Wednesday, November 30

The end of November

I find it hard to believe that today is the last day of November 2011. 11/11 is over? Really?

My husband just turned to me and said, "Is Christmas three weeks from Sunday?" I nearly choked on my drink.

But here we are. 2011 is winding down. Tomorrow will be December, which in some ways doesn't even seem like part of the calendar year--December is a world unto its own, don't you think?

The last couple of weeks of November didn't turn out as we expected. Many of you prayed for my son, Preston, as he faced emergency surgery on November 20. Preston was discharged from the hospital on November 26, and he is recovering at home. If this semester had gone as he'd planned, he'd be attending his final week of class at UNC-Chapel Hill and getting ready to take his first batch of college finals. Instead, he's sitting at home, trying to eat a regular diet again, weaning himself off prescription pain medication.

To paraphrase Robert Burns: The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.

But as I consider the events of the past couple of weeks, one thing stands out very clear to me, and this I want to share with you.

Preston came home on Saturday, 11/25, just to borrow his brother's camera. He was planning to go right back to campus. Back to campus--where he would have been by himself in a dorm room, for his roommate had already left for Thanksgiving. While he was here, his stomach started hurting. He was so uncomfortable that I suggested he spend the night at home. The next day, the pain was no better, so I took him to Urgent Care. His blood pressure was so low that was transferred to Duke Hospital via ambulance, and he had emergency surgery to repair a stomach perforation a few hours later.

When I think what could have happened if he had followed his plan to go right back to campus--well, I can't think about it. Instead, I think about this:

God is good all the time. And all the time, God is good.

Preston was at home when he got sick. In other words, he was just where he needed to be. God provided everything he needed.

Preston wasn't following his plans, and spending Thanksgiving week in the hospital wasn't following my plans. But this detour from the plans meant life and health for Preston.

Have you ever had to take a detour from your plans? In retrospect, can you see that God was providing for you every step of the way?

God is good all the time. And all the time, God is good.

Won't you join me in thanking God for His protection?

Thursday, November 24

No-sew bolster pillow tutorial

I recently revealed my guest room updates, with most of the changes coming from new accessories sewn by me.

One of my favorite features of the room is one of the smallest: the new bolster pillows made from the bold checked accent fabric. I love these babies!

There's a secret behind these bolsters: they're completely NO-sew creations. Here's how I made them.

First I cut the fabric to go around my bolster pillow form. Actually, I had an old pillow to recover. I cut a rectangle of fabric 25 inches wide x 29 inches long to go around my form, which measured 15 inches long and 7 inches in diameter. No precise measurements here--just be sure to have a big enough piece of fabric to completely cover the form. Turn under one of the long sides of the fabric and press well. This will end up being your "seam" line on the bottom of the roll, so you want it to be nice and neat.

Then I wrapped the fabric around the pillow form so that the wrong side of the fabric was facing out. As you can see, I used backed silk for this pillow, which worked well. I think you could use any medium- to heavy-weight fabric. With the fabric wrapped around the pillow form, secure the two ends as if you were wrapping a piece of candy. I used rubber bands for this. You could use string just as well. Here's what you'll have; I think it looks kind of like a giant Tootsie Roll.

Take the pillow form out of the wrapper. Here's what the ends will look like:

Now, turn the cover right-side out. The bunched up ends will disappear inside the cover.

Once the cover is right side out, stuff the pillow form back in. Pull the fabric good and taut around the pillow, then use the method of your choice to close the seam. I used my glue gun. You could also use fabric glue or Stitch Witchery. Or if you're good at hand sewing, you could sew the opening closed. My glue gun worked fine. As you can see, I pinned as I went along so that the fabric would stay in place while the glue dried. Tip: Be sure the remove the pins before the glue dries completely--you don't want a straight pin stuck in your pillow!

You can leave the pillow like this or add a finishing touch of some kind to the ends. I wanted covered buttons for the ends of mine. You can find covered button kits at any fabric store. The directions are super-easy to follow. You can then sew the buttons onto the ends of the pillow or do what I did and hot-glue them into place.

Voila! A beautiful bolster pillow for just a few minutes' effort!

That's it! Super-easy, and so pretty in front of the large square pillow!

