Jan 30, 2012

When life gets tough, the tough get crafty...

I haven't felt a creative bone in my body for months now, but I thought I could use some craft therapy.  To be honest, I didn't think of it myself, but took the challenge of an acquaintance after I posted on a local Facebook swap group that I belong to that I was in search of a Valentine's Day wreath.  She showed me the one she made and so I set out to try to copy it.

I discovered it is a little late to be shopping the craft stores for Valentine's Day supplies so I didn't get as large a styrofoam heart as I wanted.  The one I got is about 13 inches across.  I would have preferred something up to twice that size.  Then I bought a large bag of red glass stones, the kind you see in vases or in fish tanks, a roll of red tulle, (my friend used red cellophane) and a roll of ribbon.  I already have a hot glue gun and glue sticks.

So first I covered the styrofoam heart with the tulle, tucking in the end on the back with a little dab of hot glue.  Then I simply covered the entire heart, front and back, with the stones.  You wouldn't have to put them on the back, but I'm just weird that way...

In all seriousness, this project took less than an hour to complete.  The glass beads made the wreath very heavy, so I was hesitant to put it on the outside of my front door.  We are having a lot of strong winds and some snow lately.  So I decided to find a place indoors to hang it.  This is a funky old desk in our living room, where I am also displaying some vintage valentines I got from the flea market a while ago...

To complete my Valentine's Day decor, I added a store bought banner...

And now will someone please pass the chocolates?

What are YOU doing to decorate for February???

Jan 21, 2012

Still opening Christmas presents...

Thought I'd lighten things up this wintry Saturday morning and share a recipe.  My sister Marcella gave me several of these wonderful "gift in a jar" goodies for Christmas and I had the chance to make the first one last night.  Here are the ingredients and instructions for filling the jar: 

Sand Art Brownies

5/8 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 tsp. salt, 1/3 cup cocoa powder, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 2/3 cup packed brown sugar, 2/3 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, 1/2 cup white baking chips, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts.  

Mix 5/8 c. flour with salt.  Layer the ingredients in the order given into a wide mouth 1 quart jar, starting with the flour and sale mixture and ending with the walnuts.  NOTE: While the type of jar my sister used is really cute, the brown sugar hardened and was difficult to get out.  Microwaving hardened brown sugar softens it, but because of the metal clamps I wasn't able to do that.  So you might want to just use a regular wide-mouthed canning jar.

When ready to use the mix, follow these directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 350℉.  Grease one 8 or 9 inch square baking pan. (I think this disposable aluminum pan was more like 7 " square, so it made the brownies a bit thicker and required a little longer baking time.)

2.  Pour the contents of the jar into a large bowl, and mix well.

3.  Stir in 1 tsp. vanilla, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 tbsp. water, and 2 eggs.  Beat until just combined. (I used a wooden spoon, not a mixer.)

4.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 mins.  (I baked mine for about 40 mins.)

Oh my! these brownies are SO GOOD!  And it was easy and fun to make them!

Last week I had breakfast with my friend Leslie, who gave me the gift of this awesome tiered plate which matches my collection of Pfaltzgraff  (Yorktowne) dishes.  Even though it was just hubby and me enjoying movie night at home, I set our treats out on the dish.  Fortunately we didn't eat them all and I think I'll enjoy another brownie with my coffee this morning!

Jan 17, 2012

A new year brings new perspective...

One of the positive things about getting older is the ability to look back over our lives and see areas where we have grown and changed for the better. Often our physical eyesight weakens with age but our spiritual vision can become sharper than ever if we allow it. We understand things differently because we have lived longer and we have more information and experience.  Time has a way of softening and healing.  Perspective changes. Confidence grows.  Living each day becomes more intentional. I like to think that's what is happening with me.

Every now and then something really major happens that drives home the point even more profoundly.  When my brother got his cancer diagnosis a little over two months ago, the earth stood still for me.  Suddenly our joblessness seemed like a minor scratch on the record of life by comparison. All our focus shifted and priorities rearranged themselves.  I've never experienced a major earthquake, but I've seen before and after pictures.  One minute everything is neatly in place and things look normal.  Then the shaking and rattling begins.  A few seconds or minutes later, a building or a highway or a room is totally unrecognizable.  For the people affected, life is never the same.

Life will never be the same for me anymore either.  My brother's cancer is incurable.  Many of the drugs are new and experimental and risky. We know the worst is yet to come as he faces stronger chemo treatments and a bone marrow transplant using his own stem cells.  The unknown looms large even as we hope and pray that the treatment plan will cause this cancer go into remission for a long time. 

Moments and days have become more precious.  Finding the sacred in everyday living has become the new normal~~valuing relationships more than ever the new quest. Discovering all over again that things can make life beautiful and interesting, but people give life meaning.

Shortly after the holidays my brother came to stay with us for almost a week while his wife needed to make a trip with her high school students.  They only live 4 miles away, but he couldn't manage being alone for that long because of some mobility issues due to pain. He teased me that I hadn't babysat him in over 50 years! I can't begin to explain what a gift this special time together was for all of us. We laughed, we cried. We talked, we prayed. Then we talked and prayed some more.  We ate together, watched DVD's, received visitors, went to church.  With transportation help, he was able to work half days.  How often do adult siblings get an opportunity to share this kind of quality time? As I like to say, we got to talk in "complete sentences" ~ something that often is a challenge when our large family gets together with all the children.

One of the things my brother is teaching me is to look for what he calls "God moments". He's seeing them everywhere, and I am too. Hardly a day goes by that we don't hear of someone, directly or indirectly whose life has been impacted in a positive way because of my brother's situation.  Strained relationships have been healed.  Practical needs have been met.  Situations have fallen into place in amazing ways. People are blessing and being blessed.  The stories are his to tell.  But allowing God to use this cancer for His glory is my brother's heart's desire.  Here is a link to the blog he is writing.  

Memorial Day '10
Don ran in our town's 5K race.  He actually has 11 marathons to his credit.

Relaxing on vacation last June.  For the first time ever, all the siblings, spouses, and our mom went to the beach together.

Don has always taken good physical care of himself.  Here he is making all of us a juice drink.

Shortly before the diagnosis came, Don and Marcie went to see their oldest son graduate from the Navy's officer candidate school. We could never have guessed the pain he was having was due to a cancerous tumor crushing his L5 vertebrae.

 "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you..." Ephesians 1:18a

Jan 5, 2012

Move over Olive Garden...


Yes I know...Not exactly a low fat way to start the new year!  But for me when life gets tough, I play in the kitchen!  Some friends took us to Olive Garden recently for our Christmas gift, and one of them had a very yummy looking dish. Of course I didn't taste it, but I tried to "study" it as much as I could.  This is what I came up with...and how I did it...

I took two chicken breasts that I had previously grilled on my George Foreman and had frozen.  I cut them in thin slices and set aside.  

Into a sauce pan I put 2 cups of heavy cream, 2 T. grated Asiago Cheese, 2 T. grated LeGruyee Cheese, and 2 T. grated Parmesan Cheese, 1 T. flour, 1 tsp. garlic salt.  I stirred this while cooking on low heat until the cheeses melted and the flour made the mixture a little bit thick.

Still keeping the heat low, I then added 2-3 ozs. of fresh baby spinach...

and the grilled chicken...and I turned the heat off...

In another pan I had boiled lasagne noodles, about 1/2 a box...

After draining the noodles, I put them into a casserole dish...and poured the sauce mixture on and carefully stirred it up so all the noodles were covered...

As if there wasn't already enough cheese in this dish, I topped the whole thing with grated Mozzerella...

and baked it at 350℉ for about 30 minutes until the Mozzerella melted...

and I garnished it with some more spinach leaves.  If we had any good tomatoes I would have chopped some and added that as a garnish as well to make it look prettier.  And if I had any fresh mushrooms in the house, I probably would have added some to the sauce.

This only took a few minutes to prepare for the oven.  I hope you'll try it.  Tell me if you do!

Jan 3, 2012

Sacred moments...

It's only 6:15 in the morning and I've been up for almost two hours now.  In the quiet and solitude I have been taking down Christmas.  This is the task I always dread...not because of the work involved, but because it is such an emotional time for me.  Of course I will need and welcome my hubby's help to carry the boxes to the basement, drag the tree down the steps, and remove the wreaths from the windows.  But taking the hundreds of ornaments off the tree (yes, hundreds) is something I almost always do by myself.  

I love the Christmas season.  All of it.  I love what we celebrate, the greatest moment in all of history when God came to dwell among us.  I love the story that will never grow old.  I hate putting all the stuff away that brings back so many precious memories of Christmas past.  Because it's not really the "stuff"...it's the relationships that the stuff represents.  God came to live and die as one of us to show us how to have an intimate relationship with Him. Relationships are important.

My ornaments aren't valuable in terms of their retail worth.  Many of them are hand made.  A few are pretty old and have sentimental value.  But all of them hold a memory of a special time or of a person or a place.  For 35 years now I've been accumulating ornaments and tenderly packing them away at the end of each season.  I don't mean to have so many! But it just happens.  The oldest one was my dad's favorite.  He first hung it on the tree the year I was born.  Then there's the plaster ornaments I painted for each of our boys for their respective first Christmases; the stuffed ornaments I sewed years ago; special ornaments friends and family have given me over the years; Ornaments my kids made when they were little...and now ornaments my grandchildren have made.  

These are sacred moments for me.  A quiet time where no one except God knows my inward thoughts.  Only He really understands why this is so emotional for me.  I don't understand it myself.  I always cry.  My mind always goes back in time to remember people who were once a part of my life and aren't any longer...to former times and places that have helped to shape who I am today.  Maybe that's it...These ornaments help tell a story...my story...my life.  It's a story of generations too. Four generations of our family are represented here.  This really isn't about stuff...it's about people.  People whose lives have in some way intertwined with mine.  I am so blessed.