Sunday, July 31, 2011

Project-A-Day Postmortem

Whew!  July is finally over and so "Project-A-Day" ends too.  What a relief!  I loved everything I made (or finished) this month, but there just weren't enough hours in the day to do a project per day.  I also tend to do projects that take more than a day.  There were projects or recipes that I didn't include on the Project-a-Day page, some of which I will feature in upcoming blog entries.  In the meantime, I do want to remember (memorialize) those items I actually DID do during July (click on the picture to see if there is an associated blog entry):

No Sew Bed Canopy
Holiday T-Shirts
No Seam Pillowcase
Glitter Nails
Dry Erase Marker Pouch
Easy Button Shades
Chinese Chicken Salad
Strawberry Spinach Salad
Beach Study Station
I'll be changing the "Project-a-Day" page to a permanent DIY page where I will put pictures and titles of projects with links to the blog post.  I will also be starting a separate recipe page for my favorite recipes.  I don't create recipes, but I'm happy to share good ones :) 


Friday, July 29, 2011

Recipe - Chinese Chicken Salad

This is a great summer salad that is a complete meal with chicken.  It's also easy to make in advance, especially the night before or in the morning.  The entire salad can be mixed in advance, but make sure NOT to add the dressing until you are ready to eat.

Chinese Chicken Salad

               1 Napa cabbage          
1 bunch green onions
1-2 packages of ramen noodles (soup)
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
1 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3/4 cup canola oil
2 Tablespoons soy sauce

Boil chicken breasts until cooked through and set aside to cool.  Combine sugar, vinegar, canola oil and soy sauce in small saucepan over medium heat.  Heat to boil and allow liquid to boil for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and allow liquid to cool thoroughly.  Brown ramen noodles in olive oil in frying pan.  (Discard ramen noodle flavor packet.)  Add sesame seeds and almonds and brown.  Let the mixture cool.  Chop cabbage and onions and combine with noodle mixture.  Cut the chicken into chunks and add to salad.  Mix or shake liquid dressing and mix with salad immediately before serving.



Thursday, July 28, 2011


I've been listening to MercyMe's "The Generous Mr. Lovewell" a lot these days.  (You can find it here for download from Amazon.)  These guys are so inspired and it's hard to say what is more amazing, the lyrics or the music.  One song that really speaks to me is "Beautiful" (also available for individual download here.)  I don't have much to say about it, because the lyrics speak for themselves:

The days will come when you don't have the strength
When all you hear is you're not worth anything
Wondering if you ever could be loved
And if they truly saw your heart they'd see too much

You're beautiful, you're beautiful
You are made for so much more than all of this 
You're beautiful, you're beautiful
You are treasured, you are sacred, you are His
You're beautiful

I'm praying that you have the heart to find
'Cause you are more than what is hurting you tonight
For all the lies you've held inside so long
And they are nothing in the shadow of the cross

You're beautiful, you're beautiful
You are made for so much more than all of this 
You're beautiful, you're beautiful
You are treasured, you are sacred, you are His
You're beautiful

Before you ever took a breath
Long before the world began
Of all the wonders He possessed
There was one more precious
Of all the earth and skies above
You're the one He madly loves
Enough to die

You're beautiful, you're beautiful, in His eyes

You're beautiful, you're beautiful
You are made for so much more than all of this 
You're beautiful, you're beautiful
You are treasured, you are sacred, you are His
You're beautiful


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

School for the Disorganized Child

Most people make resolutions in early January.  In our house we make resolutions in August and September.  Our son CJ will begin 5th grade in less than 2 weeks and he's not the only one dreading it.  CJ has ADHD and struggles with focus even with medication.  He seems to float through the day, more comfortable in virtual reality worlds of games and TV than in real life.  It's challenging for parents who are highly motivated overachievers.

At the end of the last school year, I found myself in tears in front of Kentster, CJ's teacher, the school speech pathologist and school psychologist.  While the teacher shared our serious concerns about CJ's inability to keep up, the psychologist was more interested in telling us what they couldn't do for him.  I begged for guidance, a clue, SOMETHING that would help us unlock what CJ needed to succeed.

