Thursday, June 30, 2016

Homemade Blackberry Iced Tea

It's blackberry season on the Carrell Wildlife Preserve! The bushes at the top of our barn hill are out in full force, and there are hundreds of bushes in various stages of ripening.

So don't be surprised if you see several blackberry recipes in the coming weeks.

I started out the season with a lovely blackberry iced tea. It's ready to go in about an hour, but the longer you leave it in the refrigerator, the better it is.

All you need are 5-6 iced tea bags (the kind designed for cold brew are best), 3 cups of blackberries, cold water and ice.

According to the package directions, brew up a gallon (16 cups) of iced tea with the 5-6 tea bags. Make it whatever strength you want, but this is what works for my taste.

While that's brewing for those few minutes, mash the blackberries down to a pulp in a large bowl with the back of a spoon. If you're not a big fan of seeds, put them through a food processor and strain out the seeds. As long as you have the juice and the pulp, you're set.

Remove the tea bags and stir in the blackberries. Cover it and put it in the refrigerator for an hour, stirring and mashing a little more every 15 minutes or so. It will be ready after an hour, but the longer it's in there, the better it gets.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Sew Your Own Fireworks For Paper Crafts

With the Fourth of July less than a week away, you have plenty of time to put together some fantastic patriotic paper crafts. This fireworks technique will work on anything, so play around with it!

You'll need a combination of red, white, blue and gold thread and a coordinating piece of paper.

Start by using a needle to poke eight holes in some resemblance of a circle. (Ten dots will make an amazing flower ... just so you know.)

Attach the thread to the back of the paper with tape, then connect the opposite dots to make the fireworks.

Then continue across the entire paper to make a fireworks display.

The more you make, the fuller and more colorful your image will be when you place it on a card or scrapbook page.

Rotate the piece until it looks just right and tack it down. By adjusting the spacing of the dots, the thickness of thread you use and the colors, you can make these fireworks perfect for any paper craft project. Have fun!

Monday, June 27, 2016

What To Do When You Need Rain

Southern Iowa is in desperate need of rain. More important than the brown spots in our yards, the farmers have crops to think about. When you're at the mercy of the weather, having rain in its season is of vital importance.

The Israelites of the Old Testament understood this as well as anyone, especially as they were settling into their new land. In the book of Deuteronomy, they are given instructions for how to use the land that God had cared for, and the directions were incredibly specific.

And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil. Deuteronomy 11:13-14

The much-needed rain for the land was tied directly to the love and obedience of God's people. It was one of those "If... then..." promises God frequently gave them. He had the rain ready and waiting, all He needed was for them to listen, act and love as He told them to.

We may not all be farmers, but we know much about the rain of love and blessings God gives us in abundance. We've been showered with answered prayer, felt the raindrops of compassion from heaven and known the drenching of the Holy Spirit. No umbrella necessary in this downpour - prepare to get soaked through!

So what do you do when it seems like the rain gutter is stopped up when it comes to blessings and answered prayer?

1. Pray for the rain. Tell God everything that you're thinking (and possibly worrying) about. He knows what you have need of, but He delights in having conversations with you and hearing directly from His loving child about your wants and needs. Don't leave anything out, but leave it all at His feet.

2. Prepare for the rain. Be diligent in your Bible study so you know what God expects of you. Put feet to your prayers and do the groundwork. Don't sit idle and expect things to be handed to you on a silver platter. If there's something you need to be doing in the meantime, while you're waiting with faith and hope, do it in anticipation of the coming rain.

3. Play in the rain. When the blessings start to fall, soak them all up. Splash in the puddles. Find true joy in everything God sends your way. This is what you prayed for - and maybe even better - so enjoy it!

4. Praise for the rain. Shout your thanks. Whisper your thanks. Cry while you give thanks. Smile and laugh while you give thanks. It doesn't matter how you show your thankfulness. All that matters is that you thank the Lord for this rain as much as you prayed for it.

