Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Duck, Duck, Goose!

For those of us who like to decorate, and re-decorate, I have a question. Have you ever considered the collateral damage? I refer to the fashions and trends we love one day and can't bear the sight of the next.

What of the forlorn, forgotten, rejected or despised icons of yesterday? Don't worry, I am certainly not advocating sticking with one look forever, thereby rendering our homes time capsules. In fact, Although I have some high quality antiques that seem to weather the trends and withstand my decorating whims, I, too, get jazzed up by the flavor of the month.

One of my biggest reasons for being a thrifty decorator is that I don't believe in putting tons of money into something that won't float my boat a few years down the road. An expensive neutral couch? Sure. A pricey brightly patterned ottoman? Not so much. That's what HomeGoods is for. By spending less now I free up my money and give myself permission to change my look later.

Now you might be thinking, "Anna, I have a timeless decorating style. What I choose today will most certainly be the way I decorate forever." I beg to differ. For many of us, "timeless" merely refers to "Until the next TIME I'm ready to re-decorate." And if that time happens to take the form of a little 2 a.m. fluffing and furniture moving, or an afternoon of spray painting when wind conditions are less than ideal, then so be it.

Still in denial? Let me share a few words with you: Hunter Green. Pouf. Borders (as in wallpaper, not the ailing bookstore), Sunflowers.

Why, let's look at the Waverly Ivy Patterned Coupon Holder Tom got me for my Master's degree graduation. You read that correctly. Yes, I still married him. It was a notoriously sucky gift, but he chose it because, "I know how much you love ivy, Anna." True that. In 1993 I loved loved loved ivy so much I could have kissed it. Now? Meh.

I guess you get my drift. I don't think we need to be wed to any one look. Just as a shoe junkie gets hopped up thinking of whether it's going to be a strappy or chunky year for sandals, "house people" drool over aqua and celadon and greek key patterns, and that's our idea of fun.

But before I leave, I beg you to join me as we think of the plight of the poor, hardworking Home Fashion Fowl. Consider the rooster who in recent years was spotted on our stoneware, dishtowels, murals and lamps. It was enough to make him feel invincible, or even a little bit cock-y.

This aging Lothario saw his popularity begin fade when songbirds-- adorable chubby breasted finches and chickadees-- took over on fabric and stationery and dishes and...blogs. Poor rooster and his wattle didn't stand a chance. And who is to say that the pretty little birdies are here to stay? I look around my house and see ceramic birdies and a bird paperweight and a bird pillow and bird jewelry and... and... and...

To see what the future holds, they need look no further than the lowly, dependable goose--neck adorned with a ribbon or wreath-- who graced our knick knacks and paddy whacks throughout the 80's and early 90's. Where is this goose now? Hanging out at the thrift shop next to a used gyno table, patiently awaiting a comeback. But there is hope for all Home Decor Fowl! Consider the owl, who last had his heyday surrounded by 'shrooms and macrame and fern fronds in the 70's. All he can say now is Looook Whoooooooo's Back!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Something's Missing-- And I Think it's My Sanity

Okay, I have one child who seems a little, uh, SCATTERED lately. No spelling lists come home, so the child wings it on tests; the science project materials lean in a corner untouched even though the science fair looms. Looms!

A White Fang test tomorrow? Too bad White Fang is drooling or baying at the moon or doing whatever in the classroom at school but is not in our home for studying purposes.

Tom and I are handling this differently. He gets angry and all neck-bulgy when the kids says, "Don't worry, everything's going to be fine. I've got it covered." The kid, in turn, responds to the anger or attempt at control by clamming up and refusing to tell Tom what tests and projects are coming up.

I vacillate between sitting back and wanting the kid to have natural consequences (biting my tongue when the "F" on the Latin test comes back-- hey isn't this the same kid who got that nifty national Latin award last year?) and trying to help to the point of having to physically restrain myself from doing the kid's work for him. "Here, let's sit at the computer together! It'll be fun! You type one word, I'll type the next!" The kid responds to me by thinking it's okay to blow off work, because Mom will just find his supplies, give him a pep talk, and bail him out at the last minute anyway.

Oh, did I just say "him?" Fine, so it's obvious which kid I'm talking about. And in the time it took for the kid and his dad to discuss the finer points of remembering one's damn novel so one does not flunk out of 6th grade, his little sister had gone to the computer, googled "White Fang," and downloaded an audio version for our listening pleasure. Resourceful AND enabling! The seeds are planted so young these days!

