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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Weekend Decorating Project: Valentine's Wreath

With Valentine's Day around the corner, I hit Michael's and Dollar Tree yesterday to find inspiration for making a Valentine's wreath for my front door.  I found a wreath at Dollar Tree and decided to wrap it in red feather boas from Michael's.  Here are the items I used:  wreath, two inexpensive boas on "cardboard paddles", two pricier ($6) fluffy boas, shiny metallic hearts on wire, ribbon for my bow and floral wire.

I began by wrapping the wreath with inexpensive boas that were on "cardboard paddles" from Michael's.  I just started out by tying the boas onto the wreath and wrapping them all the way around it.  Then I filled in the blank spaces with two fluffier, prettier boas. Just wrap and wrap and wrap!

In addition, I added red wire with hearts attached after the boas were wrapped.  (These are a little hard to see from this picture, but it adds some shine and sparkle!)  To complete the project, I added a bow to the top!  Easy, fast project that took about 10-15 minutes and the total cost was less than $20.
 Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Feeling Philosophical about Being Happy

Other than a few sags here and there and some wrinkles...I really do appreciate my current age and the wisdom, understanding and peace it has brought me. I understand myself better than ever and can look back on the past and understand the lessons that living my life has taught me.  

My goal now that I am in my 40's is to just BE HAPPY.  Be happy with myself (and what I see in the mirror).  Be happy with my family.  Be happy for good health, good friends and a roof over my head. In my 20's and 30's, most of my life was spent running the hamster wheel.  I look back now and wish I had savored that time.  It went so fast!  However, I don't want to GO BACK either! I want to live in the NOW and keep MOVING forward.  (Literally and figuratively!) 

Now I know that life is a LONG race and it's not just the current "sprint" you are running.  It's a marathon.  Among the most important lessons I have learned and that I hope to convey to my son are: It is OK to be yourself and to do your own thing.  Don't worry about what everyone else is doing.  This is YOUR life and it's for you to LIVE!  Accept yourself as the unique individual that you are.  You are made to be YOU for a reason.  Passing on my own life lessons to my own child is often difficult and I have realized that he has his own "race to run."  After all, I was also someone who had to learn everything by doing it on my own.  (And had to pick the pieces along the way!)

Recently, I watched an Oprah interview with Goldie Hawn and found her words to be really inspirational:  "What matters to me is giving back.  So just because you get older doesn’t mean things stop.  It’s when YOU’s when YOUR wonder’s when YOUR innovation’s when YOUR creativity stop that you allow your SELF to go asunder.  The beauty of getting older is the surprise of what else you can do to make the world a better place with the wisdom you’ve accrued over those years."  Goldie also said that when she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she always said "To Be Happy." She said people always repeated the question expecting her to name a profession, but she persisted in her answer (as her wise parents had told her this was what was most important). 

I want to be just like Goldie when I grow up! Find the little things that make you happy and enjoy them.  Lighting a candle, putting some fresh flowers in my home, walking my dog, drinking peppermint tea and spending time with special people in my life make me happy.  Surround yourself with things and people you find beautiful and inspirational to you.  BE HAPPY!

What things in your life bring you the most joy and happiness? 

Friday, January 20, 2012

TGIF (Truly Great and Inexpensive Food): Dinner Menu Planning

Like every woman in America, I get sick of menu planning and grocery shopping. Now that my son is 18 and has his own busy schedule, it is very hard to plan dinners.  In thinking about how our weeks play out, I discovered that I only needed to plan and shop for four dinners a week.  This realization has improved my grocery bill tremendously and I am not constantly throwing food (and money) away.

Each week, I know that I will not cook something “new” on two nights - meaning that we will eat leftovers, have a dinner from pantry staples (soup, pancakes, etc.) or eat out.  When I menu plan, I prepare for a chicken or pork night, two beef nights (my men are carnivores) and one non-meat  night. 

Our week looks something like this:

Monday – Beef Night #1:  Tacos, spaghetti, meatloaf and “cheater’s” lasagna are the usual suspects.  Since these dishes usually produce leftovers, this comes in handy on Tuesday.  (Cheater’s lasagna is made from bowtie pasta instead of lasagna noodles.  When my son was little, he hated the big lasagna noodles and wouldn’t eat it.  One night, I was out of lasagna noodles and only had bowties or farfalle.  So I combined the bowties, sauce and ricotta and topped it with mozzarella and baked it off.  From that moment on, it became one of P’s favorite dishes – I think because it was easier to eat!)

Tuesday – (My Grocery Order Day) – FEND NIGHT: At our house, it’s my husband’s dart night so I do not cook.  We “fend” for ourselves.  I may eat cheese and crackers and have my own mini-cocktail party (a complete thrill for me) or we eat leftovers from Monday. 

