Friday, September 30, 2011

My house all dressed for fall

It's the last day of September. The weather here is supposed to cool down this weekend and finally it will really be Autumn. Hallelujah! Here's how Fall looks at my house this year.

Inspired by a wreath I saw in the Williams-Sonoma catalog, I made a wreath for our front door. I also added an old tool caddy full of gourds and a basket of mums. Soon some pumpkins will appear, too.


Here's a close-up of my wreath. I used dried and silk floral elements from my stash, so I spent $0 on this. You can read more about it here.


I added some autumnal elements to the sitting area of my front porch, too. I made autumn leaf pillows last fall, so I pulled those back out. Click here for the directions for making those pillows. They're made from drop cloths, and so is the Pottery Barn knock-off on the sofa, which you can read about here. Drop cloths offer a great fabric for outdoor pillows. This pillow stays on my porch through all the seasons. A couple of weeks ago it was looking rather soiled, so I just soaked it in water and bleach, washed it in my washing machine, and dried it in my dryer. Good as new!


On the lamp table I placed some berry garland and a pot of silk mums. I added the metal hanging above the sofa. The candles look beautiful at night--cozy and romantic.


Inside, I've sprinkled a few fall elements here and there, such as in the dining room:


The table arrangement is super-simple: a burlap table runner, acorn topiaries I made last fall, and a few of my favorites from my collection of pumpkins.


My living room lends itself well to fall, since its colors are rather fallish. I simply added a few little touches.


Acorns on the coffee table:

A giant gourd and some branches to the hearth:


The sleeping beagle is not a seasonal element; that's her favorite spot year-round.

In the kitchen I didn't do much, but again, the colors lend themselves to fallishness:


I did add this wonderful antique scale that I found for less than $20:


One of my favorite spaces to decorate each season is the screened-in porch. The sunlight was pouring in while I was trying to take pictures, so it was hard to get good shots, but here's a peek:


A simple tabletop includes a few of my pumpkins and my super-easy flower accent:


One of my favorite things is this little "Harvest Blessings" pillow:


Have you decorated your house for fall?

**I'm joining Julia at Hooked on Houses for her Fall Decorating Party and Sarah at Modern Country Style for her Fall in Love party!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Perfection: a baking tutorial


"Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte; extra hot; no whip." In the autumn, I'm one of those people who knows exactly what she's going to order at Starbuck's. It's as if the Good Fairy of Fall waves her magic wand and all is right in my world whenever pumpkin spice is involved.

If you're a pumpkin spice fan, too, you need this recipe. Perhaps you've had pumpkin bread before. . . but I'm telling you, this recipe will give you pumpkin spice perfection. Guaranteed.


Note: Click here for a printable copy of the recipe.

Pumpkin Spice Bread

Ingredients

3 cups sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup vegetable oil (I use canola oil)
4 large eggs
2 cups pumpkin (I use Libby's solid pack pumpkin, 15 oz. can)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Optional: 2 cups chopped nuts (I use walnuts or pecans)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If you're including nuts, spread them on a baking sheet and roast for about five minutes. This will make them a much tastier addition to your bread. Coarsely chop toasted nuts.

Stir all dry ingredients together in mixer bowl. Add all liquid ingredients. Mix well. Stir in chopped nuts if desired. Batter will be very thick, and to be honest it's not very pretty. Never fear. All will be well.


Pour batter into prepared loaf pans. I use four inexpensive oblong pans, each about 3 1/2 inches x 7 1/2 inches. This recipe is perfect for four loaves of this size, six "mini" loaves, two or three large loaves, or lots of muffins. You can grease and flour the pans if you like. I just spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

Here's a trick: If you have a kitchen scale, weigh each pan as you're distributing your batter. Your loaves will play nicely together in the oven if they're all about the same size. Don't stress over this; just make each pan weigh about the same as the others.


Depending on the size of your loaves, bake 40-60 minutes at 350 degrees. Bread is done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. This is the most important thing: DO NOT OVERBAKE. For these medium-sized loaves, I usually time this bread for 45 minutes and start testing at that point. Even if you have to sacrifice many toothpicks and test your bread every couple of minutes, that's better than overbaking. If it's not done, the toothpick will be goopy. If it's done, the toothpick will be completely clean or perhaps have a couple of crumbs on it, but no goopiness. Remove the bread from the oven just as soon as a toothpick comes out clean.