While I am slightly reluctant to say this scatterbrained behavior could possibly be gender related, I will mention that I'm the only one in the house who is able to keep us in toilet paper or find the nail clippers.

Thank you.

BTW, I'm reading a book called Let's Talk Teens: 10 Questions to Connect Parents, Teens and God by Diane Overgard and Janice Rubin and it ROCKS! I fully expect to implement all of its great advice when I finish reading it, and after I drop off something my son forgot at school. Kidding. I think.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book-em Dan-o!

I was going to write about how I ate an entire box of Tagalongs that I had left in the hot car. My high standards of quality control meant I couldn't deliver them to a customer if they were all melt-y and such.

Fortunately, I just finished my book craft, so I can share that with you instead!

Remember these? A little light reading:

Here's a hint as to what they became:


I saw this craft in my beloved Country Living magazine and had to try it.

Please mentally snip that little thread hanging off of the side of the red purse. Thanks.

A half yard of cute fabric, $5.99 handles from JoAnn's, an old book, and a glue gun, and you are in business. No sewing, unless you count sewing on the button.

The second one was definitely easier than the first, and although they are not perfect, they are perfectly adorable!

I am not going to do a tutorial here, because Country Living has this fabulous one already. If I had seen their slide show before attempting this craft, rather than relying solely on written directions, I think my purses would have turned out even better!

Linking up to Transformation Thursday at the Shabby Chic Cottage.

Transformation Thursday

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Water Changes Everything

When my kids were babies, I would remind myself that "Water Changes Everything." A foul mood or fussy kids? Throw them in the tub. A boring day? Turn on the sprinkler in the yard, bathing suits optional. Maybe it was as simple as letting them play with sudsy water in the sink.

Today is World Water Day, and I'm reminded that in most parts of the world, "Water Changes Everything," but in a different way. Water means the difference between life and death. And far too many people are dying for lack of a resource we take for granted daily.

A HUGE thank you to those of you who supported our well project last spring through Charitywater.org! Thanks to your generosity, we fully funded 2 wells that will SAVE LIVES in remote villages.

Today, on World Water Day, I want to share with you the exciting news about where both wells are being built:


As the wells are completed, I will share more details, including GPS images of the wells. How cool is that?

If you would like to learn more about saving lives by providing water, please check out charitywater.org. Bless you and all you do to help others.

"For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required." -- Luke 12:48

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Monday Minute

Spring has left me feeling oh so crafty, which means we are surrounded by half-finished projects.

Like a back porch wicker re-do/BEFORE:

DURING: Doesn't Tom look so happy to be a part of the fun at 9 pm on Friday night? He tends to prefer a different type of March Madness:

AFTER will have to wait until I can figure out how to cover up all of the staples and, yes, masking tape that was involved.

There was the purchase of new outdoor lighting, sitting in boxes in the dining room:

And there's the half-finished project that involves these 2 books, a glue gun, and some fabric:

If it works, I think you'll LOVE it.

And waiting in the wings is my latest dumpster dive. Suggestions welcome:

But the best part of my days has been the good weather and being able to see these 2 play together constantly. I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Who am I?

12 years ago today was my last day teaching high school English. We had school conferences that day, shortened classes, and minimal Saint Patty's hoopla.

I went home, waddled around a while, and went to bed, only to be awakened by my water breaking in the middle of the night. Tom scrambled to find a tarp to protect the upholstery of our new minivan from my leaky self. I, of course, told him to get a grip and get me the heck to the hospital.

But this post isn't about Tom, or about my sweet baby born 12 years ago tomorrow, or how I lost the 52 lbs of baby weight. It's about me.

A dozen.

How can it be 12 years since I've taught school? That's more than a decade. Do I still call myself a teacher? Should I? Do I have the right?

I taught for 6 years, yet have been "semi-retired" for 12. Now I work part-time at a church, but teaching plays no role in that position.

Was this all part of a master plan that Tom and I formulated in the 90's? Have 2 kids, stay home for a decade, then go back to work part-time? No, like a lot of things, it just kind of happened that way.

It wasn't that I was terribly opposed to having someone else watch Jake for me, but with Tom's insane hours at work and our limited support system, I just couldn't figure out how to SWING it, even part-time. It all just seemed like so MUCH.