5. Proclaim the rain. Tell everyone you possibly can how much rain you've received. Whether it was a little drop here and there or a gully-washer, share with other people how you've been blessed. God deserves all the glory and honor for that rain, so proclaim it far and wide.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday Sketch

Do you have some tiny embellishments you'd like to use up, and maybe some paper scraps that don't seem to have a purpose? Combine them for this sketch and you'll be able to find places for all of them!

Start with a fairly dark background color, even matting it with a pretty pattern if you'd like. Make them subtle, though, as you'll be layering things on top of it.

Cut a circle out of a focal point-worthy piece of decorator paper and overlap it on the lefthand side of the card. Then you'll choose a coordinating embellishment and the perfect phrase to tie it all together.

It's pretty simple, and it's a great go-to sketch to use up your leftovers.
For my card, I matted a patterned burnt orange decorator paper on top of a dark brown card stock. Then I added a panel of dark striped decorator paper in the center.

My circle is cut from a "words of coffee" decorator paper and matted on the same dark brown card stock.

It's accented with a 3D cup of coffee and "I like you a Latte" stickers. (I know it's a bad pun, but that's my favorite kind.)

And since the card looked pretty sparse, I added four dark orange gems to the corners.

For more great layout ideas, and for lots of fun gifts for yourself and others, come visit my Etsy shop. You'll find hundreds of Christian cards, journals, explosion boxes, albums and other paper crafts just waiting for you to take home.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Weekend Of Seeing The Difference

There is an extensive trail system that runs through our property, and each one has incredible views and lots of hills. One of my favorite trails runs along the front of the property, near the highway, and has many different types of bushes, trees and flowers. It also has the most prolific growth of blackberries, so I spend a lot of time here in the summer.

With all the beautiful shades of green in the trees and shrubs, anything that's not green stands out like a sore thumb. Such is the case with this dying tree smack dab int he middle of this path. The rest of the trees around it are very tall, and it is rather short. The bushes are a deep, dark green, and this tree is brown and brittle.

It's different from everything around it, so it's easy to see.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. John 1:1, 4-5

The darkness was so dark that when light arrived, it didn't understand what it was. Jesus' light stood out as a bright spot in the dark world because it was the exact opposite of everything else around it. In a creation so filled with darkness, sin and evil, the light of men was a beacon to all who would believe.

Make this a weekend of seeing the difference between light and darkness. They should be such polar opposites that the light is a spotlight showing you exactly where to walk, step by step. Where you would normally rush through ignore the light because the darkness is cozy and well-known, look up for a moment and pay attention to the light.

It's different from everything around it. It will be easy to see.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Lessons From A Cow Bird

Here in Iowa, we have cows and we have birds. We also have cowbirds, like the one pictured here. It's a very average, dull-looking bird, just black and brown and not much to look at.

We have these cowbirds at our feeder every single day, but you really don't notice them. They're not pretty like the cardinals, not as large as the bluejays and not nearly as cute as the nuthatches. They're just not a special bird that you would write home about.

Until you dig a little deeper into their characteristics. Cowbirds are considered parasitic birds. They won't build their own nests, instead laying their five to seven eggs in another bird's nest. One bird guide I read says that cowbirds have been documented laying their eggs in the nests of more than 200 different species of birds.

And it's incredibly interesting that while some birds will reject these foreign eggs, most will actually raise them as their own. For tiny birds like starling and warblers, this means raising babies twice their own size! Doesn't sound like cowbirds have the greatest parenting skills, does it? Freeloaders.

I challenge you to take some time this weekend to notice the world around you. Maybe you'll want to watch the birds for a time like I did, or you might want to walk some local trails, go to the park for a picnic or just prop your feet up by the pond. It's ok to just be still and quiet for a while every day. It's in these moments that we observe, question and learn more about the way God's creation works and thrives.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

New Takes On Strawberry Shortcake

Everyone loves summertime because there are so many things we can enjoy only in these months. We go to the beach, we hang out on the deck all evening and we sip lemonade from pretty mason jars.

And we eat strawberry shortcake. By the truckload.

But who wants to eat strawberry shortcake the same way every time? We only have a few precious months to savor it, so let's put a new spin on an old favorite.

* Instead of the typical white cake, split a glazed donut in half for your top and bottom.

* Add your favorite ice cream as another layer of flavor.

* Layer it up in a glass jar or a miniature version.

* Thread pieces of cake and strawberries on a skewer and drizzle on vanilla icing.

* Use fluffy biscuits instead of cake.

* Turn the cake into cupcakes, with a strawberry in the middle and whipped cream instead of frosting.

* Instead of individual portions, make a multi-layer cake with strawberries and whipped cream between each layer.

* Bake the cake as a sheet cake, topping with vanilla frosting and piles of strawberries. Then just cut it in bars.

* Crumble the cake after it's cooled and make strawberry cake pops, adding finely diced strawberries to the cake crumbles and coating each ball in white chocolate.

* Layer cake, strawberries and whipped cream in a large trifle bowl and let everyone fend for themselves.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

DIY Coffee Packet Gift Card

When my mother-in-love asked me to make some gifts to take back to the Mongolians at the end of the summer, I was thrilled. It's so amazing to know that my work is going around the world, so I really had put my thinking cap on. For the women, I made sticky note holders. That was the easy part. 

The men's gifts were a little more challenging. But they all drink coffee, so I knew I wanted to do something small and coffee-themed.

This adorable little gift card opens up to reveal a packet of instant coffee tucked in a tiny pocket, along with a white panel to write a quick note. I think it will be the perfect size to travel back on the plane, plus be a cute surprise.

Since I was making these from an idea in my head and not a pattern, my measurements aren't precise. They will also vary depending on what size your coffee packet is, as I've learned they're not all the same. Start by cutting a rectangle of card stock that, when folded in half, is approximately three times the width of the coffee packet.

Then cut a piece of decorator paper slightly smaller than the folded panel. Don't tack it down yet, as this is going to be your template.

Use that piece to cut a second rectangle out of another pattern.

Cut it on the diagonal and this will be the front of your pocket.

Only use adhesive on three sides - not the diagonal side. 

And put them together. Now you have a lovely little pocket!

 I finally found a use for this awesome coffee-themed decorator paper that I've been saving. Use the piece you've already made as your template again, cutting the front panel and adhering it.

Now you can attach the pocket to the inside of the gift card.

 Now all that's left is to tuck in the coffee packet and add a white piece of card stock to the other side if you need a place to write a note. Tie it up with a piece of ribbon and you'll have a lovely, thoughtful gift for someone special.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Adopt A Palms-Up Attitude

The babies in our church nursery have the strongest grips I have ever known. Once they get a hold of your hair, your glasses or your jewelry, they’re determined to pull them off and keep them forever. Not to mention if you give them your finger - you’ll lose feeling in your fingertips in a matter of moments.

We carry this grip into adulthood, whether we realize it or not. But instead of holding on to someone’s finger as a reflex, our fear and worry teach us to hold on to things as tightly as we can. We squeeze the life out of our relationships, position, home, possessions and other “stuff” in our lives because we’re desperately clinging to them.

God says “Cling to me instead. Let go of the ‘stuff’ you’re trying to hold on to and show me the palms of your hands.”

This palms-up way of thinking releases the emotional need to tightly grasp people, things and memories just to keep them close. In order to see your palms, you have to uncurl your fingers and drop whatever you’re holding. And for many of us, this is a scary proposition.

You’ve probably been holding on to some things all your life: your need to be loved, your fear of rejection or your desire to have that white-picket-fence life. Or maybe you’ve acquired things over the years that you don’t want to let go - things that are now packed away in boxes that you only pull out once in a great while. Or perhaps you’re clinging to ideas, notions and assumptions that God never intended for you to have in the first place.

And now you’re in a panic over giving them up. How could God ask you to drop these important things? They’ve always been there, and now you’re worried about what life will be like without them.

Living with white knuckles in each part of your life doesn’t bring the best because you’re not willing to trust and expect God to fulfill His promises. Clinging to anything but God just brings doubt and discouragement to your soul and numbness to your hands.

I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah. Psalm 143:6

What if living with a palms-up attitude isn’t about the negative, but about the positive? What if you don’t turn your marriage over to the Lord, expecting Him to take it away, but allow Him to do miracles in your heart and in your husband? What if you don’t release your home or your property to Him, convinced that He’ll just make you move, but let Him open your doors wide for beautiful acts of hospitality and fellowship?

Instead of letting go and expecting the worst-case scenario, what wold happen if you gave everything in your life to the Lord, knowing that release brings the best? By throwing your hands wide open, God has the opportunity to work His plan without your interference. There is no fear over the results because God’s glory and your good are now the focus.

By giving up your control, you’re really just trusting in God to be in control instead. By releasing the death grip you have on your husband and your marriage, choking the life out of it, surrender means God can work in great and mighty ways that He couldn’t when you were stubborn. 

Let go of your anger, and He can put His peace in your heart. Give up the need to control every situation, and He can work miracles in them. Give up. Let go. Show Him the palms of your hands.

Are you willing to uncurl your fingers and relinquish control of your life to the Lord? If so, prepare yourself for blessings beyond compare. The palms-up attitude He is looking for in you can change not only your heart and immediate life, but the outcome of so many issues in the circumstances around you.

Are you ready for the blessings that come from clinging to God and nothing else?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday Sketch

Today's sketch gives you a chance to practice cutting paper ribbon, a look that will serve you well in so many projects!

The background for this sketch is very simple - just three patterns, including two blocks as panels to build on.

The fun part is the ribbon. Cut a fairly thin rectangle of decorator paper and set it aside. Then cut a 1.5-inch square of card stock. Use this square to cut a notch out of the bottom of the strip of decorator paper. Play around with widths and sizes to get just the look you want.

Then overlap the sentiment onto the paper ribbon and embellish as you see fit!

For my card, I started with a dark blue denim background. I cut two more panels of coordinating decorator paper to complete the foundation of my card.

With another decorator paper, I cut a thin strip and used my card stock square to cut the notch out of the bottom.

After I adhered everything down, I added my Bible verse, overlapping it onto the ribbon.

For more great layout ideas, come visit my Etsy shop. You'll find hundreds of handmade cards, journals, paper crafts and gift ideas there, along with all the inspiration you need to complete your own projects.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Weekend Of Small Beginnings

It's been a little disheartening to watch the empty pots in my sunroom this week. I understand that growth takes time, but I was hoping to see something spectacular, even though I just planted the seeds a couple of weeks ago.

To see how I put my hanging herb garden together, click here.

On Thursday I filled the watering can to take care of my potential herbs, and there was this tiny little sprout in the parsley pot. It's not much to write home about, but it's definitely a start. And knowing what it will look like someday - check out the picture on the package next to the pot - is just motivation to keep watering it and taking care of it.

He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. Luke 16:10

Make this a weekend of small beginnings. Like the sprout in my parsley pot, something great always starts as something small. Your faithfulness in those little moments, the moments that you think aren't that significant, are the jumping-off point for the great things God has in store for you.

So take one step, just a small beginning, in whatever God is calling you to do today. Complete one project. Clean one room. Do one workout. Make one phone call. Write one letter. Give one hug. Knowing what the Lord can do with one step and a right heart attitude is the motivation to be faithful in the big things, too.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Variety Of Leaves

If you were to come walk from one end of the property to the other, you'd see dozens of different kinds of trees, each with a different size and shape of leaf. It's fascinating to see how, on these 33 acres, there is such a variety of leaves. But the plants themselves coexist together, each serving their own purpose.

It reminds me of how Paul wrote to the church of Corinth about how a diversity of gifts had been given to the members of the church, but they were all led by the same Spirit.