I'm joining these great parties:

Wednesday, November 23

Giving thanks

We had planned to have the Thanksgiving of our choice, the celebration of our desires, looking something like this:

The turkey would be cooked beautifully by Preston, Alton Brown's greatest fan:

And who better to head up the celebration? Preston has had a lot to be thankful for this year--graduating from high school, getting in to the college of his choice, being initiated by the fraternity he hoped to join, making lots of new friends at UNC.

Our Thanksgiving plans were interrupted, though; Preston exchanged his graduation cap and gown for a hospital gown.

And our Thanksgiving didn't turn out as we expected. Instead of turkey and dressing at home, we'll be lucky to have Jell-O at the hospital.

But our list of things for which to be thankful is not shorter--no, it has grown longer. Along with thanking God for all the other blessings he has heaped upon us this year, we can add the events of this week--events which have been scary and worrisome, but over which God has presided. God has provided in a new way, just as he said he would.

This I recall to mind,
therefore I have hope.
Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
"The Lord is my portion," says my soul,
"Therefore I hope in Him!"

Lamentations 3:21-24

On this Thanksgiving Day, we are reminded that God is good; that His steadfast love endures forever. As Preston heals from his surgery, we are grateful beyond telling for God's love and care for us. So with all of you, we sing:

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who, from our mothers' arms, hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest heaven;
The one eternal God, Whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

--Martin Rinckhart
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21

Prayer request

Hello friends.

Many of you know that my family has experienced a number of health problems over the past few years, including three open-heart surgeries. The photo below shows me with my husband (who has had two heart surgeries) and my 18-year-old son Preston (who had open-heart surgery in 2008).

Last night, Preston had to have emergency abdominal surgery. He was in a great deal of pain, so we ended up in the Emergency Department of Duke Hospital. A CT scan revealed air in his abdominal cavity. He had surgery to locate and repair a tear in his stomach.

Preston's care is complicated by the fact that he has an artificial heart valve. He is doing okay this morning, although he is very uncomfortable. Surgeons have told us to expect him to remain in the hospital 5-7 days.

Would you please pray for Preston? I would really appreciate it.

Thank God for his care.

Thursday, November 17

New guest room!

One of the greatest joys of the holidays is hosting friends and family from out of town. I am grateful to have an en suite guest bedroom and bath. I've made some changes to my guest room that I'm excited to show you.

Here it is:

Here's how it looked before:

I still loved my upholstered headboards, matelasse coverlets, and accessories, but I wanted more color in the room. Specifically, I wanted more blue. I needed to use the same wingback chair, so I kept looking for fabrics that would bring in more blue but still include greens, reds, and golds. I'd almost given up, when one day I found these at Not Just Linens in Durham, my favorite fabric store:


I made new curtains, bedskirts, Euro shams, and bolster pillows. I'm so pleased with how they all turned out! Plus I realized that a rug I already owned looked great with these new colors, so I moved it into this room.

This long, narrow room is tricky to photograph, so I'll just try to show you all around.

I love having twin beds in a guest room. This makes the room versatile--it's good for a couple or for two singles to share. We've had as many as four college guys sleep in this room--one in each bed, one on a cot, and one on the floor.

Close-up of the pillows I made. I'm not a very good seamstress, so this took me awhile! Click here for a tutorial for the NO-SEW bolster pillow.

Moving to the sitting area. The rug helps to break up the long room, I think.

The end of the room opposite the beds includes the doorway to the guest bath. I love the way my new fabrics coordinate with the shower curtain I made several years ago.

Here's a photo of the shower curtain. I still love this fabric.

One more wide shot:

Now I'm ready for company! Who wants to come visit?

**I'm joining these parties:

Tuesday, November 15

What to do with leftover turkey

If you roast a turkey, you're probably going to have leftovers. It's just a fact. We're not very good with leftovers at my house: Jack says I package and refrigerate leftovers just so I can throw them out weeks later after they've turned into science experiments.

But turkey?? That's a different story!

First of all, you can use leftover meat that's been carved to make the best sandwiches. If you've made homemade cranberry sauce (and you should--just follow the directions on the package of cranberries!), use the cranberry sauce as a condiment on your sandwiches. Divine.

Or you can make Kentucky Hot Browns--the wonderful dish originated and made famous at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Here's the recipe if you've never tried this dish--it's delicious!