Wednesday - Chicken or Pork Night:  Admittedly, I am not a chicken fan.  I try to find different things to do with it like put it in a chicken and rice casserole, grill it, or I may purchase a prepared Moravian chicken pie from a local shop to serve with a salad.  Pork tenderloin is our favorite “other white meat.” 

Thursday – Pasta:  In the summer, I grow basil and make my own pesto.  In the winter, I buy prepared pesto and make pesto linguine.  We also like lemon linguine made with grape tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice and basil.  My goal is to skip meat entirely on Thursdays.

Friday – It’s the end of the week – no cooking:  We order pizza occasionally or bake a frozen one.  If my son is usually out, my husband and I may have cheese and crackers and sit on the deck or we may go out.  We eat out about twice a month.  We’re also great at cleaning out leftovers on Friday nights.

Saturday – Beef Night #2:  Skirt steak is a favorite for us.  It’s inexpensive, cooks quickly and is great on top of salad, in fajitas or on its own with a potato and veggie.  Since we enjoy grilling year-round, Saturday nights are reserved for this activity.

Sunday – Soup Night:  I don’t count this in my menu plan because make something from my pantry staples like taco stew, French onion soup or tomato soup and grilled cheese.  In the winter, we make pancakes sometimes too.  Sundays are laid back and there is always a sporting event on TV so we re-charge from the weekend and get ready for the week ahead.

What menu planning strategies do you use?  I'd love to hear about them!

Have a great weekend!  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hump Day Tip: Simple Frame Craft Project

I did a little after-Christmas shopping at Michael's during their picture frame sale and found some cute frames with ribbon attached. I bought a couple of them figuring I would eventually think of something to do with them.

Yesterday, I got inspired. I have been slowly re-decorating one of my guest rooms. We painted it chocolate brown last year. I added white bedding to the twin beds and then painted an old chest white to serve as a nightstand between the two beds. A friend painted a brown and white zebra pattern onto some old cornice boards for me. Yes....she painted right on the fabric! So my room is slowly coming together.

I got out my little frames and decided to make a "guest room" door hanger. I had some lime green scrapbook paper and some adhesive letters that look like old typewriter keys.

I cut the paper to fit the frame and laid out the words Guest Room....

Then, I re-framed it all in the little frame!

I have moved it all around the room (as I tend to do with everything). It looks cute on the closet door, the door of the little chest (you can see it on the chest in the picture above) and on the door entering the guest room, where I think it will live.

Now I am thinking of other ways to utilize these frames! Of course, putting pictures in them would be great. For Christmas, I think red paper with "Joy" or "Be Merry" could be cute. A little (or big) girl would love a monogram door hanger in the colors of her room. For a party, you can add "Come On In" and hang on front door. The combinations are endless. I think this is pretty cute for a $5 item! The whole project took ten minutes and would be an easy craft project for a young child as well.

I would love to hear other ideas you might have for this same craft idea! Happy Hump Day!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dollar Store Treasures

I must confess that I rarely visited a “dollar store” until I left my job. I wasn’t a snob. I just wasn’t aware of all the things that were available. Now, I don’t know how I lived without it!

I buy ALL of my cleaning supplies at the dollar store. Let’s face it… all cleaners are made from some version of ammonia, soap and water with a scent. Why pay $4.99 a bottle for a cleaning product when you can get it for a buck? I also get shampoo and liquid hand soap there as well as many other household items like batteries or aluminum foil. It is so satisfying to walk out with BAGS of items for $20.

One of my favorite dollar store buys is candy. I stock up on “movie theater” size boxes to take to the movies when we go. They carry all your favorites like Junior Mints, Starbursts, Raisinets and Twizzlers. I like to give these large boxes of candy along with a gift card or cash for children’s gifts. It is always a hit at any age! Wrap a ten-dollar bill (or whatever denomination you choose) around a box or two of candy with a pretty ribbon. For younger kids, a$10 bill wrapped around a tootsie roll bank is a favorite…so cute! Much more original and thoughtful than a card with money! And who doesn't like candy?

The stores in my area even carry popcorn boxes and bowls that are cute. You can fill one with movie candy, microwave popcorn and a movie store gift card or a DVD for a gift “bundle.” I have even given my mailman a candy “stack” for Christmas and he loved it - and I spent $5! But I digress with my candy fascination…

An easy dollar store decorating idea is to buy "fillers" for glass containers there. At the holidays, you can purchase specialty items that can be jazzed up. For example, I have a large open glass container that always sits in the middle of my dining room table. I like to buy 10-inch candles in glass cylinder containers from the dollar store and use them in the center of my larger glass container with different fillers. The wax stays in the glass candle container and doesn’t melt all over your filler. I like to change up the filler with the season. For Valentine’s Day, try old-fashioned ”message candy hearts.” Other fillers you can find include moss for spring, jelly beans for Easter and small pine cones look pretty for fall and winter. The possibilities are endless!

The dollar store glass candles are also versatile on their own. I used them on my mantle this year at Christmas with greenery from my yard. I have placed them down the length of my sidewalk for a night-time party. They look pretty tied with raffia and running the length of a table. Pretty, simple and inexpensive. $10 worth of candles can transform your home for a party.

As you can tell, I am obsessed with figuring out creative ways to use dollar store treasures. Some of my other favorite finds include: cookie sheets of all sizes, aluminum casserole "dishes" with lids to freeze casseroles (or to use for when taking a dish to a sick friend), brown paper lunch bags, plastic cups that can be personalized with a paint pen for a party, unbreakable Christmas ornaments, gift bags and tissue paper.

Share your favorite finds with me! Happy hunting!

P.S. Great new website find for glass apothecary jars and other goodies:

Friday, January 13, 2012

TGIF (Truly Good and Inexpensive Food) Recipe: Taco Stew

Perfect for a cold, winter weekend! Taco Stew is a delicious soup that I make on soup nights (Sundays) at our house.

Keep the staples for this recipe in your pantry and you literally open cans and packages - pour ingredients into your large soup pot and simmer. Easy, easy, easy! Bonus: Leave out the beef for a veggie-only version.


One large can of crushed tomatoes (28 oz or 32 oz OK)
One large can of tomato puree (28 oz or 32 oz OK)
Two (15-16 oz) cans of red kidney beans (drain and rinse)
One 10 oz. can of Ro-Tel (diced tomatoes and green chiles) - add entire can, liquid and all
One 8-10 oz. can of corn (drain liquid)
One packet of taco seasoning
One packet of Hidden Valley dry ranch dressing mix
Optional: One pound of cooked and drained ground beef or ground turkey - whatever your family likes

Combine all ingredients into large soup pot and simmer on low-to-medium heat for 30-40 minutes. Stir and adjust temp to make sure you don't burn ingredients on bottom of pot. This is a great make-ahead soup and is even better on days 2 and 3.

Tip: I buy store-brand canned goods except for the Ro-tel and the Hidden Valley ranch mix.

Once you are ready to serve, garnish with shredded cheese, sour cream, crushed taco chips and anything else your heart desires!

Makes about 8 generous portions.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hump Day Tip: Online Grocery Shopping

Now that I am not working full-time OUTSIDE of the house, I have worked harder than ever to save money and stay on budget. When I worked, I did some of the same things I do now, but I have kicked things up a notch. On Wednesdays (Hump Day), I hope to share some tips on things that have helped me simplify my life, stay organized and on budget. I’d love to hear from you about your successes.

I highly recommend shopping online for groceries. Some people look at me like I have three heads when I tell them I do this. I have shopped online for YEARS for groceries. It all started when I worked like a maniac and did not have the energy to go to the store after work, nor did I want to spend my weekends trudging to the grocery store. When my grocery store (Lowe’s Foods) started their online service, I had a young son who usually went to the store with me and it was a pain! My son always wanted things he didn’t need and I was more likely to impulse buy as well. Plus, online shopping is available 24 hours a day, so I could do it when it was convenient for me. I could even order from work in a pinch. So I decided to give this new service a shot.

Believe it or not, the fee to shop online is minimal…about $5. I would spend the $5 fee or more if I walked into the store because of impulse buying! To get started, I sat down and spent an afternoon setting up a master list (via the grocery store’s website) of the things we buy most often. From there, I added things as I went along each week. It took a few tries to get things right, but it is second nature to get groceries this way now. It takes about ten minutes to place an order and the best part…I drive to the store, push a buzzer and they roll the groceries out to my car and load them! Rain or shine! And then I just drive away!

I usually submit my order on Tuesdays when the store is fully stocked from the weekend so they are more likely to have all of my items. If you forget something, you can call them and they will add it. IT IS SO EASY! I even use the service when I go to the beach and use the delivery option my store offers so I can walk into my beach vacation house and unpack (or have a cocktail) while I wait for our groceries to arrive!

I keep a list all week of the things we need on my kitchen island and have taught my guys to add to it. I menu plan (more on this topic later) before I start the order and take my laptop into the kitchen when I am ready to work on it. (This way I can look through the fridge and the pantry to make sure I am not duplicating something or to see if I am out of something.)

Another benefit of ordering online is that you can see your total cost in your virtual cart. I know my budget number and will literally remove things I think we can do without from the cart until I hit the magic number. I do not go over budget. The store calls me if they are out of something, they see if I want a substitution and they confirm when the order is ready.

For the coupon clipping folks, I think you could "rock the savings" even more. Just another opportunity to visually check what you are purchasing with your coupons. I have not taken up this cause because I am a "paper hater."

Give online grocery shopping a try. It is really worth the effort! I'd love to hear from you if you have questions about the process or if you already do this and have additional tips to share!

Preview of next week's Hump Day Tip: Weekly Dinner Menu Planning

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Reason, A Season or A Lifetime

I am truly blessed to have great friends - and as the saying goes "you have friends for a reason, a season or a lifetime." I truly believe those words and it is important to "recognize and categorize" what type of friendships you have as you go through can help you understand a lot about relationships...especially female ones. "Reason" friends may be the neighbor who lives next door or the mom who co-grade-mothered kindergarten class with you. "Season" friends may be your college friends or the friends you made as your child was going through school. "Lifetime" is obvious....these are your long-time friends through thick and thin. Note: Reasons and Seasons CAN become Lifetimes! However, Reasons and Seasons can come and go and it is important to understand it.

My childhood girlfriends and I go on at least one trip together each year. I have known most of these women since middle school. These are my "lifetime" friends. Each one is a treasure and offers their own personality to the group. For me, lifetime friends are the ones who have known you before you acquired all of your, wife, co-worker, etc. These women know DANA. They can call me out on things and understand where I am coming from in an instant. These are also the friends I can pick off where I left off with immediately upon seeing them (some live in my town but we don't get together as often as people would think and some live farther away so mileage prohibits frequent visits).

I write about this topic because I think it is important to figure out "what juices you." For me, seeing these "lifer" friends who understand and know me makes me feel understood and validated. I can talk about my problems and trust they will give their honest opinions and know they care about me. We just have fun together too and can give each other a word or a look that can transport us back to 1983 in a second.

I do have great friends outside of this group and I have made it my mission to reach out to other neat women I have known and enjoyed being around this past year. It was the best resolution I made in 2011. I have re-connected with a college friend for lunch and a woman I knew from my work life who has kids similar in age to mine and has "freedom." I have had lunch and dinner with my son's former babysitter who is back in town earning another college degree. I have invited ladies in my neighborhood to a holiday wine and cheese with my other great "neighborhood" girlfriends. I walk with a great girlfriend almost daily and I am going to my first book club meeting this week!

Now that I am "at home," I find that having plans on the horizon keep me moving forward and give me something to look ahead to. Surrounding people who feed your soul is so important. Being happy with yourself is too....more on that to come!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sorta Have Things Figured Out!

Well....I find it very interesting that it has taken me two years to write another entry into this blog. I wrote my first entry in January 2010 as I was seriously considering leaving my incredibly stressful mortgage lending job after twenty years. When I originally designed my blog, I had a BLACK background! Coincidence that it reflected my attitude? I think not! When I logged back in for the heck of it this week....I was amazed by what I had written, what it looked like and where I am now!

I LOVED my career....but didn't like the prospects of where the business was going. Fortunately, I was completely supported by my husband in leaving my job. While he had started a new business and it was doing up and leaving work was a big risk and family income sacrifice. So....back in January 2009 when I wrote my first entry, I was contemplating my entire life....stressing about my job and trying to find direction.

Every time I came home frustrated through spring and summer of 2010, my husband's response was "quit." I didn't really believe him, and in the fall, I said "I may really do it one day, so are you serious?" And he was. I think he was sick of watching me come home SICK and fed up with my work life and the negative energy was spilling over into everything. I talked with one of my childhood girlfriends about the situation and her advice was "leap and the net will appear." I really thought about those words and decided to jump! It is the best advice I have ever received.

So...I left my job in November 2010. Since I was headed in to the holiday crunch, I was preoccupied for two months with all of the hoopla. My divorced parents also both had health issues and had I not left my job, I would not have been able to assist them as much as I did in the winter and spring of 2011. In the last year, I have found ways to fill my days that fulfill me and work for my family. (More on that to come!)

My "working" friends always ask me....what do you do all day? Obviously, I had the same view of others myself since I was "superwoman and the supreme juggler of work and home and family" for 20 years. I never knew how much stress I carried around until I left work. My son is 18, so I am not potty training a toddler, or driving carpool, but I feel like he needs me around more than ever and I am grateful I have had quality time to spend with him before he leaves the nest for his own life.

SO...somewhere in the midst of it all....I realized I needed to start thinking about ME and where this new life was leading. I wanted to find DANA again (as referenced in my first entry). I am not just someone's wife, someone's mother or worker. I now understand what makes me happy and fulfilled. What I discovered is that my passion is being creative. It always has been. Creativity can take shape in many forms. I hope to share some of the things that inspire me, a woman in Chapter Two of Life....which I now think is the best part of the whole book!