So here we are again.  It's almost August and we have resolutions to find a way to help our son.  Over the summer we unlocked some answers in great books about executive functioning:  "Organizing the Disorganized Child" by Dr. Martin Kutscher and Marcella Moran, and "Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary 'Executive Skills' Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential," by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare.  As I've read these books I've been wondering how these people snuck into my house because they are definitely describing my kid.  The basic premise is that some kids (especially ADHD kids) lack the "executive skills" (not CEO skills, but more like the basic organizational skills to get from point A to point B) to organize their desks, much less their cluttered minds.  As a result, we now have some new resolutions which are developing into strategies to get this school year off to the right start.

I'm convinced that resolutions are a sign of faith and hope that all things are possible with God's guidance.  However, I'm a little skeptical about our ability to perservere when the school year (and church year and legal year) gets more hectic.  Check back with us after the first quarter is over and let's see how we're all doing with our "executive skills" :)


Saturday, July 23, 2011

DIY - Easy Button Window Shades

A year ago before I learned to sew I could never imagine making window treatments - with or without sewing.  This DIY involves minimal sewing and has a special "trick".  Here we go:

1.  Measure the inner portion of the window (width + length).

2.  You need fabric the width of window x 2 + 4" (e.g. window width= 36"; 36 x 2= 72" + 4" = 76" wide).  You're not going to be able to find fabric 76" wide, so plan on purchasing more length to compensate for a vertical seam).  The length of your fabric will be length of window x 4 + 4" (if the width of your window is more than width of fabric, you will need length x 6 +6") (e.g. window length is 60"; 60 x 4=240" + 6" = 246" (about 7 yards for length).

My laundry room window is somewhat narrow, so for purposes of this tutorial, I'm assuming that the width of the window was less than the width of fabric, so I don't need to buy the extra length or sew a seam down the middle of the curtain to create the appropriate width.

3.  Cut your fabric in 2 identical pieces: width + 2" and length x 2 + 2".

4.  Sew around the fabric close to the edges of the fabric OR use a serger on the edges of the fabric.  This will keep your fabric from fraying, which was very important for me because I was using a canvas fabric.  I used a regular stitch because I was too lazy to take out the serger.

5.  Place the two pieces on top of each other, right sides facing.  Sew a 5/8" seam down the length on each side, LEAVING THE LAST 2" OF FABRIC FROM THE END UNFINISHED.  This should leave you with the two length wide sides of the pieces sewed together except for the last 2" which are still raw openings.  (Make sure the resulting width will be equal to the width of the window - if not, make the seam allowances a little bigger.)

6.  Sew a 1" seam across the other end on the width of the fabric.  This will be the bottom of your curtain.  You should have something that looks a little like an inside-out pillow case.  The last two inches on the sides of the "pillow case" should still be open and unfinished.  (Don't look too closely at this picture because I didn't do it that way and had to rip seams later.)

7.  Iron the seams open.  Now sew small (1/2" or less) hems in each of the 2" unfinished edges mentioned in steps 5 and 6 (4 seams in all).

8.  Turn the curtain right side out.  With the right side up, turn the raw edge under 5/8" and sew a hem all the way around so the curtain is still open like a pillowcase.  In the alternative, you can turn the raw edges under and use a single seam to hem the edges AND close the width of the curtain.  I just wanted to make sure the raw edges got under, so I ended up sewing the seam once to turn the edge under and then again over the first seam to close the open end.

8.  Now sew another seam across the curtain 1" below the first seam.  This will create the pocket for a spring rod (the curtain rod).  Insert the spring rod through the pocket.

9.  Fold up the bottom of the curtain and mark where you want to put the buttons.  You can use as many or as few buttons as you want because they will only be decorations.

10.  Using your buttonhole attachment, put buttonholes in the locations you marked for buttons.  If you are not comfortable with your buttonhole attachment, this is a great opportunity because you don't have to worry about mistakes or misplacement - it's all decorative.

