Friday, April 29

Designing a room: putting it all together

One of the world's best bloggers, Melissa from 320 Sycamore, is hosting a party to showcase how different people go about decorating a room. I'll join the fun and show you how I decorated my guest room.

I started the process of furnishing this room the way I always start: by thinking about what I already had. When we moved into this house, I had two twin beds (just metal frames--no headboards), a nightstand, an old dresser, a wing chair, and a valet. I also had a couple of French posters--just cheap reproductions, actually, but fun and colorful.

Those posters served as the inspiration for the room's decor.

First I made my own upholstered headboards for the beds. Mine aren't fancy--they're actually just sheets of plywood I cut to shape with a jigsaw, padded with foam and covered in fabric. If you'd like a tutorial on how to make your own, click here.

As you can see, the twin beds are side by side at one end of this long room, with a poster hanging above each bed. The fleur de lis hanging above the lamps was a TJMaxx clearance find ($3.00). The oval mirror is one I bought back in 1996 at Bombay Company (I still miss that store!). I like the way it looks hanging just over the nightstand. I keep dried hydrangeas in a vase on the nightstand everyday, but when we have overnight guests I always put fresh flowers here. I love to see the flowers reflected in the mirror.

The window treatments are simple balloon valances I made from a lovely brown floral fabric.

I've had the matelasse coverlets on the bed for many years. I simply made throws from the same fabric as the headboards and pillows from the same fabric as the valances. I think it all ties together nicely.

Other accessories in the room include this wall of plates and paintings by Maurice Utrillo.

The paintings are prints from the early 20th century. I found a collection of prints in an antique store for $5.00. From that group I chose these four Paris street scenes. The prints are all slightly different sizes, so I had these professionally framed. Total framing cost was $88.00. The plates are Haviland china made in France; I found them at my local Goodwill store for 68 cents apiece. I simply glued a sawtooth hanger to the back of each plate to hang them on the wall.

The other end of this long, narrow room holds the wingback chair and dresser I already owned. The dresser belonged to my parents for 30 years. In 1991, they gave it to me; I painted it white to serve as a changing table for my babies. I spray-painted it black for use in this room.

Beside the wing chair is a stack of hatboxes I found at a local antique store:

The lamp on the dresser was a Target clearance find ($9.08). The prints above the lamp are reproductions of French travel posters. I bought them in France for just a few dollars--a very inexpensive souvenir. They just happened to fit perfectly in frames I had in my attic.

The blue shutters were a $3.00 find at my local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. They started out looking like this:

and ended up looking like this:

One of my favorite things about this guest room is the en suite bath. The black and white tiled floor seemed to cry out for some color, so I was thrilled to find a red toile for $7.99/yard at my local discount fabric store. You can read this post to see how I made this shower curtain with my extremely elementary sewing skills.

The bathroom accessories include a TJMaxx clock ($15.00) and four little reproduction advertisement prints I found at Target's One Spot years ago. They came in a package of 4, so each print was just 25 cents!

All together, I spent about $250 on this room, plus furnishings I'd owned for years. I think it turned out to be a functional, comfortable, and attractive room.

In case you missed it, you should check out Melissa's series of posts on her own process for putting together a room. It's wonderful!

Tuesday, April 26

The significance of insignificant things

As I sit down to write this, it's 1:45 P.M. on April 26, 2011. Exactly two weeks ago, I was talking with my husband's heart surgeon about how things had gone in the Operating Room. I thank you all for praying for Jack and for our family during a really difficult time.

For weeks now, my heart has been full of matters of life and death, hope and despair, assurance and doubt. All important matters, to be sure; all matters with which to be wrestled. I'm grateful for the chance to consider such weighty issues; I'm grateful for friends who will help me; I'm grateful for a God who's willing to meet me right in the middle of my struggles.

You know what I'm thinking about right now, though? I'm thinking that it's good to take a break from weighty issues. I'm thinking that it's good to ponder non-weighty issues as well as weighty ones.

So I'll show you a little project I've had going on the past couple of weeks. Thanks to my darling friend Melissa of 320 Sycamore, I grew some wheat grass!

Yep. It may sound silly, but one little touchstone of sanity for me in the past few weeks has been growing some decorative grass. I nurtured it to green fullness in an ugly old 9x13 pan. It probably looked crazy for me to have that on my kitchen island while my husband was in the hospital, but every time I came home, it was fun to see that my grass had grown.

I wish I could say I did something elegant with it, but really I didn't. I put some of it in a planter by my kitchen window:

And I put some of it in a basket with my mother's collection of Easter eggs.

I'm not going to win any awards for creativity or artistry, I know. But it sure has been good, in the midst of highly significant events, to concentrate on something as insignificant as growing grass. A bit of balance, you might say!