As for that big old turkey carcass, you can use it to make a couple of delicious dishes. First, put the whole turkey carcass in a soup pot, cover with water, and boil the water. After the water is boiling merrily, turn down the heat to a low boil. Cook on low for a long time--four to eight hours. You'll create lots of delicious turkey stock.

Remove the turkey from the water. Pour the stock through a strainer. When the turkey has cooled, pick all the meat off the bones. You'll be surprised at how much meat is there! Now you can use the meat and stock to make wonderful turkey soup or turkey pot pie.

For soup, I put the turkey meat back into the stock and simmer. I add spices to taste (usually just salt and pepper). I add some flour to thicken the stock a bit. I also add carrots and celery; you can add whatever vegetables you like. Toward the end of the cooking time, I add egg noodles or rice.

To make turkey pot pie, I follow the same procedure as for making soup, but I add more flour to make a thicker gravy. Then I pour the gravy into a baking dish, cover with biscuits, and bake in a 400 degree oven until the biscuits are nice and brown.

My boys love this dish; it's a special treat!

What do you do with turkey leftovers?

Monday, November 14

How to roast a turkey

The other day I was telling a girlfriend about the three meals I'd cooked from an inexpensive turkey I bought (yippee for November turkey prices!). She was surprised that I fixed a turkey on a weekday; I was surprised that she'd never fixed a turkey. I can see how that might happen, though--lots of people travel to their parents' homes for holiday dinners, so they've never had occasion to cook a turkey themselves.

Easy instructions for how to roast a turkey

In talking with several people, I've learned that turkeys intimidate many cooks. We want to serve a turkey dinner that looks like this:
But we're afraid that we'll end up with a turkey dinner that looks like this one from Christmas Vacation:

Turkey is a tasty, economical meat, but it mystifies many cooks, so I thought I'd do a little Turkey 101 here. 

First, you must buy a turkey. A good rule of thumb is to purchase a bird that is 1 1/2 pounds per person (this will provide plenty of leftovers). So if you need to feed 8 people, you'll want a 12-pound bird. If you're just feeding your immediate family, you'll probably just have to buy the smallest whole turkey you can find. Any kind is fine—I've used fresh birds, frozen birds, even go-to-the-turkey-farm-and-choose-a-bird-from-the-flock birds. It's all good. If you select a frozen bird, thaw according to package directions (be sure to keep the bird cold while it's thawing, either by thawing it in the refrigerator over the course of several days or by thawing it in cool water). Remove the neck and the giblets from the bird.

The next step is simple, but it's absolutely crucial to producing the most flavorful, moist turkey: brine the turkey. You don't need a special brining mix or anything fancy. I simply run a quart of hot water in a clean cooler and mix in 1 cup or more of kosher salt and 1/2 cup of brown sugar. If I have orange juice in the fridge, I pour in some of that. You can add other spices if you like. The most important thing is the salt.

Mix everything together well to dissolve the salt and sugar, then add cold water (2-3 quarts should do it) and ice cubes. Now plop your turkey in. Add more ice water if needed to completely submerge turkey and close up the cooler.  For best results, you want it to soak at least 6-8 hours, but it's fine to soak it for a little longer: just keep adding ice if necessary to keep the turkey good and cold. I usually mix up the brining solution the night before I cook a turkey and let the bird soak overnight. (If you don't have a cooler that will hold your turkey, use a bucket or large pot and keep it in the refrigerator.)
Doesn't look too pretty while it's brining, does it?
When you're ready to cook your bird, remove all but one rack in your oven. Move that rack to the lowest position. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, you read that right: you want to start cooking the bird at very high heat.

If you have a turkey roasting pan, now's the time to use it. Or you can use a large baking pan with a wire rack placed in it. Or you can use disposable roasting pans (you might want to use two stacked together, since the turkey is heavy). Believe me, you don't need to spend money on a special pan for cooking your turkey. If you like, spray the pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray.

