Saturday, July 31, 2010

Water Dogs

One of our decorations for Vacation Bible School last week was this kiddie pool. We filled it with sand and plastic much fun for the Quicksand Cove!

Needless to say, I just had to have it for my girls after the week was over. With two black labs in the house, I was convinced we'd have a blast in the back yard during this oppressive heat.

Unfortunately, nobody told Bailey and Sadie that they're supposed to be water dogs. This was about as close to playing in the pool as we got. Now anywhere you look you'll find the words "love water" in the description of a Labrador. Bailey will jump into any river, pond or puddle along the way, but when it came to this cute little pool, she wanted nothing to do with it.

Sadie on the other hand hates water to begin with. She's very particular about getting her feet wet and despises the bathtub. I had hoped that the warm temps would drive her to it just for a little relief, but she wouldn't come within 10 feet of it. Danny wondered if they thought they were going to get a bath instead of thinking of it as a fun place to play. If that's the case we've got a great decorative pool in the back yard, because neither one of them will ever use it.

At the very least I can go dip my own feet in it while they sit next to it and chew on a stick. Hmph...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Never Pay Retail Again

Part of being a good steward of the money God has given us is finding the best prices on the things we buy every day. Some people have the resources to buy whatever they want whenever they want, but many of us are in lean times right now. The Lord may provide for our needs, but we also have a responsibility to keep our home in functioning, working monetary order.

There is absolutely no reason why we should ever have to pay full, retail price for our daily purchases. With a little planning and a little knowledge of the stores we shop in, we can find good uses for each dollar.

1. Make use of the Internet. With computer access, you can find hundreds of coupons, frugal living web sites and sale notices every day. Many stores and businesses have discount racks online that cut prices from what you'll find in stores. Do a little browsing and see what kind of savings you can stumble across.

2. Understand the seasons. Early in the summer isn't the time to buy bathing suits or outdoor furniture. Put off buying Christmas decorations until after December 25. Stores are fairly predictable in their sales, trying to get older merchandise out before the next season's come in. If you can be patient and forward-thinking, you can schedule most of your major purchases for the times when they'll be drastically reduced.

3. Pay attention to the sale papers. Grocery stores are especially good about getting sale papers into your hands each week. Plan your meals around them, wait to make purchases until the paper shows they're marked down and think ahead to how you might be able to use some of those items in upcoming days and weeks.

4. Combine your offers. Match your Internet coupons with the sales in the paper. Use a coupon from your favorite clothing store while they're having their big end-of-the-season sale for deeper discounts. Unless your store specifically says you can't, you should be able to combine savings items in several different ways.

5. Communicate with your favorites. Check to see if your favorites stores and restaurants have buyer cards or clubs on their web site. If you get on an e-mailing list, you can learn about sales ahead of time, receive coupons via the computer that other customers won't get and you can get discounts every time you shop.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Birthday Monkey Bread

Apparently we're terrible around here about keeping birthday secrets. I found this gorgeous monkey bread mold at Williams-Sonoma this weekend and instantly fell in love. Instead of going back later and hiding it until my birthday today, Danny let me take it home with me right then.

So to celebrate my birthday (which is today) and Danny's daughter's (which is over the weekend), we made monkey bread! It takes several hours of preparation and baking, but once it's started, the smell keeps you going!

Monkey bread is a wonderful pull-apart bread/cinnamon/sugar/glaze creation that gets all warm and sticky while it bakes. I even burnt my finger in the excitement to get a fresh gooey piece.

You can find recipes everywhere for this wonderful monkey bread, or you can buy it in a mix from places like Williams-Sonoma. The hard part will be having enough on hand - it will go fast!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sea Shells In Glass

We came back from Myrtle Beach yesterday and I had the urge to change out the sea shell display in our dining room. After several trips to the coast in the past few months, there were definitely plenty to play with.

I have tons of these glass pebbles around the house, and you can find them at the dollar store by the bag-full. The tall glass box came from the thrift shop, so all of the parts to make this display were found on the cheap.

Start with a handful of pebbles at the bottom of the jar, then press each shell against the glass facing outward. Fill in the spaces with more pebbles to hold them in place. Alternate pebbles and different sizes of shells up to the top, covering the opening with pebbles to finish it off.

You can do the exact same thing with sand, rocks or other tiny bits to create different looks. Adjust the colors and sizes to fit your home's decor or color scheme.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Praying In Real Life

Eating at a restaurant the other day, I heard two women pray over their meal. Since I rarely see that anywhere, I thanked the Lord for their devotion.

Then I heard how they prayed: Thank you for the food. Amen.

Now, I know that the Lord is pleased with any conversation we have with Him, but this seemed a little less than heartfelt. Praise His holy name that I don't have to try and judge the condition of women's hearts, but we have to realize that we are being watched by God and other women alike.

I don't ever want to rush through prayer because I'm in a hurry to get back to my own conversation. I want to put my gratitude to the Lord for His provision before all else. And if someone does happen to hear or see me, I want them to be convicted themselves of how they speak to the Living God.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. Matthew 6:5

And I most certainly don't want to be seen as a show-off or holier-than-thou when seen praying in public. Jesus Christ warned His believers about being like the attention-grabbing religious leaders who prayed for the glory and envy of it. Our prayers should be simply about worshipping the Lord and expressing our thanksgiving over what He has done for us.

A very sweet woman I know asked me to pray for her in a special way on Sunday. We held hands as she told me several burdens that have weighed heavily on her heart this past week. I prayed and listened at the same time, asking the Lord to lighten her load and give her peace about all these issues.

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. James 5:16

It seems like a little thing, but how often have you said, Of course I'll pray for you, and then forgotten about it completely. One of my Titus older women told me once that the best way to pray for someone is to stop what you're doing when they first ask and approach the throne of God immediately. Time and concern are precious commodities in this day and age, and I'd like to share both of them on the spot when I'm asked.

When was the last time you prayed outside of your prayer closet, out in a real world situation? There are so many opportunities to do so: standing in line listening to someone complain, instead of bad-mouthing the terrible drivers around you on the road, or even while you're walking the dogs around the block.

God wants to hear from us, not just in the quiet of the morning or evening hours, but all day and in every situation. I pray now that you will take advantage of each situation you come upon today to be open to praying and giving thanks for whatever the Lord sends your way.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sadie's Spot

Each of our pets has her own personality. Even brothers and sisters may look alike, but they're each their own creature. Bailey and Sadie may look like siblings, but Bailey is four months older. They came from different shelters in different counties, but they've become closer than many human sisters I know. They're sisters at heart.

One of the best parts of Sadie's personality is her gullibility. (She believes the word "gullible" itself isn't even in the dictionary.) She's the kind of puppy that will go chase the invisible ball when you pretend to throw it. She'll head to the door barking if you tell her someone's there, even though she didn't hear anything. She's just fun to play with.

This is my favorite game Sadie plays. Enjoy a rousing game of "Take the Spot!"


Some days it takes so little...

Friday, July 23, 2010

My Proverbs 31 Woman Project

If you've ever read Elizabeth George's book Beautiful in God's Eyes, then your familiar with her concept of the Proverbs 31 Woman Project. She uses verse 16 as a motivator to create a vision for your home, life and finances.

She considereth a field and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she plantheth a vineyard. Proverbs 31:16

In addition to her daily household chores, the lovely Proverbs 31 woman created two of her own businesses and was able to add to her family's monetary resources. By devoting ourselves to God's goals for our life and using the creativity and ingenuity He's given us, we can do the same thing.

A couple of years ago when I first read this book, I had just finished teaching a year-long series in our Ladies' Sunday School Class called The 12 W's of the Christian Woman. I also called it The Lesson That Blew Up. I had every intention of teaching one lesson with just a handful of words that all started with the letter W. But by the time I was done with the outline, the Lord had given me 12 words and there was no way I was going to squeeze them all in to one half-hour lesson.

Instead, I spread them out, teaching one a month for a year. Each lesson explained how all of these W words tied together, helping us keep our relationship with God in balanced, working order. I had handouts in folders for each woman, little gifts tucked in the front pocket and tons of visual aids to teach with. By the end of the year I was ready to collapse from exhaustion, but I was also ready to move on to another letter.

But almost immediately, I was handing out the extra folders and copies of my notes to other ladies, ones who weren't able to be in class. It's a blessing to know that missionaries' wives are even using it on the foreign fields to teach their ladies.

Then God laid it on my heart to reach even more women, maybe ones I had never even met. I already had the writing done, so why not turn it into a book? I went back through, rewrote some of the parts I had written just for our class, and then found a publisher that wouldn't make me change the KJV Scripture.

Earlier this week I received the first 10 copies of The 12 W's of the Christian Woman. While it may not make us financially independent or allow me to buy a yacht on the Riviera, I like to think this is my Proverbs 31 Woman Project, following God's call on my life.

It's the greatest feeling in the world to go to and see the description of your work, available to whatever woman God leads to buy it. I won't know until I get to Heaven how many women might be touched by this writing, straight from the Lord's heart - to mine - to theirs. What a day of rejoicing that will be!

For more information about my book, head to and type in: Laura Carrell or The 12 W's of the Christian Woman. I pray that this book will be as big a blessing to you as it already has been to me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Turkey BLT

During the broiling evenings of summer in South Carolina, there's nothing that makes us sag even more than the thought of heating up the oven to make dinner. Adding heat to more heat just isn't a pleasing proposition.

In that train of thought, one of the most classic of sandwiches can be the perfect alternative to long, warm baking times. This turkey BLT is a great twist on the popular meal.

The bread: If you're a traditionalist, the only bread you can use for a BLT is standard white. It's what we had when we were little, so it seems appropriate. If you're willing to veer away from the norm, use a thick, whole grain bread for texture and taste. My favorite, though, is a toasted English muffin.

The sauce: Most people use mayo, especially light or fat free if they're trying to stay somewhat healthy. In reality you can use whatever condiments you like to add some zing or to tie everything together. Use sparingly so none of the other flavors will be overpowered.

