Married to the Empire

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Life with Cats

And with a new camera, which I'm still trying to figure out...

Anxiously watching for Daddy, who is outside. (I forgot that the flash on this camera has to be manually opened, hence the dark photo.)

Being annoyed by Daddy after he came back inside. It's a hard life, being loved on so much.

Relaxing the day away.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Making a Mask

While other North Texans were spending their Monday night watching the Cowboys play football, I was covering my husband's face in some sort of nasty papier mache strips, making him look like a trauma patient. This is the basis for a mask he's making for Halloween.

Life at my house may be weird, but I suspect it's infinitely more interesting than most people's.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Weekend Report

Saturday's plans changed drastically. One of the stormtroopers was supposed to come over to work on banners, but he cancelled, so Steven and I had an afternoon to fill. We headed out to the Old Town part of our city to go to the feed store. Steven was looking for burlap for a Halloween costume he's making, but when we got downtown, the roads were blocked off. We detoured around and found a parking spot, only to be carded as we tried to enter downtown. What???

Turns out our town was having Western Days or something like that, and Old Town was blocked off from entrance. You had to prove your residency just to enter if you didn't want to pay a whopping entrance fee. I told the bouncer volunteer at the gate, "But we just want to go to the feed store!" Ridiculous.

Anyway, we were allowed in once we showed our driver's licenses, and we spent some time in the feed store chatting with the owner. He told us the store has been in his family for over 100 years. He was filling us in on our town's history. It was really interesting! Then Steven set about finding the burlap sacks he'd come in for.

Since we were in the gates anyway, we walked around for a bit, looking at all the displays and vendors. A car show of sorts was going on with old cars such as this:

I was sucked into this vendor's space immediately, as I found her repurposed cabinet doors just beautiful:

Our hubbies chatted and discovered that they're both Baptist ministers (mine is a youth minister and hers is a pastor), so they talked "shop" while I chose my piece of art. We totally were out looking for inexpensive materials for Steven's costume, and we wound up spending money on wall art. Unexpected, but wonderful. I've been unhappy with what's on my living room wall for quite some time, and I've been looking for just the right thing. This makes me happy:

We left Old Town and headed out to a few more places, including a New Orleans store/restaurant where we bought an inexpensive lunch of shrimp po'boys, French fries, and root beer made with Louisiana cane sugar. Pure nirvana.

Our final errand of the afternoon was a stop at Goodwill. Steven was again looking for costuming stuff. We ran into a family from our church in there, and one of the daughters was looking for a purse to take to the Homecoming dance that evening. She showed me what she'd found, and it was all so pretty that I was inspired to look at purses. I enjoy thrift store shopping, but I've never looked for or bought clothes or accessories there. That's the one hurdle I hadn't yet been willing to jump.

While looking at purses, I happened to glance at the shoes, and there was this gorgeous red pair with black accents. Excellent condition, barely-worn children's dress shoes. My size. Price: $1.50. I decided to take a chance. There was also a box full of sweaters for only 50 cents each. Again, I took a chance. Two sweaters for only 99 cents!

We went to dinner and a movie that evening with friends. I wore my fabulous new shoes and received lots of compliments. I confessed where I'd bought them and what I'd paid. Amazement all around. I think I could get used to this thrift store stuff! (But my daddy will be horrified if he finds out I'm wearing used shoes!)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Staying Busy

I've rediscovered one of the great ways to save money: be too busy at home to go out. This isn't any great revelation, but it's one I have to be reminded of every so often.

What's keeping me busy? Crafty stuff. Last week it was sewing burp cloths for a baby gift. This week it's these:

I'm finally getting around to making lavender sachets. I bought the lavender several months ago when I visted Lavender Ridge Farms in Gainesville, TX, and it's been sitting in my craft room ever since. My goal all along was to make these sachets, but sewing still intimidates me, and I only pull out the sewing machine when I really have to. Now that it's out, I plan to make many of these little sachets, especially as they're extremely easy. (Tutorial is coming.) Several will be for use in our own home to protect our woolens (well, what few woolens we Texans actually own), but I'm thinking these will make for nice Christmas gifts, as well.

