more intense. I included my preferred amounts of each ingredient in the recipe below.

15 Minute Zucchini & Beef Skillet Dinner – Easy Farm to Table Recipe
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Recipe Image


  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 large or 2 small zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 1 - 1 1/2 TBS chili powder {to taste}
  • juice of 1 - 1 1/2 lemons {to taste}
  • 3/4 - 1 tsp salt


  1. In cast iron skillet, start browning the beef over medium high heat.
  2. While the beef is browning, thinly slice the zucchini. Drain the grease from the skillet and then add the zucchini.
  3. Cook until the beef is no brown, and the zucchini is soft and buttery, about 8 minutes. {I usually turn the heat up a little higher for the last minute to cook off any remaining grease and brown the zucchini a little bit.}
  4. Add the chili powder, lemon juice, and salt.
  5. Cook for one more minute, stirring the entire time.
  6. Serve with a fresh salad and crusty bread. Enjoy!

2017 horizontal pin

Tuesdays in the Garden

The theme for today’s Tuesdays in the Garden is delicious ways to use garden produce! I’m sure you will enjoy each of these recipes shared by my garden buddies. I can’t wait to try them all. Enjoy!
frugal family home

From Shelly at Frugal Family Home – Rhubarb Crumble Coffee Cake

Homemade Food Junkie

From Diane at Homemade Food Junkie – Roasted Peppers Parmesan 

Hearth & Vine

From Patti at Hearth & Vine – Simple Zucchini Gratin

An Oregon Cottage

From Jami at An Oregon Cottage – Zucchini, Corn, & Tomato Saute with Feta

Two Amazing Drives to Take at Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park, South Dakota ranks right up there in highlights we’ve had on our Road Trip out west! We were really impressed with its amazing wildlife and beautiful scenery! If you head out to Custer State Park, here are two amazing drive that you have to make!

Custer State Park, South Dakota Welcome Sign

*This post is sponsored by Custer State Park and the South Dakota Department of Tourism, but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.*

Two Amazing Drives to Take at Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park, South Dakota is a must stop on your visit through the state. We came through on day three of our family’s road trip from Eastern Iowa to Seattle (#MarinesGoWest17 on Instagram) and loved every minute. Sadly, our time at Custer State Park was too brief. Hopefully, we’ll be able to go back soon!

Needles Highway at Custer State Park

Custer State Park is a 71,000 acre state park located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was one of the first state parks ever designated and has a long history of conservation. In fact, conservation efforts with bison at Custer State Park really helped save the majestic animal from the brink of extinction. Not only does the park boast gorgeous wildlife and amazing scenery, but it SMELLS good too! Oh I love the pine tree scent and it abounds at Custer State Park. 

We drove to Custer from the Badlands via I-90 and entered at the East Entrance off State Highway 36.  Honestly, we chose that entrance because of the direction we were coming from (Badlands National Park), but it did make good sense to enter the park there because of the proximity to the Visitor Center. At only $20 for a carload for a 1-7 day pass, it’s not expensive at all to visit this park.

Custer State Park, South Dakota Visitor Center

We made sure to stop at the Visitor Center first and ask where the buffalo herds might be because we really wanted to see them. While we were at the Visitor’s Center we also watched the quick movie which gave us a nice overview of the park and got us really excited! Then we headed out for our drives which we HIGHLY recommend you take if you head to Custer State Park – especially if you have limited time for exploring!

Herd of buffalo at Custer State Park Wildlife Loop Road

Wildlife Loop Road 

The Wildlife Loop Road is 18 miles with a speed limit of 25. The reason for the slow speed limit? Animals abound. This loop is a great place to find the massive herds of buffalo, pronghorns, deer, prairie dogs, and burros. Do take caution with the animals if you drive this road.

kids with the burros at Custer State Park

Remember that they’re wild animals – even the calm burros who beg for food are still wild animals. But that didn’t stop my kids from giving them a big hug.

buffalo herd on the wildlife loop

Tips for Driving the Wildlife Loop Road –

  • Animals are most active in the morning and evening
  • Don’t feed the animals!
  • Use caution around the animals
  • Expect to spend at least 45 minutes on the road. We spent about 2 hours.
  • Stop at the Wildlife Station Visitor Center for more info on the animals, if you have time.
  • Don’t forget out the side roads – like North Lame Johnny Road. They’re hard gravel, but that’s where we found the buffalo and lots of cute prairie dogs.

