Striving to create a home strong in the foundations of love, respect, and God's truths ...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sharing Thanks

As I mentioned last week, we recently finished attending a fabulous week of Vacation Bible School at a local church.  Running six full nights, not counting months of prep work and home visits afterwards, this church puts forth serious effort into their VBS - and it shows.  It is the by far the best VBS I've seen in years.

Our whole family attends - they even have classes for us adults!  By the end of the week, we're all exhausted - and we figure the teachers and other VBS workers must be even more tired than us.  After all, many of them work all day and then volunteer their evenings to help out.  We decided that we must thank those people working so hard to give us a good VBS experience - but how?

After talking to the kids, we settled on cookie bars.  We used a basic Hershey cookie bar recipe and then wrapped them individually in colored plastic wrap.

To make the cards, I cut copy paper in squares and pulled out all of our rubber stamps and ink pads.  The kids used 'thank you' stamps on the front and either wrote or stamped their names on the back.

After the ink had dried, we punched holes in the corner and threaded curling ribbon through the hole.  Then we used the ribbon to tie each little 'bag' closed.  We packed them in a market basket and took them to VBS.

We arrived a few minutes early and we traveled around together as the kids passed out their cookies.  They were excited to tell their teachers 'thank you, ' and the VBS workers seemed to appreciate that someone noticed their efforts.

Our cookie bars in no way made up for all the hard work that the volunteers put forth, but we think it's important to teach our children to thank those who help us.  By being involved in the baking and card creating, they felt ownership of their project - and they were extra happy to hand them out.

How do you teach your children to express their gratitude?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

GratiTuesday - Tractor Pools and Ice Cream Cones

Last Saturday my husband took our Little Man to a tractor pull for some boy bonding time.  That meant that My Big Helper and I got to have some girl time.

We had to run some errands, too, so we got those out of the way.  While we were out, she chose a movie for us to watch together.

After that, we headed to The Sugar Shack for an ice cream cone.  We don't do that often, and My Big Helper was quite excited to choose her flavor.

As the clerk handed to the cone to her, she exclaimed, "That's not one scoop!  That's TWO!"  The clerk assured her this was only one.  Mental note: never order more than one scoop at The Sugar Shack unless you want a cone the size of your head .  :-)

We moved outside to eat our cones in the courtyard.  The weather was surprisingly pleasant, and the breeze kept us cool as we frantically licked our dripping cones.  It was a great night for hanging out outside, and I loved sitting there, laughing with My Big Helper and just enjoying the night.

(She asked me to take her picture beside the purple flowers she liked so much.  Great setting, huh?)

We stayed up way too late to watch our movie and ended just about the time the guys came home.  They returned full of stories about big wheels and loud engines and dusty smoke, both talking excitedly, eager to share about their outing.

My husband told me later that when the event was over, Our Big Helper turned to him and said, "Daddy, I saw the tractors, but where was the pool?"  I love the innocence of four.

So today, I'm grateful for a husband who chooses to invest time in our children.  Who will take them to crazy events to spend time with them and who seeks out ways to invest in their interests.  I'm grateful for a husband who encourages me to make dates with our children, as well, whenever I'm craving some special time with them.  I'm grateful for big ice cream cones and excited six-year-old voices and sugar highs that induce crazy giggling.  I'm grateful for purple flowers and cool breezes and round iron tables.

I'm especially grateful for my husband, who got mildly jealous at our stories of ice cream and took the whole family out a few days later.  I might've missed this face!

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Menu Plan Monday - July 25, 2011

We'll be eating a bit differently this week.  The kids are spending a week with their grandparents, so my husband and I are home all alone!  We're heading out on a short vacation later this week, too, so meals will be almost non-existent around here.  We will be packing some basic things to take on our trip.  These are the basic plans:

Omelets with onions, peppers, and cheese
Cinnamon apple crepes
Blueberry streusel muffins and fruit

Skillet granola - made without using the oven! - and yogurt
Apples, cheese, and crackers
Turkey sandwiches with tomatoes, caramelized onions and peppers and fruit

I'm eating out with friends one night - haven't seen them in forever!
We're eating at Tobacco Road one night before watching the Bulls play - we have a great coupon and the food looks great!

