Monthly Archives: March 2012

Leaving or Going

Standard

As much as I love living in the beautiful South, I miss my family back up in Michigan.  I get to see them a few times a year, but I still miss them.  I especially miss them at times like when my 4-foot-8-inch tall octo-genarian Grandma kicks butt in a bowling tournament that I wasn’t there to watch, or when my Dad is the guest speaker at an Alcoholic’s Anonymous “Open Talk” and I am not there to hear the applause he receives (he’s been sober for more than 4 years now, and he truly has made the most of his second chance), or when my Mom and my Aunts get together for a luncheon, or when my little brother, who’s not so little anymore, buys his first home, and I’m not there to help him move in, or to celebrate with him.

So when that new homeowner little brother, who happens to also be the World’s Greatest Uncle to my two boys, asked me to come to Michigan to help him decorate his new place, I jumped at the opportunity.  I especially jumped at it because Southeastern Michigan has been unseasonably warm so far this year, with temperatures right up there in the 70’s with us in the N-to-the-C.  I booked a flight right away, weeks ago, and I even started a board with all sorts of things that I thought he’d like, based on the information he’d given me about the space.  My brother is colorblind (for real colorblind, not just in the “Gosh, he doesn’t match his clothes, what is he, colorblind?!”), so he doesn’t really know what colors he likes, so I get to have some real fun helping him out.  I’ve been excited, and anticipating this trip for weeks.

Until right now. As the time to travel draws closer, and as I prepare to leave for the airport, to do some of my favorite things (shop, and visit my family), I am wrought with anxiety at having to first do two things that I wholly I dread, the first being subject myself to actual physical contact with the government at the hands of TSA, and the second being get on an airplane.  No matter how many times I do it, the lack of control I have while on an airplane never ceases to make me want to have a panic attack.  Couple that with leaving my own sweet family, my husband and sons, behind at home, for 4 whole days, and well, I’m a nervous wreck.  I know I’ll have a good time, but now instead of missing one part of my family, I’ll be missing another.

Which begs the question that always pops in my mind when I prepare to visit the state I was born in:  Am I leaving home, or am I going home?

Funny how when I booked the flight, I felt that I was GOING home, but now that the time has come to actually go, I feel like I’m LEAVING home.

It’s all in how you look at it, I guess.

Just like it’s all in how you look at where I’m going.

I’m going to Southeastern Michigan, best known for being the home of Detroit (although there is so much more to Michigan than Detroit that I’ve dedicated an entire board to it).  Detroit is fascinating in that it can look like this:

Or it can look like this (see the pin here):

Source: Wandering Souldier (Who is another native of Michigan! Shout out!!)

I have seen it hold true to both images, even on the same day, sometimes without traveling more than a few city blocks.  I can be two things at once, both full of possibilities and seemingly devoid of hope, at the same time.

So, if a place can be two things at once, I guess the same is true for home.  My home can be Michigan, and it can be NC.  Maybe the reality is that I’m leaving home AND going home at the same time.  And then Monday, God willing, I’ll be doing the same thing when I head back South.

Oh, and if you want to say any prayers for me to have safe and smooth travels, I would be very thankful.

Hope you have a great weekend, wherever you decide to go 🙂

Easter Egg Door Decor

Standard

As much as I loved my Valentine’s Day wreath, I had to take it down, being that it was about a month after Valentine’s Day.  But no worries.  I replaced it with something just as pretty.

My (p)inspiration to make an Easter Wreath came from this “Easter Egg and TuTu Wreath” from My Creative Way and this “Yarn Egg Wreath” from The Sweet Survival.  Both sources offer really easy to follow tutorials.  Ultimately, it came down to which was going to take more time, and I decided that an Easter Egg and Tutu wreath was going to be faster and easier to pull off, and, I’m happy to tell you that I completed mine in about an hour while watching Netflix while Christopher played outside with his friends and His Majesty took a nice, and much appreciated, nap.  But, I also put my own spin on the design of the finished product, partly because I wanted to in the first place, and partly because I ran into a problem with my original plan.

I originally planned to cover the entire wreath in strips of tulle, like the tutorial at Creative Way had done but using a foam wreath form, but then my goal was to cover the entire front of the wreath with Easter Eggs, using a hot glue gun.  Then I was going to fill in any gaps with eyelash yarn, hoping that it would look a little like plastic Easter “grass”.

I was worried that I didn’t have enough eggs.  Turns out the eggs weren’t the problem.  I’ll come back to that in a second.

So, I started by cutting the tulle into strips about as long as the diameter of the wreath form.

I folded the strips of tulle along the length, to make them less sheer, and to give them more fluff, and then tied them in a knot.

You see that glitter in the tulle? That shiny, pretty glitter?  It wasn’t so pretty when it was all over my floor.  What a mess.  Anyway, I tied the strips of tulle all along the wreath… Until I ran out, which was about halfway around.

*Sigh*

At that point, I decided to finish as much as I could by glueing the eggs along the tulle wrapped portion of the wreath, and then go back to the craft store at some point to pick up more tulle, allowing me to finish the wreath.  I applied a little hot glue along the opening of the eggs, to keep them intact, and then I applied a big glob of glue on the egg itself and pressed it to the tulle to stick them together. I alternated the colors, simply because I’m cool like that.

Once I’d covered the front of the tulle covered portion in eggs(I would have been dead on accurate with 50 eggs if I’d covered the entire thing, by the way), I held it up and examined it, and just as I was ready to clean up my mess and put it aside until I was able to get to the store for more tulle, and the idea struck me to cover the top portion of the wreath form in the eyelash yarn, which I thought might make the wreath slightly reminiscent of an actual Easter basket.  Plus, I reasoned, there really wasn’t enough space between the eggs to easily use the eyelash yarn otherwise, so why not.  I didn’t have any other options at the moment, so I gave it a try.

I was so unsure about the idea that I didn’t even glue the yarn, I just wrapped it around itself and tucked it in where it met the tulle.  It’s held up fine on the front door thus far, but if it looks decent when I take it down, I’ll glue a few pieces to secure it before I store it.  (But, that probably won’t be an issue, since the pollen in the air is almost certainly going to do a number on it and prevent me from using it again next year anyway). After I’d finished wrapping it, I took a leftover piece of tulle that had been just a touch too short to use earlier, and tied it at the top of the wreath, so that I could hang it.

I am really happy with how it turned out, and I’m extra glad that I was able to finish it in one sitting, and avoid another trip to the store (which I’m sure my husband is happy about).  I love seeing the colors when I pull in the driveway, all bright and cheery and spring-like.  It’s enough to bring a smile to my face every time.

So, what’s decorating your door these days?  Do you decorate for Easter?

Barnyard Birthday Banner

Standard

Sitting on the couch watching Netflix the other night, I realized that I had forgotten to post about making the birthday banner for His Majesty’s birthday party.  The cow print and gingham theme of the Barnyard Bash was originally inspired by this pin from Shindig Diva.  Can any patterns convey a barnyard bash better than cow print and gingham?  I don’t think so.  But, I knew I wanted to do gingham tablecloth and gingham trimmed mason jars on the tables, so I decided to focus on cow print for a Happy Birthday Banner.   Enter this cow print fabric scored with a 40% off coupon at Hobby Lobby.  I bought 2 yards, which was about double what I needed, and that was on purpose, given that almost every sewing project I undertake involves at least one error.  Thankfully, though, this one did not involve any major errors, and I have quite a bit of cow fabric leftover for something else that comes along.

I started by checking out this awesome tutorial at Martin Family Living, which also includes a template, which you can find here.  I didn’t want to take the time to do a two sided banner though, which saved me several steps.  I printed out the template on regular old printer paper (because my husband wasn’t home, and I didn’t know how to print on card stock), and traced my triangle pennants on the back side of the fabric in pencil.  I did a pennant for every letter, and I even cut out a few extra, just in case.

Then I sewed a 1 inch gingham ribbon along the back of each triangle, leaving about a foot on either end.  I did a separate banner with Happy, one with Birthday, and one with His Majesty’s name, which allowed me the flexibility of hanging them vertically or horizontally, since I didn’t know exactly how it was going to look when I started out on this project.

Then I went to work on the letters.  I made templates and traced them, backwards, in washable marker on the back of a sheet of white felt. (That way, if anything funky were to show from the markers, it wouldn’t be on the “good” side of the letters.) 

