Sunday, May 31, 2009

Coasting

I don't know about you, but we eat and drink all over our house. I know that things would be cleaner if we confined food and drinks to the kitchen, but the truth is that I really like to carry a drink with me wherever I am. And if I am allowed to do it, it's only fair that the rest of the family be allowed to do it, too.

One consequence of this casual take-your-drink-wherever-you-like policy is that we need coasters. Lots of coasters.

My favorite coasters are the ones made by Pimpernel. You know, the ones with the cork backs and the beautiful scenes on the front. Only problem is that they are expensive. Too expensive for me to have them everywhere I'd like to have them. So here's an economical solution: Dollar Tree coasters.

Now, Dollar Tree coasters are just the right price for me, but unfortunately they do not have those beautiful scenes on the front. The last ones I found looked like this:



These are fine for Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, and Veterans' Day, but they're not quite what I had in mind for the other 361 days of the year.

Solution? Black spray paint, of course! Presto chango!



Nice and plain, but not quite what I wanted. So I pulled out some stencils and gold paint, and now I have these:



And the really cool thing is that I've made two with the harlequin design (for my bedroom), two with the fleur de lis (for the guest bedroom), and I still have two left from that $1.00 package! Maybe I should paint those a brighter color and add some polka-dots or something. Or a monogram might be nice. What do you think?

Check out the other cool projects at Metamorphosis Monday hosted by Susan at Between Naps on the Porch. Thanks for giving us the chance to share, Susan!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lamp giveaway!

I'm excited to be a part of Nester's Lampapalooza Party. I love lamps--and more than that, I love lamplight. So much more forgiving than overhead lighting!

Here are a few of my favorites.

I needed a little extra light by my kitchen sink. I found these at Wal-Mart for less than $15 each.



(Edited to add: I just realized that you can't see the kitchen sink or even the bottom of the lamps in this picture. I think I need a little more practice at cropping.)

This is on the dresser in my bedroom, snagged from the clearance table at Pottery Barn. The "candles" are electric lights. A dimmer switch controls the brightness. This picture is dark, but you get the idea of what it's like when the candles are fairly dim. Very romantic.



I have a couple of lamps on my front porch, both purchased at Target. I love driving home at night, seeing the front of the house lit up.



Here's my hands-down favorite. This is the one lamp that I just fell in love with. I waited until it was available on sale, and have never regretted buying it.



And one I really like--because I get to give it away! It strikes me as appropriate that it's a "birdcage" lamp: just right for a lamp party hosted by the Nester!



Leave me a comment if you'd like to be entered in a drawing for this lamp. If you'd like to be entered twice, link back to this post from your blog. I'll collect entries through Sunday and post a winner on Monday.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

DIY Shelf for Chalk and Eraser


Like so many people, I've made a chalkboard out of an old piece of artwork and chalkboard paint.



Ours is small; it hangs right by the pantry. After I made it and hung it, though, I kept wondering: where do we keep the chalk and eraser?

Goodwill to the rescue! I was browsing the shelves at Goodwill and came upon a plate ledge for $1.28. I brought it home, painted it black, and voila! A home for the eraser.



If you look closely, you can see that the chalk nestles snugly in the indentation designed to hold a plate.



It's not fancy, but it definitely works for me!



Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Check up

Given the chance, I would not go back to fifth grade.

Not that there's anything wrong with fifth grade, mind you. For me, though, that was the year most characterized by this note:

Dear ____________________:

I like you.
Do you like me?

Check yes or no.

______ yes ______ no


Did you do that? Was I the only one who lived in fear of getting the wrong check? No, I would not go back.

Last week, though, I took myself back. See, I started this blog some time ago, but I let it go. When I decided to re-start it earlier this month, I revisited my original intentions in blogging, and I found that I still wanted to do the same thing. I still want my blog to be a bit of a window on my soul. And I still want it to be a means of imparting grace. But late last week, I began thinking: "What if no one reads this post? What if no one comments on it? What if it's boring? What if it's irrelevant? What if? What if?? What if???"

And I was right back in fifth grade, afraid that someone--or everyone--would check "no" for me.

That's enough of that. Fifth grade was bad enough when I was 10 years old. I don't think my 45-year-old self can handle it.

So I'm hoping that some folks will read my blog. I'm hoping that some will be blessed by it. And I'll try to make it attractive to new readers. But I'm not going to stress about it any more. I'm going to be happy just being myself, and I'll trust that being myself will be enough.

Even though some people will always check "no," there might be some who will check "yes." After all,

You might not need me, but you might.
I'll let my head be just in sight.
A smile as small as mine might be
Precisely your necessity.