The rest of our meals will be simple ones eaten out or with family after we connect with them to get our children back.  It's too quiet here!  :-)

It's very hot here this week, so meals would be simple even if we were home.  If you're looking for some new recipes to beat the heat, here are a few of our favorites:

For more menu planning ideas, visit OrgJunkie!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Here Burns My Candle" by Liz Curtis Higgs

Lady Elisabeth Kerr has a secret - a secret practice that could get her ostracized by the entire capital city of Edinburgh.  Her husband, Lord Donald, has a few secrets of his own, secrets that do not endear him to rest of titled society.  Lord Donald's mother, Lady Marjory, is not fond of her Highlander daughter-in-law and struggles to protect the reputations of everyone living under her roof.  When the Jacobite rebellion brings thousands of Highlanders to their doorsteps and the Kerr family loyalty to the throne is questioned, will their secrets be exposed?  Will their relationships survive the war - and it's messy aftermath?

Here Burns My Candle will immerse the reader fully in the culture of Scotland in 1745.  The attention to historical detail is amazing, making this book far superior to your average historical novel.  Higgs weaves real characters and events into her plot in such a way that without doing a bit of your own research, the reader can't tell the history from the fiction.

A fictionalized version of Naomi and Ruth, Here Burns My Candle challenges the reader to rethink previously held views of these Biblical characters.  This story continues in the recently released Mine is the Night.  Forgiveness and faithfulness are both important themes in the book, asking the important questions, "To whom am I faithful?  Do I forgive readily?"

Here Burns My Candle is a wonderful story of changing relationships and the focus on what is truly important.  I will definitely be reading more of Liz Curtis Higgs' work.  If history makes your heart race, don't miss this series.

I received a free copy of this book from the Blogging for Books program.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Becoming a Woman of Faith

A few years ago I had the opportunity to attend my first women's conference.  The event was wonderfully planned and beautifully decorated, and the speaker's message changed my life.  Since that time I've searched for other inspirational events to attend as a way to retreat, refocus, and spend some concentrated time listening to Biblical teaching.

I've attended several locally planned events with friends, but I've really wanted to attend a large event.  There's something about standing in a place with thousands of other Christians, hands raised and hearts open, all proclaiming their love for Jesus that erases the mundane fluff.  It helps you to see the big picture and reminds you that you are not alone on this crazy planet, but that you're part of a big Christian family and that you're here for a purpose.

This September one such event is coming to Charlotte, North Carolina.  The Women of Faith tour will be in town for two days, in the Time Warner Cable Arena.  This looks to be a truly amazing event!

The schedule, while not released hourly yet, looks great so far.  Sheila Walsh, Luci Swindoll, Lisa Harper, and Ken Davis are all speakers.  Mary Mary and Natalie Grant are the musical guests, and Karen Kingsbury, the author of over 50 Life-Changing Fiction novels, is also slated to speak, among others.  (I've personally heard Kingsbury speak before, and she's great!  Can't wait to hear her again!)

Cost for registration to the Women of Faith's Imagine tour is only $99 and includes two full days of teaching and boxed lunches both days.  Also available are hotel discounts for area hotels.  I made my reservations today, and I'm very excited - the hotel where I'm staying looks very posh and at a VERY reasonable price.  :-)

If this price is still out of your price range, it's okay - you can still attend!  Volunteers are needed to help with the event, and registered volunteers attend for free.  For more information about volunteering, go here.

Want to know more?  Check out this video!  And stay tuned for an update after my trip!