Then, I cut the letters out, and traced around the white letters, this time tracing them onto red felt.

I did this because I wanted a little bit of red to show around the white letters, to play on the gingham ribbon.  I just freehanded the tracing.  See how I went all the way up to the edge on the felt here?  It saved a little bit of space. Low stress.

Then I cut those out, too. See how the letters look together? I stuck them in the sink with some dish soap and rinsed the marker out of them and then let them dry on my counter overnight.

Then I sewed the letters on to the triangle pennants, in red thread.  I just did the best I could to follow the curves of the letters.

After that, I used hot glue to adhere these cute little wooden animals to the end of the banners.  They are 67 cents at Hobby Lobby, and they come in all different themes: farm animals, rocket ships, dinosaurs, sports, all sorts of possibilities.  I used a chicken, a rooster, a cow, and a sheep.  They didn’t have a pig, which bummed me out, but I made do.  A pig would have really gone with the theme, though.

I had my husband hang it across the windows along the back wall of our family room, so it could be seen from the front door, when guests entered for the party.

 

I was pretty proud of this thing, and if I’m being honest, I left it up for 2 weeks after the party. It jazzed the place up a bit, made me smile every time I walked in the door.

It was simple enough to make, and good thing, because Christopher’s birthday is in a few weeks, and he has mentioned that I never made *HIM* a birthday banner (in a very dramatic, jealous, almost-twelve-year-old kind of tone), so now I’m on the hook to make one for him, too.  The sewing took about an hour, and the real time was tracing and cutting out the pennants and the letters.  I could reuse it if I wanted to throw another Barnyard Party, but I don’t think I’ll have the opportunity to do that, so I’ll try to find someone to give it to, you know, to share the love.

Here’s what I used for this project:

1 yard of fabric for the pennants

fabric banner template from Martin Family Living

5 yards of 1 inch ribbon

2- 12×12 felt sheets for your letters  (my letters are 3.5 inches tall, and I put them end to end, fitting 9 letters to a sheet)

4- 12×12 felt sheets for the accent color behind your letters (you have to space these out more, which is why you need more felt)

Thread in coordinating color

washable marker or pencil

scissors

sewing machine (optional, but it sure will save you some time)

wooden accent animals or figures to go with your theme (optional)

hot glue gun (optional, for use if you want to use the wooden accent figures)

Using my 40% off coupon, and getting the ribbon on sale for 50% off, I spent about $12 on this project.  Some fabric birthday banners go for $35 on Etsy, and they don’t look much different from this one that I made myself in a few hours in the evening– especially not from a few feet away!

Have you made anything great lately?  Tell me about it!

In ONE Day

Standard

What did I do in ONE day, you ask?

I read The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.  AND in that same day, I got everywhere I needed to be on time, and my husband and children were fed, and the house was cleaned and the laundry was done.   I think this is quite the feat.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that quickly, but The Hunger Games was unlike anything I’ve ever read, and I was all in from the first page.

My first inkling that I needed to read it was that several of my friends had remarked that it was the best story they’d ever read.  Some claimed to enjoy it more than both the Twilight and the Harry Potter series– neither of which I have personally read–, and given the phenomenon that is those two series among women my age, I figured that was quite a statement.  Plus, when I found out it was being made into a movie, it made me want to get my hands on it sooner rather than later, since I prefer to read the book before I see the Hollywood version.

The final step in getting my hands on the book was when our friend got Christopher hyped up on the story, enough so that I even allowed him to read it as part of his lessons for the week.  He doesn’t often get too enthusiastic about books, and I wanted to take advantage of his positive energy.  It is my dream for my children to love the written word as much as I do, and while His Majesty seems to be well on his way,  Christopher often takes some coaxing.  Since it was part of his lessons, I gave him five days to read it.

He completed it in three.

But what’s more than even that, he was EXCITED about it as he read it.  At the end of the week, he had to do a 2 page summary of the selection, as is his usual assignment.  Typically he fights me over ever character, and writing assignments often leave us both frustrated.  However, this essay, THIS essay, was 3 and a half pages long, and in perfect cursive.  And then he asked to go to the library to pick up the sequel.  I was so stoked.

