Silver and Pearls

Richie has never been known to buy me extravagant gifts.  Whether Christmas, Birthday, Valentine’s or Anniversary most holidays are celebrated with a quick “Happy (Insert Holiday Here)” and possibly a nice dinner out.  When you have been married for almost 12 years and you buy what you need, when you need it there isn’t much room for surprises and mystery.  Truthfully, this goes both ways.  Is Richie really surprised by the 12 bars of Burt’s Bees specialty soap that I order him every year at Christmas?  I doubt it.

I got a necklace for Christmas.  But I picked it out, I was there when Richie bought it, I was the one who wrapped it and placed it under the tree.

This year when Valentine’s Day came around we both forgot about it.  I texted him mid-morning when I remembered and received a return text that said “Today’s Valentine’s Day?”  That night we made breakfast for dinner and fell asleep watching TV.  I on the couch.  Richie on the recliner.  Romantic huh?

Some people may read this and think that I married a real jerk.  But the truth is that Richie really is romantic.  Just not in the flowers, candy and jewelry kind of way.  But then again, maybe he is.

Here is a picture of Richie a few weeks ago. 

The fact that there are no other men in this picture is not a mistake nor a conscious effort.  The truth is Richie was the only guy here.  We are at the Jacksonport State Park in Newport, Arkansas where we are taking a pearl stringing workshop.  Yup, Richie went with me!

Yup, Richie strung his own string of pearls.

My man does not buy me silver and pearls.  He strings them himself!  Could I really want for anything more?



Valentine’s Day Smash Book with Elmer’s #GlueNGlitter

If you’re anything like me you start thinking about Valentine gifts about 3 days before Valentines.  I plan Christmas months in advance but Valentine’s Day always seems to sneak up on me.  Since once again it is 3 days before Valentine’s  and I am running out of time, I thought I would make a gift to present to my Husband onValentine’s that I will continue to add to all year long.  This year I will be making a Valentine themed Smash Book.


What is a Smash book?

Smash books are sortof where art journaling meets scrapbooking.  The idea is to prepare the whole book (or parts of the book) ahead of time and fill it in as you go with your pictures and journaling.  There are themed kits available for purchase in a lot of scrapbooking and craft stores but I much prefer to make my own and today I will show you how to make a simple smash book in just a few hours.  Today we’re going to make a Valentine or love themed smash book that you and your significant other can add to all year long.

What supplies will I need?

I’m a list maker and I always start all my projects with a list.  I like to get all my supplies gathered up and ready BEFORE I begin so I don’t have to hunt things down later.  Here’s my list for this project:


A BIG Gluestick (Elmer’s Craft Bond Gluestick is archival and works perfect!)
A Tape Runner (I used the Elmer’s Craft Bond Tape Runner)
A Composition Notebook
Variety of Scrapbook Papers
Valentine Themed Stickers and Embellishments
Colorful Duck Tape
Pens and Markers (You may want to try Elmer’s Painters Markers)
X-ACTO Knife

I went to Walmart to get everything I needed for the project and to check out all of the Elmer’s products that they have.  You can take a look at my Google+ photo album of my trip if you’d like to see more about my shopping experience.

Why so many Elmer’s products?

In light of full disclosure – I have been asked by to create this project as a means of testing and reviewing Elmer’s Memory Keeping Products for their #glueandglitter campaign.  I am being compensated for this post but I can assure you that I am a HUGE fan of Elmer’s products and that I choose to use them because I believe in their quality.  For more information about this you can read my disclosure at the bottom of this post.

Elmer’s makes so many quality product. Here is a sample of some of their products:


Being an art teacher, I have learned the necessity of buying QUALITY products.  Cheaper usually means not as good in the arts and crafts world.  Elmer’s has never disappointed me.  The other great thing about Elmer’s is that their products are readiliy available at my local Walmart Supercenter. Again, you can read more about my shopping experience by clicking on my Google+ story.

Okay, we’ve got our supplies gathered!

Are you ready to make a Valentine’s Day Smash book?  Let’s get started!

Step 1: Prepping your journal

We need to begin by prepping the composition book. I love to use composition books because they are *CHEAP*.  Fancy sketchbooks, scrapbooks and journals will work too but I want to save some pennies and since I will be covering up the pages with pictures, mementos, color and journaling; the composition book works perfectly.  The only drawback to the composition books is that the pages of them are thin.  We can remedy this by gluing several pages together.  This will enable you to write, draw and even paint on your pages without the fear of you chosen medium seaping through to other pages.

So, grab that giant Elmer’s Craft Bond Glue Stick and start gluing pages together.  I chose the large size glue stick because it is HUGE and it works great!  I usually glue my pages in sets of three. I just smear some glue around the edges, make a big X in the middle and smoosh them together with pleanty of pressure so they will stick.  You can even burnish the pages with a spoon to make sure they are smooth and secure.

This is a great activity to do while you watch TV in the evening.  It is basically mindless repetition but will make all the difference in the quality of your final product.

I would recommend that you glue the pages in at least half of the book before you continue on with the project.