-Emily Dickinson


Shared with Emily's "Tuesdays Unwrapped" at Chatting at the Sky

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day: What's in a name?



"Render therefore to all their due. . . tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor" (Romans 13:7, KJV)

For some reason I've always loved that verse. On Memorial Day, it makes sense. On this, of all days, it is good and right to recognize those to whom honor is due.

But you know, Memorial Day was first called "Decoration Day." After the Civil War, a special day was set aside for decorating the graves of Union soldiers who had died during the war. And then there were more wars, so Decoration Day was expanded to include decorating the graves of soldiers who died in World War I. Then World War II. Then Korea. . . .

So many graves to decorate.

Finally the name was officially changed to "Memorial Day." It's not nearly so common for us to go to cemeteries and put flowers and flags on graves any more. But we can still remember. We can still give honor to whom honor is due.

But sometimes we forget. Memorial Day weekend is a busy time. We're excited to kick off the beginning of summer, and Monday is more a holiday that makes a three-day weekend for us than a day for special remembrance.

It strikes me, though, that there is one group of Americans who always remember. The servicemen and women who are still living never forget to honor their fallen comrades. I was named for my mother's brother, Richard. He's a veteran, a Purple Heart recipient. He could have been one of those for whom this day is set aside, but he survived. Believe me, he never forgets to honor those who did not survive.

To all those who have fallen in the service of our country, we give honor. We pause to think just how much we owe to those brave men and women who have given their all.

And we are so grateful.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Red or white?

I picked up a trio of glass candle holders for a song in the after-Christmas sales, and I've been thinking about what I might fill them with. I did candy conversation hearts for Valentine's Day, jelly beans for Easter. For now, I've come up with a fun solution: wine corks.

Now, lest you think that we are in danger of alcoholism, let me explain that for the past eight years I've been saving the cork from every bottle of wine we've ever opened. I'm not sure what possessed me to save them, but one day I just started dropping them into a drawer. Now I have quite a few.

So here's how they look in the candle globes:





I like it! Especially since it's nice to have candlelight when you're having a glass of wine. What do you think? And would you like red or white?

P.S. My husband had the bright idea that we start saving beautiful wine labels as well. I think they'd be great decoupaged onto a tray like the one I did with postcards here. But since it takes some work to remove the labels from wine bottles, it'll take a while for me to collect enough labels to do this.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Works for me

I love the idea behind "Works for Me Wednesday" hosted by We Are THAT Family. I'd like to share with you a little bit of chemical magic that works for me.

I've spent enough time in hospitals (see yesterday's post!) to know that there is no disinfectant greater than bleach. Bleach really works to kill germs. Problem is, some of us are a little clumsy, and we've learned that bleach also kills clothes. Especially cute new clothes that we shouldn't have been wearing when we were cleaning.

I admire the way that many people simply use Windex to clean their bathrooms. But that solution never quite worked for me. With three boys and two dogs, our bathrooms get really dirty. And germy. And while I agree that Windex makes things shine, I'm not sure that it adequately kills germs. Now, I'm not trying to create a sterile environment (which is a good thing, since it would be a losing battle), but I do like to disinfect things if I can. So here's my solution: homemade cleaner. A cleaning solution!

It's easy to make. For a 32 oz. spray bottle (if you're like me, you have plenty of empty bottles around), combine 4 fluid ounces ammonia, 12 fluid ounces rubbing alcohol (70% isopropryl alcohol), and 16 ounces water. One note: if you're really sensitive to the smell of ammonia (for instance, if the smell of Windex bothers you), you probably won't like this. However, the smell does dissipate quickly.




This cleaning solution works for me because it shines AND disinfects AND it's cheap. It's a multi-surface cleaner. I use it to clean all my bathroom surfaces, including the mirrors. It's a little thicker than other cleaners, so it doesn't run all down vertical surfaces as quickly as glass cleaner. I simply use it with micro-fiber cloths: I keep one for countertops, etc. and one for mirrors stored with the bottle of cleaner.

So with little effort and little money, I have a way to keep our bathrooms sparkly and less germy. That works for me!

**SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING (or something like that): NEVER combine ammonia or ammonia-based products with bleach or bleach-based products, as the resulting fumes can be toxic or even deadly.** No fooling on that. This is a serious warning. I have a friend who got a severe case of chemical pneumonia from having mixed ammonia and bleach.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The real truth

Emily at Chatting at the Sky has started a poignant series called "Tuesdays Unwrapped." Here she invites her readers to be real, to allow people a look into their real lives (and their real struggles). Her idea is a good one, I think. It's amazing how much of a community exists among bloggers. And yet there's always the temptation to allow our readers just to look at the things we want to show. We often keep ourselves "wrapped," and by doing so we miss chances to enter fully into our own lives as well as others'. Emily challenges us to be real with one another and to take encouragement from one another's realness.