*My ticket was sponsored by Thomas Nelson and the BookSneeze team.  Thanks, Thomas Nelson!  :-)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

GratiTuesday - An Old-Fashioned Bible School

A few years ago a friend invited us to go to Bible School at her church.  Our children are good friends and she really praised the way her church structured the week, so we decided to go.  Boy, was she right!  It reminds me of the way VBS was when I was a kid.  When you met with your friends under a tent on the church grounds, 100 kids and counting, all singing songs to Jesus and learning about how He lived.

We enjoyed it so much that this year we were back for our third year.

There are no foam sticker crafts or half-hearted efforts put into this Bible School.  This church goes all out.

An real art teacher plans the crafts.  This year, the young children made wooden door signs for their rooms ...

while the older children (with help) constructed benches for local  nursing homes.

Snack time - with the included popsicles - was a personal favorite of My Little Man's!

The church goes all out for decorating, too.  They do buy lots of signs and posters that go along with the theme, but they make lots of scenery, too.  See the Statue of Liberty on the right?  That art teacher drew, cut out, and painted that.  How cool is that?

Everyone processes in each night for an opening full of songs, scripture, and pledges.  It feels like camp!

But the most important part is why we're all there.  Each year everyone has the chance to bring a friend to an open and fun time and share.  The kids (and the adults!) sing and learn scripture and talk about how the Bible relates to our lives today.  What does Jesus' message mean?  How do we live it out today?

So today I'm grateful for Bible School. For a church who sets aside six full nights and many months of prep work before that to make sharing Jesus with the community a priority.  For people who are not willing to 'settle' for easy foam crafts or shorten the lessons or try to cram them into fewer days to make the experience easier for the workers.  Who are willing to redecorate their entire church and teach all evening after working all day to give their 'campers' a good experience, to really show them what the Bible says - not just tell them.

I'm grateful for an old-fashioned Bible school where people are the hands and feet of the Jesus they serve.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Meal Plan Monday - July 18, 2011

My husband and I are relieved to be back to a normal schedule this week, and the kids are excited to be heading to Papa and Grandma's house at the end of the week for a whole week at their house - by themselves!  They look forward to this every year.  We're going to be packing in lots of fun things before they leave - a trip to a big pool, some French cooking, and lots of time outside.

scrambled eggs, pineapple, toast
eclairs, fresh fruit (gotta get that fun French breakfast in however possible!)
French toast, fresh fruit X 2
breakfast crepes with eggs and cheese, fruit  (A friend from France sent me her crepes recipe - I'll post it later this week.)
oatmeal-on-the-go bars
whole wheat waffles, fresh fruit

Lunches will be our usual assortment of leftovers, sliced fruits and veggies, and sandwiches.

Supper out after a field trip to a pool with friends
Chicken cordon bleu, green beans, homemade French bread, cream puffs in honor of our French unit
Cubed steak, fried potatoes, lima beans
Crock pot roast beef with noodles, roasted carrots
Savory crepes with a broccoli/cheese/chicken filling, canteloupe
Shredded beef sandwiches with caramelized peppers and onions, salad, fruit galette
Grilled chicken, baked potatoes, guilty good green beans, fresh corn, grilled peppers and onions, pineapple

For more menu plans, visit OrgJunkie!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Patriotic Dress - Update

I recently wrote about how My Big Helper and I made this patriotic dress for her lemonade stand.  We had lots of fun making it together, and she's excited to wear her new dress.

I got the idea from this post and I pinned it on Pinterest.  I kept thinking about it but was hesitant to try a new sewing technique since sewing is not exactly my strong suit, despite my desire to become an accomplished seamstress.

Enter:  Rachel of Better Life Bags.  Rachel sews handbags and sells them at her Etsy shop of the same name.  She takes part of the profit and uses it to give business start-up loans to people in third world countries.  She's helping them to improve their life circumstances, and I admire that so much that I keep reading her blog and looking at the pictures of her products, even though I'm not in a place to purchase one right now (perhaps sewing well enough to have my own Etsy shop should be on my bucket list).

Rachel sponsored a Pinterest challenge a few weeks ago.  She asked people to complete a project from their Pinterest page and then send her pics of the finished results.  This was the incentive I needed!  Andi and I got to work, and she now has a new dress.

Pinterest is good for more than just keeping you organized or inspiring competition or making me somewhat jealous or even sharing ideas.  It can be plain old inspiring, too.

The Pinterest challenge is still going strong, and a winner has yet to be determined.  (If you're interested in voting, you must first 'like' Better Life Bags on Facebook and you can then vote by clicking on the picture(s) you like.)  Whether this is your cup of tea or not, however, if you're in the market for a new bag - or have an occasion coming up for which you could give one - please consider Better Life Bags.

How wonderful is it when you can get a needed/desired product AND help someone else halfway around the world??

** To read more about how buying these bags benefits others, click here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

"Water's Edge" by Robert Whitlow

Tom Crane had it all - a success job in a law firm, the promise of a huge account that would surely make him partner, a girlfriend, pets ... until his father died in a tragic fishing accident.  Suddenly losing everything he holds dear, Crane returns to his small Georgian hometown to close down his father's law practice and bankrupt estate.  Nothing about his father's country practice is as he expects, however, and Crane finds himself encountering God, old girlfriends, and government officials in a desperate search for truth.  Can he find it - and clear his father's name at the same time?

As always, Whitlow writes in a clear, concise manner that is easy to read and uses very descriptive words.  The main character's law specialty, however, is not so easy to understand.  I struggled with the specifics of offshore accounts and which sorts of rules apply to whom and finally just skipped the logistics.  It was enough for me that Crane understood it, and I was able to follow the story without having the technical details straight.  (If you're a financial genius, I'm sure you'll have no problems - I'm just more of a cash-on-the-barrel girl.)

It took me a bit longer to get in Crane's head than it has in Whitlow's other books, but by the third chapter I was hooked.  I couldn't wait to find out how Crane would solve the mystery.  With mystery, intrigue, suspense, a bit of romance, and a search for God thrown in, this book is not your typical paperback.

If you're a mystery lover, be sure to check out Water's Edge!

I received a free copy of this book from BookSneeze in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Bucket List - or Not?

A few years ago my husband took me to see The Bucket List in the theater.  The basic premise was that one man, diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, took off with a rich man and they finally did all of the things they had always wanted to do but never could.

It ended up being somewhat controversial, partly because of the way that the married man supposedly abandoned his family to have these experiences, but suddenly everyone started making a bucket list.

Something about this idea both pulls at and bothers me.

Making a bucket list makes me feel as if I need to control the experiences I have in my life.  As if what God gives me and has planned for me are not enough.  As if I'm not content with what I have.

For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.  ~ Romans 11:36

And that's not true. It's less true now than it has ever been.

I like where I am.  My life is very, very good.  God has blessed us strongly.  I have a wonderful husband and two healthy, happy children who are best friends with each other.  We have a roof over our heads that keeps us warm in the winter and (fairly) cool in the summertime.  We even have extras like a fireplace and a big, shady backyard.  Our cars both work and we have lots to eat and good friends nearby.  Best of all, with all of those things, is that I get to be home to care for my family.  I love this stage in my life.

Then a few weeks ago I joined this new website called Pinterest.  (If you're not a member, you can click on the red link to the right and get an invitation.)  It's basically an online file cabinet that lets you share your files with other people.  I joined (it's free) so that I could keep track of the projects and recipes and such that I see online that I want to tackle - but suddenly started seeing all of these wonderful things that other people are pinning, and a little part of me thought, "Oh, that looks beautiful! I want to go there/have that/do that/make that."

I suddenly felt less content with my simple, happy life.  The bucket list concept popped back into my head and wouldn't go away.

... give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:18

So I've been thinking a lot about that over the past few weeks, and I think I've gotten rid of that greedy weed that was trying to take over my heart.

But I've decided that it's okay to dream a  little.  I've realized that it's not the specific thing that I was seeing in these pictures that I wanted, but the peace or the time or the quality experience with my family that they represent, and I don't think those things are wrong.

After all, isn't it part of my job to look for opportunities to draw my family closer together, both to each other and to God?

So I've decided to make up a simple bucket list.  I might get to do some of these things.  I might not. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow - as my dad used to say - I wouldn't regret not doing any of these things.  I'll just consider it icing if God does put them in my path.

And if He doesn't?  He must have something better.  That's okay, too.

I'll post some of my ideas soon ...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How to Run a Successful Lemonade Stand

So our Big Helper wanted to have a lemonade stand this summer.  Her daddy used to set one up in his front yard all the time, and we both wanted to see her have some measure of success with this, but who can guarantee that?  We ended up putting all of our heads together for the planning, and her stand far surpassed our expectations.  While we're certainly not business geniuses, here are a few things that (I think) helped her along the way.

- Location, location, location!  We live on a dead-end street, so setting up in our front yard would've brought in exactly zero customers.  But at the end of our dead-end street is a fairly busy road that connects to the local hospital, the high school, and several doctors' offices.  We set up the lemonade stand on that street.

- Advertise!  Our Big Girl painted a large, bright sign to hang from the edges of her table.  She used big letters and bright paint.  She also prepped a message on Facebook to go out to all of my FB friends.

Also, unbeknownst to her, I was taking pictures of the entire process and posting them on FB the morning of - both so that our families could see how hard she was working and so that maybe some of our friends would stop by and support her efforts.  People definitely commented on what she was doing, and several of my friends made it a point to stop by!

(I'm not saying that I go around hitting up my friends for money ... but if they are willing and able to buy a 50 cent cup of lemonade from my daughter to help her learn about economics .... I'm most appreciative.  And of course I'll return the favor when they set up their doughnut stands.  Just sayin'.)

- Be little.  Maybe this goes without saying, but I don't think all of those kind people would've turned their cars around to buy lemonade from my husband.  Or me.  Or any other of-job-age-holding adult.

But for a kid, people went all out.

I know I'm biased - but honestly, who can resist those faces?  It's only a few cents per person - but it adds up fast.

- Sell something to eat.  The cupcakes sold out in about 40 minutes - if that.

I wasn't expecting that, but people shared their rationale.  They couldn't hold an open cup of lemonade in their car, but they could wrap up a cupcake (my Big Girl insisted on providing napkins for just such an emergency) and they sincerely wanted to support her.  This way they could.

Others reminisced about how long it had been since they'd had a cupcake.  One construction worker tipped quite generously in his excitement over seeing them for sale.

A cup of lemonade and a snack make a nice, round cost per person - only $1! - for a snack and drink.

And for those of us female types ... who can resist chocolate??

- Be excited!  My Big Helper was very excited about her lemonade stand, but her bubbly personality doesn't bubble over until she knows you a bit - which presents a problem when greeting unknown customers.

Enter:  The exciteable, older neighbor boys.

These two guys are a few years older than our children, and they are good kids.  They were eager to sample her cupcakes and then stayed to hang out and help.

They convinced her to sit in her princessy chair and wave at oncoming cars ...

and eagerly rode their scooters home to make more signs for her stand.  They said things like, "Honk if you are thirsty" and they jumped up and down and waved near her stand.

THEIR enthusiasm made us all laugh - and kept everyone's energy level high as we sweated in the heat.

Oh - and the lemonade clerk got lots of honks and hand waves after that!

- Watch the weather.  We wanted to set up on July 4th before the fireworks, but it poured something awful.  Instead, we set up during this very hot and humid afternoon, and many people stopped by.

I'm sure that even my cute, enthusiastic daughter couldn't have sold hot chocolate on such a day, though - the weather was perfectly suited for icy lemonade.  So match your product to the event, the season, and the weather.