Remove the turkey from the brine and drain all the briny solution from the bird.  Rinse with clean water  and pat dry with paper towels. (Be sure all the salty water runs out of the cavity of your turkey.) Rub the turkey liberally with oil (I prefer canola). Be sure to coat it all over. I do not recommend stuffing the turkey with anything. Place turkey, breast side up, in the roasting pan. Now, before you put the turkey in the oven, tear off a large sheet of aluminum foil. Fold it over so that you have a triple-thick sheet large enough to cover the top of the entire turkey breast. Place the foil on the turkey breast and use your hand to conform the foil to the shape of the turkey, creating a little foil tent, like this:

Now REMOVE the foil and set it aside; you'll use it a little later.  See how it holds its shape?
Put the turkey in your 500 degree oven and let it roast, completely uncovered, for 30 minutes.

While this part of the roasting is happening, dump out your brining solution and clean your cooler thoroughly. I use bleach to do this.

After 30 minutes, remove the turkey from the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.  Here's how your turkey will look after just 30 minutes at 500 degrees:

Take your foil tent and carefully put it on the turkey breast. You've already formed it to just the right shape, so you should be able to simply lay it in place. Be careful not to burn yourself on the hot roasting pan. Now stick a meat thermometer right through the foil tent into the thickest part of the turkey breast and put the bird into the 350-degree oven.

Roast the turkey at 350 degrees until the thermometer registers 162 degrees. Depending on the size of your bird, this process will probably take about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. But you can't rely on your timer for this part. You do need one special piece of equipment: a meat thermometer (this is the one I have).* The meat thermometer is the only way to insure that your turkey is done enough without being overdone. (Note: The USDA recommends that you cook turkeys to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. I suggest you remove the turkey from the oven when your thermometer reaches 162 degrees. The internal temperature will continue to rise due to residual heat. If you allow the turkey to reach 165 degrees while it's still in the oven, it will probably reach 170 degrees after you remove it--and at that point, your turkey will be a bit overdone.)

I can't stress this enough: If you don't already have a meat thermometer, you'll want to buy one. There's no need to spend a fortune—some are really expensive, but I think that's unnecessary. 

Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Cover the turkey loosely with foil and allow to rest 15 minutes before carving. I allow mine to sit for 10 minutes, then I lift the turkey out of the roasting pan onto a cutting board or platter. Then I pour the pan drippings through a sieve into a sauce pan. I heat the drippings on the stove top to boiling. While the drippings are heating, I mix a couple of tablespoons of flour with a bit of water in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. When the drippings are bubbling merrily, I use a wire whisk to stir my flour-water mixture into the drippings. Ummmm. . . mouth-watering turkey gravy. A word of caution: if you brined your turkey, your pan drippings will be salty. Be sure to taste the gravy before adding any seasoning. If the gravy is too salty, add more water and cook to reduce. 

Click here for ideas for turkey leftovers!

*This post contains affiliate links.
If you make a purchase after clicking on these links, 
I will earn a small commission. 
Your price will not be affected in any way.*

Friday, November 11


It's Veterans' Day. A very special Veterans' Day, in fact: 11/11/11. Dates like these don't come around very often.

Veteran and Purple Heart recipient holding his newest grandchild

I was named for my favorite veteran in the world: my Uncle Richard, my mother's younger brother. (My mother's brother was Richard; her mother was Luella. If you take the first half of Richard and the last half of Luella, you get Richella.) My uncle was nearly killed in Viet Nam when I was a girl. I have vivid memories of the months after he came home. Thank God, he healed enough to work. He met the lady who would become my beautiful aunt at work; their wedding in 1972 is one of my best memories from childhood. Uncle Richard is now retired, the proud father of two wonderful kids and three beautiful grandchildren.

My Uncle Richard is my favorite veteran, but I'm thankful for ALL veterans. It's impossible for me to imagine what our world would be like if not for the faithful, generous service of men and women in uniform.

Who's your favorite vet?

**Special question: who knows why Veterans' Day is celebrated on November 11?**

Wednesday, November 9

Open House!

You know how we in the blogosphere love parties, right? And one of the nicest parties around is the weekly Open House hosted by the lovely Sherry of No Minimalist Here. Every week, Sherry gives us a tour of someone's house and then invites us to share a post about what's going on in our own homes.

No Minimalist Here

I'm shaking a little bit right now, because Sherry is featuring my home this week! I'm so excited!