Except that right about the time that he was handing me his summary to review, I realized that I couldn’t review it.  I didn’t know what to compare it to, what the book was actually about, or if he was on the right track, or way off in left field.  Additionally, he’d borrowed the book from our friend, and it needed to be returned within a reasonable period of time.

So, I decided to seize the day and read it for myself.  I began reading it while sitting on a bench on the campus of a local university, while Christopher and a friend attended an art class, and His Majesty hung out at play school.  It was a beautiful spring day, perfect for being outside, and it was early, so the campus was still quite.  I made myself comfortable, and turned that first page.

From that point on, I think the campus could have caught on fire, and I wouldn’t have noticed until my hair started to singe.  I was hooked.  I read for my full hour of alone time, ignoring the world around me, and then in between driving home, making lunch, checking off my to do list, taking His Majesty for a wagon ride, nap time, checking lessons, and making dinner, I managed to brush off more than 250 pages.  COULD. NOT. STOP.

After His Majesty went down for bed, I polished off the rest of it.

The gist of it, without spoiling it for you? It’s fantasy, but the characters have real emotions that made me feel like their reality could be my reality, even with the weird sci-fi technology references. There’s heart ache and bloodshed and plot twists.  Kind of like real life, but set to a post apocalyptic theme, which pertains to the dark and twisty thread that occasionally creeps me out when my mind gets to wandering

The main character, Katniss is young in years, but definitely not in the bubbly, carefree kind of way.  She’s somewhat of an “old soul”, the provider for her family, too focused on tangible needs like basic survival to worry much about puppy love, but with a rebellious streak that makes it impossible for her to lie down and take the abuse that The evil Capital sends her way, at least, not without a fight.  She’s a scrapper, and a survivor, but despite having lived a tough and labored life, full of plenty of reasons to be bitter and heartless, she still has a soft spot for children, and a fierce need to make good on any and all debts.  She’s honest, and she has a strong moral character.  She is willing to put her life on the line for her little sister.  She’s a good female heroine.

There is a bit of a love story to the plot, but it was a very PG love, thank goodness, considering Christopher had already finished reading it.  And there’s a fierce battle theme, which I suspect specifically appealed to my Christopher. He liked the war/survival strategy, and to be honest, so did I.  I wouldn’t have thought that I’d enjoy that part of the book as much as I did.

My favorite part of the story was when Katniss gives the ultimate middle finger to the government and defies the rules of The Hunger Games, which of course, is the precursor to the follow up novel (which Christopher tells me is very good).  I was a rebellious teenager myself, and some of my anti-authority nature has managed to stick around, despite the whole business of being a law abiding citizen/grown up/whatever, so a rebellious, not to mention clever, plot twist was right up my alley.  Katniss outsmarts her enemies. She’s a thinker. What she lacks in brute force, she makes up for in calculated thought and planning.  Kind of a cool “Girl Power” message, I’d say.  She’s not weak, or a victim.  She’s a strong female lead.

It has political undertones, which I loved, because anyone who knows me knows that I love to harp about the ails of government control and coercion, and the twisted nature of politics, but at first glance, I thought I was going to have to suck it up and muddle through some very different political viewpoints. Initially, I thought that the residents of The Capital were representative of the 1%; You know, the “Evil Superrich” that the talking heads claiming to speak for the 99% like to say are so evil, greedy, and out of touch with the rest of our Free Market society.  But then I paused and thought about it, and I have come to the conclusion that nope, I was wrong to assume that.  The reality as I see it is that the nation of Panem is a Communist nation, a socialist society.  Everyone gets their very basic needs met, and their duties and roles are assigned by the ruling class.  Yep.  Not a Free Market economy at all.  Given that realization, I would like to think that it sends a message to anyone with a clue that a socialized society might not be free of the evils people like to point out after all.  In fact, for me, it seemed to point out that the real danger to be feared is the danger of our government holding too much power, which, in my book, is always a great danger to keep in the back of our minds, especially in an era where you can be prosecuted for not wearing a seat belt, or having a lemonade sale on your front lawn.  (Of course, that’s the message I got from the book.  It will be interesting to see if the very left wing Hollywood spin on the tale will give it more of an Anti Capitalism theme.  I’ll report back.)

In any regard, this book was a page turner, and a heart pounder.  It kept me on the edge of my seat wondering just how it was going to play out.  I imagine it would have been more suspenseful if I had the heart to shut down Christopher’s spoilers, but I just couldn’t do it, and I can tell you now, having read the book, that his summary was spot on.  But above all else, The Hunger Games provided me with a great bonding opportunity with my oldest son.

And, in a household where I am often the odd one out, the only one not entirely enthusiastic about some athletic venture or a camping trip or a video game, and the only one paying attention to things like flowers and decorating and making things pretty, I’ll take pretty much any opportunity that I can get.

The movie comes out Friday, by the way.  Which will give me the perfect opportunity to take Christopher out for a Mother-Son date, while also providing me with the luxury of taking down an extra large bucket of movie theater popcorn… extra butter.

Why Didn’t I Think of That?! Pantry Storage Idea

Standard

Zip Lock bags, rubber bands, twist ties, mason jars, recycled sour cream containers… I have used all of these, and more, to help me store opened bags of dry good in the pantry.  But then, this idea made me palm slap myself and wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?!”

The pin is a user upload on Pinterest… those can really be a pain in the butt, because there’s no way to tell who the original source is.  I did a few google image searches to see if I could locate it, but I struck out, so, if you know where it came from, send me the link, and I’ll be sure to include it.

Basically, you need an empty plastic pop or water bottle, and your open bag, in this case, an open bag of peanut butter and chocolate chips.

Cut the top off of your bottle.  Or, have your husband do it.  He’s good with knives.

I had him cut just above the label.

Then, wash and dry the top of the bottle, remove the top, and pull the open end of the bag through the narrow end of the bottle.

Fold the open end of the bag down and replace your cap.  Know that it is not going to thread as well as it does when it goes directly on the plastic bottle.  After all, it is going over the plastic bag, and you may have to pull the open portion of the bag down a bit to make sure it’s not too bulky to allow the top to seal, but with a little pressure as you turn, it should seal the bag for storage.

That’s it.  Stick the sealed bag back in your pantry until you are ready to use it again, and toss the leftover part of the cut bottle in the recycling bin.

See what I mean? Why didn’t I think of that?

Any handy household or storage tips that you’ve pinned lately?  Share some great ideas!

Very, Very Veggie Stew

Standard

With Lent upon us, it seems to bring renewed interest among some of my friends for creative ideas for meatless meals.   We have several meat free dishes that we enjoy (I try to cook meat free once a week), but I’m always up for new ones.  ESPECIALLY if they can be made in the crock pot.  None of the vegetarian dishes that are in our usual rotation are crock pot dishes, so this Very, Very Veggie Stew, from Hungry Girl, sounded like it was right up my alley.

I hadn’t heard of Hungry Girl until a few months ago, but that’s probably just because I’m out of the loop, because it seems that she is a pretty popular woman.  She’s not only a New York Times Best Selling author, but she’s also the host of her own television program, which airs on two channels.  In addition to that, she has a food product line that you can find at your local grocery store, including a lower carb whole wheat and flax flat bread, which I used to make my personal pizza using Knock Off Papa John’s sauce a few weeks ago.  Hungry girl lists the calorie count, the number of weight watchers points, and the number of carbohydrates for the recipes that she creates, which is helpful if you’re keeping track.  One of her books highlights 200 recipes with under 200 calories per serving, which I think is a pretty impressive feat, considering that two pieces of regular old bread can contain more than 200 calories.

So, back to this Very, Very Veggie Stew.   If you’re watching counting, it only has 100 calories per 1 cup serving, or 2 points. I’m not a calorie counter, I’m a carb limited, and this has 14 grams of effective carbs per servings, which is reasonable for me, most days.  It is  definitely packed full of veggies, plus it includes garbanzo beans, which are one of my favorite kind of beans, and the combination gives color and texture, which generally make me extra enthusiastic about a meal.  Oh, and I found cubed butternut squash at the grocery store, which I never knew existed, and that left me some extra time and energy to surf the internet mindlessly clean stuff…

Garbanzo beans, onion, eggplant, zucchini, tomato, carrot and butternut squash form the bulk of this healthy dish.

Peel the eggplant, do some chopping and toss everything in your crock pot.

Next, gather your tomato paste, spices and broth.  This recipe uses a good amount of flavors that I wouldn’t have thought to use together.

Olive oil, vegetable broth, tomato paste, garlic, salt, basil, cinnamon, paprika, ginger, and a no calorie sweetener packet (I used trulia, but you could use whatever you like, or even regular old sugar if you don't mind a few extra calories).

Mix them all together in a big bowl.

Then pour them over your vegetables and beans, and stir them together,coating everything evenly.  Yummmmm….

Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, or on low for 7-8 hours.  I cooked it on low, because I generally plan our menu to use the crock pot on days when I am going to be gone all day.

The house smelled amazing when I walked in the door that evening.  I served this with a side of raw, cut veggies and store bought french onion dip.

Now…

I loved this dish.  I thought the flavors were so rich, and interesting, and delicious.  The vegetables weren’t mushy, which I worried about, given the long cook time, and it wasn’t at all dried out.  Perfect amount of sauce.  Plus, it packs in so many servings of vegetables into one single dish, I felt healthier with every bite.  I thought it was so great…

And then, with a huge smile on my face, and my mouth stuffed full with a big old bite of this awesomeness,  I looked over at my family…

My husband said that it “needed something”, which, while nondescript and not entirely negative sounding, is one of the only things he’ll ever offer in terms of negative feedback about a dish that I make– although, he couldn’t suggest what he specifically thinks the dish is lacking.  Christopher said that it was just “ok”.  His Majesty ate cucumbers and peppers and only a few spoonfuls of the stew, but that isn’t saying much, since some days, he doesn’t eat much for dinner, regardless of what is served.  It got eaten, but not as enthusiastically as some other dishes.

The recipe, as I served it (generously) made 3 large servings, one small toddler serving, and left a big serving that I happily enjoyed for lunch the next day.  I love leftovers. But I was so bummed as I finished it off, because I REALLY liked this dish, but I know that I won’t add it to the menu again if my guys don’t like it.  For me, nothing is worse than preparing a meal that no one enjoys.

I’m thinking of adding meat to it, maybe a beef, and keeping the spice/broth/tomato paste combination the same, maybe that will jazz it up enough for them to like it… Do you have any suggestions for how I can salvage this dish so that everyone can enjoy it as much as I did?

Photo Wall Collage

Standard

Taping photos on a wall?  Easy.

Taping photos on a wall in the shape of a recognizable number?  Not so easy.  The pinspiration made it look so perfect.  I checked out the source, Persnickety Prints, and learned that they are a professional photo lab and studio, offering everything from prints to photo gifts.  Competitive pricing, too.  They also offer some great free tips on photo editing.

But, alas.  There was no tutorial for how to make a photo collage on your wall in the shape of a number.

I did what I always do when I first encounter a problem, which is to say I thought about it for a moment, and then I pouted.  You see, in a moment of sheer brilliance and planning, I had printed SEVENTY photos to use in creating this collage– before ever checking to see if there was a tutorial.  Within a few photo placements, it became clear to me that making the shape was not going to be as easy as I’d banked on it being.

Enter my problem solving husband, who took a look at the pinspiration, looked at the wall, and, while I was swearing taping photos to the wall in the shape of a haphazard “2”, he disappeared into the kitchen for all of 3 minutes and came back with this.

A piece of cardboard with a “2” cut out of it, and a flashlight.  Not being a problem solver myself, I must have given him a look like I thought he was losing it.  Until I looked at the wall.

When he backed up and shined the flashlight through the cutout, it lit up a giant “2” on the wall, like a stencil.  With him standing behind me, I placed the photos using the lit shape as my guide.  MUCH easier.  I ended up with this:

I widened the shape all around, mostly because, well, seventy photos was about twice as many photos as I actually needed, and I could only narrow down the selection by so much.  And trust me, this shape looks 10x better than it would have looked if I had free handed it.

Something as simply as a shadow puppet, and I didn’t think of it.  And like the source suggested, you can do this for any birthday, anniversary, whatever.  What a great reason to print some of the images that are living in your computer!

What would I do without my husband to help me follow my pinspirations?