- End well.  When we had packed up our belongings and returned home, my husband sat down with our kidpreneur.  They counted out the money from her cash register and returned her starting change to her piggy bank.  Then they worked to disperse the money as is proper.

First, she took out her tithe to take to church the next day.

Next, she chose an amount to pay her brother for his help.

Then she set an amount to add to her savings account for educational use someday.

Finally, she took the profit that was left over - still a very large percentage - and added it to her Disney fund.  She's going to have quite the pocket money for mouse ears if she keeps this up!

Has your child run their own lemonade stand or similar business?  What steps did s/he take to make it a success??

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

GratiTuesday - Kidpreneurship

We're heading off to Disney World in a few months, and my husband and I have committed to planning this trip with the kids - so that the saving for the trip can be a real economics lesson for the kids.  As such, they realize that we now limit certain activities even more than we used to in the effort of saving money.  We've also given them the option of doing chores beyond their normal responsibilities for extra money to be used as pocket money when we reach Orlando.

My Big Helper quickly decided this extra chore thing wasn't for her.

I just figured she'd change her mind when we got within a few weeks of actually leaving on the trip.

Instead, she had another idea.  She asked to hold a lemonade stand.

My Big Helper sees me actively saving money.  We shop with coupons and only buy sale items.  We bypass many things because we don't really need them and wait to buy to see if the item's attractiveness remains a few days later.  She also sees us work to earn money - by selling clothes and toys at consignment sales, by holding yard sales, and by selling a few random things on Ebay.

But neither my husband nor I actually run our own business or anything.

The Big Helper, however, was adamant and talked about it for weeks.  She decided that the money she made would be added to her Disney Fund (the grandparents all pay better for chores than Mommy and Daddy do, it seems) and kept asking when we could do it.

So, this past Saturday saw us all hanging outside in the heat.  In the 90%+ humidity.  With the temperature above 90 degrees F.

But you know what?  My Big Helper sold lemonade.  And cupcakes.  Her enthusiasm drew in one set of grandparents and two neighbors.  She had cars turning around on a main street and people walking from two neighborhoods to buy from her.

Her lemonade stand was a raging success.  She made far more money than either I or her banker daddy ever dreamed she would.  (Stay tuned tomorrow for some things that I think helped her in this area.)  More importantly, however, she made a plan and followed through with it.

So today I'm grateful for a child's innocent enthusiasm.  For her willingness to work hard and step out of her comfort zone.  I'm grateful for her creativity and determination and the responsibility she's taking for her own spending money - she's certainly going above and beyond what her daddy and I expected of her.  I'm grateful for her kidpreneurship and for the friends, family members, and total strangers who stopped by and supported her in a big way.

I'm grateful for lemonade.  What a wonderful teacher it makes!

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Menu Plan Monday - July 11

Vacation Bible School started last night and runs through Friday, and that means that our daily family life is turned upside down for this week!  Our kids usually have a consistent and early bedtime - no later than 8, normally - and that doesn't work when you don't get home 'til 9!  Because of these 'late' nights, they'll sleep in each morning and our meal plan is topsy-turvy.  Here's what I'm planning for this week:

Since the kids will sleep in and have a big lunch, we'll stuck with cereal and fruit or toast each morning.

Monday - Veggie/Stuffing/Chicken Casserole, something like the one found over here.
Tuesday - Pizza from Papa John's and diced tomatoes.  (I can get free pizza this day, so why not??)
Wednesday - Tacos, diced tomotoes, and corn in honor of our Mexican study happening this week (Although the kids are campaigning hard for lunch at Torero's - we'll see what Daddy says!)
Thursday - Shish-ke-sketti and canteloupe
Friday - lunches return to normal from here on out - sandwiches, fruit, and yogurt/cheese

Suppers this week will be swapped with our usual lunches to make the VBS commute work (we travel 30 minutes each way).  I'll pack picnic lunches for the kids and my husband to eat in the car - mostly consisting of sandwiches, cheese, and sliced veggies or fruit.
Friday - hot dog social at church following the VBS finale
Saturday - Grilled chicken salad
Sunday - Grab it and Growl

Despite having snacks at VBS each night, the kids are still hungry when they get in the car afterwards.  For snacks for the ride home, I'll pack:
blueberries and cheese
chocolate chip cookie bars

For more Menu Plan Mondays, visit OrgJunkie!

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I love eating shish-ke-bobs, but they take forever to make.  Not cook - they grill up in no time - but it seems to take forever to soak the skewers, chop all the veggies, thread everything on there - that's the worst! - and then marinate it all.

A few days ago I had everything I needed to make great kebobs, but I couldn't make myself do the skewering.  (I know, lazy, right?)

So, we made this instead.  It was just as good and had the same components but came together much faster.  It's still very healthy and filling, and best of all?  No skewering!

1 each red pepper, green pepper, onion
3 cups broccoli spears
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken
1 box whole wheat spaghetti
Italian salad dressing
olive oil (a few splashes)
Parmesan cheese (optional)

First, chop the peppers and onions into 1" sized pieces.  Put into a one-gallon Ziploc bag.  Cut up chicken into small bite-sized pieces and throw it into the bag, too.

** Some people say that you shouldn't marinate veggies and meat together.  You SHOULD be very careful that all  components get cooked through if you choose to do this.  The large veggies and small meat pieces will cook through at the same time.  If you don't want to worry about cross-contamination or the size of your chopped goods, just marinate separately!

Add the salad dressing and squish the bag to coat the entire contents.  Refrigerate for at least three hours, flipping over halfway through.

When you're ready to prep your meal, preheat the grill and prep your grill pan.  (I give mine an oily massage so nothing sticks.)  Dump your meat and veggies onto the hot pan and close the lid.  Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, boil the water and prepare the spaghetti as directed.  Five minutes from being finished, add the washed broccoli to the pot.  Then drain completely and return to pot.  Add just a bit of olive oil and toss to coat.  Season with salt and pepper if desired.

When meat and veggies are finished on the grill, serve them over the spaghetti and broccoli.  Yum!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Patriotic Dress

A few weeks ago I saw this post  about making skirts out of t-shirts.  It looked like a fascinating idea, and I really wanted to try it.  I've never tried my hand at shirring, so I looked it up and found this tutorial and bought my elastic thread.

I haven't had any luck finding a good t-shirt to transform, and while I was waiting to find the perfect shirt our daughter asked to have a lemonade stand - right before the Fourth of July.  I suddenly remembered this stripey blue-and-white fabric and decided it would be perfect for my first shirring attempt.

Here's what I did:

First, I cut out a large square of the fabric, about the length I wanted the fnished dress to be and about twice the width.  Then I folded it in half and angled it a bit so that the front would be higher than the back.  I pressed seams in the unfinished edges and sewed those seams.

I spread out the fabric on my ironing board and grabbed a piece of chalk.  I drew chalked lines on the front of the dress all the way around, about 1/2" apart, starting at the very top, down as far as I wanted the shirring to go.

Then I wound the elastic thread on a bobbin by hand and got my machine ready with the elastic on the bottom and matching thread fed through the top.  I began to sew the the lines I drew with the chalk, backstitching at the beginning and end of each line and then starting over on the next one.  (On the next dress, I'll alternate directions on these - I think that will help the lines stay straighter, but I'm pretty happy with this first attempt.)

When my shirring was complete, I cut two long pieces of ribbon to be the ties and two short pieces to be loops.  Then I sewed the two short pieces as loops on the back sides and the long pieces on the front sides.  To put the dress on, I crossed the straps, fed them through the loops on the back, and tied them in a bow in the middle.