So I'm going to tell you a little of my story from the past year.

My profile says that I'm an amazingly blessed woman, and that's true. Here are a couple of photos of my family from our trip last summer.

My husband and me (I like this because I'm standing on a rock, and you can't tell that I'm actually a foot shorter than my hubby.):



Our three sons:



The past year has included amazing blessings for us, including the trip on which these photos were taken. Yet we have faced some big challenges in the past year, too. In April 2008, one of my sons had major open-heart surgery. (Well, all open-heart surgery is major, but this was really big: removal and replacement of his ascending aorta with a graft and replacement of his aortic valve with a mechanical valve.) Then in December my husband's heart went into atrial fibrillation. When he was hospitalized to address the a-fib problem, we learned that the a-fib was really just a warning of a larger problem. And so in February 2009 my husband had open-heart surgery. He had his mitral valve replaced with a mechanical valve. On the day (the very day, no kidding) that my husband was released from the hospital, my son became very ill and had to be hospitalized again. He had an infection and had developed pericarditis (an inflammation of the pericardium, which surrounds the heart). We learned that, for both my husband and son, we'll have to be hyper-vigilant about treating infections, since a bacterial infection could possibly reach their artificial valves. Things finally settled down, though, and we were starting to get back to a regular routine, when in April 2009 my youngest son became very ill. Turns out that he needed an emergency appendectomy.

Three surgeries in 12 months. That's too much. Recently, I was at a church gathering at which the pastor asked all of us to introduce ourselves and say where we lived. I said, "I'm Richella, and I live mostly at Duke Hospital." A weak joke, but that's how I was feeling.

I wish I could tell you that, with reliance on God and help from family and friends, I made it through all these stresses with flying colors. But that wouldn't be what is real. Oh, it's true that I had to rely on God, and He came through with flying colors. And it's true that my family and friends were incredible--I mean really incredible--in their kindness and support. What's not true is the part about me. I didn't come through with flying colors. I didn't even come through with one flag flying. I limped through. I broke down. I struggled. I crawled. Even with all the support, I just barely made it through. Just barely.

Turns out that "just barely" counts. I'm prone to grading myself on my performance, and I end up being disappointed that I didn't perform better. But I'm learning that, sometimes, just getting through is enough. No one else is grading me. No one is else is disappointed in my performance.

I didn't get through this past year with an A+. But I got through. And I think that the lesson for me is that, sometimes--maybe even oftentimes-- getting through is enough.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tiny transformation

Susan at Between Naps on the Porch hosts "Metamorphosis Monday" every week, highlighting cool before and after projects that bloggers have undertaken. I've enjoyed looking at these many times before, but this is the first time I've ever participated. I have a little project I'd like to share.

First, the background: My husband works for a Swiss bank, and last summer he had business in Switzerland. Happily, we were all able to accompany him on the trip. It was a wonderful time for all of us.

One thing we brought home from our trip was a handful of beautiful postcards of various places we visited while in Switzerland. I love vintage travel posters, and I scooped up postcards that were reproductions of the posters. I wasn't sure what to do with them after we got home, though, until inspiration (finally!) struck.

I remembered this old tray that I've had for many years. One of my uncles made a set of these for my mom eons ago. I happened to have this lying around.



Not the most beautiful thing to look at these days, but still very sturdy even after all these years.

So I employed that most useful of tools (black spray paint) and a little Mod Podge, and now I have this:



A cool, useful serving tray and a fun reminder of our wonderful trip! For no investment other than a can of black spray paint, a bit of my bottle of Mod Podge, one disposable foam brush, and about an hour of my time. I love it.

And I love Susan's whole idea of metamorphosis. It's such an encouragement to me to see examples of things that have been changed and made new. It reminds me of one of my favorite verses in Scripture, II Corinthians 2:16: ". . . Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."

Thank God for transformations, big and small.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Faster and faster

I love little boys. Which is a good thing, since my husband and I had three of them. They're such cute little men, with their red hair and mischievous smiles . . . .

Oops. I could have written that statement, but it would have been a while ago. I still do love little boys, but now I love big boys too, because that's what I've got. And they are wonderful. Want to see them?



Told you they were cute. It's just that now they're big men, not little men.

And the oldest is turning 18 this weekend. What? 18?? Like, required-to-register-for-Selective-Service 18?!? How did that happen?

FAST: that's how that happened. Believe me, it happens fast. So if you're still in the precious little-boy (or little-girl) stage, savor it. And maybe you'll enjoy this post I wrote a couple of years ago, when my firstborn turned 16.