A second master's degree to become a librarian fell by the wayside when I couldn't figure out how to care for a constantly nursing child and still attend classes.

Even though I never considered it then, and just plunged into a wonderful decade of staying home, now I wonder if I am comfortable being so dependent on my husband's income, a situation not so very different from that of my mother, who married in 19 flipping SIXTY-THREE.

If I had kept on teaching, I would be making $75,000 by now. Going back tomorrow would earn me far less, but not nearly as little as I make at my part-time job, which pays for the groceries. Almost.

6 years teaching, 12 years not.

This makes me think of other milestones. Like being a daughter who has been alive longer without a mother than with one.

I think of the past and the future.

I think of planning and intentionality.

I have friends who PLANNED out their lives: how many kids, how big a house by which year, etc., in the same amount of time Tom and I took to decide whether we should get a pillow top mattress (no). They had goals. They looked at the big picture, not just the day to day. And of course, as we all know, not all of those plans came to fruition, but many did.

But life happens whether we plan for it or not. Sometimes life happens despite our plans.

I tend to live in the land of inertia, feeling that life happens TO me. I've realized, at age 41, that this is not the way I want to live.

I think rather than a life of planning, however, I yearn for a life of intentionality. What would I like the future to look like? My friendships? My family relationships? My faith? My career? How can I make a difference in the world? How do I get there from here?

I would like to face these questions with honesty, and optimism. Not a to-do list per se but perhaps a "will be" list.

And, as I am not known for my follow-through OR my big picture thinking, let's revisit this issue together...say in about 12 years?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Old Painting to Cool Chalkboard

I found a huge (4 foot by 3 foot) painting in someone's trash. After determining that it was a "Genuine Reproduction" as it said on the back, and realizing it reeked of cigarette smoke, I had to have it!

I'd been looking for a big frame to turn into a chalkboard.

Sorry this isn't smell-a-vision, but trust me on the smoke thing. I left this on my carport for 2 months to air it out, and to arouse suspicion among my admiring neighbors that I had, indeed, become a hoarder.

Tom popped the painting out of the frame for me and I threw it away, as it was the smokiest part. Then my neighbor took IT out of MY trash...Circle of Life, I suppose.

I cleaned the frame, and spray painted it Winter Gray. It was all I could do NOT to paint it my beloved Heirloom White. I felt a little unfaithful.
Next, I glazed the heck out of it using black glaze and an old towel. I think I may have overdone it, but it took about 5 minutes and was oh-so-fun!

Then I went to Home Depot and bought a $4 piece of MDF. They cut it for me for free.

I spray painted it with chalkboard paint, then glued the MDF into the frame using Liquid Nails.

Here it is, above the fireplace:

I'd like to enjoy it a while, then try to sell it on Craigslist.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Layered Ice Cream Cake

Who wants to pay $30 for an ice cream cake?

Not me!

Here's the economical (about $12) and delicious cake I made for Tom's 4oth and for Jake's 12th birthday.

There are 6 very loud 12 year olds in my basement right now, and they all seemed to dig this cake. I found the recipe in the Sept '09 issue of Family Circle.


15 Oreo Cookies
1 T milk
8-9 ice cream sandwiches
1 pint mint chocolate chip ice cream. (I used chocolate instead)
1 pint vanilla ice cream
1 pint strawberry ice cream
1 container (8 0z) Cool Whip, thawed.

1. Coat bottom and sides of a 9 inch spring form pan with cooking spray. Line sides w/ wax paper, using spray to help adhere to pan. Trim paper to pan height.

2. Finely crush 12 Oreos in a food processor or blender. Add milk and pulse until mixture holds together. Set aside.

3. Unwrap ice cream sandwiches and cut into quarters. Stack strips of sandwiches on end, packing them snugly around waxed-paper-lined pan to form cake's stand-up edge. Spoon cookie crumbs into center of pan; press firmly over bottom. Freeze 1 hour.

4. Let ice cream flavors soften for 15 minutes. Stir until firm but easier to spread. Spread ice creams in pan one at a time to make layers. Top with thawed whipped topping. Break up remaining 3 Oreos (0r 5 or 6 or 7!) and decorate top of cake. Freeze overnight.

5. To serve, remove sides of pan, then waxed paper. Let cake stand at room temp for 15 minutes before serving.

Enjoy! We sure did...

Snoop and Ye Shall Find

A lot has been written about how kids today are not as creative and curious as kids of "our generation." Overly structured schedules (hello! we have not had dinner together as a family once this week!) as well as mind-numbing electronics certainly have taken their toll.

In my house I've noticed what I consider to be a related phenomenon: Zero Snooping.

When I was a kid, I was familiar with every nook and cranny in my family's large 1830's farmhouse. No drawer or cupboard escaped my notice. The family silver, in its zip-up leather case enticed me to sort and admire it.

Old trunks with magazines articles about John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, jr beckoned me, as did yellowed clippings of my mom as Homecoming Queen or sporting a "Smart Wool Suit" made for 4-H club.

Baby clothes and Christmas ornaments piled high in boxes in our attic "junk room" provided both an obstacle course and hours of entertainment.

A lack of tv channels, a dearth of close friends, and a mom who went about her household business with zero hovering, afforded me ample snooping opportunities.

My snooping made me an excellent "finder" when something got lost. "That's in the back of the guest room drawer, third from the top" would not have been an unusual response from me when something needed finding. My mother thought I might have special intuitive powers, but I think I was just a relentless snoop.

I remember finding the book, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask" under my parents bed. Wowza!

I found a little note card, supplied by a pharmacy, in my dad's dresser drawer. It was titled: "How to Tell if your Child is On Drugs." One look in the mirror at my larger than normal pupils, and I convinced myself that somehow, through no effort of my own, I had become a drug addict.

I found cute-sy Valentine gifts, from my mother to my father, tucked in her turtleneck drawer. Had they been a flop? Were they forever un-delivered? Did my parents still love each other?

My snooping led to stories in my head, which were nearly as interesting as those I read in the books I carried around. And speaking of books, I loved to snoop through my mom's Judith Krantz novels for the juicy parts.

My father's infectious disease textbooks led to hours of ogling images of rare skin conditions and elephantitis of certain body parts, some of which are still burned into my brain.

If that got boring, I always had the burgundy World Book Encyclopedias to read, which wasn't exactly snooping, but showed a curiosity I've yet to see in my kids. Should I start with "A" today, or get crazy and choose "Q"?

Sometimes I'd climb to the top of a closet and make a perch-like fort. I discovered lots of dust bunnies and a rather banal copy of a girly magazine in my brother's room. With the iconic Farrah Fawcett red bathing suit poster thumbtacked to his ceiling, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.

Snooping led me to find my mother's missing gold wedding band, which now graces my hand, far underneath the bathroom radiator.

When my mom would leave to run errands, my sister and I would go into full snooping mode. I remember the time she unwrapped and re-wrapped a Christmas present, later proclaiming to my Mom: "When I shake this, it feels like a white stuffed kitty with long hair." Hmmmm.

My mother hid our presents in the laundry room, the car, or even the neighbor's houses. Once Mom and I conspired to keep my sister from finding her big birthday present-- Kenny Roger's "The Gambler" album. We taped it to the inside wall of our pantry far above our heads.... but she still found it.

But now, I have a closet full of photo albums yet untouched by little hands. Am I crazy to think my kids should be interested enough to see Mom with big hair at a frat party and wonder, "What's in that big red cup?"

At Christmas time, the kids know the guest room is where I wrap presents, but they leave them unmolested.

And with the exception of my daughter nearly giving her dad a heart attack looking for a certain hygiene item in his bedside table drawer, the kids don't seem to open or close any drawers, preferring to leave things in ever-accessible piles throughout the house. Or, better yet, delivered to them by their gracious mother in a time of need.

Sometimes I think no one except me knows where anything is in this house, and no one cares.

Mario Brothers is fun, I suppose, as is travel soccer, but what about the lost art of spending time alone-- sifting, and sorting...and snooping?

What about you? Did you ever find anything interesting during a snooping expedition?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Monday Musings

So much to tell you, I don't know where to start.

I am now the owner of skinny jeans, oh yes I am. You may remember my attempt to pretend that my other jeans were skinny, and shove them into boots, but these are the real deal. My cheap self found some on sale at Target for $6.24, and I didn't pass them up even though they were a few sizes too small and smelled strangely like chemicals.

Even though I have to grease myself down to get into them and use a pair of pliers to hike them up a la my Gloria Vanderbilts circa 1983, my 9 year old suddenly thinks I'm cool! I took her out for pizza, and when an adorable young man said hi to me, I said hi back. When Molly asked me who he was, I said, "I'm not sure. Maybe he's a former student." She said, "No, I just think he likes your skinny jeans." Hmmm. Is that kind of approbation worth getting a yeast infection? We'll see.

And in keeping with the fact that Tom and I are obviously teaching our kids to value what is important and true, we had this conversation about being a grandmother.

Molly: "I feel sorry for grandmothers."
Me: "Really? Why?"
Molly: "They can't wear skinny jeans and bikinis anymore. They only get to wear FLARES and fuzzy sweaters."

Alrighty then. For the record, although I now possess skinny jeans, let it be known that Molly has never seen me in a non-skirted bathing suit.

Shadow got a clean bill of health at the vet today, and despite eating cooking grease and several loaves of bread lately, she had managed to lose 3 lbs. The vet was happy. I wasn't so happy with:
1. driving around with a stool sample in the car
2. Paying $475 for well-dog care. We just canceled our $400 pool membership to save money, so while we're inside watching too much tv this summer, I'll just remember to be grateful that Shadow is worm-free.

I spent Friday night staying awake at a church lock-in for 5th and 6th graders. 107 of them. The good news is that despite staying awake sitting in a chair all night (he was afraid if he unfurled his sleeping bag he'd doze off,) Jake survived the next day without any colossal drama like last year. We wisely cancelled an all-day boy scout outing and basketball game, but he still had to muddle through baseball practice and neighborhood interactions. Things may have started to unravel around 6 pm the next day, but we think we did pretty well.

Speaking of drama, when I dropped Jake off at school today he was about to cry. Not only was he debuting a new haircut, he was without his security blanket-- a navy blue sweatshirt. One parenting expert has written about how kids LOVE LOVE LOVE hooded sweatshirts, and Jake is no exception. So, having managed to misplace 2 navy sweatshirts in one weekend, and having no winter coat (don't judge-- why buy a coat when he's just going to wear the sweatshirt?) he went to school in a gray wool thrift-store coat I found in the closet. Should be an itching good time. Sorry, teach. The upside? Tom located one of the navy sweatshirts a few minutes ago, frozen solid in the neighbor's back yard.

In other news:

Almost all of our Girl Scout cookies have been delivered. We are about $23 short, which considering we had to collect $700, doesn't seem so bad. I love how helping my daughter earn her "Cookie CEO" patch, which you know I'll never get around to sewing on, has challenged my math skills, used up a lot of gas and postage, and made getting into my skinny jeans that much more of a challenge. In honor of Girl Scouting, we bought a tub of Thin Mint ice cream yesterday. Like.

Well, there's always more to share, but if you have made it this far, you may be yearning for your freedom right about now, so I'll just say I hope you have a fabulous Monday!

I'm heading to a chi-chi fabric store, so here's my question: sweatpants or skinny jeans?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Eureka! How to Age Your Father 15 Years in 15 Seconds

So Tom walks into our bedroom to find Molly rifling through his beside table drawer.

"Whoa...what are you doing, Molly?"

"Looking for the climax! Where's the climax?"

Tom sprints across the room to stop whatever train wreck may or may not be about to occur. Closes drawer.

"Uhh...what do you need the...er....IT......for?"

"I have a cut on my lip and need some climax to fix it."

Ahhhh....we think she was looking for the Carmex.

That will teach this former English teacher not to discuss literary plot devices with the kids at bedtime.

Tom is still recovering.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

White Chicken Chili for Crockpot

With spring sports starting up, it is going to be harder and harder to find a time to cook and eat dinner. Last night I spent 2 hours in the car, and dinner consisted of Tostino's pizza rolls, a bowl of cereal, and Thin Mints. Eek.

Sooooooo, it's time to dust-off the crockpot. Please let me know your family faves!

Here's my go-to crockpot recipe (thanks, Donna!) that turns out great every time. I love that I don't have to do any browning or chopping.


4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

2 medium oninons, chopped ( I use frozen)

2 garlic cloves, minced (I use jarred)

1 T veg oil

2 14.5 oz cans chicken broth (more if you want it more soup-y)

2 15 oz cans cannellini or great northern beans, drained and mashed slightly

2 4.5 oz cans chopped green chilis (1 if your family likes less spicy)

1/4 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/8 tsp ground red pepper

Throw all into a crockpot and cook on high 8 hrs. Afterward, just shred chicken w/ a fork.

Top with cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips.