Married to the Empire

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Concert That Really Wasn't

Every summer, the stormtroopers are invited to the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra's "Laser Adventure," which is part of their Concerts in the Garden series. This Saturday was the first time that Steven was able to troop at it. For working the crowd before the show, each person received 2 free tickets, which meant that I was able to tag along for free.

It all sounded good...

A few pictures of the 501st Legion and Rebel Legion working the crowd:

My husband signing autographs--bet you never knew that I'm married to a celebrity!

The Doctor (the David Tennant incarnation from Doctor Who):

The stage area:

But the sky was looking quite ominous:

It started drizzling, and they pushed the concert back to 8:15. Then it started coming down harder, and they postponed the concert to 9:00. When they finally got around to starting the show, it was still raining, and it wasn't actually a concert. Naturally, the musicians didn't want to play their instruments in the rain, so we got canned music. And only the second half of the show (just the music from E.T. and Star Wars). It wasn't exactly a fun experience to sit huddled under an umbrella, wrapped in a wet blanket, and listen to a concert that wasn't even a concert.

Lindy and Mike:

Steven and me:

The only good thing was that the rain made for a more interesting laser show:

Would you believe that it hardly ever rains here in summer? A special thank you to Mike for having the foresight to bring two umbrellas and share one with us!

Camp Countdown

This is it. The final week before the big highlight of the youth group's summer: Youth Camp.

For the first time since I've been at this particular church (7 years in September), I'm excited about camp. When youth parents ask me if I'm excited about camp, I don't have to lie this time! (Not that I approve of lying, but it doesn't help parents be able to send their babies, even if their babies are 6'4", off with a woman who says she's not excited about camp.)

Why am I excited this year when I haven't been in the past? It's simple: We've been to this camp before, and I know what to expect. I have a lot of anxiety about new places and experiences. Throw in having to play chaperone to a bunch of teens, and my anxiety level is off the chart. Not that I can't handle it, but I like predictability and some degree of knowing what's going to happen.

Things I know:
-What the accommodations are like
-What the food is like (for the first time, I'm not bringing my own backup food in case of being served migraine-inducing foods--this camp has quite the buffet, so I'm safe with the variety)
-What the activities are like
-I can get in naps in the afternoon to fight off sleep-deprivation-induced migraine
-What the adult leaders are expected to do
-The horrible lead singer from last year's camp is not leading music this year!!!

Now I just have to tackle the massive to-do list that always accompanies going away for a while. Let the countdown begin!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Because We Are Blessed

I need to start this by saying that the Lord has blessed us. A lot. I know I've griped here about money slipping through our fingers (frankly, most people would gripe, too, if they'd had to pay 3 homeowner's-insurance deductibles in only 8 months and pay close to $1000 to remove a fallen tree from the front yard!), but you know what? We've been able to pay for all of it, along with purchasing a few small things that we just want. We're far from wealthy, but we're definitely blessed.

I mention this because realizing how much we've been blessed means I can't sit idly when I read articles such as this. A quote from that article:
America's Second Harvest – The Nation's Food Bank Network, a group of more than 200 food banks, reports that donations of food are down 9 percent, but the number of people showing up for food has increased 20 percent. The group distributes more than 2 billion pounds of donated and recovered food and consumer products each year.

Another article in last week's religion section also hit me hard.

Our local food pantry is in need of Helper meals (tuna helper, hamburger helper, that sort of thing) and meat to go in them. As our local Albertson's has Helper meals on sale for $1/box this week, I went in and bought a bunch of them. I also bought tuna to go with them. And because kids are home from school for the summer and not receiving free breakfasts and lunch as a result, I attempted to purchase the more kid-friendly options. Raisin Bran was on sale, so I picked up several boxes of that, too, as it's a filling and nutritious cereal. After purchasing it, I dropped it all off at the food bank.

I'm not telling you this to toot my own horn, but to encourage you to consider helping your local food bank if you have also been blessed. By shopping sales and using coupons, the cost to you could be minimal, and it would mean that local families who are struggling financially would have something to eat.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Little More Sewing

I made 12 dish towels before I remembered to add twill tape for hanging them from a hook. Unfortunately, only 4 towels managed to get this little professional-looking touch. Oops.

While I had the sewing machine out with various colors of thread inserted, I decided to try making some ribbon headbands. I found the idea in this book and decided to run with it. Back in the 1990s, I was big into hair ribbons. I loved them, and I still have my (large) collection. I took a few of those ribbons that were simply taking up space and made them into these:

If you look carefully, you'll see that I didn't do an extraordinary job in sewing them. Nor did I bother with perfectly matching thread. The messy sewn parts wind up being hidden under the hair, so I decided it didn't matter if it looked neat and perfect. The buttons came from my enormous stash of buttons that are mostly the extras that come with new clothing. Some of the clothes that go with the buttons in my stash have been gone for years.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wedding Gifts Again

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I'd mastered the mitered corner in sewing. Then I said I'd show you what I was doing with the fruits of my labor. It took me a week longer than I planned, but I'm finally done and able to let you see!

Because we have 4 weddings this summer, all in fairly short succession, I needed to give nice gifts, but not spend a lot of money. Being a one-income family means we can't throw money around on extravagant gifts, even if we'd like to. After checking each bride's registry, I bought fabric in their kitchen colors and made dish towels. I'll be showing towels from just one bride's gift.

Two of the finished towels laid out:

I folded 6 of them neatly, tied them with ribbon, and attached a very nice wooden spoon purchased on my trip to Sur La Table a few weeks ago:

I also included a favorite cookbook of mine, the More-with-Less Cookbook. It's a great, basic cookbook with good recipes that even a beginning cook can make. It's also a wealth of information about food and being responsible with resources:

I put it all in a box and wrapped it up, ready to be given, along with a homemade card:

Total cost for this gift was about $20.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, I got the general pattern/directions for the dish towels from this book.

For more Works-for-Me Wednesday ideas, visit Rocks in My Dryer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wedding Gifts

Last week I showed you the horrible job Bed Bath & Beyond did of wrapping Steven's niece's bridal shower gift. I ripped it all off and wrapped it myself. Isn't this so much better?

Within an 8-day period, I have 2 bridal showers and a wedding. I made a card to go with each gift. I used colors that were prevalent in each bride's registry just because I thought it would be a nice touch to make cards in colors I know the brides like.

The cards are very basic, but the ribbons dress them up a bit. They came together quickly, which is good because I've been pressed for time! I've been making some things to help save money on gifts. More on that tomorrow!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Out of My Element

This is the piano I learned to play on. And quit playing when I was 13.

The only reason I have it now is because my sister, the true musician of the family, received a baby grand from our parents for her birthday several years ago.

Our music minister thought it would be good to start a youth ensemble (although we had enough show up to make it a small choir). He asked those of us who sing on the praise team in church if we would help. Seeing as I'm currently our only soprano, the youth sopranos have been assigned to me. I figured I'd only need to bang out their part on the piano or keyboard in sectionals, so that's all I worked on briefly at home moments before heading out to the first youth rehearsal.

Um, I was asked to play last night. For everyone. *cue horror film music*

I warned the kids that I hadn't played in 21 years. It definitely showed! Thankfully, one of the men who is helping with the boys' section came up and played the bass clef. (There was no way my brain was going to process the use of both hands on the fly!) So, we shared a piano bench and played in tandem. I managed to do the alto part along with the soprano, and I didn't mess up too badly.

Yes, in case you're wondering, we do have a piano player. But the music minister had told him that he didn't think we'd need him last night. Ha!

If nothing else, though, this is forcing me to do something I'm not totally comfortable with. Playing piano is a useful skill to have when you're a singer, so it's something I should work on anyway. And really, it's good to challenge myself. I just wish I didn't feel quite so out of my element!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Birthday Biscotti

Our group of friends always gets together to celebrate birthdays. We also exchange gifts, which is nice, but can get expensive if not careful. We have a party tonight for our friend John. Honestly, I haven't known him long enough to really know what he's into. But I do know that he drinks coffee, so I decided to try making biscotti for him.

Lemon Biscotti

1/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 T. grated lemon peel
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Beat butter in large bowl with electric mixer at medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, lemon peel, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat until well blended. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in flour to crumb texture.