For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?

But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet one body.

And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.

For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. 1 Corinthians 12:14-27

Whatever your leaves looks like today - regardless of their color, size or shape - God has created you as a special part of His body. You are useful, you are needed and you are vitally important in His plan. So spread your leaves up to the sky and give Him praise for creating you just the way you are.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sunday Sketch

Layers upon layers upon layers of pretty patterned paper will give the panels of this adorable card sketch their perfect locations. Pull out one of your favorite collections and have fun!

You'll need four coordinating patterns to start, but you can always add more or use fewer depending on the size of your card and the size of the patterns themselves.

Vary the size of each panel so they'll stack and overlap in interesting ways, keeping the sentiment close to the center. This will balance out the card and let you see as much of the patterns as possible.

Then use two tiny embellishments in two of the corners and two larger embellishments on the opposite corners near the sentiment.
For my card, I started with four coordinating spring patterns. Each block is a different size and shape, overlapping across the card.

The hand-stamped phrase stays near the middle of the card, and it is accented with two 3D ladybugs made from chipboard.

Finally, there are two blue gems in the opposite corners to balance it all out.

For more great layout ideas, come visit my Etsy shop! You'll find hundreds of cards, journals and paper crafts, so don't be surprised if you walk away with a few gifts, too.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Weekend Of Kneeling

The apostle Paul would write many times in his epistles about the importance of prayer. He encouraged his readers to pray always, to pray without ceasing and to pray for everything. Prayer had been such an important part of his life that he wanted to share that knowledge and comfort as often and as effectually as he could.

After spending a week with the disciples Tyre, the people there saw them off with a parting prayer time. How wonderful the sight must have been as these men of God and their families knelt in prayer in the sand by the sea. Prayers went up as they all bowed down on their knees.

And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed. Acts 21:5

Make this a weekend of kneeling. Spend as much time in prayer about the issues in your life as you do talking about them and worrying about them. Paul's advice so many centuries ago stands true today: pray in all places about all things.

As you fall on your knees, thank God for the blessings in your life, tell Him of your heartaches and allow Him to speak to your quiet, humble heart. You're too busy not to pray, and spending time before the throne of grace will provide you with the strength, peace and joy you'll need to not only survive but thrive in the days to come.

Friday, June 3, 2016

My Hanging Herb Garden

On a trip to the local thrift shop several months ago, I found this beautiful six-tiered plant stand. It was only $2, so even though I have a brown thumb, I knew I needed to have it. It was hanging on the wall of the sunroom, empty, until this week. That's when my inspiration hit.

I've always wanted a kitchen garden so I could grow my herbs, and this is the perfect time to get started. I'll start them in here and then transplant them outside when they outgrow their containers.

Each pot has a plastic drip pan underneath it since the hanger has metal grates for its shelves. Then I put a single layer of rocks in the bottom for drainage.

And added dirt almost to the top. I planted cilantro, basil, chamomile, parsley, oregano and cumin seeds as directed on their packages. I also tucked the seed packet onto the shelves with them so they won't get mixed up and I can still have the manufacturer's directions close at hand. I can't wait to see how well they grow, as the sunroom is just that - warm and sunny!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Roasted Chicken Drumsticks

Every few weeks our local grocery store sells chicken drumsticks at the incredibly low price of six for $1. I can't resist because I much prefer dark meat to white meat. (I know that's backwards to most people - it's not my fault.)

One of the easiest and tastiest ways to fix drumsticks is by simply coating them in spices and roasting for an hour. I will not use exact measurements here because I don't know your particular tastes. They are merely some suggestions and guidelines, and you can take it from there.

garlic powder
cayenne pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 13x9 baking dish with aluminum foil. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Line up drumsticks in the dish and drizzle with olive oil.

3. Sprinkle chosen spices on top of the drumsticks, beginning with the salt.

4. Roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Turn drumsticks over and roast for an additional 30 minutes.

5. Serve with veggies and fruit.