My whole craft room is perfumed with the scent of lavender right now. It's nice. Staying busy with creative pursuits is nice, too. Sometimes I forget just how much I like making things.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cold Feet

Nothing quite warms your feet on a chilly day like wearing giant sheep on them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Baby Gift: Homemade Burp Cloths

We were invited to a couples' baby shower over the weekend. One of those weird relationships (husband's high school best friend's little sister) with people I don't really know. I keep a stash of board books in my gift closet, as books are my standard baby gift. (Everyone gives cute clothes, but rarely does anyone try to make the new kid a book lover...) I decided to supplement the gift with some homemade burp cloths.

I claim no originality in making these. I totally snagged the idea and design from Shannon.

This project wound up being really easy. I bought some gray flannel with pink polka dots and some pale pink flannel. Unfortunately, the pink flannel faded in the wash to an almost white. Oh well. I laid out the fabric with the right sides together and drew rectangles in the dimensions in Shannon's instructions. I used a cup to round the corners.

I cut it all out after that. BTW, we recently bought a rotary cutter and large self-healing cutting mat. Rotary cutters are amazing! I zipped right through the double layers of fabric with no problems. Makes cutting so much faster and easier. I had to use scissors to round the corners, though.

Next I set about pinning them, then sewing them, leaving an opening for turning them right-side-out.

After turning them right-side-out, I ironed them so that I could be sure I had the inside seams all nice and flat and straight. Then I sewed all around the edges.

The finished product:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sonic... At Home

I'm a big fan of Sonic drinks. Love 'em! If you get one between 2-4pm, they're even fairly inexpensive, as they're half price at that time each day. But I've found a cheaper way to get the same yumminess at home.

I'd mentioned last year that I found coffee syrups at Sam's Club. Each bottle is less than $5. The bottles I bought last year just ran out, so I bought more this week. (Seriously, a very good value, IMO.) I have vanilla, raspberry, and coconut.

Mix a soft drink with whatever combo of syrups you want (I mixed raspberry and vanilla into my Sierra Mist), and voila! A drink like you'd get a Sonic (of course, without the special ice) for much less and without the drive.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Glittered Pumpkins

I enjoyed my glittered pumpkins last year so much, that this year I decided to do it again. However, this time I used fake, plastic pumpkins so that I can reuse them each year. I had a much easier time this year than last year due to some smart changes.

One, plastic pumpkins with long stems are a lot easier to hold than real pumpkins with short stems. That was my #1 difference this year!

Two, water down the glue to be painted onto the pumpkins. Makes it so much easier to apply!

Three, I used coffee filters to catch the glitter as I sprinkled it over the glue-painted pumpkins. It was a nice catcher for the stray glitter, but it also made it very easy to pour the glitter back into its container. I learned this little trick... somewhere. Seriously, I'd give credit to the person I got the idea from, if only I could remember who that was!

Four, dry the pumpkins on cookie sheets lined with waxed paper. (Not a new idea for this year, but it's still helpful.)

Five, pile pumpkins into a glass bowl, and admire the sparkle.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Simple Lunch

I invited one of the other youth leaders over for lunch earlier this week. We needed to go over the budget for next year and discuss some upcoming events. The weather, which has been unusually cool and rainy for this time of year, beckoned a lunch of soup and bread.

This red lentil and vegetable soup is a favorite of mine. It's very quick and easy to make, and it's very healthy. Unfortunately, I think I forgot the cumin this time. Oops! Didn't serve it to my guest at its very best. (BTW, the picture was taken after lunch, when it had been sitting a while, so don't judge it based on my photo!)

I made a loaf of beer bread to go with it. Very easy, and very delicious!

My table is set for autumn, and the cats have been enjoying the fresh air coming through the open windows. A perfect setting for a nice lunch with a friend.