Kneading dough slightly, shape into 2 (9-inch) logs. Flatten logs with palm of hand to 1-1/2 inch thickness. Place on nonstick baking sheet.

Bake 20 minutes or until wooden toothpick into center of rolls comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet 1 hour.

Slice each roll crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Place slices on baking sheet; bake 8 minutes. Turn and bake 8 minutes more or until crisp and golden. Remove to wire rack; cool.

A nice jar helps with presentation.

Personally, I like consumable gifts. No one has to worry about where to store or display the gift, and it's meant to be used (or eaten, in this case) and not simply looked at. It's a win-win.

Star Wars Dance Off

This is great. Be sure to watch through to the end. All I can say is, my husband thinks his garrison should learn to do this!

Special thanks to Kimber for sending this to me!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

New Roof

Y'all, our roofers have left me amazed. First, they worked more than 13 hours yesterday under the hot Texas sun. Second, they came back this morning and got up on the roof in the midst of a storm to tack tar paper up over everything they'd left undone last night. We're talking thunder and lightning here, and they were up there to make sure nothing leaked!

Once the storm let up a bit, they got right back up there and finished the job. In addition to a new roof, we now have a new chimney box. The old one was rotted, so it had to be replaced so they could attach the new flashing (whatever that is) to it.

I think they did a great job, and I'm very pleased with their work! And based on what all they had to do, I totally understand why a new roof costs so much money. (Hooray for insurance!)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Roof Progress

I think Doogie is permanently attached to the underside of my bed. Calvin even seems a bit freaked by everything, and he's my calm kitty. Frankly, I'm not finding all the banging to be very pleasant, either.

I'm truly amazed by these men who can labor in the scorching Texas sun for hours.

Here's Some Irony for You!

I was thinking that I might need to board the cats during the roofing. Once those guys get up there and start making loud noises, my boys (more specifically, Doogie) might be too freaked out. I remember when our next door neighbor had a new roof put on. It was LOUD, so I imagine it's 100 times worse when you're inside the house that's actually being worked on.

I drove past the vet's office today on my way to catsit for friends. We board our boys there on the odd occasions we've needed to (like when we had jackhammering going on to fix those leaks under our house). Unbelievably, the vet is getting a new roof this week, too! What are the odds?

I guess my boys need not fear a trip to the "bad place" now!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Roofers Showed Up Today

They arrived just in time for this:

It figures that it would start raining as soon as they arrived.

To add insult to injury, I have to park in the street because they're using the driveway and blocking the garage. That pretty, silver CRV in the picture? Yeah, I just washed it.

What to Do with Saved Coins

We toss our coins into jars around here, then roll them when we have enough and take them to the bank. Sometimes I'm nice and responsible with them and put them in our savings account. And sometimes I do something fun with them. Like yesterday.

When I was in Sam's Club a couple of weeks ago, I saw that they were selling seasons 6 and 7 of Star Trek: Voyager for a mere $46.88 each. Considering that retail for these used to be over $100/season, this is downright cheap! Steven had already bought me seasons 1-5 for various birthdays and Christmas, and I'd like to complete my collection. I realize I'm in the minority with this, but Voyager happens to be my favorite of all the Star Trek shows.

So, I turned this:

Into this:

Okay, so I only had $30 in coins and had to add my own spending money to it, but you get the point.

And as an aside, when the stormtroopers were at FedCon in Dallas on Friday, Garrett Wang, who played Harry Kim on Voyager, was waiting in line to take a picture with them. So, my husband had a Voyager cast member wanting to take a picture with him, instead of it being the other way around. I was so disappointed to have missed that!

Does anyone else save coins? If so, what do you do with them?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Is the Roofing Starting Today?

I went out to fill my birdfeeder and found this in the driveway:

I guess the roofers are planning to start work today? I would have appreciated a phone call or something to let me know they're going to start work. At least, I assume that dumping roofing materials in my driveway means that they're about to start work. Good thing they parked their materials on Steven's side of the driveway, as I need to get out to run some errands today!