Step 2: Creating a Cover

Once your pages are glued together it is time to start working on the cover.  The cover is the part of the book your Valentine will see first.  We want to transform this from a boring composition book into something fabulous.  Collect your favorite scrapbooking papers and embellishments and let’s make a cover!

I usually begin by covering my front and back covers with a pretty paper.  To do this, smear glue all over the cover of your book.  Carefully position a piece of scrapbooking paper over the cover, lining up the binding seam with the edge of the paper.  Use a spoon or the palm of your hand to carefully smooth the paper out and secure it to the cover.  Allow it to dry for several minutes.  You can then use an X-ACTO craft knife to trim the excess paper from the book.


Repeat this same procedure to cover the back of your book and the insides of the covers, if desired.


Next, use your colorful duck tape to cover the binding of the book.  Slightly overlap the papers you just glued down.


Step 3: Embellishing the Cover

The next step is to embellish the cover.  The cover should reflect theme of the book.  You can use store bought elements if you like. Being an artist, I prefer to make my own.  I am taking an online lettering class called Letter Love 101 that has really been an inspiration for some of the lettering techniques I have been using. In the course we use a composition book to practice our techniques and the teacher also mentions Smash books which I had never heard of.  I did a little research and a litttle tweaking and came up with this Valentine themed smash book.  I also took an online art journaling class called 21 Secrets that taught me many valuable art journaling techniques that I will be using later in my book.

Once you have your elements drawn or picked out you will need to attach them to the cover.  I prefer the Elmer’s Craft Bond Glue Stick when I am gluing down organic (curvy) shaped pieces.

I prefer to use the tape runner to adhere straight edged pieces.

The Elmer’s Painter Markers are also really great for lettering.

Here is my finsihed cover. I saved a little room so that I may add a photo later.

Step 3: Preparring your themed pages.

I want my book to focus on my husband Richie and I as we make our way through 2012.  I want this Smash book to be a compliation of all of the things we love to do, with places to share not only photos and mementos but our feelings for each other as well.  Here are several examples of pages I have created.

Intro Page:

10 Reasons I Love You (I’ve made a page for each of us.)

True Beauty – Pictures of Us, Together

Places We Love to Eat

Hint: I created a pocket to insert menus by gluing the sides and bottom of a scrap piece of paper and attaching it to the page. Here is a closer look.

2012 Movies We Love

The possibility for page themes is endless and the great things about handmaking your book is that you can customize everything to your interests.  Here are a few more ideas:

Life is Good – journal and share photos of things you are proud of

A Day in the Life of… – Each of you takes a page to journal about what your day is like when you are apart

Togetherness – add mementos of things you enjoy when you are together

Things He/She Said – Make a list of funny or cute things your significant other says throughout the year

For more ideas a quick Google or Pinterest search will reveal a plethora of topics.  Suggested search terms include: smash book, layout, scrapbook, project life, journaling, and art journal.

Step 4: Completing your book

I plan to work on my book for the next year.  I think it will be so neat to sit down with Richie a year from now and look through our collection of mementos from 2012.  Take your time and have fun.  Smash books are meant to be a fun way to express yourself and create lasting memories with less time, effort and pressure than with scrapbooking.

Disclaimer: This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias. #CBias The opinions I express are my own and are not influenced by compensation. I only promote products that I fully believe in and that I have actually used and tested myself.

I am not affiliated with either 21 Secrets or Letter Love 101 and was not compensated for mentioning these online classes.  I have taken both online classes and believe they are of high quality.

Mexican Corn Chowder

Corn Chowder has been a family favorite since I was a child.  Soups, stews, and chowders are quite popular in New England and my mom’s Corn Chowder was always a big hit at potlucks, get togethers and family dinners.  Although it is called a chowder – the broth is not thick like a clam chowder.  It is filled with lots of yummy vegetables, corn and potatoes and has a nutty flavor that reminds me of my home in Vermont.

Last week at work, we had a mexican themed potluck so I decided to take my mom’s traditional Corn Chowder recipe and give it a southern/tex-mex kind of flare.  It had all the wonderful flavors of the original recipe combined with the flavors of jalepeno and cilantro to give it a spicy kick.  I must say, however,  that I still prefer the traditional recipe but the Mexican twist gave it a little flare that would be great for a change, on occasion.

Mexican Corn Chowder with Fried Tortilla Strips

1/4 to 1/2  pound of bacon, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 medium onion, diced (or 1/2 a large onion)
10-12 green onions, sliced (2 tablespoons for the recipe, save the rest for garnish)
1-2 jalepenos, chopped (seeds and ribs removed)
2-3 gloves of garlic, minced with a microplane
2-3 red skin potatoes, diced
2 Cans of whole kernal corn
1 Can of creamed corn
1 – 10 oz. can of Rotel (I used the cilantro/lime flavor)
Chicken Stock
1/4 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp. worchestershire sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped (1/2 for the recipe, save the rest for garnish)
2 Cups of Half and Half
8 corn tortillas
Cooking oil, for frying

In a stock pot (I use an enameled cast-iron dutch oven) fry the bacon until crispy.  Remove the bacon and all but two tablespoons of the fat. Set the bacon aside to drain on a paper towel.  In the remaining fat, saute the celery, onion, and about 2 tablespoons of the green onions until they start to become tender.  Add the garlic and the jalepeno and cook about 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add in the potatoes, the corn and Rotel along with the liquids from their cans.  Add enough chicken stock to cover the vegetables with about 1 inch of liquid.  Add baking soda, worchestershire and salt and pepper then simmer over medium heat until the potatoes are cooked through.  (This recipe can be frozen at this time and saved for later use.  Since we are only a family of two, I usually divide the recipe and freeze 1/2 for another time.  Be sure to adjust the cream and cilantro accordingly if you halve the recipe.)

While the potatoes cook, heat up 1-2 inches of oil in a skillet.  Slice the corn tortillas in half and then into tiny strips.  Fry them in the hot oil for about 30 seconds or so until they turn golden.  Fry in small batches and immediately remove them to drain on paper towels.  Salt them if desired.  Store in an air tight container until ready to use.

Approximately 30 minutes before serving, add the bacon back into the soup and add the cilantro and the cream and bring to temperature.  Serve hot and garnish with green onion, cilantro and the fried tortilla strips.

Dont’s like it so spicy?

If you prefer a milder soup but still want that tex/mex flare us only half of a jalepeno, reduce the garlic to one clove and choose MILD Rotel.  Prepare the recipe the same as above.

What about the TRADITIONAL recipe?

My mom’s traditional recipe is so good too.  To make Traditional Corn Chowder eliminate the green onions, the jalepenos, the cilanto and the tortillas.  Reduce the garlic to one clove and choose the MILD Rotel. Serve with crackers or grilled cheese sandwiches.


Thunder {A Sad Goodbye}

Losing a beloved pet is never easy.

Growing up, my only real experience with loosing a pet was when I was in High School and our elderly cat “went to the farm”. Our family dog didn’t die until after I had moved away and married so while I was saddened by it, I was so far removed that it wasn’t a major impact on my life. When I married Richie and moved out to our small farm where there were lots of animals, their deaths became something I had to learn to deal with.

Oddly I can butcher a chicken without flinching. I’ve stood by while my husband cleaned a deer and took pictures. Those events never bothered me perhaps because I felt those animals were serving their purpose as food.

Over the years we have lost 6 dogs, countless cats, chickens and even a horse. With each death there was sadness but nothing that just stopped me cold. Sure I shed some tears but I saw it as a part of life, part of owning a pet, and I moved on. At least until a few weeks ago.

In early January we lost our English Mastiff, Thunder. He was young. He’d been born into my hands in our kitchen not five years earlier. Thunder died of spleen cancer.

Although given that with his bleak prognosis he graced our lives longer than expected it all happened so quickly that I am still shocked that he is *gone*.

On Christmas Eve I noticed that Thunder’s belly was really swollen. My immediate concern was the issue of bloat which is a common problem in larger dogs. I had given him a ham hock a day or two prior and Thunder is notorious for swallowing things whole. I’ve seen him swallow and entire rib bone and when he was a puppy he had gotten worms and ate so many rocks that when you poked his belly you could feel them and hear them crunching around! I swear the vet thought we were horrible dog parents. Anyway, I was afraid that he had swallowed the ham hock and it was lodged somewhere and he was suffering from bloat which is a life threatening condition.

Since it was Christmas eve, we didn’t know what to do. Our regular vets office was closed. A few phone calls and we found that the Westside Vet Clinic in Searcy was open to accept dogs for boarding although the office itself was closed. The vet tech called the vet and explained what was happening and he agreed to make a special trip in just to see Thunder!

I stayed home to get some things ready for Christmas and for my parents who were coming in two days while Richie and his mom drove Thunder to Searcy.  As the minutes turned into hours and Richie’s texts read “just one more test” and “they found a mass” I knew things were not good.  Nothing broke my heart more when my husband walked through the door and broke into tears as he told me that Thunder had cancer. Spleen Cancer.

Cancer in dogs (or people for that matter) is always difficult to treat but many cancers can be treated effectively.  Spleen cancer was not one of those.  Spleen cancer is extremely invasive and even with complete removal of the spleen the survival rate is only about 19 days.  Extensive chemotherapy can often extend the dogs life a little longer but even then less than 1 in 10,000 dogs will live longer than a year.  The diagnosis pretty much sealed his fate.

The vet suggested that we take him home to live out his days happily munching on hamburgers and all kinds of goodies that dogs love and that we give him as much love as possible in the days we had left.

Thunder stayed with us for 17 more days after his diagnosis.  The last three days were really tough for me and I was racked with guilt as I went back and forth between praying for God to heal him and praying for God to take him.  Euthanization is a common choice for many pet owners in our situation.  I struggled each day of the 17 days to know if we were making the right choice to allow him to die in his own time at home.  In the end, he went peacefully in his sleep.  He knew he was loved and while he was uncomfortable the last few days he never acted like he was in pain and I know he felt an outpouring of love from us.

We miss you Thunder!

The Face of Cancer