Needles Eye Tunnel on Needles Highway in the Black Hills

Needles Highway

This 14-mile road was carefully planned by Governor Peter Norbeck and finished in 1922. It was called the Needless Highway by South Dakota residents who were frustrated with the cost to construct this road, but it is simply breathtaking – a drive not to be missed!

 Iron Creek Tunnel on Hwy 87 in South Dakota

Meander through not just one, but three! stone, one-lane tunnels

switchbacks on needles highway south dakota

Cut up and down the mountain switch-backs

14 miles drive on Needles Highway

And oooh and ahhh over the needle-like granite formations that tower into the sky.

Tips for Driving Needles Highway

  • Honk as you go through the one-lane stone tunnels to notify cars on the other side
  • Stop on the side of the road for scrambling up rocks and taking beautiful pictures
  • Drive slowly – this road has many hair-pin turns you will need to take VERY slowly
  • Watch for animals – we found mountain goats on the road!

In all, we spent about six hours at Custer State Park and we could have spent DAYS there. If you only have limited time, do the two drives I recommend. But if you have a few days, stay longer and enjoy more of the beauty the park has to offer. It really is amazing! For more information on Custer State Park, be sure to head over to their website! From drives, to hiking, to rock climbing, paddle boarding, camping and more, Custer State Park is really a majestic US treasure.

Have you been to Custer State Park, South Dakota? I’d love to hear what you enjoyed most!

If you're heading to Custer State Park, South Dakota, here are two amazing drives to take through the park to see amazing scenery and tons of wildlife!


Whiten Teeth Naturally with Tom’s of Maine Luminous White Toothpaste

If you’re looking to whiten your teeth naturally,  try Tom’s of Maine Luminous White Toothpaste. It’s safe for your enamel and uses a clinically proven whitening technology to give your teeth a nice sparkle this summer.Whiten Teeth Naturally with Tom’s of Maine Luminous White Toothpaste

Whiten Teeth Naturally w/ Tom’s of Maine Luminous White Toothpaste

My teeth are not as white as I’d like them be. It’s safe to say I’m a coffee and red wine addict and neither are good options for people who want white teeth. I’m also getting older and teeth naturally color as we age. (Yet another downfall to getting old, I hate to break the news.)

I’ve been interested in easy ways to whiten teeth naturally for a while now have googled ways to accomplish it. Have you? They honestly sound pretty gross. Coconut oil pulling? Swishing apple cider vinegar? Using activated charcoal?? I consider myself a crunchy mom, but I have my limits. I want something natural to whiten my teeth that’s easy and tastes good too!!! Is that too much to ask?  Tom’s of Maine Luminous White Toothpaste is as an easy and natural way to whiten teeth and it grabbed my attention!

Tom’s of Maine Luminous White Toothpaste

Whiten Teeth Naturally

So when Tom’s of Maine asked me to try out their Luminous White Toothpaste recently, I was happy to oblige. If you read my blog regularly, you know that we’re big fans of Tom’s of Maine at my house. The whole family uses Tom’s of Maine natural deodorant and we’ve been using their kid toothpaste for years too.

Luminous White toothpaste is safe and effective way to whiten teeth. It uses naturally-derived ingredients (with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives and no animal testing!) that help remove surface stains in two weeks. I’m one week into my trial run and I’m pretty happy with the results! I’m also happy that Tom’s natural whitening toothpaste is safe on enamel and I can use it as part of my everyday routine. How much easier does it get? We have to brush our teeth anyway, so I may as well use a toothpaste that will help whiten my teeth as it cleans them.