Regardless, I'm glad that they'll be starting soon. Because so many roofs in the Dallas area were damaged in the big hail storm in April, roofing companies have been inundated with work. Good for them, but bad for customers, as it means long waits. In fact, of the 3 roofing companies our insurance company recommended to us, only 1 called us back. Guess which one we hired?

I expect things will be getting loud around here very soon.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Gifts Again

It seems like almost every post this week has had something to do with buying stuff. We have four weddings this summer. (You know you're getting old when it's your former youth-group kids getting married!) Add in some birthdays, Hallmark holidays, and graduations, and I feel like all my time lately has been spent planning, buying, and giving gifts!

I went to Bed Bath & Beyond today to get a wedding gift for Steven's niece. (She's getting dishes.) When I checked out, the cashier offered free wrapping. I took her up on it, but once I saw it, I shouldn't have wasted the store's time. All I can say is that it's a good thing this was free wrapping:

Do you see all the wrinkles? And the paltry bow is just pathetic. This will all be removed and I'll wrap it myself. Good thing I found Martha Stewart's wrapping paper on clearance a while back!

On a better note, look what my friend Karen gave me:

It's a "just because" gift, and I love it! It's just right for my morning cup of tea.

Friday, June 13, 2008

And I'd JUST Cleaned

I clean house on Thursdays. I love having the house all neat and clean for the weekend. I left for a while last night, and I came home to this:

The stormtroopers are trooping all weekend at FedCon in Dallas, so Steven had his armor spread all over the living room to prepare it. His armor got a good cleaning, but it messed up my hard work. *sigh*

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Interesting New Way to Buy Books

I can't even remember how I learned about this. I'm thinking that I must have read an article on MSN about it or something, but whatever it was that led me to discover, I'm glad it did.

It's an interesting concept (and I swear this isn't an ad--I'm just recounting my experience). They save books from landfills, charge nothing for shipping in the U.S., and you get to buy books for cheap. Most books appear to start about $3.48, which isn't bad for used books. They also sell new books, but you'd do better to buy those from Amazon.

What actually drew me in was the promise of shipping anywhere in the world for only $2.97/book. Considering I have 4 nieces in another country, and international shipping is ridiculously high and based on weight, this sounded good.

I decided to place an order a couple of weeks ago. I love M.M. Kaye, and I've wanted to read The Far Pavilions, but my library doesn't have it. I ordered if from BW for less than $4. I also bought Call Me Heller, That's My Name by Stella Pevsner for my niece. I loved this book as a child, and it's hard to find. (If you look at the used book sellers on Amazon, one seller wants a ridiculous $96 for it!) And as a lover of Noel Streatfeild's hard-to-find Shoes books, I jumped on the offer for Thursday's Child. That one was kind of expensive at around $10, but I really wanted it, and it was still cheaper than buying used from an Amazon seller and paying $4 shipping.

Everything arrived on Tuesday. Considering that The Far Pavilions is almost 1000 pages long and must weigh at least 5 lbs., free shipping truly is a bargain! I did have to pay a 15-cent carbon-offset tax, but that's a negligible amount. One of the books is a library discard, so it is nice knowing that a book in perfectly good shape was saved from a landfill.

Overall, I'm pleased with this company, and I'll likely do business with them again. And now that I know they really are legit and send the books out in the described condition, next time, I'll probably just have any books purchased for my nieces sent directly to them.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I've Mastered the Mitered Corner!

I'm trying to improve my sewing skills. I successfully sewed some polishing cloths, so I decided to move onto something more complicated: dish towels. And by complicated, I mean that I had to press nice, even hems, and I wanted straight seams! Additionally, I thought they would look more polished with mitered corners.

I didn't realize what I was in for.

I checked out several books on sewing from the library. Dummies, Idiots, and Teach Yourself Visually books were of no help when it came to mitered corners. I'm a visual learner, so I really need pictures, along with very clear instructions. None of these books offered that. When I thought I was doing what the instructions said to do, it was a mess.

The July 2008 issue of Threads magazine came to my rescue. It was a total fluke that I even found this. I was in Sam's Club, flipping through magazines, and I happened to pick up Threads simply because I was in the process of learning to sew. It had exactly what I needed with nice, clear instructions with pictures of the in-between steps.

