Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Best DIY Project of March

My dear friend Traci from Beneath My Heart is hosting a "Best DIY Projects of March" party, and I wanted to join the fun. As I surveyed what I've been doing in March, though, I found that there wasn't much to share. I made a couple of spring crafts and did a little bit of holiday decorating, but it seems I didn't get much done.

And then it hit me: one of my very best DIY projects EVER was completed in March--14 years ago, as a matter of fact. For on March 29, 1997, my youngest son was born. So one project I did manage to accomplish in March was the celebration of that fact.




Lots of fun!

I hate to do this, but I'll share something I learned in the preparing for Lee's party. Are you ready? You may want to write this down, just so you'll be prepared when the time comes.


If you want to make a Funfetti cake for your youngest child

and your youngest child is turning 14

you're probably going to need some help reading the directions on the Pillsbury box.



Anybody know what I'm talking about?

Now, if you want to see some REAL DIY projects, head over to Traci's blog for inspiration!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dinner for Real: Crockpot Barbecue

Another weekday; another need for a simple dinner recipe. Today I'll share with you one of the easiest things I make: Crockpot Barbecue.

This is so simple you don't even need a recipe. All you do is to place a piece of pork (Boston butt, pork loin, or pork tenderloin--your choice) in a Crock Pot. Mix together a generous amount of barbecue sauce and vinegar (I use half barbecue sauce and half apple cider vinegar for a total of about 2 cups). Pour over meat. Cook for hours--probably 3-4 hours on high or 7-8 hours on low, until meat is very tender. Using two forks, pull meat apart (thereby creating "pulled pork"). Serve on buns to make delicious barbecue sandwiches, adding additional barbecue sauce if desired.


Believe me, this makes a tender, juicy, delicious barbecue. We like Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce; you can use whatever barbecue sauce strikes your fancy. And if you need a good side dish, try this recipe for Crunchy Salad. I think this is technically an "Asian" salad, but I think it is wonderful with barbecue--and besides, I'm not a big fan of traditional cole slaw.

Crunchy salad

Ingredients:

Vegetables
16 oz. cole slaw mix or chopped cabbage
3-6 green onions

Crunchies
1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds
1 package Ramen noodles (chicken or Oriental flavor)

Dressing
1/2 cup oil (I use canola)
3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar (or 3 packets artificial sweetener)
1/2 teaspoon salt
seasoning packet from Ramen noodles

Roast almonds and Ramen noodles at 350 degrees until light brown (about 5-7 minutes). Set aside.

Chop green onions. Stir into cabbage.

Whisk dressing ingredients together well.

Toss vegetables, crunchies, and dressing together just before serving.

I hope you're enjoying this Dinner for Real series! Right now I'm looking for volunteers to share their recipes here; please let me know if you have an easy, tried-and-true recipe you'd like to see featured here. And soon I think we'll have a linky party so that we can collect a bunch of recipes.

What's for dinner at your house tonight??

Monday, March 28, 2011

Easy springtime decorating

Need a little springtime lift? How about some simple vignettes?





  • bird's nest
  • eggs
  • "Hope" artwork (Thank you, Melissa of 320 Sycamore!)
"Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul. . . " (Emily Dickinson).

After all, isn't hope what spring is all about?

And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you (Psalm 39:7).


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Re-thinking background colors

In thumbing through magazines and perusing home decor blogs, I read a lot about the value of neutral colors. White, black, brown, and all their shades and tints such as grey, beige, tan, and taupe make wonderful backdrops for any color. Finding just the right neutral can seem like the Holy Grail of decorating.

I was fascinated, though, by something I noticed after I hosted a birthday party for my youngest son. I found these great napkins to use at his party:

The napkins were a perfect fit and match for my green napkin holder. I bought this napkin holder at Christmastime. It came filled with red and green Christmas napkins.


I didn't pack the napkin holder away with my Christmas things, though, for it's about the color of a Granny Smith apple--very springy, very cheerful. As I was putting it away after Lee's birthday party, I noticed how well these cheerful striped napkins would go with it:

But then again, these soft flowered napkins looked good, too:

And this robin's egg blue print wasn't bad, either:


So then I started experimenting with the napkins in my drawer. (I have a thing for napkins--have you seen my napkin drawer?) Imagine how great these would be for a Cinco de Mayo party!