If you haven't before visited Sherry's blog, you should run over there right now and say hello. You'll love it. For instance, here's a little peek into her family room. I know this will make you want to see more. Isn't it beautiful?

If you're visiting here from Sherry's blog, WELCOME! I'm so glad to have you! I just baked a batch of pumpkin bread, so I'm all ready for visitors. Please make yourselves at home!

Tuesday, November 8

"Give thanks" pillow tutorial

The days in November are short and sweet, and I love to decorate our house for Thanksgiving. I decided to try my hand at making a Thanksgiving pillow using supplies I had on hand. Here's what I came up with:

Here's how it's made:


drop cloth
ruler, yardstick, or other straightedge
black Sharpie marker
sewing machine, Stitch Witchery fusible tape, or fabric glue

  • Wash your drop cloth in the washing machine and dry it in the dryer. I added some bleach to the wash. After being washed, the drop cloth fabric is much softer. Iron the drop cloth fabric you want to use for your pillow so you'll have a smooth surface to work with.
  • Choose a pillow size (I measured a pillow insert I had on hand). Cut two squares of fabric two inches bigger than your pillow size. I wanted an 18" x 18" finished pillow, so I needed two 20" x 20" squares of fabric.
  • Decide on placement of your words. This pillow has the wording on the bottom half of the front, so I started at the bottom and worked up. To make a pillow like mine, measure up three inches from the bottom of your fabric and three inches over from the right hand side. One inch on the bottom and one inch on the side will make up your seam allowance, so you're really measuring two inches in from the sides of the pillow. Using a straightedge, draw a line with a pencil. Then draw another guideline for the tops of your letters. Just like in elementary school, you'll make your letters between the top and bottom lines. My guidelines for "give thanks" are 1 3/4 inches apart.
  • Using the Sharpie, write your letters. You can pencil them in first if you like, but I just took the Sharpie and went for it. Just write the letters to begin with, then go back and make them as full and fat as you like. I wanted the word "thanks" to end in the bottom right corner of the pillow, so I started with the letter s and worked backward, writing s-k-n-a-h-t. Note that the t, the h, and the k all extend above the pencil lines.

  • Once you have your "thanks" looking pretty good, measure up a bit and draw guidelines for the word "give." I left 3/4" of blank space between the bottom guideline for "give" and the top of the tall letters in "thanks." Again, I worked backward, writing e-v-i-g, then going back and filling in the letters to make them big and bold.

  • Measure up again from the top of "give" and draw smaller guidelines in pencil for "in everything." For these words, I drew 3/4" tall guidelines. This time, I wanted the "in" to land in a certain spot, so I started there and worked forward. I simply wrote these letters in a print designed to look like an old-fashioned typewriter print; I didn't fill them in to be any fatter.
Note: I simply free-handed all these letters, loosely basing the writing on Chancery script and Courier type. I'm sure you could simply create a Word document mixing different fonts and sizes and come up with a pattern that suits you.

See the pencil lines?
  • Once you have all your letters printed, step back and take a look at the total composition. You might even want to snap a photo and look at it. You'll probably see a few places that need a little more filling in; that's easy to do with your Sharpie. Once you like the overall look, simply erase your pencil lines.
  • Turn your pillow squares right sides together and pin in place. Stitch up the sides with a 1" seam allowance (or use Stitch Witchery or fabric glue). Why a 1" seam allowance? This is what I allow because I'm not a good seamstress. I have the one-inch line marked on my sewing machine with a line of tape. I simply place my fabric on the sewing machine and and keep the edge of the fabric along the edge of the tape. This way I end up with straight seams. I could never sew a straight seam without the tape to guide me. For best results, press open your seams as you go and trim the corners so that they'll be neat. Leave an opening in the bottom of your pillow cover for stuffing the pillow.
  • When you're finished sewing, turn your pillowcase right side out and press. Then stuff your pillow, sew the opening closed (or use glue to close the opening, like I do).
  • For a fuller tutorial on sewing a pillow cover, click here.
The finished product:

I'm using the pillow on my screened-in porch, where all is now ready for Thanksgiving!

Edited to add:  Later I lettered a Christmas message on the back of the pillow, so it does double duty!

I'm happy as a clam to have created a fun new accessory for $0 and just a little time! What do you think?

Linking to these wonderful parties: