Monday, April 21, 2014

And the Gingham Ribbon Award Goes To...

Before I tell you who the Gingham Ribbon Award goes to, let me tell you what it is.

Several years ago, right at the beginning of my blogging journey, I was working with a wonderful teacher named Jenna.  She and my mom were pretty much the only people reading my blog at the time.  Ok, my mom was still trying to figure out how to turn on her computer.  So, that leaves Jenna being my sole blog reader.  Anyway, I spent the month of July making tons of jam.  Of course, my love of photography was growing at the time, so I had to find ways to make my photos cute.  Tying a little gingham ribbon on the tops of my jam seemed like the perfect way to cute-sify them.  I only tied ribbons around 40 jars.  The rest went into my pantry for my kids to have throughout the year.  

When we went back to work in the fall, the teachers were talking about how they spent their summer.  Jenna, and her fabulous roommate Kylene, had spent many weeks canning and making jam. As she was telling us about her jam making, she added that she had not tied gingham ribbons around her jam when it was completed, but that she was very pleased with the fruits of her labor anyway.  Thus, the Gingham Ribbon Award was born.  

The Gingham Ribbon Award is a special honor, given to anyone who goes above and beyond.  The award is given to people who don't just make jam.  They also spend hours tying little gingham ribbons onto them in preparation for Christmas gifts.  

Now, aren't you just dying to know who the Gingham Ribbon Award goes to?

It's my friends Jenna and Kylene.

You see, I went to a demonstration lesson at the school that my friend Jenna now works at.  Jenna and Kylene brought a jar of homemade jam for each of the teachers who came from my school, as a welcome gift.  Oh, how we love these two!  Thanks, friends!  You are the best and you truly deserve the Gingham Ribbon.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bathroom Barn Door

I've been pinning barn doors for quite a while now.
Sadly, I seem to be frozen with indecision.  I guess I don't know what I really want.
Here's the problem.
We've lived in our house for almost 10 years now and we've never had a bathroom door in our master bath.  Let me say that again... We've never had a bathroom door!!! Our bathroom entrance has an odd shape.  It's not a regular rectangle.  It's more like a giant hexagon.  It's also an extra large entrance.  So, when my hubby or I wake up in the morning and flip the light on in the bathroom, it lights up the bedroom too!  I have no idea why any builder would ever think that having no bathroom door is a good idea.  It doesn't even have a door to the toilet area.  How dumb is that?  The only reason it has taken me almost 10 years to get a door is because it has such a large and odd shape.  I had no idea how to fix this without hiring a contractor.
Enter the barn door solution...
It's the perfect solution for our problem.  A sliding barn door, mounted to the outside of the odd shaped entry, is perfect.  It's also pretty cool and trendy right now.  A few weeks ago my hubby and I made a trip up to the door store.  Origionally, we had visions of a cool old barn door, and I even started saving barn wood.  In the end, it just seemed like a lot of work and a lot of hassle to build the perfect door.  So, we bought a door that isn't exactly a cool old barn door, but hey, IT'S A DOOR!  That's a step up from where we've been for the past 10 years.
Now for the "frozen with indecision" part.  I have no idea how I want to finish it.  I assumed that I'd just stain it the same color as my trim.  My hubby, on the other hand, seems to think that something different would be fun.  (Suddenly someone thinks he's a design expert I guess!)  Well, I started thinking about it, and I have to admit that he may be right.  Maybe we want a different look for the barn-ish door. 
Oh, what to do?  What to do!?!
I'm stumped.  In the end, I would bet that I'll stain it the same dark color as the trim, because that's the safe thing to do.  What do you think?  Do you have strong opinions about barn doors?  I'd love to hear them because I'm absolutely frozen and my unfinished barn door is sitting in my garage.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Kitchen Barstools - My Deal of the Day

I've been thinking about getting new barstools lately.
I've been contemplating it for 9 years to be exact.
When we moved into our house, over 9 years ago, we had 2 barstools for our long kitchen counter.  The counter begged for 3 stools, and I knew that "one of these days" I'd get around to purchasing a new set.  Well, have you ever seen the price of barstools?  They are SO expensive!  So, I contemplated getting new stools... for NINE YEARS!

When my friends at LeapFrog sent a video crew to my house, I was embarrassed by chipped paint, barstools that I purchased in 1998.  There aren't too many things in my house that "bother" me, but for some reason I cringe when I look at my old stools. To make things worse, they wanted to use them in the videos.  Ugh!

This weekend, I'd finally had enough.  I knew what I wanted, I had a gift card, and I was ready to take the plunge.  I knew I was going to have to spend at least $100 per stool, but it was time.  We've been in our house for almost 10 years and this was supposed to be one of my first purchases!  These were the stools I was going to buy.

I tried putting them into my shopping cart, and they were no longer available!  I could have cried.  I couldn't afford the stools at Ballard Designs.  The stools at Cost Plus were just not quite right, and now these were no longer in stock.  So sad.

Well, there is a happy ending to this story, Friends!  You see, as I was browsing around, I happened to run across these pretty stools at Lowes. They aren't the rustic, industrial, look I was going for, but I thought they were very pretty.  They were a great color, very solid, and swiveled (which I knew my kids would love).

Ok, are you ready for the price?  If you've looked around at barstools, you know that stools like these sell for around $135 each.  When I entered my zipcode into the Lowes site to access prices, this stool popped up for $35.  Ummm... hold on.  Did you hear me?  $35 DOLLARS!!!  I quickly put three of these into my shopping cart, paid for them online, and they were ready for pick up at my local Lowes.  Holy cow!  That is an incredible deal!

We did have to assemble them, but it was pretty easy.  I'm so happy to have these in my house!  I'll be painting and selling the old stools.  I'm sure someone can use a nice, 1998, set of barstools.  Aside from the price, my other piece of good news was that we had some family members over for dinner, gave them a good test, and only one screw fell out!  Not bad!

I have no idea if these are available at all Lowes locations, but they were available at the Mill Creek location and they were a screaming deal!!

Happy shopping!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Working With LeapFrog

I spend most of my blogging time writing about cooking, baking, sewing projects, home decor, organization, and gardening. In addition, I write about literacy on my other blogs, which ties into my teaching career. One thing I haven't shared too much about is my new professional adventure.  

Sometime last year I was selected as part of Clever Girls to participate in a blogging campaign for LeapFrog. I hadn't done any product reviews on my blog, other than just letting people know about something I had purchased that I thought was cool. I absolutely LOVE LeapFrog products, so it was a dream come true for me to review their products, and I was beyond thrilled to have the opportunity.  I reviewed a book and a game for LeapFrog and was able to keep in contact with a few new friends from the company.   From there, I was invited to join a few webinars, review a few more products, and eventually they flew me down to California to learn more about their product development.  

Last November, I had a conference call with a few ladies from LeapFrog.  They were looking for some new content on their new app and website.  They liked what they had seen on my blog and wanted me to do those type of activities, writing, and photography for them.  Friends, for a teacher this is like being asked to play basketball with the Dream Team. 

Dream. Come. True.

One thing led to another, and after several months of contract, insurance, and legal stuff, I was officially writing content and taking photos for LeapFrog.  That brings me to today's new adventure!  At 10am, a video production crew showed up at my house!

 They checked out the lighting in different rooms in my house, and decided that they wanted to do two different video shoots, using two different locations (and wardrobe changes).  Seriously... someone pinch me because this cannot be real. 

They brought a ton of gear with them.  There were big fancy lights and I was set up with one of these microphones that attach to the back of your pants.  (That was the part of the day that made me realize that this was really happening!  I'm not sure why attaching the microphone to my pants made it seem like the real deal, but that was when I got nervous.)

 Once they were all set up, they started filming.  They asked me questions about how I use LeapFrog products in the classroom and my opinions, from a teacher's standpoint.  

Then, we had a location and wardrobe change.  The next few videos were all related to articles that LeapFrog had asked me to write for them.  Talk about unreal!!!  Writing articles for LeapFrog??  Creating videos based on my articles??  I seriously cannot believe it!  

I didn't get any pictures of the video taping in progress, but I thought the pictures of the film crew would give you a good idea of how I spent my day.  

Pinch me.  I think I'm still dreaming!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Chicken Tortilla Soup

I'm not sure how I got lucky enough to have kids who will eat just about anything with veggies in it.  I was the pickiest eater known to man, when I was growing up.  I'm still pretty picky, but I will eat most fruits and veggies.   My kids' favorite soup is homemade vegetable beef.  They will gobble it up and ask for seconds!  When I spotted a recipe for Chicken Tortilla Soup on Pinterest, I hoped my kids would like it, but wasn't convinced it would be a keeper.

This was the bowl I served my daughter.  The first thing she said was, "Aren't you going to fill that up some more?"  I told her that I'd see how she liked it and then she could always have more.  Well, she asked for seconds and told me it was her new favorite soup.
Here's the recipe that I adapted from Pinterest:
1 carton of chicken stock
1 can of corn- drained
1 can of diced tomatoes, drained and rinsed
1/2 of a white onion, diced
2 cooked chicken breasts, cut into pieces
1/4 of a small jalapeno, diced
1/8 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp garlic salt
salt and pepper to taste
Cilantro for garnish
Cook in a Crock-Pot, on high, for 4 hours.
My daughter said she like the "little kick" of heat as she was eating it.  We don't usually like spicy foods, which is why we only used a quarter of a jalapeno and an 1/8 tsp of chili power.  Still, it had enough spice that she liked it, but wasn't overwhelming. 
Happy Crock-Pot Cooking!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Easy Crockpot Lasagna

I posted this recipe for Crockpot Lasagna quite a while ago.  When I made it for dinner last night, my son started begging me to make it more often.  My whole family loves it, so I figured it's worth a repost.

First, let my say that when you dish it up, straight out of the crockpot, it does not look this pretty.  Honestly, it looks like a sloppy mess.  This picture was actually taken of the leftovers.  Once it's cooked, it cuts perfectly and looks much prettier.  But, who am I kidding, no one in my family cares about pretty lasagna.  They just want yummy lasagna.

Here's what I did:

Mix together:
15 oz ricotta
2 cups mozzarella
1 cup Parmesan
2 cups chopped spinach
1 egg
1 tsp salt
dash of pepper

I buy 2 bottles of Newman's Own Alfredo sauce when I make lasagna. For this recipe I also bought some precooked chicken sausage.  It was one of those yummy sausages from Costco that has sundried tomatoes and cheese inside.  I've also made it with browned Italian sausage, but use what you like.

Pour a little Alfredo in the bottom of the crockpot. Then put in a layer of lasagna noodles.  I use the kind that you don't need to boil ahead of time.  The noodles are rectangular and my crockpot is oval, so I had to break the noodles up so they would fit.  Next comes a few spoonfuls of the ricotta mixture, then chicken sausage, and a handful of mozzarella cheese.  I continued alternating those ingredients until I ran out.

Ricotta mixture
Chicken Sausage

I set my crockpot to low for 5 hours, and then had it switch to warm until I got home.  (I love having a crockpot that I can program like that!)

Happy cooking, friends! You're going to love this!!!
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Springing Forward With Pussywillows

Flowerworld to the rescue!

Every year my school friends and I do an art project with pussywillows.  The trees are hard to grow in this area.  I've heard that there is some disease that is wiping them out.  Combined with our wet weather, these trees just aren't seen very often in our area any more.  Flowerworld sells cut stems by the bunch, so I ran out and bought a bunch for each teacher.  I bought two for myself because I knew I wanted some for home.  

It's now officially Spring! 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Springtime in my Garden

We are currently experiencing the 3rd rainiest March on record in the Seattle area.  It goes without saying that I haven't spent too much time on Springtime Garden Cleanup.  Well, all of a sudden, our favorite weathermen predicted a dry weekend!  The best news of all was that it actually happened!  My hubby spent Saturday mowing, edging, cleaning up the deck, and filling the yard waste bin to the tippy top.  Sunday, after church, it was my turn.  I weeded every place that didn't have shade.  (I really wanted to be in the glorious sunshine.)

A couple of years ago I planted HUNDREDS of daffodils.  See how well they are doing!

He's my lone survivor.  The squirrels were really happy that I planted their dinner for them.  

My perennials are coming up and I should really decide if I need to divide any.  It's better to divide plants before they bloom.  Any time I have divided plants later, I've killed all of the blooms.

 My strawberries are happy in their new home too.  My mom had a "problem" with growing too many berries in her yard.  Seriously, how can that possibly be a problem?  I happily dug them up and brought them home.

My Peonies are looking pretty good too!  It's hard to believe there will be flowers by May.

I'm not sure what I did wrong last year, but I managed to kill several of my blueberry bushes.  Last week my friend, Diane, and I hit Flower World.  They sell much more than flowers, so I found a new blueberry bush.

My least favorite job of Springtime Garden Cleanup is weeding and thinning the raspberries.  I don't know what it is about this area, but I just dread it.  Well, now I don't have to think about it for a while!

My Lilac trees are starting to show their leaves.

Sunshine's Daylillies have managed to survive the pounding feet of a large dog.
(Sunshine is my mom's Bingo Buddy co-worker.)

 It was so nice this weekend that my son even found a good spot to finish reading his book.
(Yes, I told him he had to read.  It's not his favorite thing, but he was enticed by the idea of reading in the sunshine.)

While I was working, I started thinking about this little area.

Last year there was a garden box there, where I grew most of my herbs.  When we painted the deck, we noticed that the box was rotting.  It had to go, and now it seems like a big empty space.  I'll have to do some thinking about that spot, because the look I have going on right now is just not cutting it.

Happy gardening, and if you are in the Seattle area, happy sunshine!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Homemade Bread Recipe

In addition to Cookie Friday, I also had some homemade bread rising when the kids came home from school.  I use the same recipe that my mom always did when I was growing up.  Sometimes I will use whole wheat flower instead of white, but it's always the same basic recipe.  I make the dough in my bread machine, on the dough cycle, because it makes the process SO much easier.  Once the dough is ready I put it into bread pans to rise again.  I don't like the way my bread machine cooks the bread, so that's why I just use the dough cycle.
On Friday, I tried pulling up the recipe on my blog and I couldn't track it down!  I tried several different key words and nothing seemed to pop up for me.  It's been a while since I've posted this recipe, so I thought it might just be buried in blogland somewhere.  This recipe is such a staple in our house, that it's certainly worth a repost.
1 package yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 cups scalded milk
1 Tbsp shortening
6 cups flour
(white, whole wheat, or a combination)
2 Tbsp sugar
2tsp salt
Combine yeast and warm water.  Let it rest for about 10 minutes.  Scald the milk and add the shortening so that it melts.  Put the milk mixture into the bread machine first. Add the rest of the dry ingredients on top of the milk.  Then, pour the yeast mixture on the very top.  Set your bread machine to the dough cycle and wait for it to beep at you!  Once it has risen in the machine, form into loaves and let rise again until it has doubled in size.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. 
Yeast is very easy to work with and shouldn't be intimidating. When I dissolve the yeast in the warm water, I make sure the water feels slightly warmer than bathtub water.  If it is super hot, it will kill the yeast.  If you use cold water, it won't activate.  I also make sure the milk is about that same temperature.  Finally, when I let the bread rise in the pans, I usually turn on my oven to preheat and just set the pans on the stove.  It gives the pans just enough warmth to help them rise.
Happy baking!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Reorganizing the Bookshelves

It was book reorganization time at my house this afternoon.  I'm finding that our home book collection is getting smaller and smaller.  As my kids grow up, I'm taking the books that they have outgrown to my classroom.  My classroom library is requiring a new bookshelf and my home library is dwindling.  Our children's book library is in a little corner of our bedroom, that is actually tucked behind a door.  It fits two bookshelves quite nicely and stores most of the kids' books.

I'm finding that we don't need sections for Board Books or Dora anymore.  We really needed more bins for the chapter books that my daughter loves.

I started by doing a little sorting.  Some of the sections are labeled right on the shelf, and the bins have hanging tags attached.  I love containerizing my books!  It makes it so much easier to find what you're looking for.

I didn't bother laminating the tags for the bins because I'm guessing they will change again by summer.  My daughter's interested seem to change daily right now (and my son still has absolutely no interest in books).

To the right of the large shelf is a smaller shelf.  Because this is a dark little corner, we need a lamp over here.  Bedtime books are hard to choose when it's too dark to see. The wire basket serves as our book return.  My kids know exactly where books need to go, but it never fails... they always leave a stack of books on the shelf for mom to return.  At least if they have a basket, it looks like the kids did what they were supposed to!

Happy organizing.
And happy reading too!


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