And these would be wonderfully refreshing for summertime:


But my green napkin holder could go more fallish, too, like with this leaf print:

Or with these autumn fruits:


You could use this green napkin holder with more than just springy, summery, or fallish colors, though. Look how well it pairs with this cool paisley print:

Or with these feathers:

Or with these printed beauties that Melissa found for me:


Or even with these pretties I bought to remind me of my 25th anniversary trip:


Can you believe that every single one of these photos features the same green napkin holder? Even though it's a bold, vibrant green color, it pairs well with all these different napkins.

As I pondered the versatility of my simple little napkin holder, it struck me that although green is not a neutral color, it functions like a good neutral: it mixes well with many different colors, allowing those colors to take center stage. Green's not a neutral color, but it is a wonderful backdrop color.

I think I know why this is true. Take a look outside. What color do you see throughout the natural landscape? Green, green, and more green--all different shades and tints of greens, serving as a beautiful backdrop for the vibrant hues of flowers. The natural landscape includes an amazingly diverse palette of colors, and all of them pair beautifully with various shades of green.


And of course, serving as a backdrop for all the colors of the earth is the beautiful blue of the sky. I don't have a blue napkin holder to demonstrate this, but the same principle is true for blue as for green.


So if you're thinking about colors for your home, remember that you needn't be limited to neutrals to use as backdrop colors. You know that adage "Blue and green must not be seen"?? I say that's nonsense! They worked pretty well in the hands of the Master Artist!

What "background colors" are your favorites?

**Special Note: If you're looking for just the right colors for your home, check out Kristin's blog: Favorite Paint Colors! It's a wonderful resource!**

Thursday, March 24, 2011

English teacher: Why does good grammar matter?


Sometimes I get asked if good grammar is worth the trouble. "Why bother?" people ask me. That's a question worth considering.




The truth is that most of us can make ourselves understood when we're speaking. Our grammar might be highly imperfect, but we make up for that with tone of voice, word emphasis, pauses, gestures, facial expressions, etc.

When we're writing, though, we don't have those tools at our disposal. Proper word choice and punctuation are a writer's tools for making her point. And I want to choose my words very carefully here, for I want to make an important statement. Here it is, straight from an English teacher:

Good grammar is not the point.

Really. As much as I love to discuss English grammar--and I do!--I must remember that it's simply not the point. Good grammar is a means to an end, not the end in itself.

So what IS the point? Communication.

When I taught grammar to middle school statements, I made them memorize this dictum:

Language is a gift from God, given only to humans, for the purpose of communication.

Have you ever thought about that? All kinds of creatures communicate with one another in various ways, but humans alone have been given the gift of language. It's a special gift, a tremendously valuable gift. It's valuable because it serves the purpose of communication. Human beings can communicate with one another in vast and powerful ways. Not all communication involves language, to be sure, but a great deal of it does.

In years past, most communication occurred via the spoken word. But we citizens of the age of the internet communicate mostly via the written word. Every day we have opportunities to communicate with others. Every day we have chances to make ourselves understood. Every day we can blow those chances if we don't use our language well. Use of the wrong word or lack of proper punctuation isn't really a big deal in and of itself. But if your readers can't understand what you're trying say? That IS a big deal.

Taking the time to use language correctly is, at its heart, a sign of respect for your readers. If you make a mistake, don't fret about it--just correct it and be glad you had the chance to make the correction. Perfection isn't the goal. Communication is the goal.

In short, the question is "Does good grammar really matter?" My answer: It matters if you have something to say. If you have a word of cheer or hope or light, your use of grammar matters. Because the world needs to understand your message.

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver (Proverbs 25:11).



Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring crafts for under $5

I challenged myself to see if I could create some springy decor for less than $5. To do that, I headed to one of my favorite sources for craft supplies: Dollar Tree. These two things seemed to have potential.





You may know that I have a collection of crosses, so when I saw this cross magnet I snatched it up, even though I didn't think its finish was very pretty. I spray-painted it with Oil-Rubbed Bronze paint and then sanded it a bit to highlight the raised parts. But what to do with it?

I looked in my craft closet for inspiration and found this plaque which I purchased on clearance for 99 cents. A craft board, a piece of wood, or even a piece of foam core would have worked just as well, but I used what I had.


Then I looked through a hymnal for hymns involving the cross. I chose one of my favorites, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, which I photocopied onto a piece of scrapbook paper. Then I carefully cut out the paper to be the size of the plaque, and I ModPodged the hymn onto the plaque. (Tip: When you're waiting for your first application of ModPodge to dry, wrap your foam brush in a piece of plastic wrap. Your brush will stay nice and moist.)



The hymn didn't completely fill my plaque, so I left some blank space to the side. I added a springy blue ribbon to the blank space (I stuck it to the back of the plaque with double-sided tape). Then I hot-glued my dollar store craft right to the ribbon, and

voila!



I think it looks really pretty displayed with my other crosses. You could do the same thing with a cross ornament if you happen to have one. (I have lots of them, but they're packed away with my Christmas things.) Other great cross hymns include O Sacred Head Now Wounded, The Old Rugged Cross, and Beneath the Cross of Jesus. Or you could choose a glorious Easter hymn like Christ the Lord is Risen Today or a bit of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus.







And what about that tile from Dollar Tree? I simply gave it a coating of Heirloom White spray paint (looking better already!)


then used Valspar's translucent color glaze in Mocha to highlight the design. I simply wiped on the glaze with an old rag, let it set for a minute, then wiped most of the glaze off. I concentrated on getting the glaze into the indented parts of the tile, particularly the words. When I had the look I wanted, I put the tile out in the sun to dry.

I love the way it looks on a plate stand beside a little nest! Just another reminder of the power of God to make all things new.






My expenditures:

Dollar Tree tile: $1.00
Dollar Tree cross magnet: $1.00
plaque: 99 cents
scrapbook paper: 50 cents
foam brush: 25 cents
spray paint, glaze, Mod Podge: on hand (I used just a little)

Total spent $3.74

That's two crafts for less than $5.00! Yippee! Now to get the Easter things down from the attic so I can complete my spring decorating!

**I'm joining Kim at Savvy Southern Style for Wow Us Wednesday and The CSI Project for The $5 Challenge. and Wendy at The Shabby Nest for Frugal Friday at Check out all the great projects!**


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dinner for Real: Super-Easy Parmesan Chicken

Hello friends! I hope you're enjoying this Dinner for Real series. In the coming weeks, I plan to feature some recipes from friends. For today, I'll share with you one of the simplest recipes in my file box: Baked Parmesan Chicken.

I'm a sucker for anything tasty that can be made from boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I always have some of these in my fridge or freezer. If there's a way to make this convenient meat tasty, I'm all for it! Here's a recipe that I developed myself after reading the description of a yummy dish in a restaurant.

Super-Easy Parmesan Chicken

Ingredients:

  • boneless-skinless chicken breasts
  • bottled creamy Caesar salad dressing
  • bread crumbs
  • grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat broiler. Prepare a baking sheet by spraying with non-stick cooking spray or lining with parchment paper.

Place chicken breasts between two sheets of plastic wrap. Pound with mallet until fairly thin. (I often use the breast tenderloins and pound each until it's about the size of my hand.)

Pour some some Caesar dressing onto a dinner plate. On another plate, bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese to create enough coating for your chicken.

Dredge each breast in Caesar dressing, then coat with bread crumb/cheese mixture. Place chicken under broiler. Broil until coating is golden brown. Carefully flip chicken pieces; broil the other side until chicken is thoroughly cooked and coating is golden brown. (Broiling time will vary depending in the thickness of your chicken pieces and the strength of your broiler. I usually start by broiling mine about 5 minutes per size.)

That's it! You've got delicious, juicy, flavorful chicken ready to go. This is great to serve along with pasta and your favorite tomato-based sauce (my kids' favorite) or atop Caesar salad (my husband's favorite). Either way, it's a winner!