Beer Bread

3 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 12-oz. bottle of beer*

Mix all ingredients together and put in a greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and pour 1/4 cup melted butter over the top. Bake for another 15 minutes.

*Can substitute Sprite or 7-Up for beer. Takes on a slightly different flavor, but it's still good.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Cell Phone Philosophy

This is my cell phone:

It's old, a little beat up, and it doesn't take pictures. I've had it 3 or 4 years, and I see no reason to upgrade to something newer or supposedly better. It does what I need by just being a phone. I can even text on it, although I find that tedious and confusing, and I really have no use for it.

Most of the time, my phone is off. Often, the battery is dead because when I do think to turn it on, I forget to turn it off or plug it into its charger. My youth group gets frustrated by that. A few of them got hold of my number, which I generally only give out to a few select people (my husband, my parents, my catsitters...), and for a while, they were calling and texting me. But they'd get annoyed because I didn't respond. Not because I was being rude, but because I just never thought to turn my phone on.

This is what I tell them: My cell phone is for my convenience only.

Thing is, I don't want to be bothered when I'm out of the house. When I'm running errands, I'm running errands. Period. It's not catch-up-on-my-correspondence time. I know some people like to multi-task, but I am not one of those people.

One of the girls once asked me what I would do if there was an emergency with Steven. I told her my home phone can field the call. "But what if he was going to die if you didn't get to him right then?" I told her I'd be sad that he'd died. But realistically, will that scenario ever play out? (I certainly hope not!) I think people have been so brainwashed by the idea that cell phones are a necessity for emergencies that they've become slaves to them.

Pardon me for not wanting to be available 24/7 to the world. I have yet to have an emergency in which someone was dying, stranded, etc. and only I could help them by being reached on my cell phone while at the grocery store.

One of the advantages of my cell phone philosophy is that I don't spend much money on my phone. I don't needlessly upgrade because I desire cooler, newer features. I don't need to pay for a huge number of minutes or texts. In fact, I use my cell so infrequently that I use a pay-as-you-go plan. It averages out to $5/month. Five dollars a month! Steven has the same plan, so for 2 phones, we pay $10/month. I consider that a fabulous deal.

The best part is that by spending so little on cells, we free up money to go towards things we do care about, such as eating out with friends or indulging in hobbies. Yeah, we live a little differently in some ways from other people. And I'm cool with that, even if it means my phone is exceedingly uncool.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Thrifting and Sale-ing

Friday I spent a very pleasant afternoon out shopping. I started with my favorite thrift store. I had no real goal in mind when I went; I just like to see what they have.

I wound up finding a bag full of Halloween straws and fringed garland for $1.19. I bought it for the garland because I have a project I've been planning to try that calls for making something that looks like it. I figured I'd save myself the cost of supplies and the time of making the fringe myself.

I petted a cute Schnauzer who was riding in her owner's cart, chatted with a woman from my bible study who was also browsing the store, and then... Oh my word, did I ever find the score of all scores!

Brand-new, as in never-been-used-still-had-all-the stickers-and-booklets-attached, Le Creuset. Le Creuset! It's the 2-quart, tomato-shaped casserole. And it was only $10.99. I think someone didn't know what they had.

I am super excited to have this now! Can't wait to cook something yummy in it!

Next I headed to the Talbot's Outlet. I love having a place where I can buy beautiful, high-quality clothing for very low prices. I wound up buying a gorgeous black linen dress with white trim. Original price: $159. My price: $37.49. I wore it to church Sunday, since we can wear linen in Texas until nearly November due to the temps, and received many compliments. It's pretty!

Also found a pair of slacks marked down to $6.25 from its original $68. And then there were these sandals.

I've mentioned before that I have a hard time with shoes because my feet are small and narrow. The Talbots Outlet is my best bet for finding shoes that fit at an affordable price. These are my replacements, for the time being, for my taupe Birkenstocks that are on their last legs. And the price was right at $20. (Way cheaper than a new pair of Birks!) I came home a very happy girl on Friday!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Crockpot Pork

Wednesdays have become Crockpot Night around here due to music rehearsals I have at church right during the dinner-prep hour. Tonight was no different.

I pulled a pork loin roast out of the freezer, but didn't know what to do with it. I'm tired of BBQ, which it seems like we've had a lot of lately. I didn't feel like making a Mexican pork dish with it...

I wound up adapting a recipe I have for making pork chops in a skillet. It turned out remarkably well, so I decided to share my recipe with you.

Crockpot Pork with Apples and Onions

1 boneless pork roast (really, any cut will do)
1/2 cup apple butter
1/2 cup water
2 Tbls. spicy brown mustard
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 Tbls. cider vinegar
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into chunks
2 sweet onions, cut into wedges (I used Vidalia onions--mmmm!!!)

Spray crockpot with cooking spray. (You don't have to do this, but it makes clean up so much easier!)

Prepare apples and onions.

Place them in the bottom of the crockpot. Place pork roast on top of apples and onions. (I cut my roast in half just to make it fit better.)

Mix together apple butter, water, mustard, cumin, salt, pepper, and cider vinegar.

Pour mixture over roast in crockpot.

Cover and cook on low for several hours or on high for a few hours. (I wound up having mine on high for about 5.5 hours. My roast was still half frozen when I put it in.)

I served this with brown rice, which I made in a smaller crockpot. I totally forgot to take a picture of the finished product. But trust me when I say it was yummy! The only thing that would have made it better is more apples.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Long Search Over

I've been scouring the children's shoe section at Target for pink Converse for months. Finally, finally, they had my size!

But then practicality started to overtake me, and I grabbed black ones, too. I already have a brown pair with a pink stripe around the edges, so do I really need entirely pink tennis shoes?

As I asked which pair I should buy, my husband looked at me like I'd lost my mind. He said, "You've been looking for those for months! Get the pink ones!"

I married a smart man.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Finally, Some Crafty Stuff!

I've been seriously slacking in the making-things-other-than-food department. Finally sat down this week to work on a project I meant to do years ago. Pathetic!

Pretty basic and nothing new in the crafty world, but I made magnets by decoupaging paper on the backs of clear, flat marbles, then attaching magnets. I bought I bought Basic Grey's Urban Prairie collection a few months ago, and this was the perfect project for it. I first saw these papers in one of the British craft magazines my sister gave me and had to have them. Love 'em!

I used the same technique I used here, but instead of attaching jewelry bails, I used jewelry glue to attach magnets.

FYI, don't set the magnets too close together while they're drying or they'll attract each other, wind up hanging out together, and mess up the work you've just done. Ask me how I know!

I'm pleased with how they turned out. They definitely look nicer on the fridge than my former hodge-podge of magnets! (As always, you can click on the pictures to see them better.)

I couldn't resist making a couple of pendants while I had the Modge Podge out. I just loved the little bluebird on one of the papers. I'm calling it my Bluebird of Happiness. I like the flowers, too.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Stormtroopers, Sodas, and Sci-fi

Weekend before last I went with Steven to a scary part of Dallas for a stormtrooper event. There's a small enclave of upscale/trendy shops in the midst of all the ick, and that's where we found Boomstick Comics and The Soda Gallery. It's a pretty cool little place with walls of unusual sodas interspersed with geek stuff.

I failed to get photos of the sodas in the shop itself, but I got some of the stock shelves in the back. (The stormtroopers were changing in the back.) I was suprised by the wide variety, including stuff I haven't seen since the 70s, such as Bubble Up.

I wound up trying a black cherry cream soda. Yum!

Lots of interesting artwork for sale in the shop.

And of course, the Star Wars folks!

Do stormtroopers get hot? Yes. (They also get tired of being asked that question!) My husband found a giant fan and spent some time cooling off. Bliss!