Q: Why is testing the bread so important?
A: Because of residual heat, the bread actually continues to bake just a little after you remove it from the oven. So if you leave baked goods in the oven too long, they'll OVERbake after you remove them from the oven--leaving you with dry yuckiness instead of moist yumminess.

Here's how your loaves will look fresh from the oven:


Cool in pans for five to ten minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.


See how neatly the loaves come out of the pan when you just spray the pans with nonstick cooking spray? No sticking and no flour residue. I bake a lot, but I never grease and flour pans any more.

When completely cool, wrap individual loaves in foil. If you don't need all loaves right away, they freeze beautifully. I like to keep a couple of these in the freezer. A loaf makes a great gift for a neighbor, a teacher, a new mom--just about anyone. One of my favorite hostess gifts for autumn is to pair a loaf with a package of pretty beverage napkins.




One more thing about this amazing bread. If you like, you can make this bread do double-duty as a yummy dessert simply by adding a simple cream cheese frosting. You know, of course, how good cream cheese frosting is on carrot cake. Well, pumpkin cake is just as good, if you ask me. Here's my simple frosting recipe. Do not think about the fat grams.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 stick butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 oz. cream cheese
Mix all ingredients together. Add roasted and chopped nuts if you like. Store in refrigerator.

OR here's another option!  Follow my recipe here to make a simple cream cheese glaze!



I'm not exaggerating about the goodness of this recipe. I made a batch recently and took some to my next-door neighbor. After it was all gone, she called and said, "Will you please call me next time you make this? I want to come watch you. It's the best pumpkin bread I've ever had."

Let me know if you bake yourself some pumpkin spice perfection!

I'm linking to these wonderful parties:


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The secret to making your home smell like fall


I have a tip to share with you--a simple little secret that you'll love.

You know what I mean when I say "the smell of autumn," don't you? Sort of a combination of crisp apples and spiced cider and pumpkin bread baking in the oven. Mmmm. Well, there's a super-simple way to achieve it using ingredients you probably have in your pantry right now. Here's what you'll need:


Simply cut an apple (any variety) into quarters. Put the apple pieces in a small pan. Fill the pan with water, then add some cinnamon sticks and whole cloves. Sprinkle in a little ground cinnamon if you want. Now here's the secret: Add a teaspoon or more of vanilla extract. Simmer on the stovetop, being careful not to let the water boil away.


I know vanilla extract is rather expensive, but you don't have use a lot--and you'll be amazed at the difference it makes! Your house will smell delicious. One warning: your family will probably come in and say "What are you baking?" because it will certainly smell as if you've got apple pie or cinnamon rolls in the oven.

And here's a little tip:  next time you're at a thrift store, pick up a little pan.  Use that for simmering your potpourri instead of one of your good pots.  That way, you can keep it on the stove and just keep replenishing the water and spices as needed.  Do be careful not to let the mixture boil dry--that would stink up your home instead of making your home smell like apple pie.

Now, if you need to bake something rather than just enjoying the smell of fresh-baked goods, check out this recipe for pumpkin bread.  It's the very best I've ever tasted.

Enjoy!

**I'm joining these great parties:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Grace Imparted

I've been out of town for the past several days, attending a Renovare' Board meeting and a conference on spiritual formation. It was a week full of blessings, but there's one in particular I want to tell you about.

Our Board received a designated donation that allowed us to benefit from the services of a wonderful consultant. She spent two days with us, and we were all impressed by her knowledge and expertise, as well as by her ability to articulate her thoughts and to educate us. To be honest, I was amazed by her. She's a faithful Christian and an incredibly gifted woman, and it was a pleasure to learn from her.

On Friday morning, though, we weren't in a meeting. We were walking across a college campus, enjoying the beautiful blue sky and sunshine. All was peaceful and lovely until my foot happened upon a hole in the sidewalk. I twisted my ankle and fell--down, down, down--hitting my right knee, then my shoulder, and finally my face. I was wearing a dress at the time. Of course.