Please let me know if you'd like to submit a recipe to be featured here at Dinner for Real. Bon appetit!

Tip: How to make your own tinted moisturizer


I often get asked how I take care of my skin, and I'm going to share my secret.



Just so you know how well it works, here's a photo of me at the beach, complete with sunglasses and killer tan:



Well, not exactly a killer tan. Not actually ANY tan. And I should add that this photo was taken on the last day of week at the beach.

Actually, my skin WILL tan. My ancestry is mixed--along with my English and Irish ancestry, I'm also 1/32 Cherokee. So I wouldn't have to be a paleface. I choose to be a paleface.

Since I'm in my late 40's, people often ask me if I have any anti-aging secrets. My #1 secret? Sunscreen.  Not just when I'm at the beach, but every single day I use a moisturizer containing a good sunscreen.

Here's the sunscreen I use--recommended to me by my dermatologist:


It's inexpensive but very effective. It's a great moisturizer plus sunscreen. In addition to a chemical sunscreen, it contains micronized zinc, which provides a physical barrier to sun. It's good stuff, although it's very, very white. It goes on just a little pasty-looking.

Then one day I was about to throw away an "empty" bottle of my foundation make-up. It wasn't completely empty, of course--there was a good bit of foundation left clinging to the sides and bottom of the bottle. So instead of throwing away the bottle, I filled it with my sunscreen. Then I shook and shook and shook. Upon opening the bottle, I discovered that it still the contents still weren't thoroughly mixed, so I used a Q-tip and stirred it. Then I shook some more.

And presto! I had moisturizing sunscreen tinted just the right color for me!

I wrote an "M" on the bottle to distinguish my tinted moisturizer from my regular foundation. Some days, of course, I don't even need to use foundation, especially since my tinted moisturizer is just the right color for my skin.


So how about you? Do you use sunscreen? Do you have any anti-aging tips to share? Do tell!


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Adding touches of spring

The calendar shows that we still have a few days to go until the "official" start of spring, but the weather is most definitely springy. We haven't hit prime pollen season yet, but the flowering trees are in full-on glory here: Bradford pears, redbud, and deciduous magnolias are all flowering profusely. I just love these days when the sun shines bright and the sky is Carolina blue.



In the spirit of the season, I'm making some easy, inexpensive changes in my decorating, too.

This wooden planter held gourds and pumpkins in the Fall and pinecones at Christmas. Now it's feeling springy with its cheerful pansies:


I was the lucky winner of some wonderful DaySpring products at this January's BlissDom conference. I was already a huge fan of DaySpring, having purchased a number of their products in the past. Now I'm a fanatic. In addition to inspirational cards and stationery, this company produces truly beautiful home decor items. I won this gorgeous tray, which I filled with river rocks and tealights for the winter:


Now I've traded the rocks for seashells, and voila! Instant springiness! (Some of the seashells I collected at the beach; the rest I picked up at Dollar Tree.)



I also won this lovely pitcher from DaySpring. The inscription reads "Thankful for simple graces." That deserves an Amen! I love the way it looks on my table holding grocery-store alstroemeria. (These flowers are a frugal decorator's dream--they're beautiful, cheap, and the blossoms last a long, long time.) Here's a tip for arranging your own flowers: cut the stems. You want to see a profusion of flowers above your container, not stalks. So chop off those long stems! And to make your flowers last even longer, add a couple of drops of household bleach to your water.



To set a fun springtime table, I pulled out the green chargers I bought on clearance at Target after Christmas. I paid $2.50 for eight chargers. Aren't they a pretty springy green?


And last but not least, I added a touch of spring to my dining room table by spreading out the darling runner I won from Melissa of Melissa's Heart and Home! I was the lucky winner of her spring giveaway. Thank you, Melissa, for sending me so many wonderful goodies!


Thanks to the blessing of winning some of these products, I spent less than $20 and added a lot of springtime to my house. What are you doing to add some spring to your nest?

**I'm joining Amanda for Weekend Bloggy Reading and Wendy for Frugal Friday.**