Look what I can do now! (And yes, I realize that phrase makes me sound about 3 years old, but I'm just so excited!)

One of the finished dish towels:

Give me another week or so, and I'll show you what I'm doing with the fruits of my labor.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Graduation Gifts

We had 2 young ladies in our youth group graduate this weekend. I like to give nice gifts that look like a lot, but cost very little. As a one-income family, our budget just can't handle expensive gifts for every occasion that rolls around. I think that this year I came up with a pretty creative solution. Each girl received a very nice princess-cut peridot set in sterling silver, along with a silver chain. In the box with it, I included a biblical passage and a little blurb to let them know that this gift is meant to remind them of their faith and who they are in Christ.

Here's my little secret: Each gift was only $9.99. I purchased them from this site. At the time, all jewelry was $5.99, and the silver chains were an additional $4 each. (They've since raised their price by $1.) I think a lot of their stuff is kind of ugly, but if you're patient and wait for something lovely to cycle through, you can get some amazing deals.

To accompany the gifts, I made graduation cards. I was a little rushed, so they're not my best effort, but I still think they turned out nicely.

Wrapped and ready to go:

Monday, June 9, 2008

Stormtroopers + Zombies

Steven loves zombie movies almost as much as he loves Star Wars. His collection of zombie movies is ridiculously large. He thought it would be fun to invite the stormtroopers over for a zombie party, so that's what we did on Saturday night. We spent the whole day preparing.

Steven wanted a big showing. He borrowed a projector to put the movie up on a big screen, which was actually just a white sheet. He originally planned to have this in the garage, but I kept telling him it's way too hot out there. What actually caused him to move things inside was the realization that he'd need to clean the garage. Instead, he hung the sheet from the dining room ceiling and rearranged the furniture to accomodate the new location.

He laid out his entire collection of zombie movies on the table in front of the screen so that people could see what he had and then vote on what to watch. (My suggestion had been to watch 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead. I'm pleased to say that people agreed with my choices.) He also showed a cartoon, which was the zombie episode from The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror.

I spent the day preparing food.

I didn't get any pictures of the actual party, but we had a good time.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Knox Street and Book Shopping

Friday I did something I rarely do: I headed into Dallas for a fun day of shopping. I started by picking Steven up at his office to have lunch with him. Again, that's something I rarely do, so it was a nice treat for both of us. After I took him back to work, I headed down to Knox Street.

Knox Street is one of my favorite places to go, but it's a rare treat due to distance and cost. It's filled with fabulous, but expensive, shops. First stop was Sur La Table.

This is my favorite cooking store, and if I was wealthy, I could easily drop hundreds of dollars in a day in there! Since I'm not wealthy, I managed to get out for just under $20. Only $6 was spent on myself, I'm proud to say. The rest was spent on small gifts.

Next, I headed into Weir's. This is actually a furniture store, but the owners are Christians, so they have a Christian Book Nook inside the shop.

Weir's also has an old-fashioned candy counter inside. It's a fun place to look around.

I went into a couple of other stores (Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware) and didn't bother with others (Smith & Hawken, Pottery Barn). A fun store that I didn't have time for on Friday is Froggie's.

Froggie's is filled with cute little items and toys. I don't really know how to describe it other than to say that kids would love it, and it's a neat place to look around. They also have shop cats, which is a nice touch. At least, I assume they still have their shop cats. It's been a while since I've visited.

After leaving Knox Street, I drove over to the huge Half-Price Books on Northwest Highway.

I love this store! It's a great place to spend several hours if you have the time. It was getting late, so I didn't stick around for too long, but I did find a book for my niece that I've been meaning to buy. I picked up a copy for me, too, since my copy was lent out and returned looking as if it had gone through a shredder!

I then headed home for a very brief time. I needed to wrap a gift to take to a birthday party. That gift is what actually sparked the big shopping trip. My friend Sandy loves to bake, so I wanted to give her something that she would enjoy, but might not buy for herself: Madagascar vanilla beans.

It's just a small indulgence that I figured she'd enjoy. I wrapped it up, then headed out to the party.