I should hasten to tell you that I'm fine. I was scratched and scraped, but thankfully suffered no sprains or breaks or major cuts. What's remarkable about that scene is not that I fell--truth be told, I'm rather clumsy, so I'm no stranger to falling. But almost before I hit the ground, our amazingly talented consultant was down on her hands and knees beside me. As quickly as other people were saying "Are you okay?" she had pulled out tissues and hand sanitizer. She carefully wiped off my scrapes and scratches and covered my skinned knee with--you can see it in the photo--a Hello Kitty band-aid.

I don't think I would have been surprised if this impressive, high-powered businesswoman had whipped out her smartphone and called for help. But I was surprised when she so humbly and lovingly cared for me right where I was, even when that required her dropping to her knees. Her kindness was a gift from God--His grace imparted to me.

Now, do you have any stories to tell of how God has imparted grace in your life? Will you share the story of a gift you've received from God's hand? It can be large or small--I'd love to hear about it! Click here to read all about this linky party celebrating God's gifts to us. Help yourself to a button and help me spread the word.

Imparting Grace





Thursday, September 22, 2011

English teacher: how to use I and me


It's time for another little lesson from the English teacher.


Several people have asked me to address the use of I and me. These two little words are amazingly useful but are often misused. I've found that mistakes involving the use of these words is a pet peeve of many folks.


I and me are both personal pronouns (words that take the place of nouns). For the most part, the use of pronouns comes very naturally to native English speakers. One troublesome point is knowing when to use subjective pronouns and when to use objective pronouns. Here are the rules for that:



Use a subjective pronoun (I, you, he, she, they) as the subject of a sentence or phrase or following a linking verb (is, am, are, was, were, be).
Examples:
  • I love chocolate.
  • They left town this morning.
  • This is she. (Think about how you learned to answer the phone!)
Use an objective pronoun (me, you, him, her, them) as a direct or indirect object of a sentence or the object of a preposition. Prepositions are the connecting words used to build phrases that usually describe relationship of some kind. Some common prepositions are about, at, before, between, by, for, from, of, on, to, and with. The word or words following a preposition are the objects of the preposition. When you use a pronoun as the object of a preposition, you need an objective pronoun.

Examples:

  • Charlie bit me! ("Me" is the direct object of bit.)
  • Pam made me a pillow. ("Me" is the indirect object of made.)
  • This book is all about her. ("Her" is the object of the preposition about.)

Now, here's where it gets tricky. When you were very small, you probably said to your mom something like, "Me and Sally are going to ride our bikes." And your mom probably said, "Don't say 'me and Sally'; say 'Sally and I.'" She was trying to teach you that it's polite to say the other person's name first, then say your own name. She was right about that. And she probably had to repeat this rule of courtesy a number of times before you got it. The important part of that lesson was being polite, not using good grammar. But you need to know that you should say "Sally and I" ONLY when you need the subject of a sentence or phrase. If the words "Sally and I" are serving as the object of a phrase, then you need to switch to "Sally and me."

Examples:
  • Sally and I are going to the movie.
  • Mom baked cookies for Sally and me.
  • Please take a picture of Sally and me.
  • If you have any questions, just ask Sally or me.


There's an easy way to know whether to use "Sally and I" or "Sally and me." Just take "Sally" out of the sentence for a second. Would you say, "Mom baked cookies for I"? "Please take a picture of I"? Or "Just ask I"? No, of course you wouldn't; you would naturally say "me" instead of "I." So if you would naturally say "me," then you should use "me" in conjunction with the other person's name.

Your mom was right: it IS polite to say the other person's name first. But choose to add "I" or "me" based on how you're using the words in a sentence.

Here's an example: "Let's keep this just between you and I." Between is a preposition, so you need an object of the preposition. The correct wording is "between you and me."

Here's a little quiz for you.

  1. My husband and _____ (I or me) just celebrated our anniversary.
  2. I love this photo of my husband and _____ (I or me) from our wedding day.

If you answered "I" for number 1 and "me" for number 2, you're right!

Please let me know if you have any questions about English grammar or if there's a particular point you'd like for me to address in one of these little lessons. I want these to be a blessing to you. Leave me a comment if there's a particular point of grammar you'd like for me to address. Feel free to email me (RichellaP (at) gmail (dot) com) if you have a specific question. I'd be happy to help if I can!


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Super-easy fall accent


On a visit to Pottery Barn the other day, I was thrilled to see that they're still using the aged terra cotta pots that I knocked off last fall. (Click here to read how to make these for yourself.) On one of their display tables, they featured one of those pots with a single beautiful autumn flower. So I came home and made my own. Here's how:

I stuffed my pot with grocery bags. You could use any filler you have on hand.

Over the filler I placed a layer of sheet moss.


On top of the moss I glued a single silk flower, and presto! A cute little fall accent.


Super-simple, but lots of fun. And since I had the flower in my stash, it was completely free!


Little by little, I'm getting ready to enjoy a full-fledged Autumn. How about you?

I'm joining these fun parties:


Monday, September 19, 2011

Grace Imparted: A review and a giveaway

I have always been a good girl.

To be honest, I never even considered not being a good girl. I was born into a good family. We went to church at least three times a week. Bad behavior was not tolerated, not for a minute--not at home, not at school, not at church. So I was the quintessential good girl. I wasn't a pretty girl. I was a smart girl and a very good girl. I was the one who made all A's, who was a trusted babysitter and club treasurer and youth group member. I never skipped class, I never blew off a test, I never was tardy.

I went to college and continued right along the same path. I was smart and I was good. I never skipped class, I never blew off a test, I never was tardy. By the beginning of my senior year I was engaged to a good boy. I got married right after graduation and began my adult life of being a good woman.

And I tried to live a good life

and tried harder

and tried harder still.

And finally all I had was the trying hard. The "good life" I had always wanted had eluded me. I was blessed in many ways, but I was never able to enjoy those blessings. When things went wrong, I just tried harder to make them work. Finally, I was exhausted. I went through a crisis in my marriage and a deep depression.

After years of mightily striving to please God, to please my parents, to please my husband, to please my bosses, to please my children, to please my friends, to please everyone around me, I finally realized that I was not good enough.

You see, that's the problem of being a good girl. Being a good girl seems smart. It seems wise. More than anything else, it seems safe. But being a good girl comes with an unrelenting problem: the good girl can never be good enough.



My friend Emily Freeman has written a book about this very thing. You might have seen it. It's called Grace for the Good Girl. From her own personal experience and from working with hundreds of girls over the years, Emily has a deep understanding of what it's like to work under the heavy burden of trying to be good enough. Her book unpacks the myths of the try-hard life. She explores the various ways those myths can develop in our lives. She exposes them for the enslaving traps they really are. And she points to the only way to freedom: through Jesus Christ.

When I first discovered how deeply enslaved I was by my own good-girl myths, I desperately wanted to escape them. But even with the myths exposed, the journey from the good girl's slavery to true freedom in Christ can be long and arduous. Old habits die hard. Patterns developed early in life aren't easy to alter. But Emily's book is a good and reliable guide for the trip. Like a compass that always points North, Emily's book points steadfastly to the polestar of the Spirit. Rather than pretending that the trip will be easy, Emily offers hope that the journey is worth making and assurance that freedom is attainable.

How I wish I'd had this book a few years ago. But at least I have it now. And if I start to slip back into those old ways, I'll have a roadmap for the way out.

If you're like me, you need this book. I urge you to obtain a copy. In fact, I'm giving a copy away. Emily's publisher, Revell (a division of Baker Publishing Corporation), has kindly provided a copy for me to give away to a reader. Simply leave a comment to enter the giveaway.

God is using Emily's book to impart grace. If you don't win a copy of it, you can find it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble online, or at your favorite bookstore. You'll be so glad you read it.

Now, do you have any stories to tell of how God has imparted grace in your life? Will you share the story of a gift you've received from God's hand? It can be large or small--I'd love to hear about it! Click here to read all about this new linky party celebrating God's gifts to us. Help yourself to a button and help me spread the word.

Imparting Grace





Friday, September 16, 2011

Fall nesting

I'm a lover of Autumn. I was born in September, and Autumn has always been my favorite season. Even though the temperatures here in North Carolina are just now cooling off from an oppressively hot summer, I've been doing a bit of fall nesting.

Welcome to my home!


I was inspired by a beautiful wreath I saw in the Williams-Sonoma catalog. With two kids in college this fall, I couldn't purchase this gorgeous wreath, but inspiration is free!


Fall Leaf Wreath
image courtesy of Williams-Sonoma.com

Determined not to spend a penny, I used a straw wreath form and pulled together all my fallish-looking elements and my glue gun.

First I simply glued sheet moss all over the straw form. (Tip: Leave the straw form wrapped in plastic; otherwise, you'll have a mess.)


Actually, the plain moss-covered wreath is kind of pretty:


Using the Williams-Sonoma wreath as inspiration, I glued and poked until the moss form was covered in autumnal elements. Here's the wreath I created for myself:


For $0, I'm really happy with it!


Encouraged by the way my wreath turned out, I used the rest of my fallish-looking floral elements to create a centerpiece for the table on my screened porch.


This was also a zero-cost project. I filled a basket with plastic grocery bags, then covered the plastic with a layer of moss. I placed a pumpkin from my pumpkin collection in the center of the basket, then just added leaves, pine cones, magnolia seed pods, cattails, feathers--anything that looked fallish.


Still to come--feathering the inside of my nest for autumn. I'll pull out more pumpkins and acorns soon. I plan to wait until October to put out any Hallowe'en decorations. Then November will be dedicated to Thanksgiving decor. I want to enjoy Autumn as long as I can!

What about you? Are you doing any fall nesting?

**I'm joining:

Vanessa and Heather At the Picket Fence for Inspiration Friday

Visit thecsiproject.com

Thursday, September 15, 2011

English teacher: how to use lose and loose


Time for another little lesson from the English teacher!



Several people have asked me to address the use of the words lose and loose. These words are easy to mix up, and I frequently see them used incorrectly.



First, the definitions of the two words.

Lose is a verb meaning to misplace or to come to be without something.

Examples:
  • Did you lose your cell phone?
  • I think she's about to lose a tooth.
  • It's so sad to hear about a child's losing his mother.
Loose is almost always used as an adjective meaning free, not restrained, not fitting tightly.

Examples:
  • I have lots of loose change in my purse
  • You have a loose tooth!
  • Those pants are really loose on you.
If you're a real stickler, you might also like to know that the word loose can also be used as a verb meaning to free, to unfetter, or to unfasten. This is a fairly old-fashioned use of the word, but it's still correct.
  • He will loose the captives.
I think that most writing mistakes with these words come about because of the way the words are pronounced. Lose is one of those English words that breaks all kinds of pronunciation rules. Lose looks as if it should rhyme with nose or hose, doesn't it? It doesn't seem possible that the sound of "oo" could be present in a word that has one "o" and a silent "e." So writers often throw in another "o." That's understandable. But words that have "oo" plus an "se" are pronounced with a hard "s" sound, not a "z" sound, such as moose, goose, noose, and caboose--just like the word loose, NOT lose.

Perhaps the best way to remember to use the word lose is to connect it with two words that are almost never misspelled: loser and lost. I'll bet you've never read about the TV show The Biggest Looser, do you? Nope. Everyone seems to know that the word is loser. And no one ever writes of being hopelessly loost; lost is a word over which no one struggles. So if you find it difficult to remember that the verb you want is lose rather than loose, just remember that you don't want to be a loser. The right word is just the root of the word loser: lose. Or remember this: You'd be lost without the right word. Lose is the root of lost.

So here's a little quiz for you. Fill in the blanks with lose or loose:
  1. I need to _______ 10 pounds.
  2. These jeans are so tight, and they're supposed to be really _______ on me!
  3. Let go of me! Turn me _______.
  4. I'm afraid I'll _______ my way in the dark.
If you answered 1. lose; 2. loose; 3. loose; and 4. lose; you've got it!

Please let me know if you have any questions about English grammar or if there's a particular point you'd like for me to address in one of these little lessons. I want these to be a blessing to you. Leave me a comment if there's a particular point of grammar you'd like for me to address. Feel free to email me (RichellaP (at) gmail (dot) com) if you have a specific question. I'd be happy to help if I can!