How about you? Is there something small that helps you find balance?

Friday, April 22

This week in history: the good news

Three years ago this week, my 14-year-old son had major open-heart surgery. Twenty-six months ago this week, my husband had major open-heart surgery. And last week, my husband had a second major open-heart surgery.

Three years, three surgeries, three artificial heart valves. Mercy.

There have been times over the past three years when I have felt as if it were all too much. And kind people would say to me, "God will never give you more than you can handle."

Although it's meant to be encouraging, there's just one problem with that statement. It's wrong.

Of course, the intentions of the folks who say those words are right and good. It's the statement itself that is wrong. It's actually a misquotation of a verse in the New Testament, I Corinthians 10:13, which says,

"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."

So there is a promise that you will not face more temptation than you can bear. But hardship, difficulty, adversity? No. There is no promise that you will not face more hardship than you can bear.

That would be very bad news if it not for one thing: You don't have to bear it. Jesus bears it for you.

One thing I've learned over these past three years is that I am pretty strong. I can handle quite a bit. But the biggest thing I've learned is that I'm not nearly strong enough to handle everything that happens. In fact, when I try to handle things by myself, things just get worse and worse. Then I'll remember the truth, and back to the feet of Jesus I'll go. What really amazes me is that He never runs out of patience with me.

This week is another anniversary, of course. Nearly two thousand years ago this week, the Son of God, who had come to earth to live as a man, offered himself as a sacrifice for us. The story is so familiar--Thursday's betrayal, Friday's crucifixion, Saturday's despair, Sunday's triumph. Every year we sing about it, we wear springy clothing and fill baskets in honor of it. It's a story worth telling and re-telling; the celebration is important.

But sometimes, in the messy details of life, we forget some of the truth behind the story. It can be so easy to feel as though we're having to deal with things all by ourselves. Even if we believe that the death of Jesus is enough to ensure that we can live with God in heaven for eternity, we sometimes forget that Jesus offers us salvation right now. "Eternal life" is not something that starts when we die; it begins now. Life with God is a present reality, not just a hope for the future.

He doesn't promise that we won't be given more than we can handle. He promises that we won't be given more than He can handle.

And that is good news indeed.

Wednesday, April 20

Running behind

Did you ever feel like, no matter how fast you move or how hard you try, you just keep falling behind? Like you want to get ahead, but you can't even quite catch up?

Me, too.

As a matter of fact, as I was working in my dining room today, guess what I spied?

Yes. Yes, those are magnolia leaves and Christmas plates. The ones I carefully placed there the week after Thanksgiving.

And now it's four days until Easter. Ahem.

In case you ever wondered, magnolia leaves do not remain supple and green for four and a half months.

Now that my husband is home from the hospital, I'm really eager to catch up--not just on things around the house, but also with all of you!

Monday, April 18

Wonderful grace, authentic peace

"We're home!"

I'm not sure it's ever felt so good to utter those words. Last Tuesday, April 12, my husband Jack had major heart surgery. Now he and I have moved out of Duke Hospital and back into our house. And boy, are we glad to be here!

Amazingly, I received a FedEx package just before my husband was admitted to the hospital. "What could this be?" I wondered. Then I remembered: way back in January--which seems so long ago now--I met some of the lovely folks from (in)courage. They asked if I'd like to participate in a special program to receive one of their products in exchange for writing about it on my blog. I don't think the timing could have been better for me to receive this beautiful tray:

Isn't it lovely? It's nice and big and sturdy as well as beautiful. I've already thought of several ways to use it. And can you read the words inscribed on it?

unfathomable love
simple joy
unending hope
wonderful grace
authentic peace

Yes, I'd say the timing was pretty good for me to receive this tray. What an excellent summary of what I've just been experiencing.

And what a lovely reminder of what we all experience every day--not just during times of crisis, not just during Holy Week, but every single day. All because of God's unfathomable love for us. I'm going to use this tray often--and every time I pick it up, I'll remember the truth of the inscription.

You probably already know that (in)courage is a division of DaySpring. DaySpring was already a favorite company of mine, long before I'd ever heard of (in)courage. Now it's much more than a favorite company. It's a source of real blessing in my life. If you've not already done so, I urge you to visit (in) and discover what blessings await you!

Friday, April 15

Filled with gratitude

I am writing this at Duke Hospital, where I am so grateful to be sitting with my precious husband. His heart surgery is now 72 hours in the past. The hard work of healing has begun.

It's been a really hard week. But Jack's a champion patient. He's willing to work hard in order to be back to normal life as soon as possible. If all goes well, he may get to go home within the next two to three days.

As I reflect upon the past few days, I am flooded with a huge range of emotions. There's no doubt that it's hard to have a loved one in need of surgery, and I won't pretend that this has been an easy road. Yet I am so grateful for the ways God has provided for us--more ways than I can count. Your prayers for us have been answered, and I am so thankful.

Tuesday, April 12

Answered prayer

My friends, I thank you so much for praying for Jack! His surgery is over and was successful. Dr. Hughes said that all went just as expected.

Join me in praising God for His goodness! And please join me in praying for a smooth recovery. I appreciate y'all so much!

Monday, April 11

Prayer request

Dear friends,

I am writing this just before 10:00 P.M. on Monday, April 11. I am at Duke University Hospital with my husband, Jack.

Many of you already know that Jack will undergo open-heart surgery tomorrow, April 12. His nurse just came to tell us that she'll wake us at 4:00 A.M. tomorrow and we should expect to go to pre-op around 4:30-5:00 A.M. The scheduled start time for Jack's surgery is 7:00 A.M. The surgery will probably take six to eight hours.

I want to share with you a verse of scripture that a number of different people have commended to me as we face this ordeal tomorrow:

Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).

I find it amazingly encouraging that so many people from so many different quarters have all pointed me to these words of comfort. As Jack goes into surgery, I will be clinging to these words and to the promise they represent.

I so appreciate your prayers for my Jack, for our boys, and for me. Thank you for helping us bear this burden.

Saturday, April 9

In the midst of the crazy

"I need to write a blog post."

I just said those words to my husband. Then I found myself feeling a little foolish for having said them.

Our dogwoods are in full bloom right now, reminding me that it's a normal April in some ways.

You may know that this coming week is going to be full of challenges for me. My husband will have open-heart surgery on Tuesday, April 12, just three days from now. He'll be admitted to the hospital on April 11, just two days from now. So the list of things I need to do right now is a mile long--things I need to do for my husband, for my children, for other people I love, for organizations I care about.

And then, of course, there are some things I need to do for myself. I feel a real sense of urgency to take care of myself right now, because I know that I need to be in good shape to take care of my husband this coming week.

In the midst of all that, I'm thinking that I NEED to write a blog post? What on earth? It's not like thousands of people are clamoring to read my words. I'm not on a schedule. I have no particular obligations to anyone. "Are you crazy?" I asked myself.

Then I realized that I do feel a need to write a blog post--not because I need to produce copy or garner lots of page views or keep things current. What I need to do is to stay connected with my blogging friends. Just as surely as I need connection with the friends and family I can touch and see, I need connection with the friends I've made through blogging.

People who don't read blogs don't understand this kind of connection, do they? They look at us as if they think we're naive or delusional. But these connections are real, even if they get expressed virtually.

I appreciate so much the connection I share with all of you. This is something I've always known. But as I face my husband's surgery, I'm reminded of it afresh.

So what's going on with you? Please let me know! You know I need your prayers right now; perhaps you need mine, too.

I'm so grateful for you!

Tuesday, April 5

Dinner for Real: Heather's Pasta Carbonara

Hello! If you're here visiting from Beneath My Heart, welcome! I'm so glad to have you here at Imparting Grace. If you're a regular here at Imparting Grace, I'd love for you to visit me at Beneath My Heart and see my new kitchen window treatment.

Tuesdays around here are devoted to gaining ideas for real-life dinners over which I do not have to slave and which my family will actually eat. I'm amazed at how my family wants to eat dinner every night. Every night! They're always hungry, it seems. That fact prompted me to start my Dinner for Real series, and I hope you'll get some good ideas of real-life, kid-approved recipes that are both practical and tasty.

Today we have a special treat--a guest post from my blogging buddy Heathahlee. You may know her from her beautiful blog, Butterfly Genes, or from the Etsy Shop where she sells her gorgeous handmade tassels. If you don't already know her, this is your lucky day! Read on to meet Heathahlee and learn how she makes one of her family's favorite recipes.

Straight from Heathahlee:

One of our favorite meals is called Pasta Carbonara. It's really not a Carbonara, I guess, since it doesn't have eggs in it (I've seen other "Carbonara" dishes and they've all had eggs in them). But, it is one fine and tasty recipe my friend Jennifer gave me several years ago. She also called it Sausage Spaghetti, but I think that makes it sound too much like normal spaghetti.

Okay, here's the recipe:

Take one pound bulk breakfast sausage and brown with 5 to 7 pieces of bacon that you've diced. You can also use bulk Italian Sausage, too, and if you do, you can leave out the next step. See the stuff on the wooden spoon? When I use regular sausage, I put in about a scant teaspoon each of oregano and basil. Makes it more Italian-y. As that mixture is browning, add one minced clove of garlic and stir it in really well.

Whilst that is browning, boil some Angel Hair pasta.

We use whole wheat pasta, 'cause that's how we roll. Or maybe it's so we won't roll so much. I don't even know what that means. Anyway, it's really good and good for you, too. I usually use about 12 ounces, but I don't have a set amount, just use as much as you want to. How's that for precise measuring?

When you put your water on to boil, throw some salt in the water so that you have already salted your pasta and you won't have to salt the finished product. I think you consume less sodium that way, but how should I know? Man, I'm really sarcastic today, aren't I? Anyway, I think I use probably a tablespoon in my water. I know that sounds like a lot, but remember, this the water we're salting, not the pasta itself.

Back to the task at hand. While your meat is browning and your pasta is boiling, go ahead and grate some Parmesan cheese. DO NOT USE POWDER. Come on, people, get the real stuff! It tastes SO much better than the round box stuff.

This is me grating cheese in my beloved Pampered Chef cheese grater. Only, the handle is broken so I'm having to hold it funny. And hold it I will until I can afford another Pampered Chef cheese grater. It's that good. Okay...grate about a cup.

Then open up one of these.

After your pasta is cooked, your meat is no longer pink, your cheese is grated and your can is opened (Wait...what?), you're ready to assemble. Drain your pasta and dump the drained pasta into your meat mixture, followed by your cheese...

...and evaporated milk. Now just let it simmer, stirring it all really well to get it all mixed in. Simmer and stir until the liquid is reduced and the mixture is almost creamy...about 5 minutes or so. Don't over cook it or it will not be creamy, it will be sort of sticky. Still delicious, but not as nice a presentation.

And here you go. Finished product. I don't think I can convey how good this stuff is. My Kiddo regularly asks for it, and that's saying something. I mean, he's not a picky eater, but he'd rather request McDonald's than something I make. So I know something's a hit when he asks for it.

Here's the recipe fo' realz.

Pasta Carbonara

1 lb. bulk sausage, either breakfast or Italian

1 tsp each basil, oregano (if using regular breakfast sausage...if using Italian, omit)

5 to 7 pieces bacon, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk

Angel hair pasta (amount depends on you)

salt for pasta (amount depends on how much you want)

In a skillet brown sausage with bacon, spices, and garlic until sausage and bacon are no longer pink. If there is a lot of grease after you're done browning, drain some off. Leave enough to just barely coat the bottom of the skillet. While the meat is browning, boil pasta, adding salt before boiling. Drain boiled pasta. Combine meat mixture, pasta, cheese, and evaporated milk and mix well. Simmer until liquid is reduced and mixture is creamy, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring well.

That's it! It's super, super easy, fast, and delicious to boot.


Thank you so much, Heathahlee! Now to all you other wonderful cooks: if you have a recipe you'd like to share in the Dinner for Real series, please let me know!

Sunday, April 3

Hope matters

Spring is the season of hope. After a long, dark winter, trees leaf again. Flowers bloom again. All creation seems to work together to remind us the hope of renewal.

For Christians, spring is a special time of remembering the death of Christ and celebrating the fact that Christ triumphed over death. Easter is the culmination of a whole season of remembrance and reflection, a celebration of the fact that hope is not vain.

So this morning I was thrilled to sing an old hymn about hope, written by Edward Mote in the early 19th century. Maybe you know it:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus's blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus's name.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand--
All other ground is sinking sand.

But it was the third verse of this hymn that really caught my attention this morning.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way
He then is all my hope and stay.

Have you every felt like you were in the midst of a "whelming flood"? I surely have. As a matter of fact, I'm there right now.

Some of you know that my family has faced some significant health issues over the past few years. My middle son had major heart surgery in April 2008. My husband had heart surgery in February 2009. Today I want to share with you the news that my husband now faces a second open-heart surgery. Next Tuesday, April 12, Jack will undergo surgery to replace his ascending aorta with a graft and to replace his aortic valve with a mechanical valve.

To say that I am grateful for the advances in medicine that make this surgery possible would be a huge understatement. Jack's surgery will be done by the chief of aortic surgery at Duke, and I am thankful beyond measure for it. Jack himself has been brave and strong; he's the strongest man I know. He's been tending to so many things as he prepares for this surgery--working hard, taking care of business. I am grateful for him.

But oh, my friends. I've been struggling in the "whelming flood" of anxiety and fear. This past week I had a couple of days of feeling like I was drowning. Thankfully, a few of my dear friends encircled me and prayed for me. They took my anxiety, my fears--all my raw, messy emotions. They lifted them off my shoulders and took them to Jesus.

And you know what? Jesus was willing to take them. Honestly, I was a mess. I'm still a bit of a mess. But I am grateful to be reminded that Jesus is right here with me.

Hope matters.

This I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul," therefore I will hope in him."
Lamentations 3:21-24, English Standard Version

If you'll join me in praying for Jack and for our whole family in this difficult but hopeful time, I'll be most grateful.