Turning too fast

There were times, when my children were very small, that I dreamed of the time when they'd be old enough to do things for themselves. I remember the crazy days of having a 2-year-old and a newborn, feeling like a one-armed paper hanger. Or there was the time when I finally got a cell phone--only for emergencies, of course!--because I needed to drive across five states with a 6-year-old, a 4-year-old, and and yet another newborn. Those days of feeling a little overwhelmed seem so close in my memory.

What happened?

The other night my husband and I went out for a special date and our 16-year-old promised to babysit for our 10-year-old. "Wonderful," I thought. (It really is so nice not to have to line up babysitters any more.) What I hadn't reckoned with, though, was that my husband had arranged for our 16-year-old, a proudly licensed driver with a car at his disposal, to take our 10-year-old out to eat and to see a movie. I mean they went out to a proper restaurant--one where you have to order and leave a tip for the waiter--and then on to the movie.

A little bit of my heart went out the door with them that night.

Very vividly now does a scene come back to me. I was visiting my mother when my oldest child was just three weeks old. We took the baby for a walk in his stroller, and as we walked, my mom told me that I should savor the moments of his babyhood. "Turn around," she said, "and he'll be leaving." Then she quoted one of those sweet Kingston Trio songs she always loved:

Where are you going, my little one, little one?
Where are going, my baby, my own?
Turn around, and you're two
Turn around, and you're four
Turn around, you're a young girl
Going out of the door.

At that point I still had the swollen tummy of a new mother, and I could hardly imagine fitting back into my skinny jeans, much less having that little baby big enough to leave. So I did a pirouette on the sidewalk and giggled at my mother. She just gave me one of those wise smiles and said, "Wait and see."

My mother has long since gone on to heaven. I wonder if she could see me that night as I watched my babies going out of the door. I wonder if she was saying "I told you so."

"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

At least I was wearing my skinny jeans.


"Turn Around," copyright 1959 by Harry Belafonte, Alan Greene, and Malvina Reynolds

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sew easy: DIY knife-edge pillows


Yesterday I wrote about the gift of imperfection, using my recent sewing adventures as an example. Today I'd like to show you my favorite piece of work from that bit of sewing. Here it is:



I love this pillow.

I've always been a sucker for houndstooth fabric. And when I saw these big, bold houndsteeth (houndstooths?), I was on my way to the cutting table. Didn't even know what I was going to do with the fabric; just knew that I wanted it.

But the fabric is just one reason I love this pillow. The other reason is that it was so very, very easy to make. Really and truly. Now, I really like decorative pillows, but I've been shy about making them. I was laboring under the assumption that pillows needed to be complicated to be beautiful. You know--either they needed to be embellished, or to have piping or cording around the perimeter, or have fringe, or something. Then I started noticing that lots of and lots of the pillows available for sale have simple, clean edges. No fringe, no cording, no nothing. And they look great. This kind of finish is called "knife edge," which I think sounds very official. So if you go to the fabric store to get supplies for pillows and the clerk asks if you need trim, just say, "No, thanks; I've decided to make knife-edge pillows this time."

So here's how to do it.

No. 1. You'll need a pillow form. You can buy these at fabric stores and home goods stores such as TJMaxx. But beware: they can be fairly pricey. If you don't want to buy a new pillow form, you can re-cover an old pillow that you no longer use (which is what I did), or you can buy a pillow from a thrift store and cover it. If the thought of buying a used pillow sounds disgusting to you, don't worry. Bring that used pillow home, stick a couple of big safety pins (diaper pins are ideal) right through the middle of it, and wash it in your washer. Dry it in your dryer. Doesn't matter if the outside of the pillow looks bad after you've washed it; all you care about is getting it clean. And if you can't find the size that you want, you can always use a larger pillow (say, an old bed pillow), cut it down to the size you want, and sew it back up in the desired size.

No. 2. Measure your form. If you buy a new form, the package will tell you exactly how big the pillow is. If you use an old pillow, measure it. Be sure to use a flexible measuring tape so that it can conform to the curves of the pillow. If you don't have a measuring tape, you may want to get one. For now, though, just use a piece of string or yarn or something, stretch it across the pillow, and then measure the string on your yardstick.



No. 3. Once you have your measurement, add some extra for your seam allowance. I was taught that a proper seam allowance was 5/8". Wonder who ever came up with that? Who really cares how big the seam allowance is? I usually just add an extra inch for each seam.

