Mar 29, 2013

Decoupage Letters - as easy as A-B-C


My daughter is 5.  Anyone with a little girl knows that very quickly after birth, she forms opinions of what she thinks does and does NOT look good, from her clothes to MY clothes, to cars and decor.  "Mommy, I'm kind of tired of my room.  When can we fix it?"  I guess the answer is NOW. 

I had these letters made when she was a baby, and they've hung in her room since. They're sweet and soft and nice...but apparently "they're just too pink".
Instead of buying new and personalized letters, which would cost $17 each made like Mommy Ellie wanted. $85 for letters that would be obsolete in a few years?!  No thanks! I decided to make an attempt to redo the ones we had.  I will admit I had never done this ... meaning ANY kind of decoupage...before.   Not ever NEVER!  So here went nothing...

What I used:  wax paper (to protect my work surface), wooden letters, scrapbook paper, Mod Podge (any finish will do), sharp pencil, foam paintbrush, bristled paint brush, coordinating ribbon, and multi-surface adhesive (like Tacky Glue).

After removing the ribbon from the letters, I peeled off as much of the original wallpaper as possible by hand.  I used steam to moisten the adhesive and peel off the hard-to-remove pieces.  I now had a rough surface to work with.

I traced each letter on my chosen paper and carefully cut it out. 
I spread a thin coating on the top of my letter with my foam brush.  Once completely coated, I began at the top left corner of my letter and gently set the paper on top, careful to smooth and straighten the paper as I went.  Once set, I smoothed out any bubbles and wrinkles.  

With a bristled paintbrush, I applied a thin, even coat of Mod Podge to the top of the paper, brushing in one direction for a clean look.  I only wanted a single coat.  If you choose to do more for a more finished look, allow the coats to dry for at least 15 minutes before applying another. 
After the last letter dried, I used a sharp blade to trim any excess paper.  

I cut my chosen ribbon to 12" strips. Shorter would work, too.
To attach the ribbon, I used Tacky Glue, but any strong, multi-surface adhesive should work.  I placed a stripe of glue on the back of each letter and then pressed the ribbon into place.  I allowed them to dry several hours, but overnight is best.
Voila!  It really was THAT easy.  Total cost?  $12.  I have plans for lots more decoupage in this house.  Now if I could just get the dog to stand still long enough...

Mar 27, 2013

Whatcha Wearin' Wednesday

My mom tells me that when I was a little girl I would regularly ask her about her clothes.  "Whatcha wearin' on, Mom?", I would say.  So goes the family lore.

Well, I have always loved clothes and putting outfits together that are a little out of the box.  Let me show you what I'm wearing today.  It's a bit fancier than what I normally wear on any given Wednesday, but it was fun to put together.

I went to a luncheon today, so I thought I had better wear a skirt.  I almost went for cowboy boots, but at the last minute chose these go-to, high heel boots.  They make me feel powerful!  Maybe it's because I'm not that tall...

purple skirt - Target clearance
jacket - swap from a friend!
grey/white striped t-shirt - Target
brown boots - Nordstrom (years ago!)
yellow lacquer bracelet - second hand store
amber earrings - gift from my dad

Surprisingly, the purple skirt has proven to be such a versatile piece!  At first I picked it up because it was on clearance and so inexpensive.  But I've found myself wearing it so often, with a variety of tops.  It can be dressy (it is lace, after all) or casual (pair it with a t-shirt and flats or even flip-flops!).  I LOVE color, so the purple with yellow pops of color really appeals to me.

What about you?  Do you love color or find yourself gravitating to the neutrals?

Mar 25, 2013

Cute Cake Stand Made with Melted Beads

I thought it would be fun to have a cake stand with the color red. For one, I LOVE red, but it could also be used for Valentine's Day, 4th of July, or Christmas.

I remembered that last summer, my kids and I made little sun catchers from melted beads, and I thought I'd try it on a bigger scale. Here are the steps I took to make this cute stand. 
1.  I used a dollar store pizza pan, but you can use whatever you like. I wanted it bigger than a cake pan so that a cake would actually fit on it.

2.  Pour pony beads in your color choice onto the pan.  You can be as haphazard or as precise as you like.  I just grouped mine a little but really had no pattern in mind at all.  For this project, I used red, clear, and clear with a little gold glitter in them.  It is important to use the transparent kind.  When we made sun catchers, we found that the opaque ones didn't melt as easily and some of them actually browned in the oven.  Not pretty.  Oh, and it's come to my attention that not everyone calls these "pony beads" (even though that's what it says on the package), so check out the photo to see what I'm talking about.  Just those inexpensive plastic beads kids use to string onto yarn or whatever. 
3.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Put the pan in for 25 minutes.  That's all it took with mine, but it should be all melty with no "bead form" remaining.  Yours might take a bit longer.  Just keep an eye on it. 

4.  Expect a little stink.  It's melting plastic, so yeah, there will be a smell.  It wasn't too bad when I made this, and it dissipated pretty much as soon as I took them out of the oven.  If this bothers you or concerns you, you can probably do it in a toaster oven outdoors or maybe even use the grill.

5.  After the beads are completely melted, carefully take the pan out of the oven and let it cool.  It makes a loud cracking noise as it cools and hardens.  Don't worry about that.  That's normal.  

6.  Once everything is all cool, your plastic goody will pop right out of that pan.  Honest, it really will!  No, you don't grease the pan.  It seems like it would stick, but it really shouldn't.

7.  For the base, I used this little red container from the dollar store.  If they don't have the color you want, you can always paint it.  Then just turn it upside-down and use a strong adhesive (like E6000) to bond the plastic to the base.
 That's it!  Then you have a fun, custom-made cake stand.

Mar 22, 2013

Strawberry Jam Forever

It's strawberry picking time in our neck of the woods, and my family LOVES it.  My kids always pick as much as their little arms can carry.  Problem, though...strawberries go rotten quickly, and there's only so many fresh berries kids can handle in one week.  But I hate the wasting food!  My solution?...this great and easy recipe for freezer jam!

So, what's the difference between freezer jam and regular cooked jam?  Cooked jam is what most people imagine when they think of jam.  It actually involves cooking the fruit you're using.  It can be canned and stored in the pantry like other canned productsAs you'll see below, with freezer jam, you don't actually cook the fruitAlso, you have to keep it stored in the fridge or freezer.  
I actually prefer the freezer jam because it tastes more like fresh fruit, you don't cook out any of the nutrients, and you have the ability to better control how much sugar you actually use. 

What you'll need: 
  • 2 lbs fresh strawberries 
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice 
  • 3 cups sugar (some folks use up to 4 1/2 cups, others use with it until you find the right balance for your family) 
  • 3/4 cup water 
  • 6 Tbsp classic fruit pectin (I found mine with the canning supplies at our local grocery store.  You may find it on your baking aisle.)
  • 5 8 oz glass canning jars with lids (I like the smaller jars, so there is less risk of it going bad in the fridge before you use it all.)
What you'll do:
Wash your strawberries, remove the stems and leaves, and cut the larger berries in half.  Now, you're going to mash them!  You have several options:  1) In a large bowl, use a potato masher to crush your strawberries.  2) Use a stand mixer with the whisk attachment (on low, please).  Just be sure to use your splash guard! ...
Or 3 Place your strawberries in a large SEALED Ziploc bag and pound away!  I found this to work well for greener strawberries, and it definitely worked better for my daughter.  Add the lemon juice to your strawberries and stir to combine

Slowly add the sugar, mixing thoroughly.  Let stand for 10 minutes.  

In a small saucepan, combine the fruit pectin and water and bring to a boil.  Boil rapidly for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add cooked pectin mixture to strawberry mixture and stir for several minutes until thoroughly combined.

Spoon your fruit mixture into your canning jars.  Be sure to leave 1/2 inch space at the top as the jam will expand as it freezes.  Close your lids tightly and let jam stand in refrigerator until it is completely chilled (no more than 24 hours, though).

Serve immediately, refrigerate up to 3 weeks or freeze up to 1 year.

Mar 20, 2013

Five Ways to Welcome a New Neighbor

Last summer, our family moved across country for my husband's job.  At the very height of summer (read, really stinkin' HOT!), we found ourselves feeling like fish out of water what with a new state, new town and no friends!  If you've even made a big move with kids, you know that it it not easy.  And that's an understatement. It ain't much fun, living in this:

Enter my neighbor, Denise.  

Denise and her daughter came over one afternoon with a plate of brownies for us.  What a sweet gesture!  But that was only the beginning of her showing me what it means to really welcome someone to the neighborhood.  Let me share with you some tips I've learned from Denise, neighbor and welcome-er extraordinaire!

1.  Give your new neighbor your name and phone number.

     Along with the brownies, Denise gave us a little card with her and her husband's names, as well the names and ages of her children.  She also wrote down her phone number.  I must tell you that I did indeed refer to that card in the weeks to come!

2.  Invite your neighbor to do the things you do.

     After we'd been here about two weeks, Denise said to me, "I'm going to volunteer at the middle school tomorrow.  You should come, too, so that you can meet some people."  She knew I would have a child in the middle school, and wanted to help me get my feet on the ground with contacts.  It was bold of her to do this, but it was so helpful!

3.  Introduce, introduce and introduce some more!

    I swear that most of the people I now know in our new town, I met through Denise!  She has brought people to my door just so I could meet more people!  But not just any people; she has been exceptionally thoughtful about introducing me to the ones I might really want or need to know, such as the local exterminator, a teacher at my kids' new school, or the owner of local business.

4.  Fill her in on the things that everybody already seems to know.

     What I mean is, tell her how things work in your town or city.  Does she need to show up at the school to register her kids on a certain date?  Where is the best place to buy the athletic clothes required at school?  Is one grocery story better than another?  Which day is trash day?  Where is the local recycling center?  Many times, Denise answered my questions before I could ask them!  It stinks to feel like everyone knows how things work, and you are out of the loop.  Keep your new neighbor in the loop!

5.  The first year in a new place can be hard.  Keep checking on your new neighbor.

     Even though things definitely get easier as the months go by, I think the first year in a new place can be hard.  Each new season brings a whole round of "firsts":  first Christmas, first birthdays, first vacations in a new place.  While your new neighbor may be happy in her new home, she may also have times of homesickness or missing her old friends.  Keep inviting, keep introducing, keep asking how it's going, even after your neighbor and her family seem to "have it down".  I promise you, she'll appreciate it!

Mar 18, 2013

Restaurant Secrets You Can Use In Your Own Kitchen

I just happened to catch a few great tips from my dinner at a seafood restaurant this weekend.

  • First of all (and it makes so much sense), always use white cloth napkins.  They are easy to bleach if they have food stains on them and look crisp and clean.

  • Need lemon juice for a salad, drink, or other recipe?  Here's a great way to get maximum juice from your lemon or other citrus fruit.  First, roll the lemon hard against the counter top.  This will loosen it up inside.

  • Cut the lemon in half, then insert one half into the inside portion of salad tongs.  

  • Squeeze the open end, and watch that juice flow!

  • Finally, in order to keep your table tidy between courses (even if your "courses," like mine, usually consist of just dinner and dessert), fold a cloth napkin (white, of course) into a tight football shape.  Then use the folded side to wipe crumbs from the table and into a small bowl or plate to avoid having to eat your dessert on a messy table.  

  • Don't know the football fold?  Neither did I, much to the shock of my 11-year-old daughter.  You can find videos online for this, or follow my instructions, below.  Lots of pictures here, but it's really super-easy.

Fold each end toward the middle.

Fold over at the middle line. 

It will look like this.

Fold one corner up to form a triangle.

Continue folding triangles.

Like so.

When you get to the end, you'll have a square left.

Fold the square in half at a diagonal like this.

Tuck that little tab into the opening on the triangles.

Tighten it up, and voila! 
Then just brush those crumbs out of sight.

Mar 15, 2013

You kill more flies with vinegar than honey

There's nothing special about vinegar.  Well, ok, maybe there is.  White vinegar is my go-to for...well...just about EVERYTHING needed in cleaning in my house.  Did you know you could use it for more than just dyeing Easter eggs?!  (Didn't know you could do that either?)  Well, you can!

Here's my surefire list entitled "Vinegar is my Everything"  aka "You Kill More Flies with Vinegar than Honey":
Once a week, run a full pot of vinegar through your coffee maker.  Be sure to run another full pot of pure water through right after or your first pot of coffee will end up tasting like vinegar.  Blech.
Kids and/or husband not understand how to cover a dish before heating?  Loosen the stuck on messes and make cleaning it super easy.  Pour one cup of vinegar in a microwave-safe cup or bowl.  Heat on high for 3-5 minutes, depending on how stuck-on your mess is.  The vinegar will boil and bubble over ... this is ok, it is what you want.  Afterward, wipe down with a moist sponge or cloth.
Instead of using expensive dishwasher additives like Jet Dry or LemiShine, once a week fill a glass with vinegar and place it in the middle of the top rack of your dishwasher.  Run an empty load (except for the glass, of course) on a regular cycle.  As the dishwasher runs, the glass should tilt and spill the vinegar in the cycle, allowing it to help eliminate any unwanted build up.
Do your clothes sometimes smell not-so-clean even after you've washed them?  Sometimes the animal oils in your liquid detergent or fabric softeners can clog your high efficiency washer!   Periodically, I will put vinegar in the bleach receptacle in my washing machine with a load of colors.  It will cycle through with the detergent just like the bleach does, but is safe for colors.  You're not only cleaning your clothes better, but you're also helping clean the washing machine.
I have black granite countertops, and EVERY commercial cleaner I have tried leaves streaks I can see across the room.  It drives me nuts.  So instead, I use a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water.  It's the only thing I use.  And the best part about it - I know that my kids can eat off the counters any time, without fear of toxic cleaners or residue!
Glass and more:  
With the same mixture above, we clean our mirrors, windows, glass, plastic, stainless steel, and more.  It truly is our everyday cleaner.
Bathroom Mixture
For cleaning my bathrooms (tubs, showers, tiles, floors, etc), I have modified and made my own version of the very popular "Magic Bathroom Mix".  
  • 1 cup blue Dawn Dishwashing Liquid
  • 2 cups white vinegar (some folks use 1 cup of vinegar.  If it works better for you, go for it.  I found that mixture to be too soapy on my bathroom tiles and more difficult to rinse.)
  • Mix them together in a spray bottle and voila....a clean, non chemically, soap scum killer that will best just about any commercial product out there
We have saved untold sums of money replacing our specialty cleaning products with simple vinegar mixtures.  It's cheap (especially the generic version!), it's easy, it's natural, and it's always available.  Oh yeah, and you can cook with it, too.

Mar 13, 2013

Baked Pears {Easiest Dessert Ever!}

When I was growing up, my mother made dessert maybe once a week. Twice, if we were very lucky!  In my own home now, while we LOVE dessert, I serve it quite rarely unless we have company or it is a special occasion.
A few weeks ago, I tried something that has proved to be one of the easiest, quickest desserts yet.  And it's not terrible for you!  This is a dessert any mother could love.
I made it for the family one night, and served it to guests just last weekend.  Children and grown-ups alike loved it.  Give it a try and you might have a new favorite!

Here is what you will need:

And here's what you do:

Peel, half and core the pears.  Use any kind of pear you like.  I think that bigger ones look nicer after cooking.  In fact, as beautiful as these red pears are, they were a bit on the small side.

If the pears are soft enough, you could use a melon-baller to get the core out.  Or, just use the tip of a paring knife.

Put the pear halves into a microwave-safe dish.  Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. You could also put raisins, granola, dried cranberries or any number of delicious things on top. Cover the dish loosely with wax paper and microwave for five to seven minutes on HIGH. DO NOT neglect to cover the pears!  It keeps them from drying out and becoming tough.

Place pear halves in individual bowls, accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream (here in Texas, we are partial to Blue Bell, but you could use another brand.  If you must.)

Yum!  There is just something about fruit, cinnamon and vanilla ice cream that can't be beat!  Delish.
My kids all wanted two pear halves, so I would say plan for one pear per person.

Enjoy, and let me know if you try it!

Mar 11, 2013

Rock On! (A Guest Book Alternative)

For a less formal approach to the traditional guest book at a wedding or party, try this easy idea with big impact.

What you'll need:

  • Smooth, flattened stones
  • Sharpie marker (fine point)
  • Dish or plate for "plain" rocks
  • Glass container
  • Moss (optional)
What you do:

Set out the stones in the dish or plate, alongside the sharpie.  Place moss, if desired, into the bottom of the glass container.

Leave out a note to let guests know what you're doing, like this:

Each guest signs his/her name on a stone, alone with the date or a short message.

Then they place the stone into the glass container.  I added moss because I liked the look and also because it keeps the stones from banging around too much against the glass as they're being added.

That's it.  You're left with a lovely reminder of the event, and it looks pretty when displayed too!