The lettuce: The L of a BLT can make or break this sandwich. I like to use Romaine instead of iceberg just for its size and flavor. Plus you can cut each giant leaf to the size of your bread, saving money and energy. Wash your lettuce thoroughly before using it.

The tomato: Fresh tomatoes are best, and thickly cut is awesome. If you don't like the seeds for some reason, just trim them out after you've sliced it.

The bacon: There are many decisions to make for this one, depending on personal preference. You can fry the traditional bacon in the skillet, or you can try the heat-and-serve bacon from the box. My personal favorite is turkey bacon simply because it has much less fat and much more taste. And it won't shrivel up and get burnt like regular bacon will.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Altered Board Book

I love being able to re-purpose things for my crafting needs. Not only is it being a good steward of the things God has given me, but I can practice being creative, thinking up new uses for old pieces.

This board book is the perfect example. Its shape and size caught my eye first, and then I realized what it could become. And Psalm 100 is just the right length for a book this size!

Here's the before and after:

There are all kinds of books and objects out there that you can turn into your own album or Scripture book. All you have to do to make your own is cover each half of the page individually with decorator paper, and then embellish. I added computer-printed Scripture so I could make them the size I wanted. Keep the 3D elements out of the areas where the pages overlap or you'll squish them.
This altered board book, along with many other Christian gifts and cards, can be found in my etsy shop. Go to

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An Important Talk With Your Husband

It's become quite clear over the past weeks and months that the devil is actively attacking families. We've seen more arguments, fights, separations and divorces recently than ever before. This is a sad, scary battle that we have to fight just as ferociously.

One component of married life that he would like to destroy most is conversation. I don't know about you, but Danny and I don't get to talk as much as I'd like. As the wife of an undertaker there are probably times when I don't particularly need to hear from him at work, but the more we can talk with our husbands, the tighter the hold God can have on our lives.

A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good it is! Proverbs 15:23

The Scriptures are chock full of God-inspired instruction on how to use our words. The first and most important person we should be using this godly speech with is our husband. Think of the joy you can bring into your home with just a spoken response. How good can you make a situation by speaking a carefully-chosen word?

The time we have with our husbands is precious, and we never know how many more days we have together. If we're diligent in making our speech kind and thoughtful, we can allow the Lord to bring joy and goodness in floods into our home.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof. Proverbs 18:21

We don't realize the extreme, and sometimes devastating, power that our words can have on our husbands. With just a kind word we can turn their horrible day at work into a lovely, peaceful evening at home. Or our speech can knock him down one more rung on the ladder.

There are many times when I've said something in anger or haste and was immediately convicted of its harm. As hard and frustrating as it can be to live with someone day after day, the worst thing we can do is use angry and hurtful words. Our purpose in life is to be a helpmeet for our husband,s which includes lifting them up in any way we can.

I pray that you'll take the time to do a heart-analysis today and see what words are coming out of the abundance of your heart. Speak in the way you'd like to be spoken to and find those special words that will bring a smile to your husband's face. Your children, your family, your husband himself, and most importantly your Lord will all be touched by your efforts.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Tisket, A Tasket

Is there such a thing as too many baskets in one house?

I sure hope not because there are many, many baskets in ours. Our Ladies Sunday School class started a missions basket project several years ago, so I started basket shopping. We load them up with all sorts of toiletries and small goodies for preachers' and missionaries' wives as they're passing through one of our services. I wanted certain kinds of baskets, but found all kinds for other uses along the way.

The long, heavy ones are great for collecting up all the supplies you need to have readily accessible. This one, for example, is where I keep those scrapbooking tools that I need handy. I can grab it quick and move it wherever I want, plus I don't have loose pieces all over the table, the room, the floor, the house...

The big tall baskets are perfect for books. This one is in my prayer closet, right next to my chair. I can pile in my Bible, prayer list, praise journal, study books and other notebooks I'm writing in. I think it looks a little nicer than a big pile of books on the table, and I can move it easily to clean. It's nice to have a place where I know things will be there and a place where things can go back to when you're done with them.

There are some baskets that are perfect for hiding things away. This one, a huge, sturdy basket with great handles, holds all my pocketbooks. I can line them up, then tuck the basket away up on the shelf. This keeps them clean, in shape and out of sight when they're not needed.

Other baskets are great for having things out in the open. This varnished one is perfect for putting out fruit and veggies on the kitchen counter. It's easier to grab something healthy to eat when it's on handy.

Large baskets are perfect for moving things from one end of the house to the other. Smaller ones can corral bits and pieces in a drawer. Use them to store linens in the closet or for display in the guest bathroom. Line up matching ones on a shelf for a combination of decoration and storage. Look at the thrift shop or dollar store for some great, inexpensive baskets that you can use all over the house.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Spiritual Nutrition

I've been doing a lot of reading and research lately about feeding both the body and the soul. For some reason I've been extremely hungry for the Word lately, and I've spent a lot of time in my Bible and reading what other Christian women are doing to feed their soul.

So my questions for you today are: What do you do or where do you go for spiritual nutrition? When you're feeling hungry and empty, how do you find the satisfaction from God you need? If you could spend your time this week feeding any way you want, what would you choose?

For me personally, I love to curl up in my prayer closet and read - the Bible for starters, and then biographies of Christian women, commentaries on God's Word and blogs from women who are living everyday lives for Christ. That's how I get the nutrition I need to keep going in my service for the Lord.

Take some time to think and pray about these ideas, and then leave your thoughts for us all to share and feed on.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Forever Home

We took Cayenne back to the shelter yesterday, and I sneezed almost the entire time we were there. I'm sure the sweet woman who greeted us at the door had no question why we had to bring her back. And she was fabulous about letting me hug her one more time, and then she shooed us out the door so I wouldn't cry right there in the shelter. So I waited until we got out the door...

So we are a four-member family again. As heart-breaking as it was at the time, it was nice to sleep until the alarm went off this morning. True, there were no purrs at my feet, vibrating me awake, but that's something to get used to. There is joy in God's mercies every morning, and that is where my joy comes from.

So here are a few of my favorite Cayenne pictures, just so I can remember for a few minutes.

She's not dead, she's just moving on the the next stage of life like we are. I know she's getting ready to go to her forever home, so that makes me happy. And I will never forget the two years of joy she brought into our home...and the pet hair that we're now cleaning off everything.

If you have a pet of any kind, give her a hug for me today. I think I need it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Don't Let Debt Distract You

Society has instilled in most recent generations that debt is normal. College kids are signed up for credit cards before they even know the basics of budgeting and saving. Young couples want the things their parents have without going through the decades of work to get them. Credit makes debt easy, which can be incredibly dangerous.

The devil can use debt and money worries as a ball and chain to keep us from serving God with all we have. How can we tithe if there's no money in the account? How can we support missions if we're waiting for payday just to keep our head above water? How can we keep our homes the way the Lord has planned when our thoughts are consumed with debt?

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Matthew 6:24

If a Christian woman can be torn from completely focusing on God's plan for her life, she can't be serving with all her heart. We can't raise our families the way He wants if our finances dictate how much and when we have to work. We can't put money aside for the future or plan anything special because we're constantly trying to dig ourselves out of the hole we've created for ourselves.

Buying things on credit shows God that we don't trust Him to provide what we need. Our wants get in the way of our needs and our perception of how we spend our money gets twisted. We aren't content with the blessings of the day, so we get out ahead of God's plan and try to take on the world of finances ourselves.

If you're currently in debt, take a look at your budget and find ways to get rid of it now. If you need help, get some financial counseling and review what the Bible says about how to spend, save and be good stewards of your money. There's so much more God would have us do in life to serve Him if we'd focus on Him and not our bank account.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Say Sushi Chef Five Times Fast

Danny treated me to lunch at my favorite sushi restaurant yesterday. In the very near future I'll tell you why. (If that doesn't keep you reading, I don't know what will.)

We've been thinking about making sushi while we have company around next week, so this trip was a little recon mission. We made some about a year and a half ago and it was so much fun!

Sushi is one of my all-time favorite foods - one of those I could have every day if it were physically possible. We experimented with some flavors and made some combinations that may not be known to other sushi chefs.

If the thought of eating raw fish worries you, just remember that only a few sushi rolls actually contain raw fish. Some contain fully cooked fish, or none at all. And you can substitute any ingredients in a roll if the rest sound really great.
As you can see, ours didn't turn out in the perfect shape, but they tasted fabulous! One of my favorites was topped with kiwi fruit slices...not culturally accurate, but a wonderful taste. If you're interested in making some yourself, there are tons of great recipes out there. Just modify them to your particular tastes and have fun.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Love of Layers

I can always tell when my paper-crafting creativity has all flown away - I find myself slapping a sticker on a piece of paper and calling that good. It looks like something I made in kindergarten, and then I feel silly and start over.

The key to making any project, paper crafting or otherwise, look finished and put-together is to build up its layers. We put pillows on a couch, we hang pictures over the wallpaper and we layer towels on the rack in the guest bathroom. The same concept applies to crafting.

Add layers gives depth and dimension. I could have used paper here that already had this pattern on it, but it have been flat and very boring. By layering the circles and adding a metal buckle, each layer can pop off the page.

Dressing up something plain with a tiny embellishment can make all the difference. Yes, this photo mat would have looked just fine with two layers of paper, but adding one more layer - the metal brad - makes both contrast and added dimension.

Creating layers draws the eye around your project. Imagine this card if I had just stamped the phrase in the middle of the leaf piece of paper. You wouldn't have taken more than a second to look at it before moving on. With the addition of 3D embellishments and some extra layers of paper, it's more pleasing to look at.

Even without a lot of extra embellishments, you can create some fabulous layers. Simply ink-distress the edge of your paper and you'll instantly get an additional layer. Using the ink pad itself, swipe the edge of the paper in several strokes to leave a little ink. It will feather out and give it a textured look without having to mat it.

All of these cards, along with many others, are for sale in my shop: Come check them out!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

She Strengtheneth Her Arms

I am now in the third week of my fifth time through the P90X workout program. By following their 90-day exercise schedule, which includes weight lifting, plyometrics, yoga and kenpo karate, along with their nutrition plan, you can see drastic changes.

But why would I put myself through all that? Some women tell me that they'd never want to sweat like that, or they just don't have time to exercise to that level. And no, I never say it's so I can show off my "guns" or go run a marathon. The reason I exercise is simple:

She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. Proverbs 31:17

In that picture of the perfect example of a woman God lays out in the book of Proverbs, she is busy all day and through part of the night. She cares for her home and her family, she runs two businesses and she handles a staff and the shopping. Sound like anyone you know personally?

If I want to be able to serve God to the best of my ability, I have to have strength and stamina just to make it through the day. Women have so many responsibilities on their shoulders that the better our bodies can function, the better off we'll be.

I happen to have both fibromyalgia and asthma, so there are days when I have to modify my workouts some so that I can continue to breathe and can actually get out of bed the next day. I'm obviously not suggesting that everyone go out and get the P90X DVDs. There are great workouts and exercise programs developed for every body and ability. You may just want to walk every morning. Or you might enjoy stopping by the gym sometime during the day. A little weight lifting might be just what you need, or perhaps you just love to swim. Anything that's structured and targeted will not only help you build strength, it will help you slim down and get all your insides healthy and fit.

As you think about all the things on your to-do list today, ask yourself if you could do them better, more quickly and more efficiently. If you had the strength and endurance of the Proverbs 31 woman, are there additional things you'd like to do, or some chores you have now that might be easier. Every tiny step you take to having a healthier, more fit body means one more act of service for the Lord you might have been able to do before.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Keep A Well-Stocked Medicine Cabinet

We were both a little under the weather over the weekend. I woke up one morning with a terrible sore throat and Danny spent most of Sunday nursing a migraine. We were both so pitiful, but blessedly not at the same time.

I was also blessed to find headache medicine in the cabinet. We're never really sure if it helps, or if it's the sleep and cold compress that do the trick. As for me, I found a couple of throat drops in there too, but they weren't the kind I thought we had. That, along with finding several things I didn't know we still had, opened my eyes to the importance of having what you need in the medicine cabinet.

For emergencies:
* pain reliever
* band-aids of several sizes
* hydrogen peroxide or other cleaner
* ice packs
* Neosporin or other salve
* cotton balls and Q-tips
* medical tape
* tweezers
* burn cream
* butterfly closures
* liquid bandages

For those little health concerns:
* thermometer
* throat drops
* sore throat spray
* medicine for nausea
* an allergy medicine
* cold medicine
* treatments for whatever specific conditions your family members may have

For those of us who don't have an actual medicine cabinet, store all your bits in a kitchen cabinet or in a tote that can be moved easily wherever you need it. Store all medications away from drastic temperature change and humidity. Also make sure you throw out any expired or funny-looking medicines that may have been there for a while.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Time Well Spent

If your life is anything like mine this summer, you're just as busy now as you were the previous six months of the year. We're jam-packed with visitors and vacations and the normal everyday things that keep us busy and tax our minds.

* Cleaning the house every day is hard work, and it takes some time.

* Planning meals and shopping for food is hard work, and it takes some time.

* Keeping up my creativity and running a home business is hard work, and it takes some time.

* Maintaining my Bible reading and prayer schedules is hard work, and it takes some time.

* Staying in touch with friends and family is hard work, and it takes some time.

* Writing checks for the 106 missionaries that our church supports is hard work, and it takes some time.

* Running around the neighborhood every day with the girls is hard work, and it takes some time.

* Exercising and taking care of my body is hard work, and it takes some time.

* Providing for my husband's needs and wants is hard work, and it takes some time.

* Preparing for Vacation Bible School is hard work, and it takes some time.

* Planning for the future is hard work, and it takes some time.

But then I remember why I do every single of one the things listed above. In some small way, when I invest my time in people, I am serving as Christ's hands. When I speak kind words I am serving as Christ's voice. If I allow Him to do His work through me, I am spending my time in the most precious way possible.

Plan your time wisely this week and listen for how God would have you spread yourself across your planner.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Celebrate Summer On The Cheap

We all have plans for the summer months - barbecues, travel, stay-cations, decorating and play dates in the back yard. The high temperatures seem to drive us to be busier in the name of summer fun.

And then comes the reality of summer spending. We have to have new this and that just to have a little fun. There is our summer reading list, vacation expenses and the need for summer clothes. Not to mention what you'll spend if you want to entertain.

Instead of shelling out tons of money for your summer plans, hit the right stores and you'll clean up on all your activities. Check the library for your favorite books. Look at the clearance racks before you look anywhere else. Make use of those coupons that you get the in mailbox.

Then there are my two shopping staples: the thrift shop and the dollar store. Keep your spending to a minimum by checking them first, and then head elsewhere. The following is just a sample of what I found available this week.

Thrift Shop:
* Luggage
* Clothes
* Photo albums
* Baskets
* Electric fans
* Outdoor lighting
* Videos and music
* Books
* Tote bags
Make sure you check all electrical pieces at the store before you purchase them.

Dollar Store:
* Drinks
* Snacks
* Popsicles
* Water toys
* Party favors, cards and gift wrap
* Wedding gift bags and tags
* Cook out supplies
* Sunscreen
* Tote bags
* Hats
* Straws
* Matching cups, bowls and plates
* Flip flops

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Little Inspiration

This weekend my friend Renee took me to Laura's Tea Room in Ridgeway, South Carolina. For pictures, directions and schedules, go here: It was some much-needed girl time and exactly what we needed. It's a sweet shop on the corner of a picturesque town, and the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of capitol city living for a while.

But what I didn't realize was that I would get a jump-start to my culinary creativity.

If you're searching for some great, fresh ideas for cooking, decorating and entertaining, look no further than your favorite restaurants. While we were out this weekend, I noticed that the most memorable, special places we go are the ones that make the dining experience fun and extraordinary.

There were several tables in the tea room, none 0f them alike. Each one was color-coordinated and everything matched like they were designed that way. We were served on antique dishes, with matching napkin rings and silverware. There were even fresh flowers and a view to die for. Even the sandwiches were cut into shapes and the sherbet was served in a tiny frosted mug.

I'm not asking you to spend tons of time using cookie cutters on your sandwiches or freeze tiny mugs for desserts. I'm not even asking you to match everything or fold a napkin. All I'm suggesting is that we as keepers of the home make dinnertime, perhaps the few minutes of the day we'll see our family, a little more special.

In the back of your cabinets there is probably some special china that you never use. Pick one evening coming up and pull it out. Even meatloaf will taste better when served in style.

Use quality ingredients, showing that you truly care about what your family eats.

Eat a meal together as a family at the table, not on tv trays on the couch.

Surprise one member of your family each night this week with their very favorite meal. What a fabulous gift - making someone feel special. It may have been awhile since you pulled that recipe out of the book, so start your planning now.

If you have to eat peanut butter and jelly some days, have a little picnic on the living room floor. Even an inexpensive meal can seem lavish if you set the atmosphere.

Dinner is not just another chore of the day. It's an opportunity to fulfill your God-given role of serving your family. When we look at the evening meal as an opportunity to care for our loved ones, providing them with both sustenance and substance, we get a serious attitude adjustment.

What can you do for dinner this week that is special, unique, different, out-of-the-box and family-oriented? Let me know how your creative juices get flowing!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Egg Carton Cupcake Gift Boxes

This weekend I needed a great gift idea. My dear sweet friend Renee took me out for a girls' day (more info on that tomorrow), which was desperately needed. So to say thank you, I made her these mini cupcakes in a very special carrying case.

If you use a mini muffin pan, one cake mix will make around 60 tiny cupcakes. Only bake for about 15 minutes so they don't over bake and disintegrate.

While the cupcakes are cooking away, clean and dry two empty egg cartons. Decorate them for whatever theme you're planning. I hand-stamped my favorite friendship verse on the top and accented them with layers of paper flowers and a metal brad. Around the edge are coordinating stickers that cover up all the egg-related verbiage.

When the cupcakes have cooled, load them into the egg cartons. Decorate them inside the case so you don't have to try and move them, unless you really want messy cakes and frosting on your fingers. ( For these cupcakes I used the Pillsbury frosting in a spray can and flower sprinkles. Too cute!

Once they're finished, close the lid and use a ribbon to tie the two cartons together lengthwise. If you go between the cups on the bottom that way, you'll be able to pull the ribbon tighter and they won't slip apart.

So in a couple of hours I had a one-of-a-kind gift that she's probably still enjoying. And there will be plenty to share...if she wants to.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Our Titus Older Women

Our Ladies Sunday School class has been going through the most wonderful series of lessons for the past several months. Instead of the same teachers teaching in rotation, each member of the class has been standing up to give her testimony. Some are only a few minutes, while others take the whole class time. Regardless of the length, these are the most beautiful stories ever told.

Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the LORD, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the LORD. 2 Kings 22:19

One of my beautiful Titus older women is our former pastor's wife, Sister Onie Fleming. She served by her husband's side at Alpine Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carlina, for 36 1/2 years. But when she told her story this Sunday morning she didn't tell church stories or recount all the bumps int he road. Through tear-filled eyes she shared what the Lord had done for her.

It's that tender heart that I pray to God for every day. Mrs. Fleming has seen so much and knows the answers to so many things. I would love to just spend a day sitting at her feet, taking in all of her wisdom that I could, and it still wouldn't be enough time. But what has always tugged at my heart is her true burden for other people. She will weep over a struggling soul. She will get choked up while praying for someone's health problems. She'll dab away a tear when she quietly asks you to pray for her.

I don't always have a heart that tender, but by her example I can see what Paul meant when he wrote to Titus about the roles of women.

The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Titus 2:3-5

The most wonderful part of listening to the story of a Christian woman give her testimony is learning from someone who's already been through what you're going through - or may go through shortly. Mrs. Fleming has already passed the 80-year mark in life, and she has already experienced many of the trials, tribulations and extreme joys that are coming along on my own path.

We've been taping each one for posterity - we will never meet this way again. For example, one of my sweet Titus older women passed away several weeks ago before we could put her story on video. Praise the Lord that we could see her testimony through her daily walk. That will forever be imprinted on my heart and my mind.

The treasure of our churches, our families and our communities are our older women. We are not floundering about in the sea of life - we have floatation devices around us every day. When it feels like we're sinking or we're not even sure of which direction to paddle, all we have to do is reach out to the ones who have already found the way and were victorious in the journey.

Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Proverbs 31:29-30

Who are the women in your life that have led you along the way? Who has been a tender heart at the times you needed it, and a rock when you needed that? Today is the perfect day to thank them for being your Titus older woman.

Thank you Mrs. Fleming, just for being an example.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Keeping Your Home's Cool

It seems like just a few weeks ago we were wearing sweaters and cuddling under the comforter at night. Now we've changed to the summer quilts and short sleeves. And if you've looked at your last couple of gas and electric bills, you've seen a difference there too.

So what's a conscientious woman to do to both cool the house and save some money? While a trip to the Antarctic sounds good right about now, there are lots of tricks to staying cool in your own home.

* Use awnings on the west, east and north sides of the house.
* Find out of all your insulation is in good shape and up to date.
* For the long-term, plant a tree. It will take a few years to completely develop, but great landscaping can help you cool your home tremendously.
* Have an expert come and inspect your air conditioning unit's effectiveness.
* Check for leaks around the doors and windows.

* Use window coverings. Especially during the hottest hours of the day, keep shades and blinds pulled.
* Turn on your ceiling fans to keep air circulating.
* Close doors to rooms that you rarely use.
* If it's cool enough at night, open the windows and fireplace damper to let some of God's air conditioning in.
* Change your air filters frequently.
* Use heating elements like the stove as little as possible. When you do have to turn them on, do multiple jobs all at once so you're not having them on all the time.
* For a quick cool, turn the attic fan on for a couple of minutes. Don't run it very long or very often because it uses a good bit of energy, but it can suck the warm air out of the house super-fast.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

In The Dead Of The Afternoon

One of the joys of how God created woman is that we're pretty in-tune with our bodies. We quickly learn what foods give us energy, when the best times to get up and go to bed are, and how to exercise to reach our full potential.

We should all become familiar with how our body rhythms affect our day. It's not new-age mumbo jumbo - it's simply understanding when you are at your most productive. If you pay attention for a few days, you'll clearly see the patterns of energy and mood in your own body.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I don't function well early in the morning, so I wait until later to write or craft. Instead, I will do laundry and clean - things I can do without too much thinking. I also know that I need a high-protein breakfast or I will fade quickly. It doesn't make much sense to try and push my mind and body to go beyond what they're capable of. Instead I can wait for a better time when my body rhythms are more suited for thinking and activity.

Later in the morning my mind engages more and I have much more energy, probably because my eggs have kicked in. At this point I can make cards for my etsy site and do my writing for the day. From mid-morning until lunchtime I know I can accomplish quite a bit. When you find the high points of your body rhythms you can exceed what you thought you were capable of.

But first thing in the afternoon I either need a nap, a walk around the block or something to do outside the house. I get sleepy and very unproductive, which means I'm more susceptible to depression and anxiety. In order to keep those horrible, negative thoughts at bay, I'll often plan my day so I have something sedentary but thought-provoking to do. I'll get a pile of magazines together and mark articles and scrapbook designs I'd like to try. Or I'll sort recipes and write my favorites in my personal cookbook. By choosing productive, yet not-too-taxing, activities in the times that my body would prefer to shut down, I can keep my spirits and my mood up.

By later in the afternoon I can kick it back into gear. Danny will be coming home soon so I'll get supper put together and finish picking up the house. If there is church or some other activity planned for the evening I get things gathered to go. Once we're in for the night I can finally relax and enjoy some couple time. I've also found that I function better in the morning the earlier I go to bed, so we're generally on the way by 9:00 or so. Keeping a regular schedule works for me better than any coffee or soda ever could.

Do you know your body's scheduled rhythms during the day? Could you get more accomplished and feel better about the way you spend your time if you did? Pay attention to your ups and downs for a few days and decipher what your body's been trying to tell you.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Treating Cay's Ears

The poor Cay-Cay kitty has been traumatized lately. She's made three trips to the vet's office in two weeks. She knows now that every time the cat carrier comes out that she's headed somewhere she doesn't want to go. She's a cat, not stupid.

Cayenne has had an ear infection for a few weeks now. It was nothing to be concerned over, but we needed to have it taken care of. The combination of my allergies, Sadie's allergies and some family members' allergies have made it necessary for us to return her to the shelter we got her from. It has been absolutely heart-breaking, but for the health of all involved, it has to be done.

So we had Cay's physical done and got all check marks on everything except her ears. She has always had some build-up in them, but she doesn't scratch them or clean them too much. If you didn't see it when you're cleaning them, you'd never know she had a problem.

But in order to accept her back, the shelter said she had to have a completely clean bill of health...and an ear infection doesn't say "healthy." So we've been giving her ear drops for two weeks. Have you ever tried to give ear drops to a 12-pound cat? I can do it on my own, but I can show you the scratches - my battle wounds! We found it was easier if Danny picked her up, held her back legs in place, and let her hang her head over his arm. It may have looked a little funny, but it was so easy at that point to fold her ear back and get the drops in.

There were two funny parts to this whole scenario. The first was when she heard the "pop" of the lid to the medicine. It had to be kept in the fridge in this little pop-top bottle. As soon as she realized it wasn't food I was getting out of the fridge, she high-tailed it for the furthest corner of the house she could manage. The only way to get her to come back was to save this whole process for dinner-time and then bribe her with the promise of food. She'll come running for that!

The second part, which I could never get a decent picture of, was the look on her face after the drops. She would shake fiercely, then tack her ear down to the side of her head. She looked like a clock with hands at 9 and sweet and so miserable all in one shot. Can you bless a cat's heart?

But now we're done with drops and she's got a clean bill of health. Now we're just waiting to hear from the shelter about when they have an opening to take her back. In some ways I need her to go - for my allergies, my clean house and the health of my loved ones. But I'm not ready to let go of cuddles on the couch, the bundle of fur at the foot of the bed and the purr that's ready whenever I need it. Just pray for peace in my heart over this decision.

And if you'd like a beautiful cat that can sit on command, will sit up like a prairie dog, thinks she is a puppy and will give unconditional love 99% of the time, let me know and I'll tell you how to get in touch with our shelter. She's going to get a forever home, of that I'm certain. I just hope it's with someone who will love her half as much as I do.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Making A Deposit In Your Memory Bank

Money concerns are everywhere - do we have enough to cover bills, how can we afford what we need, will there be anything left when we retire? And there are so many places to turn to try and find ways to save, to invest wisely, to be good stewards of God's money and to make sound financial decisions.

But I want to step away from all of that money talk for a minute.

Are we so wrapped up in finances and the future that we're forgetting to enjoy the present? I don't know about you, but money is tight right now. Yes, there are some immediate concerns and there are more on the way, I'm sure. Our financial situation is near the top of my prayer list every morning. I know that if I don't turn it over to God right off the bat, my day will be clouded with thoughts of bank accounts and debit cards.

I'd really like to do a 180-spin. I want to be so focused on God's immediate plan for my life that there's no time to think about our lack of "things." If I'm trusting that the Lord will provide what I need when I need it, I won't have to check the stock market or a financial web site. We can be so secure knowing that we shall not want that we can take time to enjoy the little things He's blessing us with every moment.

* Instead of pouring over coupons and menus for hours every week, I want to enjoy a picnic of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the living room floor.

* Instead of starting the day checking the online bank statement, I'd rather read an interesting blog from another Christian woman living life to the fullest.

* Instead of struggling to make ends meet, I'd like to meet God in prayer and leave all my financial burdens at His feet.

* Instead of worrying about when the next paycheck is coming in, I would much rather take a walk around the block, holding hands with my husband.

* Instead of making cards just to sell and make some quick money, I want to go back to the mindset that I can share God's love through correspondence, praying over every card that leaves this house.

* Instead of searching for better deals on calling plans and cell phones, I'd much rather spend a few minutes on the phone, sharing a priceless moment with my parents, my friends and my family.

In the end, money will fade. Memories will last a lifetime.

If we're living victoriously for Christ, we can make hundreds of deposits every day into our Memory Bank. Those investments are so much more profitable than a few dollars and cents in a jar. And in the end, I would love to empty that memory bank on the table and smile, because God has blessed us with a few precious moments on this earth. Soon we'll be celebrating around the throne of God, and time well spent now is so much better than the money spent.

When was the last time you made a deposit in your Memory Bank? Today is the day.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Make Use Of Your Leftovers

Danny and I have both started back on our workout plans this week, which means replacing all the food in the house with the stuff we should have been eating all along. It also means rethinking the way I cook and use the ingredients around the house.

One evening I made a fabulous throw-together dinner with just four ingredients - all of which were leftovers from the past two days. All I used was rice, mixed vegetables, diced chicken and Zesty Italian dressing (just enough to taste). It fits everything in our nutrition guide and tasted wonderful.

After mixing them all together and heating them up, I was able to wash up those four plastic containers, freeing up tons of space in the refrigerator. Plus I didn't have to use a single pot or pan, and since I used the microwave to reheat the leftovers, it was just in minutes and I didn't heat up the oven for anything. That's the way to cook on a hot summer evening.

So what's in your fridge this evening, just waiting to get mixed together in a fabulous new way?