Tom's of Maine Stewardship Model - Tom’s of Maine Luminous White Toothpaste

Tom’s of Maine Stewardship Model

Another reason I like Tom’s of Maine products,is because I admire their green and charitable business practices. For over 45 years, Tom’s of Maine has been giving 10% of its profits to organizations that support people and the planet, and they also encourage employees to use 5% of their working time (the equivalent of 12 days) of paid time to volunteer!  All of their packaging is recyclable through a partnership with upcycling leader TerraCycle and they disclose every ingredient they use in their products!!

If you’re looking for a safe and effective way to naturally whiten your teeth, try Luminous White! I think you might just like it. You can even buy it on Amazon and have it shipped right to your door!

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Want to whiten teeth naturally? Try Tom's of Maine Luminous White Toothpaste - safe for your enamel and clinically proven to whiten your teeth!

Central Discount Store in Kalona, Iowa

If you like shopping at discount Amish stores to save money and you’re near Kalona, Iowa, make sure you check out the Central Discount Store! Affectionately called Bent & Dent because some of the wares it sells have damaged containers, this store sometimes has really good deals. Here’s what you need to know about Central Discount Grocery Store in Kalona.

Central Discount Grocery Store Kalona Iowa

Central Discount Store

One way I try to keep a low grocery budget is to shop at Amish stores. I live about 45 minutes from Kalona, Iowa which features the largest settlement of Amish people west of the Mississippi. There are quite a few Amish stores in the area that I love to visit, and Central Discount Grocery is one of them. 

Hours for Central Discount Grocery

Location & Hours of Operation

Central Discount Grocery is located at 2298 540th St SW, Kalona, just passed the new Kalona Creamery and Stringtown Grocery Store. It has limited business hours and is only open three days a week: Monday & Wednesday (8-5), and Saturday ( 8-3). It’s important to know these hours of operation so you don’t show up when they’re closed. I’ve gone to Kalona on Tuesdays more times than I care to admit…

 Bent & Dent Central discount Grocery

What you need to know about Central Discount Store

While it can be a great way to say money, there are a few things you  need to be aware of in addition to the limited business hours!

  1. First of all, bring cash or a checkbook because they don’t take credit cards.
  2. The prices are amazing! Organic cereal for $1.50 and under, organic granola bars for under $1 a box, huge cans of organic tomatoes for under $1 can! I enjoy bargain hunting there.
  3. Bring your own bags or box up your groceries in the boxes they have on hand.
  4. Make sure you check expiration dates as many of the items they sell are expired. Quite frankly, expiration dates don’t scare me off on some items. That’s your own personal call, but I do sometimes buy items that are a couple months out of date. I won’t buy all expired items, but I’m just not worried about most of those dates.
  5. I have seen some moldy products there so make sure you look items over well.
  6. It’s owned and operated by Amish people and they appreciate modestly dressed customers. 🙂

What I buy at Central Discount Store in Kalona Iowa

What I buy at Central Discount Store

I personally buy a lot of organic products at Central Discount. My kids love when we go there because I generally come home loaded with cereal, granola bars, and gum. We usually plan visits to this store around times when I will be traveling and need to make sure that my family has convenience items to eat. My kids also love to go before we go on road trips to get road trip snacks and gum. We’re leaving this week for South Dakota, Montana, and Seattle and we’re stocking up!

While I do find lots of organic brands that I like: Annie’s, Nature’s Path, Muir Glen, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Horizon, Cascadian Farm, Bob’s Red Mill, Enjoy Life, it is hit and miss. Sometimes I find nothing, and sometimes I find a ton. You just have to be flexible and enjoy what you find. Central Discount Stores sells a large variety of conventional and organic food products, everything from aluminum foil, to kid’s books, to over-the-counter medicine and toiletries!

Have you been to Central Discount Store? What did you think? I’m also curious what you think about expiration dates on food…share your thoughts!

Everything you need to know about Central Discount Store in Kalona Iowa. Where it is, hours of operation, what they sell, and how to pay!

Triple Berry Nice Cream & New Natural Grocers in Iowa!

This Triple Berry Nice Cream is a refreshing and healthy summer treat your family will love. Best of all, it only takes 5 minutes to prepare so you’ll be in and out of the kitchen in a flash. Enjoy this easy recipe featuring ingredients from Iowa’s newest Natural Grocers!Triple Berry Nice Cream & New Natural Grocers in Iowa!

*I have accepted compensation from General Mills in exchange for my review. All opinions are mine.*

Triple Berry Nice Cream & New Natural Grocers in Iowa!

I was invited to the Pre-Opening Celebration of Iowa’s new Natural Grocers store a while back and fell in love with the store. I used to shop there in Colorado Springs and missed the store after moving to Iowa in 2006. Have you been? Natural Grocers is a health food store featuring a mix of national brands and a selection of locally produced products in a small, neighborhood market environment.  They sell only USDA Certified organic produce,  and all the organic and healthy ingredients you need to get family-friendly meals on the table in a flash.


Healthy Products at Natural Grocers

Only organic produce at Natural Grocers!

I love that I don’t have to spend hours pouring over ingredients when I’m at Natural Grocers. Nothing they sell has artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives or hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Their meat is raised without antibiotics, growth promoters or feed containing animal by-products. Their eggs come from hens that are given enough space to move indoors and outdoorsAnd I also love their body care products are of the highest quality and safe for me to use on my kids.New Natural Grocers in Iowa!

Green Initiatives at Natural Grocers

Not only does Natural Grocers sell healthy products, but they are also committed to protecting the environment. For instance, since going bag-free in 2009, they’ve saved over 200 million bags from landfills! Their buildings feature a lot of eco-friendly design elements including heat reclaim for domestic water, formaldehyde-free building materials and other non-toxic construction materials, low water toilets and LED lighting. The stores also compost and recycle, and they provide free packing peanuts and bubble wrap to area residents too!

Tripe Berry Nice Cream with Dark Chocolate Granola

Triple Berry Nice Cream Recipe

I was happy to pick up ingredients from Natural Grocers recently to make a new Nice Cream! I’m in love with Nice Cream! Since sharing my first recipe for simple Blueberry Nice Cream several weeks ago, I’ve been wanting to come up with more varieties for my family to eat and this triple berry nice cream is absolutely delicious. I love that it uses bananas on the verge of spoiling  – waste not want not, right? Using Cascadian Farms Organic Dark Chocolate Almond Granola as a topping gives it an extra crunch and takes it from ordinary to extraordinary. If you haven’t jumped on the Nice Cream bandwagon yet, bust out your food processor and try!

Triple Berry Nice Cream - pulse until smooth

Making Nice Cream is so easy! Simply combine ingredients in your food processor and pulse until smooth. You will have to scrape the bowl with a spatula a few times to get the desire consistency. Pro-tip: make sure to freeze chunks of bananas (instead of whole bananas) so they process easier!

Triple Berry Nice Cream made with Cascadian Farm Organic berries & granola

Then, scoop into a bowl and add your favorite toppings. We like to eat frozen berries and Cascadian Farm Harvest Berry blend (organic strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries) is rich in antioxidants and delicious! Also Cascadian Farm Organic Dark Chocolate Almond Granola made with organic whole grain oats, crisp rice, dark chocolate, and cocoa makes a yummy and slightly indulgent crunchy topping!

Triple Berry Nice Cream
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  1. Combine fruit and coconut milk in a food processor and pulse until smooth, stopping as needed to scrape down the bowl.
  2. Scoop into a bowl and top with granola and fruit.
  3. Enjoy!

 What’s your favorite guilt-free summer treat? Have you tried Nice Cream or Natural Grocers? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Power of Travel. Why You Need to Visit Selma, Alabama.

 You might not realize it, but travel is powerful. Selma, Alabama, with its rich history and unbelievable yet true stories, is one place you might want to add to your travel bucket list.Voting Rights Mural in Selma, Alabama

*Many thanks to the Selma Chamber of Commerce and the Alabama Black Belt Adventures for sponsoring this trip.*

The Power of Travel. Why You Need to Visit Selma, Alabama.

Learning from the Past to Build for the Future

I love the mural’s message in the picture above: Learning from the Past to Build for the Future. It’s important to step outside of our comfort zones every once in a while and experience new things. I’ve been on a couple of emotional travel trips over the course of my life and Selma ranks right up there in terms of the range of emotions it evoked. It’s one thing to learn about history from textbooks, but it’s another thing entirely to hear personal stories from people who were there and actually lived it!

Graffiti at the bottom of the Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama

An important graffiti message I found when I walked under the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

Why Selma?

When I told people I was going to Alabama, the reaction was generally one of disbelief. “Why would you go there?” people asked me. “It’s not a place I would feel comfortable going,” other people told me. There’s definitely a stigma associated with the Deep South and it’s not really positive. And that’s exactly why I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and experience Selma first hand. My amazing trip to Huntsville last year opened my eyes to the possibilities of Alabama. And my trip to Selma this spring really made me reflect on so many values I hold near and dear to my heart. I’m so glad I didn’t discount Selma because of preconceived ideas about the South.Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama

If you’re not familiar with Selma’s contribution to the Civil Rights Movement (and in all honesty I wasn’t until I visited), here’s a brief synopsis of their “claim to fame:” Bloody Sunday. On March 7, 1965, six hundred nonviolent protesters crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on foot headed to the state capital of Montgomery where they were going to protest voting inequalities. The protesters were blocked and ordered to turn around by Alabama State troopers and local police. When they refused to turn around, the nonviolent protesters were beaten with billy clubs, sickened with tear gas, and over 50 people ended up in the hospital. The event was televised around the world and a second successful march organized by Martin Luther King Jr and given federal protection happened on March 21, 1965. The outrage surrounding Bloody Sunday culminated on August 6, 1965 when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was finally passed.

Travel has the ability to effect positive change

One thing I learned at the TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) Conference in Huntsville that I attend in early May is the ability of travel to effect social and economic good. Now I never really thought of travel as a way for me to be a benefit to other people. Rather, I always thought about the fun things can I see or do when I’m traveling, somewhat narcissistic, right? Yet, reality.

Old Cahawba Archaeological Site - Cahaba, Alabama

But the truth is, we spend money when we travel. Money that can help people and communities. We also meet new people (hopefully), we hear new stories, and generally, we leave with a better understanding of humanity. Learning about the plights of others and having empathy is so important! Travel is a great way to gain an understanding and appreciation for new ideas that we might not learn anywhere else!

St James Hotel in Selma Alabama

Selma can benefit from your travel dollars

Sadly, the city of Selma has fallen into a state of disrepair. Shuttered buildings abound. The movie Selma wasn’t even entirely filmed in the city, and the majority of tourists come in on buses from Birmingham or Montgomery, cross the Edmund Pettus bridge, and then head out. Beautiful, huge, ornate houses are for sale for ridiculously low prices, and potential is everywhere!!

Civil Rights Memorial Mural in Selma

Selma has so many amazing stories that we need to hear. Stories of personal sacrifice, perseverance, and unbelievable historical bravery. Stories of what people can accomplish when they come together for the greater good. I really think that if we take the time to hear the stories and meet the people, we foster a better future, just like the first mural says: learn from the past to build for the future. 

Do something for Selma

As you plan vacations, I challenge you to think about the impact your travel dollars can have. Money can make a big impact. Stay in Selma, eat in Selma, buy souvenirs in Selma –> all of these actions can benefit a real person at the same time that you’re having fun! 

Stay tuned for another article full of the amazing things you can do in Selma. You might be surprised by everything you’ll find there!

Have you thought about the social good travel can create? I’d love to hear your thoughts.