11.  Sew the buttons on top of the buttonholes, but don't go through both thicknesses of fabric.  Again the buttons are only for decoration, so there is no need to attach them to the back portion of the curtain.

12.  Cut small lengths of Velcro.  Make sure to get the Velcro for fabric (sew on without adhesive).  I made the mistake of using the adhesive version and it won't hold with fabrics and if you try to sew it on, the needle can stick in the adhesive.  (Please note that if you buy the correct Velcro, there is no adhesive or paper backing on either side like you see below.)  Sew the Velcro on the backside of the button locations.

13.  Sew the soft side of the Velcro onto the back portion of the curtain where you want the "buttons" to "fasten".

And there you have it . . . an inexpensive curtain you can make yourself.  It has been several years since I originally wrote this tutorial, and that curtain is holding up well.  I would not suggest this pattern for large or wide windows unless you are using a lightweight fabric.

I'd love your feedback or pictures of your button shades.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

DIY - Holiday (or Anytime) T-Shirts

For the Fourth of July we had some friends over and I had this fabulous idea of making patriotic t-shirts for the whole family - me, Kentster, CJ and Kenzie.  It was such a fabulous idea I stayed up late on the 3rd to make them with brand new t-shirts I purchased - 2 navy blue, 1 red and 1 white.  Briana at Sweet Peas and Bumblebees was the inspiration for the project and I used the awesome digital graphics she suggested from Summertime Designs.  In fact, it was such a great idea that I also found a graphic online to use for Kentster's shirt.

First, you do need to launder the shirts before putting transfers on them.  For the transfer, I used fabric transfer paper from Avery.  They come in different versions for light colored and dark colored fabrics.  That's where I went wrong.  I didn't realize there was a difference and I had some fabric transfers left over from a previous project and I didn't bother to read that they were for light  colors.  Here's what happens when you use the wrong fabric transfer:

The picture can barely be seen.  In fact, the photograph looks better than the real thing.  So make sure you have the right kind of fabric transfer before you get started and make sure to carefully read the directions.

Another point - you need to make sure you reverse the graphic image on your computer before you print it on the transfer paper, otherwise, your shirt will have a backwards transfer which can be very problematic with words.  You also need to make sure when you place the image on the shirt you have it oriented properly, which can be a little confusing when it's backwards.  Here's what happens when you put the image on the wrong way.  The image is not backwards, it's actually upside down!  Ack!!

By this point I had ruined two new t-shirts and had two more I couldn't use because I had dark shirts and fabric transfers for light colors.  I had to improvise.  I managed to find a white shirt for CJ and a gray one for Kenzie in their drawers.  I used the graphic from Summertime Designs and added my own sayings in fonts I liked and voila! they look great!

I really enjoyed taking individual elements of the designs and putting them together!  It made me feel like a graphic designer!  This opens up all types of ideas for making fabric transfers.  You can transfer designs onto shirts, totes, aprons - pretty much any fabric.  You can find designs on the web, including individual pieces you can put together in Photoshop or other similar programs.  We have a Mac and I just put them together in Preview - SO EASY!!  Another idea is to scan scrapbook items - paper, stickers, tags, etc or use photos!  Be sure to honor copyrights where applicable (no reselling).
I know I will be doing more of these types of fabric transfers in the future.  Maybe the next vacation instead of buying the obligatory souvenir t-shirt, why not take a picture or make a scrapbook page to scan and put on a t-shirt.  It will be more meaningful and representative of your trip.  Let me know if you have any other ideas to use with fabric transfers.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011


This week Kentster and I are in Louisville, Kentucky for the National Pastoral Musicians Conference.  Yep, I took a week off work for a "romantic getaway." :)  It's been a nice trip so far and the kids are having a great time with their aunts in southern Illinois.  

Louisville is a very nice city - it reminds me of St. Louis where I grew up.  Hot, humid and has a river separating it from the next state.

The conference is interesting too.  For those of you who don't know (and I doubt very many people do), the Roman Catholic Church in English-speaking countries is implementing a new Roman Missal on the first Sunday of Advent this year.  (WHAT?!?)  That probably sounded like gobblygook to most people.  What it means is that the words to many of the prayers used in the American Catholic church for over 40 years have been retranslated (changed).  What that means for music directors like Kentster is that they are all looking scrambling desperately seeking the perfect new musical setting for the mass.  It's made for a fascinating conference this year.

See the Louisville Slugger in his mouth??  
We've also had some fun here in Louisville.  We had a great dinner last night at Joe's Crab Shack:
Me after a few drinks
We also worshipped at a beautiful Taize prayer service:

Today was the "goodie" day where the publishers give out music samples at listening (and sight reading) sessions.  That's fun.  I'm also sure the liturgy tomorrow will be inspiring.  I'm also enjoying the fact that it doesn't get dark here until after 9:00 p.m.:

Best of all, I get to spend an entire week with the love of my life, my very best friend, my wonderful husband.  God, husband, family - it looks like I have my priorities in order this week.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A New Look!

If you are one of the hardy few who visit "Straddling the Gap" you can see I have a new look! This gorgeous template is from Diana at The Girl Creative. It is a premade template (one of several to choose from), but Diana was amazing at catering to my every little change! I'm also using a few cute button gadgets from Shabby Blogs.  It's so nice to have a pretty page! It's so fresh and cheery and better represents me than my previous design. I haven't been blogging for a long time (about a month?) but I feel like I've discovered a new world of creativity! I have seen things through linky parties that I want to try and some things I have never seen anywhere else. It's just amazing what these ladies can do! I am humbled to be hanging in their blogosphere :)

Thanks again Diana - you're the best!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

DIY - Scrappy Flowers

I hate waste.  I love bright, bold colors.  That pretty much sums up this crochet throw.  I haven't worked much with flowers/circles, but I wanted to give it a try.

I loved everything about making this blanket.  Everytime I picked out another yarn, I thought of the original project for which it was used.  Combining the colors without the constraints of a pattern was a bit liberating for me.  (I'm a bit of a Garanimals person, needing "matching" colors.)  It was also easy to do a little at a time because you make each "flower" separately and piece them together at the end.
It makes me so happy to use up leftover yarn and make something bright and cheery in the process!  Isn't that why we love making things?  Creating beautiful things, especially from ordinary things, brings me joy.  
Hope you have some joy creating today!


Monday, July 11, 2011

DIY - Glitter Nails [FAIL]

Today I feature a "craft fail" and it's not the first (or last) one.  I tried the "glitter nails/toes" with Kenzie - she got the nails, I got the toes.  Pretty simple - red nail polish, glitter on top while wet and a clear coat after the red paint with glitter dries.  It was a great idea I found on a blog (the source of all creativity), but I managed to mess it up.  The problem is the glitter - I realized the suggestion to use a special fine glitter wasn't just a suggestion.  Now the pedicure on my big toe is scratching my leg whenever the nail touches it.  If that's not bad enough, now you get to see my ugly feet:

Kenzie's fingernails were cute, but I'm worried she may wake up tomorrow with scratches on her face from the glitter.  (Notice how she made her fingers into a cute heart :)

Lesson learned: If you want the project to turn out EXACTLY the way you expect, follow the directions.  If you want to be creative, use the directions as a suggestion, but be prepared for the consequences - good, bad or ugly.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Arizona in July

Summer in Arizona is harsh, yet starkly beautiful.  Not too many people visit in the summer, but during the last month most of the world has seen some of our summer phenomena.  Forest fires of epic proportions, triple digits every day during July and this week, a haboub.  What's a haboub?  It's pronounced "ha-boob" and it's a sand storm.  If you want to see lots of video, you can easily find it on YouTube, but these are pictures from my backyard:

To the east - the bank of rolling sand

To the south - see the lighter swirling sand

To the west - extending nearly 60 miles

The haboub looked like a large, slow moving cloud that rolled over us in a blanket of dust and turned dusk to pitch black in less than five minutes.  I've seen these sand storms before, but never like this.  We now have a layer of dust on everything outside.  This is "monsoon season," when Arizona experiences weather just by the addition of a little more humidity.  Little changes make for big events in Arizona.

Even though the world now thinks it has seen summer in Arizona, there's still so much they are missing:  monsoon storms that suddenly spring up from the east in towering thunderheads at dusk;  the smell of rain in the form of creosote on the desert floor; or a shade of green you can't find in places where it rains more than 8 inches a year.  My kids were born in Arizona and will stop whatever they are doing to run out and watch the rain.  We sat outside tonight in the hot blowing wind, waiting for the rain and marveling at the fireworks display in the lightning.  Tomorrow after the rain we'll awake to purple Texas sage and the most alluring flowers on inhospitable plants with needles and thorns.  

Yes, monsoon season (when the "dry heat" isn't so dry) can be brutal to endure, but for someone who is deeply in love with the desert, it's just another example of the enigmatic beauty of the southwest.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

DIY - No Sew Bed Canopy

Kenzie has been after me for weeks to get her a canopy for her bed.  I considered making one using a large wooden quilt hoop and tulle, but I just could never get around to it.  Finally, I purchased one on Ebay for $8.15 (including shipping).  It wasn't too fancy, just white mosquito netting over a wire hoop with a metal ring on top.

On Saturday, Kenzie and I went to one of my favorite places in central Phoenix - SAS fabric warehouse.  SAS is a scary place for a fabric junkie, but Kenzie kept me moving.  We bought 12 yards of pink tulle for $0.75 per yard!  (She also had to have a hoop skirt, something she has been wanting for a long time.  It enhanced the romantic, southern feeling we were trying to evoke.)

I cut the tulle into strips 3-4' wide by 10-12' and tied it just below the metal ring at the top of the existing canopy.  I repeated this several times, layering it all the way around the hoop and over the existing white netting.  The tulle knots created the little pouf you see at the top of the picture.  Then I tied some pink satin ribbon to the metal ring and hung the canopy from a sash hook I screwed into the ceiling.  I embellished the canopy with lengths of pink and white satin ribbon and put a couple of Kenzie's old fairy crowns over the top.

If you have a serger you can finish the tulle edges.  (I have one but I'm lazy.)  So this canopy was "no sew".  Every little girl's dream canopy and it cost less than $20!!!  The hoop skirt cost more than that!  As a bonus, she is ready when the big mosquito infestation hits Phoenix :-)


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Project-a-Day Month

Well, this is a post I've been trying to write for about 5 days.  I started it before midnight on the 5th, but it's now well into the 6th.  I decided on the 1st that it would be fun to feature one project/craft each day in July.  It's very ambitious, but I'm going to give it a try.  The only problem is that I've been so busy trying to get enough projects for the first 5 days that I haven't had time to write the blog entries.  (I hope you are LOL because I certainly am!)

So here's the deal:  Each day in July I'm putting a picture of a project on a new page on my blog entitled "Project-a-Day".  The idea is for the picture to "link up" to a blog post from me describing the project, or at least the tutorial for the project from someone else in the blogosphere.  I'm not promising I will actually complete a project each day during July (check that, I KNOW I won't finish a project each day during July), but I will try to have photos of 31 projects by the end of July.  (You just might have to wait for Christmas after next before I post a description of each project.)  The projects could be sewing, crafting, crochet, scrapbooking, quilting, recipes or hey, maybe I'll give you all a power point presentation on the Clean Water Act.  It's my creativity.  Insane, I know, but what the heck.

I promise not to make every post this month about a project, so if you hate the project a day thing, don't leave!  If you like the Project-a-day thing, here are pictures of the projects I've posted under the Project-a-Day tab for the first 6 days.


Day 1 - Cute Icepack Cover
Day 2 - No Seam Pillowcase

Day 3 - Bed Canopy
Day 4 - Holiday T-Shirts
Day 5 - Glitter Nails
Day 6 - Granny Scraps