My Big Girl was happy with her twirly new dress and loved the texture of the shirring.  I liked how patriotic she looked - and best of all, this whole new dress was made in about an hour!  Both of us could work with that timeline.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"When the Heart Cries" by Cindy Woodsmall

Hannah Lapp loves Paul Waddell,  but she's pretty sure her parents won't. As an Old Order Amish teen growing up in Owl Perch, Pennsylvania, Paul's Mennonite ways won't be acceptable to her father - and neither will their plans to marry.  Everything changes, however, when Hannah is raped on her way home from a meeting with Paul as he returns to college.  Can their relationship - and Hannah's good standing in her Amish community - survive the trauma?

Most books that I've read with Amish characters are simple.  Simple plots, often about whether to join the Amish church or leave for the English world, or maybe about forbidden love, seem to make up the most of them.  This tends to give those books a similarity that prevents them from jumping out and really grabbing the reader - but this isn't one of those books.

I've never read a book about an Amish community that so thoroughly portrays the difficulties of remaining separate but apart in a fallen world; that describes the pull of the Amish faith in such a realistic way.

Well-written, realistic, and suspenseful, this book will keep a reader on his toes and craving more.  The first of three, I couldn't stop when this one ended - and finished the series in a matter of days.  If you have any interest in Amish culture, this is definitely a must-read.

Want to find out more?  Go here to read an excerpt of When the Heart Cries.

I received a free copy of this book from 'Blogging for Books' in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

GratiTuesday - Old-Fashioned Fun

As a kid, my parents would sometimes dress us in our PJs, pop us in the van, make sandwiches, and head for the drive-in.  We'd back the van in, lay on blankets in the back, and watch until we fell asleep.

I've missed that since I moved here, and whenever we're back home in PA over a summer weekend, we try to make a trip to the drive-in, but it's been more than a year since we made it there.

A few years ago I heard of one still open here in North Carolina, but while it sounded like fun, I never found two movies together that our kids would enjoy.

Until this past weekend.  Both Cars 2 and Mr. Popper's Penguins were playing.

They have many specials, and this weekend was no exception.  Each person who dressed in Hawaiian style clothing would receive a free bag of popcorn.  Since guests are not permitted to bring food onto the property, this was a pretty good deal - so we all dressed up.  Finding clothes that we thought would pass as tropical was fun, and the kids enjoyed the 'costumes.'

We played Frisbee and football until it was time for the movies to start.  We explored, too - this theater even had a playground!

Then we set up chairs in front of the van and watched the movies.

It was a beautiful night.  Much cooler than the 99 degrees originally called for, a breeze soon came and kept us comfortable.  The stars were bright and the crickets chirped loudly.  It was a fabulous night to be settle in and be together.

So today, I"m grateful for old theaters.  I'm grateful for kid-friendly double features and the ability to sleep in the next day.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to spend an evening under the stars with my sleeping Little Man in my arms.  I'm grateful for cool breezes and missing humidity and hokey flowered shirts and free popcorn.  I'm grateful for a family that enjoys old-fashioned family togetherness.

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Meal Plan Monday - July 4th

With the exception of the Fourth, this is just a regular week for us - finally!  As with any summer plan, however, we're going for simple.  I just can't make myself spend hours at a shot in the kitchen when there's fun to be had with the kids!

So, here goes:

Whole wheat waffles decorated like this (banana version), with extras for another day (hopefully - we really like these!)
Whole wheat blueberry streusel muffins - we're picking blueberries this week and are hoping for lots!
Scrambled eggs and toast
Cereal and fruit X2
Banana double chocolate chip muffins and fruit

Lunches will be our usual assortment of leftovers, sandwiches, and sliced veggies.  Today I'll make a PB version of this in honor of the holiday!

Hamburgers, corn on the cob, baked black beans, Hartley's, watermelon, cupcakes
Roasted pork tenderloin, scalloped potatoes, broccoli casserole
BBQ chicken sandwiches, roasted carrots, watermelon
BBQ chicken pizza, salad
Calzones, salad
Chinese takeout in honor of our study of China
Potato Nachos

For more Meal Plan Mondays, visit OrgJunkie!