No. 4. Cut your fabric. One reason this particular pillow was so easy to make is because I didn't make a seam at the top. I just cut a long piece of fabric, folded it over, and made seams down the sides. So I didn't need a seam allowance for the top. Example: for my 22" x 22" square pillow form, I cut a piece of fabric that was 24" wide (22" plus an extra inch on both sides) and 46" long (22" plus 22" plus 2 extra inches for the bottom seam).

No. 5. Fold your long piece of fabric in half, right sides together (i.e. inside out), forming a square. If you want to crank up the sewing machine, then sew straight seams down each side of your square. If you don't sew, just use Stitch Witchery to make those seams. Leave the bottom open.

No. 6. Turn your pillow case right side out. If you need to press the fabric, now's the time to do it.

No. 7. Put your pillow form inside the case, with the unfinished opening at the bottom.

No. 8. Close up that bottom edge. You can do this by hand-sewing it shut, using fabric glue, or using my method: hot glue. Really. Just fold that fabric together and glue it shut. This picture shows you how it'll look:



Not bad, huh? Who would ever know that it's glued? And if you're wondering whether hot glue will hold up as well as something sewn, let me show you a close-up of a table runner that I made back in 2001.



That fringe is hot-glued on. The runner was in constant use for nine years, in a household with three boys and two dogs. The glue held up beautifully.

That's it! You've got a cool knife-edge pillow.  Relax and enjoy!






Thursday, May 14, 2009

Perfectly Lovable


If you're like me, you're a big fan of the Nester. And you know what Nester works so hard to teach us. Say it with me, now: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful. IDHTBPTBB. She's right. You know she's right. I know she's right.

So why do we have so much trouble accepting this fact?

The other day, I read a post by another of my favorite bloggers, Kimba at A Soft Place to Land. If you haven't read "My Closets-A Reflection of Me," you need to. In it, Kimba courageously opens her closet doors to reveal (drum roll, please)--she's not perfect! Her house looks wonderful, but not so much if you open the pantry door. And she relates this fact to her life: even though she may look great on the surface, she sometimes has real turmoil on the inside.

Now, do we like Kimba less because she admitted that she's not perfect? No! In fact, we like her more. We appreciate her more.

So I've been thinking. Maybe in addition to Nester's teaching that It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful, we should add another line: It Does Have to Be Imperfect to Be Lovable.

We're imperfect human beings. And knowing that someone else is imperfect enables us to love that person. Their imperfections make them approachable.

Here's an illustration. I just made new bedding for myself. I, the girl who can't read a pattern guide to save her life, made all new bedding. I wanted a light, updated look for spring, so I made this:



I think it looks pretty good. And if I could focus the camera just right and get just the right angle, it might even appear perfect. If it were perfect, and you knew that I made it, you might admire me. You might even want to hire me to make the same thing for you. But you might not want to hang out with me. You might not want to grab a cup of coffee and sit and chat with me.

Now let me show you a couple of close-ups:




As you can plainly see, my sewing is not perfect. Shoot, it's not even finished. But it doesn't have to be perfect! It can still be beautiful. And I don't have to be afraid to use it. I don't have to worry if a pillow gets a smudge on it. I don't have to be angry at my kids when they flop down on my bed. I don't even have to yell at the dog when she jumps up onto the bed (although I might). This bedding is approachable because it isn't perfect. So I'm free to enjoy it.

The same is true for people. Because we're not perfect, other people can approach us. Hopefully, they can know that they'll be loved and appreciated for their strengths and their weaknesses. Because it's those weaknesses--those imperfections--that make them one of us.

Perfect? No. Lovable? Yes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Back again

All right, already. I started a blog, I posted a few times. My life interfered in major ways; I stopped blogging. Then I decided that I wanted to start again. But I didn't do it. I said I wanted to do it, but I didn't do it.

Isn't that always the way?

There are so many things that we're going to get around to. Sometime. And yet we never actually do them. Years ago I knew a man who would give out circular wooden coins stamped with the letters "TUIT." When folks inevitably asked what the coin was for, he'd answer, "You say that you'll do something when you get around to it. Well, now you've got a round tuit."

I've got a round tuit. I've got an easy button. I've got a pair of Nikes. What I haven't had is the actual intention to do it.

One of my favorite authors, Dallas Willard, speaks of needing to have three things: Vision, Intention, and Means. For anything worthwhile, we need to envision what we might do, we need to have the intention to do it, and we need the means to carry it out. So now I have a vision: I want to write a blog that will be a means of imparting grace to people. I have the means: thanks to Blogger, I can publish things right here from my very own computer. What I've lacked is the intention actually to carry it out.

So I'm mustering my will, girding up my loins about me, and I'm going to do it. Finally, I have what I've lacked: the intention to do it. Stay tuned.